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Caylee trial leaves shocked and angry nation in search of answers

It was just after midnight on a sweltering Florida night when Casey Anthony, the most notorious woman in America, slipped out of the Orange County jail which had been her home for the past few years. Wearing a bright pink top and jeans, Anthony, 25, displayed no emotion as she strode past reporters.

Prison authorities had given her $537 (€376) -- the balance in her inmate account -- and an armed escort to spirit her away. Still, her exit did not go unnoticed: police on horseback struggled to contain the 300-strong baying mob who screamed the words "child killer" and "monster" into the night air after her cavalcade left.

They were protesting the highly unpopular 'not guilty' verdict handed down to Anthony after the long trial for the murder of her daughter Caylee, who had gone missing while in her mother's care in 2008. The long and expensive trial transfixed America and the verdict shocked legal observers and the public alike -- one juror on the case has already left her job and fled her home amid fears that she may be held personally accountable for the verdict.

Lawmakers in Oregon have stated their intention to try to pass "Caylee's Law" -- a measure that would legally require parents and carers to report the disappearance of a child within 24 hours.

The public anger and comparisons with the OJ Simpson verdict came not merely because of the huge costs associated with prosecuting and defending Anthony, but crucially because the facts of the case seemed hopelessly stacked against her. She admitted to lying to both police and her family about Caylee's whereabouts. Months after the child's disappearance, her daughter's decomposed remains were found near the family's house. A coroner could not determine the cause of death, which factored heavily in Anthony's July 5 acquittal on murder charges.

She was convicted only of lying to investigators, and sentenced to four years. With credit for the nearly three years she had spent in jail since August 2008, and for good behaviour, she had only days remaining when she was sentenced July 7.

Her parents have said she will not be allowed in their home. Her defence team accused her father of sexually abusing her and then covering up what they said was Caylee's accidental drowning death. He has denied both claims, and neither has been substantiated.

Now a free woman, Anthony has said she wishes to return to a normal life, although a source close to her family said that she "has completely underestimated the level of anger out there. She knows there's a risk but she thinks it's just from one or two lunatics".

Her lawyer, Jose Baez, has been discussing her next move with PR people and fellow lawyers. There was talk of her getting plastic surgery in order to avoid being targeted by vigilantes, but probably the most important element in protecting her from her past will be making money, and lots of it. She could stand to make millions from a book deal, but the attendant risks -- that she may trip herself up in some small detail or that public revulsion will override public voyeurism -- will have to be weighed up.

The probable first step is the much-sought-after post-trial interview. The television ratings for the trial were astronomical as the public tuned in en masse to what became a tawdry soap opera -- a beautiful and restless young woman accused of killing her adorable daughter. News stations in America have been vying to be the first to air Casey's first words as a free woman, and media maven Nancy Grace reported last week that the Florida woman had demanded $1.5m (€1.04m) for her first sit-down session.

The major networks have denied that there will be any 'cheque-book journalism' involved in securing the first interview, but these claims are frequently circumvented by offers of huge money for licensing rights for private photos and video. ABC previously paid $200,000 (€140,071) to the Anthony family and $15,000 (€10,503) to the man who found Caylee's body.

There has also been some speculation that she could sell her first appearance to a cable network, which would not be bound by the ethics and standards of the major news networks. Their executives fell over themselves last week to make clear that they would not pay the Anthonys to speak.

Their fears -- that public distaste at any deal could scare off advertisers -- were underlined last week as questions still hung in the air about what had really happened to little Caylee. Her mother's defence team's theory that she had accidentally drowned was met with widespread incredulity, and it is now expected that the investigation into her death will continue.

Meanwhile, across the US, the shockwaves at the verdict continued to reverberate. Pastor Eddie DelValle led a peace walk for Caylee, sponsored by the New York-based charity Bring Kids Home. Its route took the crowds who turned out from the wooded site where Caylee's body was discovered in December 2008 to the nearby Anthony home.

DelValle said the march was a silent protest against the much-debated acquittal. "This is no longer about the case; this is about moving forward."

Others pay tribute in their own way: a spookily lifelike Halloween mask of Anthony sold last week for $25,000 (€17,507). "The listing said 'let's never forget Caylee,'" noted the LA Weekly. "Yeah, by scaring the holy living sh*t out of every toddler from one end of the country to the other."

Sunday Independent