ORLANDO, Fla. - Casey Anthony was freed from a Florida jail early Sunday, 12 days after she was acquitted of murder in the death of her 2-year-old daughter Caylee in a verdict that drew furious responses and even threats from people across the U.S. who had followed the case with rapt attention.
Anthony, wearing a pink T-shirt with blue jeans, left the jail at 12:14 a.m. with her attorney, Jose Baez. After three years behind bars, Anthony was given $537.68 in cash from her jail account and escorted outside by two sheriff's deputies armed with semi-automatic rifles. Neither Anthony nor Baez said anything to reporters and protesters gathered outside.
"It is my hope that Casey Anthony can receive the counseling and treatment she needs to move forward with the rest of her life," Baez said in a statement released to reporters.
News helicopters briefly tracked the SUV through Orlando's streets, but she quickly slipped from public view.
Before her release, law enforcement officials put up plastic barricades around the jail's booking and release center, and about seven or eight deputies wearing bullet-proof vests patrolled the area. At least one officer carried an assault weapon. About five officers patrolled the area on horseback.
As midnight approached, upward of 100 spectators had gathered outside the jail. The crowd included about a half-dozen, sign-carrying protesters who had gathered there, despite a thunderstorm that dumped heavy rain over Orlando.
"This release had an unusual amount of security so, therefore, in that sense, it would not be a normal release," said Orange County Jail spokesman Allen Moore. "We have made every effort to not provide any special treatment for her. She's been treated like every other inmate.
Moore said there were no known threats received at the jail. Officials had a number of contingency plans in place, including plans in case shots were fired as she was released.
Anthony, 25, had been finishing her four-year sentence for telling investigators several lies, including that Caylee was kidnapped by a nonexistent nanny. With credit for the nearly three years she's spent in jail since August 2008 and good behavior, she had only days remaining when she was sentenced July 7.
The case drew national attention ever since Caylee was reported missing. Cable network HLN aired the entire trial, with pundit Nancy Grace dissecting the case nightly. Vitriol poured into social networking sites when Casey Anthony was acquitted of murder, with observers posting angry messages on Twitter and Facebook's "I Hate Casey Anthony" page.
Outraged lawmakers 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: 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 attorneys contended?
As for her plans, it's not clear where Anthony will stay or what she will do next. Her relationship with her parents, George and Cindy, has been strained since defense attorneys accused George Anthony of molesting Casey when she was young. They also said George Anthony made Caylee's death look like a homicide after the girl accidentally drowned in the family pool.
Caylee's remains were found in December 2008 in woods near the home Casey Anthony shared with her parents. George Anthony has denied covering up her death and denied molesting Casey Anthony when she was a child. Baez had 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.
Prosecutors alleged that Anthony suffocated her daughter with duct tape because motherhood interfered with her lust 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 -- although most have added that they don't think Casey Anthony is innocent.
Defense attorneys and sheriff's officials have not said where Anthony is heading.
"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 Anthony walking out of jail.
"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," Jordan said.
What Anthony will do to make a living also remains unknown. Anthony, a high school dropout, hasn't had a job since 2006, when she was a vendor at Universal Studios theme park.
A large segment of the public has seethed since Anthony's acquittal, believing she had something to do with her daughter's death. Her attorneys have said she has received numerous