- Associated Press - Thursday, July 7, 2011

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Casey Anthony will be freed next week after spending nearly three years in jail on accusations she killed her 2-year-old daughter, punctuating a case that captured the nation’s attention and bitterly divided many over whether she got away with murder.

While cleared of charges of killing and abusing her daughter Caylee, Miss Anthony was convicted of lying to investigators and sentenced Thursday to four years, the maximum punishment. But she was given credit for the time she has served and her good behavior, and she was set to be released Wednesday. Judge Belvin Perry also fined her $1,000 on each of the four counts.

Before her sentenced was announced, Miss Anthony, 25, was animated, smiling and occasionally played with her hair, which was let down for the first time since her trial began in late May. Her demeanor turned stone-faced when she heard she would be spending more time in jail.

The scene outside the courthouse highlighted the divide that has had social networking sites abuzz since the not guilty verdict was announced Tuesday. Amid increased police presence, a throng of protesters gathered, holding signs that said “Arrest the Jury!!” and “Jurors 1-12 Guilty of Murder.” Nearby, a handful of supporters also turned out, including a man who held a sign asking Miss Anthony to marry him.

Miss Anthony’s release will come almost exactly three years since Caylee was reported missing July 15, 2008. She was interviewed by police the next day and told them several lies, for which she was convicted.

She lied about working at the Universal Studios theme park, going so far as to take detectives to the park, talk her way past security guards and take the detectives into a building before finally admitting that she wasn’t employed there. She also lied about leaving her daughter with a non-existent nanny named Zanny and later about leaving the girl with friends. She also told investigators she received a phone call from Caylee the day she was reported missing, another lie.

Her defense attorneys argued before sentencing that her convictions should be combined into one, but the judge disagreed, saying law enforcement spent a great deal of time, energy and manpower looking for Caylee. The girl’s remains were found in a swampy area near the Anthony home in December 2008.

At the time of the girl’s disappearance, Miss Anthony and Caylee were living with Miss Anthony’s parents, George and Cindy Anthony, in suburban Orlando, but she would often stay with her boyfriend.

Prosecutors contended Miss Anthony, then 22, suffocated Caylee with duct tape because she was interfering with her desire to be with her boyfriend and party with her friends. When Miss Anthony’s parents confronted their daughter about Caylee’s whereabouts, she told them the girl had been missing for a month and her mother reported the disappearance to police.

Defense attorneys countered that the toddler accidentally drowned in the family swimming pool. They said that when Miss Anthony panicked, her father, a former police officer, decided to make the death look like a murder.