Paris Hilton walked out of a Los Angeles County jail flashing a beaming smile and waving to the frenzied crowd.
The 26-year-old hotel heiress wrapped up her three week stay at the all-women's jail in Lynwood at about 12:15 a.m. She had checked into the Century Regional Detention Facility late June 3, largely avoiding the spotlight, after a surprise appearance at the MTV Movie Awards.
Hilton smiled and waved as she filed past sheriff's deputies and the media, her blond hair pulled back in a braided ponytail. Her parents, Kathy and Rick, waited in a black sports utility vehicle. Hilton hurried to the vehicle, where she hugged her mother through the window.
Hilton, who was wearing a sage jacket with white trim over a white shirt and skinny jeans, did not respond to reporters' questions, but shook the hands of and said "Hi" to some spectators watching her joyous exit.
"She fulfilled her debt. She was obviously in good spirits. She thanked people as she left," said sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore.
Chased by photographers in the air and on the street, Hilton eventually made her way from the jail to her grandparents' home in an upscale Los Angeles area north of Sunset Boulevard.
The star of "The Simple Life" planned to appear on CNN's "Larry King Live" on Wednesday.
Just before her release, Hilton's lawyer, Richard Hutton, reportedly slipped a note to Harvey Levin, managing editor of celebrity news Web site TMZ.com, that included a penciled-sketch of the heiress in front of cell doors in the Lynwood jail. She thanked Levin for his "fair and unbiased reporting of the events in my case," according to the note posted on the site. It was signed "Paris Hilton" each letter "i" dotted with a heart.
While she was in custody, Levin repeatedly belittled the judge for the length of the sentence he imposed in Hilton's case, saying anyone else would have served less time.
Hilton will complete her probation in March 2009 as long as she keeps her driver's license current and does not break any laws. She can reduce that time by 12 months if she does community service that could include a public-service announcement, the city attorney's office has said.
During her stay at the Lynwood facility, Hilton was mostly confined to a solitary cell in the special needs unit away from the other 2,200 inmates.
After spending only three days there, she was released to home confinement by Sheriff Lee Baca for an unspecified medical condition that he later said was psychological.
The following day, Superior Court Judge Michael T. Sauer, who sentenced Hilton, called her back into court and ordered her returned to jail, saying he had not condoned her release.
Hilton left the courtroom in tears calling for her mother and shouting, "It's not right!"
She was then taken to the downtown Twin Towers jail, which houses men and the county jail's medical treatment center, where she underwent medical and psychiatric exams to determine where she should be confined.
Hilton's stay there cost taxpayers $1,109.78 (EUR824.44) a day, more than 10 times the cost of housing inmates in the general population.
The move by Baca caused a firestorm of criticism over whether the celebrity was getting special treatment. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has launched an investigation into whether the multimillionaire received special treatment because of her wealth and fame.
At least one person has filed a claim against the county alleging she "had serious medical issues" but was not treated as well as Hilton.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors planned to meet with Baca regarding Hilton's early transfer to home confinement.
A few days into her stint at the Twin Towers medical ward, the heiress said in a phone call to Barbara Walters that she had a new outlook.
"I used to act dumb. It was an act. I am 26 years old, and that act is no longer cute," Hilton said during the call, according to an account posted June 11 by Walters on ABC's Web site.
"It is not who I am, nor do I want to be that person for the young girls who looked up to me," Hilton was quoted as saying.
Hilton's path to jail began Sept. 7, when she failed a sobriety test after police saw her weaving down a street in her car on what she said was a late-night run to a hamburger stand.
She pleaded no contest to reckless driving and was sentenced to 36 months' probation, alcohol education and $1,500 (EUR1,114) in fines.
In the months that followed, she was stopped twice by officers who discovered her driving with a suspended license. The second stop landed her in Sauer's courtroom, where he sentenced her to 45-days in jail. She was released after three weeks for reasons including good behavior.
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