Amanda Knox is set to fly back to the United States on Tuesday after being acquitted of murder and released from prison in Italy in a dramatic showdown in the battle to prove her innocence.
The 24-year-old Seattle native sobbed and slumped as the verdict was read out and her parents burst into tears in the courtroom in Perugia in central Italy, while British victim Meredith Kercher’s family sat in stunned silence.
She was driven back to the Capanne prison near Perugia and discharged a short time later. Knox was later seen being driven away in a black Mercedes to be reunited with her family after four years in Italian custody.
Local lawmaker Rocco Girlanda, who befriended Knox and published a book of interviews with her last year, told reporters outside the prison gates that Knox would take a commercial flight for the United States on Tuesday.
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 former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, who was appealing the same convictions for the gruesome 2007 killing, was also acquitted and drove away from Terni prison with his father, headed for his home town in southern Italy.
Knox’s sister, Deanna, told reporters: “We are grateful Amanda’s nightmare is over. She suffered for four years for a crime she did not commit.
“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.”
In the United States, the State Department reacted to the verdict saying it appreciated the “careful consideration” of the case in the Italian courts.
Knox’s friends in Seattle cheered and wept as they watched the verdict live on television.
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 assualt, 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.
“We have won the battle, but not the war,” said one of Knox’s lawyers, Luciano Ghirga, as prosecutor Giuliano Mignini promised to lodge an appeal with Italy’s highest appeal court to “ensure that justice is done.”
“This ruling is wrong and contradictory,” Mignini said.
Should Knox not return to Italy for the prosecution’s final appeal, as appears likely, it would probably have to be held in absentia as the U.S. does not normally extradite its citizens abroad for prosecution.
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.
At the original trial Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison for the murder and Sollecito to 25 years.
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 and had alleged Kercher was killed in a drug-fuelled attack involving all three of the original suspects.
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.
“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 earlier on Monday, before the eight-person jury retired to chambers to consider its verdict.
“I want to go home. I want to return to my life,” she said.
“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.
Kercher’s sister Stephanie said: “Mez has been forgotten in all of this.”
The Kercher family is set to hold a press conference later on 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.