Ever since the 2008 disappearance of 2-year-old Caylee Marie Anthony, Janice Seals-Mack has eaten up every sound bite she could find on the missing-person-turned-murder case.
So when she heard Tuesday that Caylee's mother, Casey Anthony, was found not guilty of murder, Seals-Mack, 57, couldn't help but react with shock and disappointment.
"Oh, my God," Seals-Mack exclaimed when she heard the verdict after slipping into a downtown bar to watch it on TV.
"Personally, I feel that she's guilty," said Seals-Mack, a grandmother and retired child protective-services worker visiting from Macon, Ga. "If it was an accident, why not report it to 911?"
Across Central Florida, people gasped and cried out at the moment the verdict was announced, whether or not they agreed with it.
"The story is so crazy, and the outcome is even crazier," said Frank Saljanin, 34, who owns a pizza parlor in downtown Orlando and walked to the courthouse after the verdict was announced.
Outside the courthouse, hundreds of people roared with outrage. A few said there hadn't been enough evidence to convict, and dozens more waited around, cameras ready, in the hope of seeing some of the players in the case leave the building.
"I'm sure that it will be about as big as the O.J. Simpson case down the road, and it will be nice to say you've been there," said Deanna Jett, 20, of Stuart, who stood on a bench outside the courthouse, hoping to take a picture of Anthony on her cellphone.
Instead, Anthony was returned to the Orange County Jail until sentencing Thursday.
Ten miles away, near the home Anthony shared with her parents and Caylee on Hopespring Drive in east Orange County, a stream of mourners and trial watchers expressed disappointment.
"I'm very, very sad, said Marie Chelabi of Orange County, who carried a teddy bear to a makeshift memorial for Caylee that recently sprang up off Suburban Drive, where the girl's body was found in December 2008.
Defense attorneys José Baez and Cheney Mason celebrated their victory with a champagne toast at Terrace 390, a restaurant across the street from the courthouse on Orange Avenue.
As word of their whereabouts spread, people gathered in front of the door of the restaurant, where the lawyers were hanging out with about 20 other people, including TV personality Geraldo Rivera.
"They shouldn't be celebrating," Wanda Tyler of Orlando said. "A little girl is dead, and they helped her killer go free."
Janine Gonzalez, who lives a couple of miles from the Anthony home, also was appalled.
"Where's justice for Caylee?" she asked. "Do you mean to tell me that in Florida you can kill your child, toss her on the side of the road and go free?"
Mesmerized by the six-week trial and the mystery of Caylee's death, people expressed surprise and anger that the young mother likely will be released from jail after she is sentenced for lying to law officers — the only crimes the jury found she had committed.
"I'm physically ill that she is walking," said Diane DiMaria, 58, who is visiting from Virginia Beach, Va., and watched the verdict at a downtown restaurant. "I'm a mother."
Others said they were surprised by the jury's decision but understood it because they thought prosecutors did not present a strong case.
"She is guilty … however, had I been in that jury, I probably would've gone the same way they went," said Lauren Reynolds of Sanford, who camped out in front of the courthouse all morning, waiting to hear the verdict or get tickets to the trial for Wednesday.
"You can't just lock someone up for a long time based solely on circumstantial evidence."
Malissa Lundell, 30, also was sympathetic to the plight of the jurors.
"We can all judge and say she [Anthony] did it, but when it comes down to it, she's the only person who knows if she did it," said Lundell, a bartender who was eating lunch downtown.
Outside the Anthony home, several cars cruised slowly, some stopping briefly so the occupants could take pictures.
Ashley Chaney, who flew in from Fort Wayne, Ind., for the trial, was unable to get seats in the courtroom Tuesday, so a visit to Hopespring Drive was the next best thing.
"I wanted to come and see the home to say that I had been here," she said.
Apryl Guzman and her two children drove seven hours straight from Augusta, Ga., arriving at 4 a.m. in Orlando for the verdict. Guzman had harsh words for the jury.
"I truly think this is the dumbest 12 peers that has ever been assembled in a jury case," she said.
Kailey Dickens, who lives down the street, said her nightmare scenario would be if Casey Anthony herself came back there to live.
"It's been a total circus," she said, worrying that it could continue as a result of the verdict.
In Lake County, a group of paralegals left a Eustis bar disappointed after watching the courtroom drama unfold, commenting ruefully that Anthony likely would emerge from the scandal with a book or movie deal.
At the same time, Anthony will have to live with whatever happened, said Margie Walter, 56, a paralegal who watched the verdict announcement.
"She has a life sentence even if the jury didn't impose it," Walter said.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times