ORLANDO, Fla After a televised trial that gripped many Americans, a jury on Tuesday found Casey Anthony not guilty of murdering her two-year-old daughter Caylee, whose remains were found in woods near her Florida home.
The verdict surprised many legal analysts and commentators and spared the 25-year-old from a possible death penalty, which prosecutors planned to seek if Anthony had been found guilty as charged of first-degree murder.
Anthony initially told police that Caylee had been kidnapped by a nanny, triggering a nationwide search. Six months later the child's skeletal remains were found with duct tape dangling from her skull.
Prosecutors said Anthony smothered her daughter with the tape in June 2008, drove around for several days with the body in her car trunk and then dumped the remains in the woods.
In court the defense argued that the child died in an accidental drowning. "Casey did not murder Caylee. It's that simple," defense attorney Jose Baez told reporters after the verdict was announced
State Attorney Lawson Lamar praised prosecutors' efforts and conceded that their circumstantial case was not enough to remove reasonable doubt for jurors.
"We're disappointed with the verdict today and surprised because we know the facts," Lamar said.
"This was a dry bones case, very, very difficult to prove. The delay in recovering little Caylee's remains worked to our considerable disadvantage."
The jury also found Anthony not guilty of aggravated child abuse or aggravated manslaughter of a child.
Anthony 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. She will be sentenced on Thursday.
Anthony sobbed after the jury's finding was read, and finally broke into a broad smile after the proceedings ended, hugging the defense team.
"I'm ecstatic for (Casey) and I want her to be able to grieve and to grow and somehow get her life back together," defense attorney Baez said outside the court.
The jurors deliberated for nearly 11 hours over two days, taking nearly six hours on Monday with no break for the U.S. Independence Day holiday, before reaching the verdict.
The trial lasted for seven weeks and caught the attention of much of the nation, with curiosity fed by live coverage of testimony on cable news.
(Reporting by Barbara Liston; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Peter Bohan and David Storey)