CASEY Anthony was freed from a Florida jail early yesterday just 12 days after she was acquitted of murder.
In a sensational trial that gripped America, Anthony (25) was cleared of killing her two-year-old daughter Caylee.
The verdict drew furious responses and even threats from across the US.
Wearing a pink Polo T-shirt and jeans Ms Anthony left the Orange county jail with her attorney, Jose Baez. A sombre-looking Ms Anthony quietly said "thank you" to deputy sheriff waiting to escort her outside, and then she and Ms Baez quickly strode to a waiting SUVand the vehicle drove away amid camera light flashes.
Neither she nor Ms Baez said anything to reporters and protesters. News helicopters followed the SUV to a parking garage at a downtown orlando office building. But the SUV never re-emerged, and it could not be seen if Anthony was in any of the cars that appeared in the area.
After three years behind bars, she was given $537.68 (€380) in cash from her jail account.
"It is my hope that Casey Anthony can receive the counseling and treatment she needs to move forward with the rest of her life," Ms Baez said in a statement. Ms Baez and jail officials declined to say where Anthony was headed.
A jail spokesman said officials had a number of contingency plans in place, including plans in case shots were fired as she was being released.
As midnight approached, upward of 100 spectators had gathered outside the jail, where plastic barricades had been erected. They included about a half-dozen sign-carrying protesters who had gathered despite a drenching thunderstorm earlier. Seven or eight deputies in bulletproof vests patrolled the area. At least one carried an assault weapon.
"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 free.
"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," Mr Jordan said.
But Kizzy Smith said: "I'm for Casey. She was proven innocent. At the end of the day, Caylee is at peace. We're the ones who are in an uproar."
Since her acquittal on murder charges on July 5, Anthony had been finishing her four-year sentence for telling investigators several lies, including an early claim that Caylee was kidnapped by a nonexistent nanny.
With credit for the nearly three years she'd spent in jail since August 2008 and good behaviour, she had only days remaining when she was sentenced on July 7.
After her acquittal, outraged lawmakers in several states 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 defence attorneys contended?
Caylee's remains were found in December 2008 in woods near the home Casey Anthony shared with her parents.