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Casey Anthony judge felt 'shock, disbelief' at not-guilty verdict

May 6, 2013 at 7:28 AM ET

Video: Nearly two years after Casey Anthony was acquitted of the murder of her 2-year-old daughter Caylee, Judge Belvin Perry Jr., who presided over the case, is speaking out for the first time. NBC’s Kerry Sanders reports, and Perry describes his shock upon reading the verdict the jury turned in.

Two years after jury selection began for the Casey Anthony murder trial, Judge Belvin Perry, who presided over the case, said the Florida mother was "very manipulative."

"There were two sides to Casey Anthony," he told Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Monday in an exclusive interview. "There was the side that was before the jury, where she portrayed the role of a mother who had lost a child, someone who was wrongfully accused, and then you could notice the change and transformation in her when the jury went out.

"She was very commanding, she took charge of different things, and you could see her sometimes scolding her attorneys."

During the trial, Anthony's attorneys discussed with her the possibility of taking a plea deal for aggravated manslaughter instead of first-degree murder. Perry described Anthony's behavior as she talked with her lawyers in a holding cell near where he was sitting.

"I will never forget that day,'' he said. "All of a sudden, you heard shouting coming from the holding cell, some four-letter words coming from the holding cell, and she was quite upset. So upset that one counselor suggested that she was incompetent to proceed."

Perry, the chief judge on Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit, became famous during the trial, which made national headlines from May to July 2011. The jury found Anthony not guilty of the first-degree murder of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee. Her daughter's remains were found in a wooded area near Anthony’s home in Orlando in December 2008.

The jury found Anthony guilty of four misdemeanor counts of providing false information to a law enforcement officer, and she was released in July of 2011 after getting credit for time served.

Perry described his "surprise," "shock" and "disbelief" at reading the verdict.

"There was sufficient evidence to sustain a verdict of murder in the first degree in this case," he said.

"I thought they had proved a great case, but you’ve got to realize this was a circumstantial evidence case. All the defense had to do was create that reasonable doubt, and that’s what they did."

Perry credits Anthony's lawyer, Jose Baez, for his effect on the jury.

"The state had better lawyers, but Mr. Baez was very personable,'' Perry said. "He came across as someone that you would like. It’s like someone trying to sell a used car. Who are you going to buy it from? The most likable salesperson."

In Florida, television cameras are allowed in the courtroom. The Anthony trial rippled across Twitter and Facebook. The high-profile trial earned Perry the nickname "The Velvet Hammer" on social media.

"In Florida we’ve always had cameras,'' he said. "I think people need to know how their justice system works, and that’s the only way it can work."


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