published Thursday, August 4th, 2011

Judge rules Casey Anthony won't have to return to Florida today

  • photo
    Casey Anthony smiles before the start of her sentencing hearing in Orlando, Fla.,Thursday, July 7, 2011. Judge Belvin Perry sentenced Anthony to four years for lying to investigators but says she can go free in late July or early August because she has already served nearly three years in jail and has had good behavior. (AP Photo/Joe Burbank, Pool)

ORLANDO, Fla. — Casey Anthony can continue her undercover life for now, after a judge ruled Wednesday she does not have to immediately return to Florida to start serving her probation for check fraud.

A hearing on her probation was set for Friday, Judge Belvin Perry said. Anthony won't have to show up for that either.

A different judge ordered Anthony to report to Florida on Thursday for her probation, but the judge later recused himself and turned the case over to Perry, who presided over Anthony's murder trial.

Anthony has been out of the public eye since she was acquitted last month in the death of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee. The jury's decision angered many people online and elsewhere, and threats were made on Anthony's life. She vanished after leaving jail July 17.

Anthony's attorneys said local authorities would have to provide security if she was forced to return. To back up that claim, they included a flyer in their arguments that showed a doctored photo of Anthony with a bullet mark on her forehead. Underneath the photo reads in part: "With a forehead that big, the headshot will be easier."

Anthony was convicted of lying to detectives but released because of time served.

Judge Stan Strickland sentenced Anthony in January 2010 to probation after she pleaded guilty to using checks stolen from a friend. The state Department of Corrections had interpreted the sentence to mean that Anthony could serve the probation while she was in jail awaiting trial, but Strickland said last week he intended the probation to be served after her release.

On Monday, Strickland signed a "corrected" version of Anthony's probation order to make clear she was supposed to start the one-year term after her release from jail. Strickland recused himself Wednesday without giving a reason, although defense attorneys accused him of showing prejudice against Anthony in television interviews he gave after her murder trial.

Strickland said he was "shocked" by the verdict in a July interview with cable television host Nancy Grace, a chief Anthony critic who gave her the moniker "Tot mom." In another interview with Orlando television station WESH, Strickland said jurors may not have understood that "circumstantial evidence is evidence."

"There are very seldom cameras running at the time somebody kills somebody or a child is abused," he said.

In a motion filed Tuesday, Anthony's defense attorneys said she had already served her probation. They also said Florida law stipulates the judge cannot amend his sentence more than 60 days after it was signed.

Karin Moore, a law professor at Florida A&M College of Law, said an inmate can't serve probation while in jail, so Strickland has the ability to correct the sentence.

"He can correct an illegal sentence anytime, which he thinks he is doing now," Moore said.

Anthony's lawyers also argued that Strickland is no longer qualified to issue the amended order since he recused himself and that the amended order was fraudulently filed since there was no court proceeding attended by Anthony or her attorneys.

"This thing is over and done. And for some reason things seem to keep coming up again for no apparent reason, for absolutely no apparent reason, other than let's just keep this thing going, let's just keep this madness going and engage in the circus-like atmosphere that is called the Casey Anthony case," defense attorney Jose Baez said on NBC's "Today" show.

Baez did not say where she was located, only that she was not in Florida when the judge's order was signed Monday.

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