Amanda Knox freed: tears of joy as four-year nightmare is over
Amanda Knox was this morning preparing to board a commercial flight from Rome back to the United States after being cleared of murdering British student Meredith Kercher and released from prison in Italy.
The 24-year old collapsed sobbing in court last night as she was cleared of murdering the British student Meredith Kercher.
A jury decided that Knox, who has spent almost four years in jail, was the victim of a miscarriage of justice following a chaotic Italian police investigation.
Her acquittal sparked jubilant scenes among her family in the courtroom in Perugia, who said her “nightmare” was finally over.
But the verdict was greeted with anger by crowds in the street who branded her a “murderer” and denounced the decision as an “embarrassment”.
It was also a bitter blow to the family of 21-year-old Miss Kercher, who just hours earlier had urged the jury to ignore the “hype” surrounding Knox and uphold her conviction for the 2007 murder.
Meredith’s mother Arline and sister Stephanie were comforted by her brother Lyle as they sat quietly in court absorbing the news.
The Kercher family said they respected the judges’ decision last night.
“We respect the decision of the judges but we do not understand how the decision of the first trial could be so radically overturned,” the Kerchers said in a statement. “We still trust the Italian justice system and hope that the truth will eventually emerge.”
The victim’s sister, Stephanie Kercher, who was in Perugia with her mother and brother for the verdict, lamented that her sister “has been nearly forgotten.”
“We want to keep her memory alive,” she said after the verdict.
For the first time since the appeal began 11 months ago, Knox’s composure deserted her as the judge announced that she and her co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito had been “acquitted because they have not committed the crime”.
Her legs gave way as the verdict was read and she crumbled into her seat and burst into tears. After a hearing lasting barely two minutes, she was bundled out of court by a phalanx of police officers and taken back to Capanne prison to collect her belongings, before finally being allowed to walk free.
Knox was said to have been besides herself with happiness on her brief return to the prison.
Speaking outside the jail after Knox had left, Italian MP Rocco Girlanda, who befriended Knox during her time behind bars, said: “When the other prisoners said well done to her, she started jumping for joy.”
Mr Girlanda said she and her family will leave Italy on Tuesday aboard a commercial flight from Rome.
Unlike in 2009 her family had not bought a plane ticket in advance for Miss Knox, friends said.
It is thought her passport expired while she was in prison. Family friend Joe Star said he expected the State Department would provide an emergency one. He said: “Once she gets to customs, I don’t think anyone will argue who she is.”
Corrado Maria Daclon, the secretary general of a foundation that has championed Knox’s cause, drove with Knox in a black Mercedes as she left the prison last night. He said she told him that she “wanted to go home, reconnect with her family, take possession of her life and win back her happiness.”
She is expected to fly home to the US today, where television networks are in a bidding war for the first interview with her. Miss Knox is expected to make millions of dollars from TV appearances, book and film deals. The acquittal may not, however, be the end of the story for Knox, as Italian prosecutors have indicated that they might appeal the case to Italy's highest court, which could mean a future attempt to extradite her back from the US.
A crowd of around 1,000 people waiting outside the courthouse erupted with anger when news of the verdicts reached them, shouting "Shame on you" and "They condemned the black man", referring to Rudy Guede, who is serving 16 years in prison after being separately convicted of Miss Kercher's murder.
Deanna Knox, Amanda's sister, said: "We are thankful that Amanda's nightmare is over. She has suffered for four years for a crime she did not commit.
"We are thankful for her lawyers and their assistants … They defended her brilliantly and also they loved her.
"We are thankful for the support we have received from all over the world from people who researched the case and decided that Amanda was innocent.
"We are thankful to the court for having the courage to look for the truth and overturn this conviction. Now we respectfully ask you to give Amanda and our family the privacy we need to recover from this horrible ordeal."
Margaret Ralph, whose daughter used to play in a football team with Miss Knox, shouted: “Thankyou, thankyou” when the verdict was read out.
She said: “Imagine being behind cement walls and bars for four years, and knowing you’re innocent.
“I’m sure she’s wounded, but she has all this support from her family, her friends, her community. And she’s going to have to find a way to deal with the people who still think she’s guilty.”
Knox and her former boyfriend Sollecito were convicted in 2009 of murdering the Leeds University student on Nov 2, 2007, but had always maintained their innocence.
The case against them fell apart when DNA evidence which had been crucial to the original case was found to be unreliable by an independent review.
Miss Knox, who had spent the afternoon playing the guitar and singing in a prison chapel as she waited for the verdicts, appeared distressed when she was brought into court last night.
She looked pale and was breathing heavily, and after collapsing into her chair when she learned her fate she appeared barely able to support herself as she was escorted out of court with a policeman holding each of her arms.
Despite being acquitted of murder, sexual assault and theft, the court upheld a conviction for defamation against Patrick Lumumba, the owner of a bar where she worked, who she had accused of killing Meredith in a statement she said was made under duress.
She was ordered to pay Mr Lumumba €22,000 (£18,800) plus his legal costs.
The Kercher family had earlier said they hoped the jury could ignore the "hype" surrounding Miss Knox and stick to the evidence, saying their legal team had struggled against a "PR machine" assembled by the Knox family.
Despite her acquittal, Knox will still be dogged by a string of unanswered questions about her movements on the night of the murder.
After initially making a false accusation against Mr Lumumba, and saying she was in the flat when Miss Kercher was killed, she changed her story and said she spent the whole night with Mr Sollecito, smoking marijuana, watching a film and making love.
But Sollecito told police he could not remember if Knox was with him that evening. Computer experts also disproved his claim that he had downloaded films on his laptop, which was not used that night.
The court heard that Knox and Sollecito turned off their mobile phones on the night of the murder, from around 8.40pm, and turned them back on at around 6am, which was "unprecedented" for Knox.
The US State Department reacted to the verdict saying it appreciated the “careful consideration” of the case in the Italian courts.
Knox's lawyer, Carlo Della Vedova, said: "In this case there is no winner. They have rectified a mistake.
"It was a terrible tragedy in the beginning. Meredith was a friend of Amanda's, we have to remember that, we have to remember the family."
Asked about Knox's reaction to the verdicts, he said: "She didn't say anything but she was so happy, she started crying." She had been "scared" earlier, and "This was a very tense day for her. She didn't say much."
He added: "Amanda is a very intelligent girl. She was very young and very inexperienced at the beginning – she has matured."