Tight security as Amanda Knox due back home in US

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Security was tight at Seattle airport Tuesday as Amanda Knox was due to arrive home hours after being acquitted of murder by an Italian court and freed from four years in jail.

"We are in a state of heightened alert," said airport spokesman Perry Cooper, adding "but this is not super unusual for us, we do the same kind of thing for major celebrities and so on."

Journalists from around the world were also camped out at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport with a media crush expected to greet Knox and her family when their plane arrives around 5:22 pm (0022 GMT).

Her family has pleaded for privacy saying the 24-year-old had endured an "ordeal" and a "nightmare." But a staging area had been set up at a parking lot below the main terminal and the former University of Washington student was expected to make a statement.

Knox left Rome swiftly after the decision was handed down by an Italian court, first heading for London where she boarded the connecting flight to her hometown of Seattle on the Pacific coast.

Knox had been convicted along with two others and sentenced to 26 years in prison for taking part in the murder and sexual assault of her British housemate Meredith Kercher, then 21, who was found stabbed to death in the cottage they shared.

Knox's ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, who also had appealed his conviction on the same charges, was likewise acquitted Monday in the university town of Perugia in central Italy where Knox and Kercher were studying.

Kercher was found in a pool of blood on the floor of her bedroom. Her body was covered in dozens of knife wounds and bruises and investigators found traces of a sexual assault.

The only person now convicted of the crime is local drifter Rudy Guede, who is serving 16 years after his earlier appeals were rejected.

Prosecutors had claimed that Knox, Sollecito and Guede may have been in the house for a drug deal and then taken part in a frenzied sexual attack.

Knox sobbed and had to be escorted out of the courtroom after the verdict was read out on Monday as her family hugged and cried in joy.

Outside the court, an angry crowd of local residents shouted: "Shame! Shame!" and "Murderers!"

Although she was cleared of murder and sexual assault, Knox was found guilty of slander for incriminating the owner of a local bar where she worked as a waitress in her first interrogation just days after the 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 court to "ensure justice is done."

But an appeal by the prosecution would probably have to be held in Italy in absentia as the US does not extradite its citizens abroad for trials.

And Kercher's family were left in shock.

"This result is crazy. It makes a mockery of the original trial," Kercher's father John was quoted as saying by the British tabloid Daily Mirror.

"There were 47 knife wounds on Meredith and two knives used. One person couldn't possibly have done that," said Kercher, who did not attend the verdict.

Kercher's mother, brother and sister, who traveled to Italy to hear the verdict, said the truth of what really happened on the night their loved one was killed on November 1, 2007, had suddenly been thrown into doubt.

"We're back to square one. The search goes on to find out what really happened," Kercher's brother, Lyle, said at a press conference in Perugia.

On arrival at Heathrow, Knox was escorted to the Windsor Suite, a special building away from the main terminal normally reserved for royalty, politicians and celebrities, an airport spokeswoman confirmed.

London's Evening Standard newspaper said the Windsor Suite costs £2,000 ($3,100, 2,330 euros) for passengers to use.

Italian newspapers said the acquittals were inevitable given the problems with the investigation highlighted during the appeal, but there was still no convincing picture of what had happened to Kercher.

"This is not a victory for justice. It's an acquittal that leaves a bitter taste," La Stampa daily said in an editorial.

Knox's defense 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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