Casey Anthony's Lawyer Goes From 'Jose Who' to 'That's Jose Baez'

Baez says Caylee would not have wanted her mother to be executed.

July 05, 2011, 4:18 PM

July 6, 2011— -- Just a few months ago Jose Baez was a scrappy, unknown lawyer practicing in South Florida.

Today, the day after a jury acquitted his client Casey Anthony of murder charges in one of the more riveting crime stories in years, Baez is the most celebrated attorney in the country.

"After I heard 'not guilty,' I had a moment,'' he told ABC's Barbara Walters in an exclusive interview. "I thought, 'My life is going to start to change.'"

And in a flash. On a trip today that took him through Orlando's airport and then Newark Airport, fellow travellers recognized and cheered Baez, holding up newspapers with his face on the front page and hailed, "Jose."

The security agent who checked his ID in Orlando's airport turned to colleagues and said, "Oh my God, that was Jose Baez." His flight attendant recognized him, too, and leaned over to offer congratulations.

Some in the press have dubbed Baez the next "Juannie Cochran," referring to the colorful attorney who successfully defended O.J.Simpson.

Watch Barbara Walters' exclusive interview with Jose Baez tonight "Primetime Nightline's" special report, "Casey Anthony Not Guilty: Inside the Bombshell Verdict" at 10 p.m./9c

Casey Anthony said in jailhouse visits with her parents that she found Baez through referrals from fellow inmates. During the trial, Baez had to listen as the prosecution played jailhouse tapes of Casey Anthony's parents and her brother questioning her decision to hire him.

During the six weeks of testimony in the Anthony trial, Baez was ceaselessly second-guessed by trial watchers and the media.

Baez had only been practicing for three years and had tried one death penalty case before he was hired by Casey Anthony, though he has handled five murder cases. "'I've never had anyone convicted of first degree murder," he points out.

When the jury acquitted Anthony of all of the most serious charges, convicting only on four counts of lying to authorities, Baez hugged his client.

"I was ecstatic for Casey. I was happiest after I heard the first 'not guilty,' because at that point I had saved her life," he told Walters. "The other 'not guiltys' were a bonus."

Asked by Walters if the verdict meant justice for Caylee, he said, "Caylee would never have wanted her mother to suffer this way. And Caylee certainly would never have wanted her mother to die."

Baez's courtroom strategy was stunning right from the start. In his opening statement, he said his client had lied for the past three years about her daughter being kidnapped by a mysterious nanny. Instead, he said, 2-year-old Caylee had actually drowned in the family swimming pool in June 2008.

Casey Anthony hid her daughter's death because she had been "trained to lie" by surviving years of sexual abuse by her father, Baez claimed.

Anthony's father, George Anthony, found Caylee and helped dispose of the toddler's body where it was later discovered in a swampy, wooded area, he claimed.

George Anthony has denied both accusations.

Baez, a former public defender, was a combative showman in the courtroom who traded jabs with the prosecution. His behavior, along with the prosecutor, invited more than one admonishment from the judge during the trial.

"I've always enjoyed the the theater of trial. I have 45 jury trials under my belt. That's far more than lawyers who've been practicing... 30, 20 years... I'm most comfortable in front of a jury," he said.

"If you ignore the jury, you are ignoring your audience," he said. "I am thinking of the jury with everything I do."

When asked by Walters if Casey Anthony made the right decision not to testify, he replied, "You can't argue with the results."

Many trial watchers were eager to hear Anthony explain how she could have kept her daughter's death a secret for so long. Caylee wasn't reported missing until 31 days after she was last seen, and it was grandmother Cindy Anthony who finally alerted police. Casey Anthony then claimed Caylee had been kidnapped by a nanny.

Baez would only say, "People grieve and respond to trauma in many different ways."

It was a subdued and gracious Baez who spoke to the media shortly after the verdict Tuesday. He complimented his adversaries on the prosecution. He also said, "We should all take this as an opportunity to learn and to realize that you cannot convict someone until they've had their day in court."

Prosecutor Jeff Ashton returned the nod to Baez in an interview on ABC's "The View" today. "I think he did a good job, not a perfect job," Ashton said. "Jose is a relatively new lawyer. The proof is in the pudding."

The media interest in his personal and professional life has not been all-together comfortable for Baez.

Raised along with his three older sisters by a single mother in the Bronx and in South Florida, Baez said his upbringing was middle class. His father, a plumber, remained a part of his life after his parents split up.

At 17, Baez, who had dropped out of Florida's Homestead High School in the ninth grade, married and became a father for the first time.

After a stint in the Navy, he returned to Florida where he attended community college and then studied criminology at Florida State University, he said. He earned his law degree in 1997 from St. Thomas University in Florida.

Florida denied Baez's admission to the bar for eight years, due to his failure to pay child support.

During the trial, there were hints that the rock star treatment could be his new reality. The fireplug of a lawyer was chased down the street during a recent break in the trial by a middle age blonde woman who yelled, "You should be on the cover of GQ."

When asked by Walters, Baez conceded that he had received "seven or eight" marriage proposals.

For Baez, though, after the verdict, it was his daughter who was on his mind. "The best feeling that I have today is I know I can go home and my daughter will ask me what'd you do today and I can say, 'I saved a life.'"

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