On July 5, 2011, a 12-member jury filed into an Orlando courtroom to render their verdict against Casey Anthony, who was on trial for first-degree murder in the death of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee.
As the seven women and five men prepared to hand the verdict to the bailiff, Anthony, then 25, was breathing heavily and blinking back tears. By most accounts, the woman who had been dubbed “the most hated woman in America” was facing a lengthy prison sentence, and the death penalty was still on the table.
The court clerk began reading the verdict in the hushed courtroom — and mouths dropped as Anthony was acquitted of all the serious charges against her. She was only convicted of lying to police. Two weeks later, she walked free from jail.
The jurors had planned to give a group press conference after the verdict, but changed their minds. They were ushered out of the courthouse under heavy police protection.
Seven years later, the shocking verdict still stuns and outrages trial watchers who wonder how she could have walked free.
A month after the verdict, one of the male jurors spoke with PEOPLE to explain his take on what happened. “Generally, none of us liked Casey Anthony at all,” he told PEOPLE. “She seems like a horrible person. But the prosecutors did not give us enough evidence to convict. They gave us a lot of stuff that makes us think that she probably did something wrong, but not beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The juror — who spoke with PEOPLE two subsequent times since his initial interview — told PEOPLE that the attorneys’ behavior in the courtroom also had an impact in the jury room. He described lead prosecutor Jeff Ashton as “ambitious” and “arrogant.” He said that one of the other prosecutors was “mechanical and cold.”
But the juror had a different take on lead defense attorney Jose Baez. “He was the only one in the room who seemed like he cared,” the juror said. “We talked about that in the jury room.”
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Inside the Deliberations
After 90 witnesses and 33 days of testimony in the courtroom, the jurors began to deliberate. “We took a vote on the [four] charges of lying to police,” the male juror said. “And it came back 12-0 to convict. That didn’t take long at all.”
“We took the first vote on first-degree murder,” said the juror. “We were 10 to 2 to acquit. So we talked for about 30 minutes, and the two decided that they were willing to change their votes, so first degree was off the table pretty quickly.”
Next up: aggravated manslaughter.
“We did our first vote and it came out half to acquit, half to convict,” said the juror. “And we talked about it for a while, going through the evidence. I’d say that some people got intense, but there were no personal attacks, no real yelling. And we talked for a while, then it was 11-1 to acquit. And the guy who didn’t want to acquit basically looked at us and said, ‘Okay, whatever you all want.’ He knew he wasn’t going to convince us.”
“And then we sat there for a few minutes and were like, ‘Holy crap, we are letting her go free,’ ” he continued. “Everyone was just stunned at what we were about to do. [One of the women jurors] asked me, ‘Are you okay with this?’ and I said, ‘Hell, no. But what else can we do? We promised to follow the law.’ ”
Despite the decision to acquit Anthony, the jurors later said that their decision haunted them.
“We were sick to our stomach to get that verdict,” Juror #3, Jennifer Ford, told ABC News. “We were crying, and not just the women. It was emotional and we weren’t ready.”
Another female juror told PEOPLE in 2012 that she was plagued with questions after the trial. “I did what I could do based on the evidence that we got to hear,” she said. “But the people watching at home could see the sidebars and the commentary, and they knew much more about the case than I did. I hated being on that jury; I wish I hadn’t been. But I don’t know what else I could have done.”
Juror #2, an married African American father of two who worked as an IT manager, told the St. Petersburg Times, “I wish we had more evidence to put her away.”
Perhaps the juror who has been the most critical of the prosecution was the foreman, Juror #11. A 33-year-old single gym teacher, he earned the name “Johnny Depp” from some of the courthouse staff due to his good looks. In an interview after the trial, he said that the prosecution failed to prove their case — and that George and Cindy Anthony’s testimony was problematic.
“Cindy was in a lot of pain a lot of stress,” he said, adding that her testimony was confusing and not believable. “She was on a lot of medication.”
Seven years later, the jurors — whose names were released six months after the trial — are still trying to distance themselves from the case. Several of them have changed their phone numbers. PEOPLE reached three of them by phone on Thursday, and none of them wanted to talk.
“It happened seven years ago and still everyone asks about it,” one of the female jurors told PEOPLE. “At this point, what more is there to say?”