ORLANDO, Fla - A Florida jury found Casey Anthony not guilty on Tuesday of murdering her 2-year-old daughter Caylee in 2008, stunning many legal experts and media pundits who had predicted she would be convicted in a bizarre case that riveted millions of Americans.
The verdict means the 25-year-old Casey not only will not face the death penalty, which prosecutors planned to seek if she had been convicted of first-degree murder, but could soon be out of jail.
She was found guilty of lying to police, but will get credit for the nearly three years she has already spent in jail since her arrest.
"Casey did not murder Caylee. It's that simple," defense attorney Jose Baez told reporters after the verdict was announced on Tuesday.
State Attorney Lawson Lamar, speaking for the prosecutors, conceded that their circumstantial evidence was not enough to remove "reasonable doubt" in the minds of the jurors.
"We're disappointed with the verdict today and surprised because we know the facts," Lamar said.
The prosecution said Casey smothered Caylee with duct tape on June 16, 2008, drove around for several days with Caylee's body in her car trunk and then dumped the remains in woods near the Anthony family home.
The defense argued that Caylee died in an accidental drowning in the family's backyard pool.
"This was a dry bones case, very, very difficult to prove," Lamar said. "The delay in recovering little Caylee's remains worked to our considerable disadvantage."
With no further action to take in the case against Casey, Lamar said his office will move on to other pending murder cases.
JURORS FINALLY HEAD HOME
Twelve jurors, sequestered in an Orlando hotel for more than six weeks because of the intense media coverage of the trial, deliberated nearly 11 hours over two days.
They declined to speak with reporters after reaching their decision. Sheriff's officials planned to drive the jurors and alternates back to their homes on Florida's west coast.
The jury found Casey not guilty of the felonies of aggravated child abuse or aggravated manslaughter of a child.
She was found guilty of four counts of providing false information to a law enforcement officer, a misdemeanor charge that carries a maximum of one year in jail per count.
Casey lied to friends and family about Caylee's whereabouts for a month. Then on July 15, 2008, Casey's mother Cindy called 911 after finding Casey's car at an impound lot smelling of an odor she likened to a dead body having been in the trunk.
Casey initially told detectives Caylee had been kidnapped by a nanny, triggering a nationwide search. It ended on December 11, 2008, when Caylee's skeletal remains were found in woods near the Anthony family home with duct tape dangling from her skull.
Casey, who did not testify at the trial, appeared visibly nervous on Tuesday before the verdict, downcast and biting her lip.
She sobbed after the jury's not guilty finding on the murder count was read, and finally broke into a broad smile when the proceedings ended, hugging the defense team.
She had no immediate contact on Tuesday with her mother and father, who left the courtroom without speaking to her.