- Associated Press - Sunday, July 17, 2011

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Casey Anthony walked out of jail a free woman under heavy guard early Sunday, facing shouts of “baby killer” only days after the country watched in rapt attention as she was acquitted of murder in the death of her 2-year-old daughter.

The 25-year-old Miss Anthony, who spent years in the spotlight’s glare, including two months of nationally televised trial proceedings, swiftly boarded an SUV just after midnight and rode out of public view, her destination unknown as new questions unfolded as to what her future would hold.

As Miss Anthony’s SUV left the jail’s parking lot, the crowd of more than 100 people surged against the orange plastic police barricades, and some yelled, “You suck!” Mounted patrolmen and police cruisers blocked the street outside the jail so Miss Anthony’s vehicle could drive onto a nearby highway ramp unobstructed.

“A baby killer was just set free!” Bree Thornton, 39, shouted at the passing SUV.

Miss Anthony had a handful of supporters in the crowd, including one man who carried a “Casey, will you marry me” sign.

But her backers — at the jail and across the country — appeared to be vastly outnumbered by her critics.

When Miss Anthony was acquitted July 5 of murder in the death of her toddler, hundreds of thousands of people captivated by the case — and doubtful of her credibility — poured their rage into postings on the micro-blogging site Twitter and on Facebook, which has an “I Hate Casey Anthony” group. Those and other social media sites provided a platform and a vast audience for a decibel level of vitriol seldom seen before.

Miss Anthony’s legal team said on Friday it had received an emailed death threat with a manipulated photo showing their 25-year-old client with a bullet hole in her forehead.

Since her acquittal on murder charges, Miss Anthony had been finishing her four-year sentence for telling investigators several lies, including an early claim that her daughter, Caylee, was kidnapped by a nonexistent nanny. With credit for the nearly three years she had spent in jail since August 2008 and for good behavior, she had only days remaining when she was sentenced July 7.

For nearly two months, the murder trial of Miss Anthony was a living entity. It breathed daily across the nation’s television airwaves, then was reinforced nightly on cable TV programs that dissected every word uttered in the courtroom and fueled speculation on her fate.

Jose Baez, Miss Anthony’s lead lawyer, signaled in a brief statement to reporters that a new chapter was opening in the Anthony case.

“It is my hope that Casey Anthony can receive the counseling and treatment she needs to move forward with the rest of her life,” Mr. Baez said in the statement.

Certainly, she still faces the anger and ire around the nation that brought tight security for Sunday’s release.

Orange County Jail spokesman Allen Moore said there were no known threats received at the jail. Yet officials had a number of contingency plans in place, including plans in case shots were fired as she was being released.

The crowd included about a half-dozen sign-carrying protesters who had gathered despite a drenching thunderstorm Saturday night. Onlookers had varied reactions to her release.

“She is safer in jail than she is out here,” said Mike Quiroz, who drove from Miami to spend his 22nd birthday outside the jail. “She better watch her butt. She is known all over the world.”

Lamar Jordan said he felt a pit in his stomach when he saw Miss Anthony walking free.

“The fact that she is being let out, the fact that it is her child and she didn’t say what happened, made me sick,” Mr. Jordan said.

Not all of those who gathered condemned the 25-year-old.

“I’m for Casey,” said Kizzy Smith of Orlando. “She was proven innocent. At the end of the day, Caylee is at peace. We’re the ones who are in an uproar.”

Outraged lawmakers in several states responded by proposing so-called Caylee’s laws that would allow authorities to prosecute parents who don’t quickly report missing children.

And many still speculate about what really happened to Caylee, whose remains were found in December 2008 near the home Miss Anthony shared with her parents: Was she suffocated with duct tape by her mother, as prosecutors argued? Or did she drown in an accident that snowballed out of control, as defense lawyers contended?

Now that Miss Anthony is free, it’s not clear where she will stay or what she will do next.

Her relationship with her parents, George and Cindy, has been strained since defense lawyers accused Mr. Anthony of molesting Casey when she was young. Mr. Baez argued during trial that the alleged abuse resulted in psychological issues that caused her to lie and act without apparent remorse after Caylee’s death.

Defense lawyers also said Mr. Anthony made Caylee’s death look like a homicide after the girl accidentally drowned in the family pool, but the defense never called witnesses to support those claims.

Mr. Anthony adamantly has denied covering up his granddaughter’s death or molesting Miss Anthony when she was a child.

Prosecutors alleged that Miss Anthony suffocated her daughter with duct tape because motherhood interfered with her desire for a carefree life of partying with friends and spending time with her boyfriend. However, some jurors have told various media outlets that the state didn’t prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt as required for a conviction — though some have said they believe she bears some responsibility in the case.

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