Knox set to leave Italy after murder acquittal

4th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

Amanda Knox was to fly back from Italy to the United States on Tuesday after being acquitted of murder and released from prison in a dramatic climax to a four-year battle to prove her innocence.

Knox was discharged from the Capanne jail near Perugia in central Italy on Monday after her conviction for killing her British housemate Meredith Kercher was overturned in a rare such ruling that prompted outpourings of emotion.

The 24-year-old Seattle native was then driven to Rome ahead of her flight, according to representatives of the Italy-USA Foundation, which has helped out during what her jubilant family described as an "ordeal" and a "nightmare."

In a letter released by the foundation on Tuesday, Knox said: "I am forever grateful to whoever wrote to me, defended me, was close to me, prayed for me."

Knox's former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, who was convicted on the same charges and appealed together with the US student, was also acquitted and released and was back in his home in Giovinazzo in southern Italy on Tuesday.

Knox sobbed as the verdict was read out on Monday and there were tears of joy among friends and family in Seattle. The US State Department reacted saying it appreciated the "careful consideration" of the case by Italian courts.

Knox was acquitted "for not committing the act," judge Claudio Pratillo Hellmann said, reading out the ruling after 11 hours of jury deliberations.

Her sister, Deanna, told reporters: "We are grateful Amanda's nightmare is over. She suffered for four years for a crime she did not commit."

But outside the courtroom in Perugia an angry crowd of hundreds of local residents gathered and there were shouts of: "Shame! Shame!" and "Murderers!"

Some heckled Knox's lawyers and one man shouted: "They're guilty!"

Although she was cleared of murder and sexual assault, Knox was found guilty of slander for incriminating the owner of a bar where she worked as a waitress in her first interrogation just days after the November 1, 2007 murder.

She was sentenced to time already served and will have to pay compensation to the unjustly accused man, Patrick Lumumba, as well as his legal fees.

Prosecutor Giuliano Mignini said he will petition against the ruling in Italy's highest appeals ourt to "ensure justice is done." Prosecutors had been asking for Knox's and Sollecito's sentences to be increased to life in prison.

"We have won the battle, but not the war," one of Knox's lawyers, Luciano Ghirga, told reporters outside the prison gates after Knox was freed.

The final appeal would probably have to be held in absentia as the US does not normally extradite its citizens abroad for prosecution.

The 21-year-old Kercher was found 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.

At the original trial in 2009, Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison and Sollecito to 25 years. A third person, Rudy Guede, was also convicted and is serving a 16-year prison sentence after exhausting his appeals.

Knox, Sollecito and Guede have all denied any involvement in the killing, although Guede said he was in the house at the time of the murder while Knox and Sollecito said they were at Sollecito's house that night.

Prosecutors had alleged that Kercher was killed in a drug-fuelled sex attack involving all three and had claimed that Knox delivered the final blows to the victim while Sollecito and Guede held her down.

"I did not kill, I did not rape, I did not steal. I wasn't there," a tearful and ashen-faced Knox told the court on Monday, before the eight-person jury retired to chambers to consider its verdict.

"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 focused on the figure of Knox and they lashed out against what they called a "large PR machine" working to secure Knox's acquittal.

"We can't understand how it's possible to completely overturn the verdict in the original trial. We want the truth to be determined once and for all," the family said in a statement after the verdict.

The Kercher family is set to hold a press conference later Tuesday.

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.

© 2011 AFP

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