By The Associated Press
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — This is what freedom looks like for Casey Anthony: $537.68 from her jail account, no job, estranged parents, a criminal record, lawsuits pending against her and the scorn of multitudes who think she got away with murder.
She quickly gave reporters the slip after walking out of jail Sunday, but whatever life she manages to build for herself will be lived under a media microscope and the shadow of countless threats.
Experts who have helped other notorious defendants through rough times say she will have opportunities as well, but it won’t be easy for the 25-year-old, who was found not guilty of killing her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, but convicted of lying to investigators.
With her hair in a bun, Casey Anthony walked out the front door of an Orlando-area jail shortly after midnight, wearing a pink T-shirt, blue jeans and sneakers, and escorted by sheriff’s deputies holding semi-automatic rifles. Protesters shouted “baby killer” and “you suck” as she climbed into an SUV.
The vehicle sped away and darted into a parking garage at a building where one of her attorneys has offices. Where she went next is unknown.
Soon after her release, there was police activity at Orlando Executive Airport as two vehicles pulled up to a twin-engine private jet bound for Columbus, Ohio, but no one saw Anthony get out and onto the plane. Ohio is the home state of Anthony’s parents, but an official at the Columbus airport said the aircraft was only carrying golfers back from a Florida vacation.
“Casey is in good hands,” said Todd Macaluso, a former member of Anthony’s defense team who declined to comment further.
Her lead attorney, Jose Baez, did not respond Sunday to email and phone messages left by The Associated Press, nor did other lawyers on her defense team and those representing her father and mother.
Another former Anthony lawyer, Terry Lenamon, said he had no clue where she was headed, and that probably only a few people close to her knew.
“I wouldn’t want anyone to know,” he said. “I think she needs to go underground and I think she needs to spend some time to get her life back together.”
Anthony’s July 5 acquittal shocked and enraged many around the country who had been following the case since Caylee’s 2008 disappearance. Anger has spilled onto social media sites and elsewhere. Her legal team said on Friday it had received an emailed death threat with a manipulated photo showing their client with a bullet hole in her forehead.
Anthony did not report her daughter’s disappearance for a month and was arrested after telling a string of lies about the case to police. Caylee’s remains were found in December 2008 near the home Casey Anthony shared with her parents.
Prosecutors alleged that Anthony suffocated her daughter with duct tape because motherhood interfered with her desire for a carefree life, but her lawyers said the girl drowned in an accident that snowballed out of control. Some of the jurors who acquitted Anthony said they believe she bears some responsibility for her daughter’s death but that prosecutors failed to prove that she murdered the child.
Anthony had remained in jail to finish a four-year sentence for lying to investigators. With credit for the nearly three years she’d spent in jail since August 2008 and good behavior, she had only days remaining when she was sentenced July 7.
Her public vilification did not ease with her release from jail. “A baby killer was just set free!” Bree Thornton, 39, shouted as the SUV left the jail.
“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.”
It won’t be impossible for Anthony to get a fresh start, though it will be difficult, said Los Angeles-based attorney Thomas Mesereau. His clients have included the late singer Michael Jackson when he was charged with child molestation and actor Robert Blake when he was charged with murdering his wife.
Anthony could accept requests for paid interviews, or a benefactor may be able to help her in the short term, Mesereau said.
“When you have that degree of celebrity, there is usually somebody who would like to get involved,” Mesereau said. “The problem is trusting anyone. People are willing to leak things to the media. They’re willing to be paid off for information. It’s very difficult to find people whom you can trust.”
As of Sunday, though, those closest to her had revealed little about her future plans. Baez said in a brief statement only that he hoped Anthony could “receive the counseling and treatment she needs to move forward with the rest of her life.”
Other attorneys on her defense team have not hinted at where she might go, and neither have her parents, whose relationship with Casey Anthony is strained. During trial, Anthony’s defense attorneys argued that her father, George Anthony, molested Casey as a child and covered up Caylee’s death. He has denied both claims, and neither has been substantiated.
What is known is that Casey Anthony still faces a slew of legal problems even though the criminal charges have been resolved. She has been sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars by a Texas group that searched for Caylee in the weeks after she was reported missing, and prosecutors are seeking to recoup the cost of their investigation into Caylee’s disappearance.
Anthony also is being sued for defamation by a woman named Zenaida Gonzalez who claims she has been harassed and unable to find work after Anthony said a baby sitter with her name kidnapped Caylee. Gonzalez’s attorneys had wanted to depose Anthony before she left jail, but the deposition was rescheduled for October.
Any of those civil cases could put a major dent in any money Anthony receives for writing a book, signing a movie deal or doing interviews. Anthony is broke, and her defense team was paid for with taxpayers’ money after $200,000 she received from ABC News was spent.
Several book publishers contacted by The Associated Press said they knew of no memoir that was being shopped around and consider her too tainted to sign a deal.
Anthony could avoid the potential liability of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the lawsuits by filing for bankruptcy, though plaintiffs would probably attempt to keep her on the hook for damages if she signs lucrative deals after filing, said R. Scott Shuker, an Orlando bankruptcy attorney.
“There is a potentially huge upside to keep the income and not owe the debt, but you know these folks are going to challenge it so she would be having more trials,” Shuker said.
An important step in building a new life is getting psychological help to cope with her notoriety, severed family ties and newfound freedom, said attorneys with clients in similar circumstances.
“Everything she has been through, that’s more than most people can deal with in a lifetime,” said Daniel Meachum, an Atlanta attorney who has represented football player Michael Vick when he was convicted of dog fighting and actor Wesley Snipes when he was convicted of tax evasion.
Media relations expert Marti Mackenzie, who specialized in legal cases, said it’s important for Anthony to make some kind of public statement soon. She said a standard news conference is out of the question, but Anthony needs to say she made terrible mistakes, that she is grateful to her defense team and that she has thought about what happened every day of her life in jail.
“In traditional public relations language, it’s called feeding the beast,” Mackenzie said. “Even if you don’t give the beast a full meal, you respond. Because once you’re part of media scrutiny … how it is handled once the case is over will help to set a tone.”
Associated Press writer Curt Anderson in Miami contributed to this report.