Casey Anthony Sentencing: Release Date Set for July 17

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Casey Anthony (L) talks with her attorney Dorothy Clay Sims during her sentencing hearing on charges of lying to a law enforcement officer at the Orange County Courthouse July 7, 2011 in Orlando, Florida

In her final appearance in Florida’s Ninth Circuit Court, Casey Anthony stood convicted of four misdemeanors after after being found not guilty of murdering her two-year-old daughter. Judge Belvin Perry, Jr., who has presided over her case for more than a year, sentenced her to one year in the Orange County Jail and a $1,000 fine for each count. But after consulting with Casey’s lawyers to calculate her credit for time already served and good behavior, Perry set her release date for July 17; she has already served 1,043 days in jail.


Video: Lingering Questions After the Casey Anthony Verdict

That fact that Casey was in a hearing today and not awaiting more serious sentencing is the result of a stunning and surprising rejection by twelve Floridians of the state’s theory that Casey Anthony subdued her daughter, Caylee, with homemade chloroform before suffocating her with duct tape. For nearly a month, prosecutors called witness after witness, experts in forensic pathology, forensic chemistry, forensic computer science and even forensic entomology to try and explain how Caylee died.

(MORE: Casey Anthony: The Social Media Trial of the Century)

Even after the criminal proceedings draw to a close, Casey could face at least two lawsuits that evolved from lies she told investigators. Texas Equusearch, a firm that searches for missing persons, says that it used more than 4,000 volunteers and spent more than $100,000 looking for Caylee in Florida. They are hoping to recoup these expenses if Casey profits from a future book, movie or media licensing deal. Casey is being sued for defamation by Zenaida Fernandez Gonzalez, the name Casey gave investigators who she said was the nanny watching Caylee. Gonzalez turned out to be a real person, but claims to have never met Casey Anthony.

After the media breaks camp and Americans move on to the next national obsession, what will we learn from all of this? We have a tendency to get wrapped up in large trials; there’s a natural dramatic conflict that emanates from our adversarial system of justice that was the perfect ingredient for 24-hour news cycles when O.J. Simpson stood trial for murder more than 16 years ago. In thousands of classrooms, teachers halted instruction to play the verdict live on on an October morning. (I was in 8th grade science class and we watched the verdict live on T.V.)

The Casey Anthony case pushed that pace into warp speed. One of the most reliable sources of information was the Orlando Sentinel’s Twitter feed, where one of the paper’s reporters live tweeted the proceedings. If you missed something on the live feed from the local networks, you could go back through the tweet history and catch up, no problem.

(MORE: Casey Anthony Verdict: The Jury Did the Right Thing)

As Casey faced her the jury, America was able to sound off in tweets, texts, Facebook postings and story comments. The majority of those that followed the verdict, according to my own informal survey, exclaimed some sort of appalled wonder that she would get off. In their heart of hearts, most Americans knew that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict Casey Anthony, but they were pretty sure she wasn’t totally innocent, either.

And yet, there is no innocent in the American legal system. If you’re accused of a crime, there is only guilty and not guilty. The system is set up so, ideally, only those we are sure committed the crime will be punished. It doesn’t always work perfectly. Far too often, those who have committed no crime go to prison, and those who may have been complicit go free.

(MORE: Why the media trial for Casey Anthony is now beginning)

There’s no way to know now what happens next for Casey Anthony. She may try to lead a quiet life, patch things up with her brother (whom her lawyers accused, in a backdoor way, of molesting her) and with her father, George (whom her lawyers outright accused of molesting her) and with her mother, Cindy (who many thought flirted dangerously close to perjury when she copped to searching for “chloroform” on the family computer).

Casey’s lawyer, Jose Baez, said that justice had been served because she wasn’t convicted. He was, at most, half right. Had she been convicted and not committed the crime, that would have been a severe miscarriage of justice. But the results in their current form don’t come much closer. Justice is partly about punishment, partly for crime prevention and mostly about accountability. And someone, somewhere still has blood on their hands.


Video: Explaining the Casey Anthony Case

Nate Rawlings is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @naterawlings. Continue the discussion about Casey Anthony on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

In Crimes of the Century, a new e-book, TIME puts infamous cases like the Casey Anthony trial under a magnifying glass. Download the e-book now.

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