Amanda Knox cleared of murdering Meredith Kercher
Amanda Knox was cleared tonight after a court overturned her conviction for the murder of British student Meredith Kercher.
The 24-year-old American has spent four years behind bars for the killing in Perugia, Italy, that she insisted she played no part in.
But her nightmare ended when jurors in her appeal trial found her not guilty of stabbing Miss Kercher after forcing her into a violent sex game.
Knox, from Seattle, was jailed for 26 years in December 2009 after a year-long trial, along with her Italian ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito who was jailed for 25 years.
Sollecito, 27, was also cleared tonight after a successful appeal.
The verdicts came after the former lovers delivered heartfelt addresses to the Perugia court this morning, proclaiming their innocence once more.
Knox, watched by her anxious family in the medieval chamber, declared: "I am not who they say I am - the perversion, the violence, the lack of respect for life - and I did not do the things they say I did.
"I did not kill, I did not rape, I did not steal. I was not there at the time."
Choking back emotion, she told jurors: "I want to go back to my life. I do not want to be punished. I do not want my life taken away for something that I did not do because I am innocent."
The semi-naked body of Leeds University student Miss Kercher, 21, from Coulsdon in Surrey, was found on November 2, 2007, in the house she shared with Knox on her year abroad.
Small-time drug dealer Rudy Guede, 24, from the Ivory Coast, was jailed for the murder and sexual violence after separate proceedings and, while he too protests his innocence, his conviction was upheld on appeal.
Hundreds of people gathered in the streets outside the court shouted "shame" when they heard about the decision.
Knox was told she must pay €22,000 in compensation to Diya "Patrick" Lumumba, a barman she falsely accused of the murder.
Knox walked out of the court in floods of tears, followed shortly afterwards by Sollecito, who showed little expression on his face.
Members of Knox's family smiled and hugged each other after the results were read out by the judge. Some friends and relatives simply clasped their hands over their mouths, seemingly in surprise.
Her mother Edda Mellas helped wipe the tears from the face of one of her daughter's friends as the verdict sunk in. Lawyers were also seen embracing and patting each other on the back.
Meredith's brother Lyle and sister Stephanie comforted each other as they remained seated in the courtroom with their mother Arline.
Television pictures showed hundreds of people outside the court building, with dozens of cameramen and photographers trying to get pictures.
Shouts and jeers could be heard outside the building in reaction to the acquittals.
Knox's victory was won after a successful PR campaign fought by her family, who have repeatedly given media interviews about her wrongful conviction.
In marked contrast to the Kercher family, who have largely maintained a dignified silence since losing their daughter and sister, the Knoxs deployed every resource at their disposal to save theirs.
Knox's stepfather, Chris Mellas, even moved to Perugia to be near his stepdaughter and attend her appeal hearings.
Her acquittal secured, Knox is now expected to return to the US with her family at the earliest possible opportunity.
Her next move remains to be seen, but she is known to have been penning her memoirs in prison, while rumours of million dollar bids for the first television interview with her have been rife.
The Kerchers refused to comment earlier on whether they would fight the court decision should the convictions be overturned but are likely to address this issue tomorrow.
Prosecutors are expected to appeal, even in the knowledge that once Knox has gone home she will almost certainly not be extradited back to Italy.
Timeline of Kercher murder case
- November 2: Miss Kercher, a 21-year-old exchange student from Coulsdon, Surrey, is discovered with her throat cut in her bedroom at her house in the Italian town of Perugia. Her body is partially clothed and under a duvet.
- November 4: A post-mortem examination reveals evidence of sexual activity at some point before Miss Kercher died.
- November 6: Police arrest Miss Kercher's American housemate, Amanda Knox, then 20; Knox's boyfriend, Italian student Raffaele Sollecito, 23; and Congolese Diya "Patrick" Lumumba, 38, who runs a local bar.
Police claim Miss Kercher was murdered because she refused to take part in violent sex. Knox is said to have broken down and confessed to the crime and implicated Lumumba. The three are held on suspicion of conspiracy to commit manslaughter and sexual violence.
- November 7: It is reported that Knox told officers she covered her ears to the sound of screaming coming from Miss Kercher's bedroom.
- November 9: Judge Claudia Matteini rules that the three suspects can be held for up to a year while the investigation continues.
- November 11: Miss Kercher's body is flown home. Knox's mother, Edda Mellas, says Knox did not hear Miss Kercher's screams the night she died but was with Sollecito at his house.
- November 15: DNA is reportedly found on a kitchen knife belonging to Sollecito, with Knox's DNA near the handle and Miss Kercher's on the blade. Police are unsure whether the knife is from Sollecito's kitchen or the house the women shared.
- November 19: A fourth suspect is named as Rudy Hermann Guede, 20, from the Ivory Coast. He is thought to have left Perugia for Milan after Miss Kercher died.
- November 20: Guede is arrested in the German city of Mainz after travelling without a ticket on a train bound for Frankfurt. Lumumba is released without charge.
- November 22: Guede admits being in Miss Kercher's house on the night of the murder but says an Italian man he did not know committed the crime.
- November 30: A court in Perugia rejects Sollecito and Knox's appeals to be released from Capanne prison after lead investigator Giuliano Mignini warns the court they might go on the run if set free.
- December 6: It is revealed that Guede has been extradited from Germany back to Italy.
- September 9: Guede's lawyers say he will ask to be prosecuted separately from Knox and Sollecito in a fast-track trial after talk of a possible pact between the former lovers to frame him.
- September 16: All three suspects appear before a judge in the first of a series of pre-trial hearings in Perugia. Judge Paolo Micheli grants Guede's request for a fast-track trial.
- September 26: Knox and Sollecito come face to face in a closed courtroom for the first time since being jailed after the murder.
- October 28: After 11 hours of deliberation, Judge Micheli sentences Guede to 30 years for the murder of Miss Kercher. He also orders Knox and Sollecito to stand trial for murder and sexual violence.
- October 30: Judge Micheli rules that Knox and Sollecito will remain in prison while they await trial.
- January 16: The trial of Knox and Sollecito begins.
- February 6: On the first day of evidence, Sollecito tells the court he is not violent and has nothing to do with the case.
- June 6: Miss Kercher's parents, John and Arline, give evidence. Mrs Kercher says she will never get over her daughter's murder.
- June 12: Knox gives evidence in fluent Italian. She says she accused Mr Lumumba "in confusion and under pressure" and that a police officer hit her on the head during her interrogation.
- November 21: Prosecutors ask for life sentences for Knox and Sollecito.
- December 4: Knox and Sollecito are both found guilty of the murder. Knox is sentenced to 26 years in prison and Sollecito to 25.
- December 5: Knox's family say they will immediately begin the process of appealing against the verdict.
- November 24: Knox and Sollecito return to court in Perugia for the start of their appeal.
- December 11: Knox breaks down in tears as she makes an emotional courtroom appeal against her conviction, saying she was the innocent victim of an "enormous mistake".
- December 16: Italy's highest criminal court upholds Guede's conviction and prison sentence, which was slashed to 16 years in his first appeal.
- December 19: The court allows a review of the DNA evidence used to convict Knox and Sollecito.
- June 27: Guede gives evidence for the prosecution in the appeal process and confirms the contents of a letter he wrote to his lawyers in 2010, which included a direct accusation against Knox and Sollecito.
- July 25: Experts tell the appeal court that the forensic scientists who helped convict Knox made a series of glaring errors. The genetic evidence was tainted by the use of a dirty glove and failure to wear protective caps, they claim.
- September 7: The appeal court rejects a prosecution request for new DNA tests, saying they would be unnecessary. Prosecutor Manuela Comodi reportedly says she can envisage Knox and Sollecito being cleared.
- October 3: Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito both cleared of murdering Meredith Kercher after successful appeal.