Tears of joy as Knox wins Italy murder appeal
Amanda Knox was acquitted of murder and sexual assault by an Italian jury on Monday in a dramatic end to her four-year battle to prove her innocence, sparking scenes of jubilation in the courtroom.
The 24-year-old Seattle native sobbed as the verdict was being read out and had to be escorted out of the courtroom in Perugia in central Italy. She is expected to be released imminently and to fly back to the United States.
Knox was acquitted "for not committing the act," judge Claudio Pratillo Hellmann said, reading out the ruling after 11 hours of jury deliberations.
Knox's mother and father burst into tears and hugged the defence lawyers, while murder victim Meredith Kercher's family sat in stunned silence.
"We are grateful Amanda's nightmare is over. She suffered for four years for a crime she did not commit," Knox's sister, Deanna, told reporters.
"We are grateful for the support we have received all over the world and we are thankful to the court for having the courage to look for the truth and overturn the conviction," she said, wiping away tears.
"We now respectfully ask for the space Amanda and our family need to recover from this ordeal," she added.
Outside the tribunal meanwhile an angry crowd of hundreds of local residents gathered and there were shouts of: "Shame! Shame!" and "Murderers!"
One man shouted through a loudspeaker: "They're guilty!"
Knox's former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, who was appealing the same convictions for the gruesome 2007 killing, was also acquitted.
Knox was however found guilty of slander for falsely identifying her former employer as the killer but was sentenced to time already served.
She will have to pay compensation and legal costs for the injured party.
The 21-year-old Kercher was found half-naked in a pool of blood on the floor of her bedroom in the cottage she shared with Knox. Her body was covered in knife wounds and bruises and investigators found traces of a sexual assault.
Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison for the murder and Sollecito to 25 in the original trial. A third person, Rudy Guede, was also convicted and is serving out a 16-year prison sentence after exhausting his chances for appeal.
Prosecutors had asked for life sentences against Knox and Sollecito.
Knox initially told police she was there at the time of the murder and falsely identified the owner of a local bar where she worked as the killer.
But she later argued that the statement was only given under heavy questioning and has since said she was at Sollecito's house the whole night.
"I did not kill, I did not rape, I did not steal. I wasn't there," the tearful Seattle native told the court earlier on Monday as her family wept, before the eight-person jury retired to chambers to consider its verdict.
"I am paying with my life for a crime I did not commit," an ashen-faced Knox said, speaking in almost flawless Italian with her hands sometimes joined as if in prayer in a hushed courtroom and other times holding the bench for support.
"I want to go home. I want to return to my life," she said in a statement that she had to interrupt frequently as she struggled to contain her emotions.
"I am not the person they say I am. I am not into perversion and violence," she said, after her accusers told the court that she was a "she-devil".
Kercher's family meanwhile complained their loved one had been "forgotten" in a case that has focussed on the figure of Knox and they lashed out against what they called a "large PR machine" working to secure Knox's acquittal.
"The brutality of that night, everything Meredith went through, the fear, the terror, she didn't deserve that," Kercher's sister Stephanie said, wiping away tears in a rare press conference in Perugia ahead of the verdict.
"Mez has been forgotten in all of this. It's difficult to keep her memory alive. We're here today to find justice," she said, urging jurors to ignore the "media hype". Four hundred journalists are covering the trial in Perugia.
Appeal verdicts that overturn the original case are relatively rare in Italy but Knox's defence had the upper hand for much of the appeal, particularly after independent experts cast serious doubt on some crucial DNA evidence.
Sollecito also spoke before the verdict, saying: "I have never hurt anyone in my life." He took off an arm band with the inscription "Free Amanda and Raffaele" and presented it to the court as a symbol of their innocence.
© 2011 AFP