Amanda Knox freed after jury overturns controversial murder verdict

Amanda Knox, an American exchange student sentenced by an Italian court to 26 years for the murder of Meredith Kercher, was acquitted Monday. Serious doubts had emerged over the evidence used to convict her.

By , Correspondent

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    Amanda Knox breaks in tears after hearing the verdict that overturns her conviction and acquits her of murdering her British roommate Meredith Kercher, at the Perugia court, central Italy, Monday.
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Amanda Knox was dramatically acquitted on Monday of the murder of Meredith Kercher, her British roommate, bringing to an end a four-year case that galvanized world attention and raised questions about standards accepted by the Italian justice system in a capital case.

Since being accused of the murder, Ms. Knox had become an object of fascination in Britain and the United States, her home country. Noted for her good looks and criticized for her enigmatic behavior shortly after the murder, she was variously portrayed as a lying, manipulative temptress or an innocent abroad who became unwittingly caught up in a gross miscarriage of justice.

The latter depiction prevailed when the six jurors, aided by two judges, made their decision.

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Whether Italians more broadly will accept the acquittal is unclear. When the news reached a crowd of about 1,000 locals waiting in the piazza outside the courthouse, there was uproar. Many of them shouted “shame,” with the chant reaching a crescendo when lawyers who had defended Knox and her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, who was also acquitted, emerged to give live interviews on TV networks.

Some members of the crowd yelled “They condemned the black man” – a reference to Rudy Guede, who is serving 16 years in prison for the murder and has exhausted his appeals process.

Dramatic courtroom scene

When the verdict was handed down by a judge in a stone-walled, centuries-old courtroom in Perugia, a hill town overlooking the rugged Appenine Mountain range, Knox burst into tears and hugged and kissed her lawyers.

She later walked free from prison after the court ruled that she had served four years for a crime she did not commit. Mr. Sollecito was also released.

Murder victim Miss Kercher’s mother, sister, and brother looked stunned and saddened when the verdict, handed down after the jury deliberated for 11 hours, was read.

Jurors may have been swayed in their decision by an emotional address that Knox gave to the court today at the very end of the 11-month appeal.

Choking back tears, she said she had nothing to do with Kercher’s murder and begged the jury to acquit her.

“I did not kill, I did not rape, I did not steal. I was not there,” the American said.

Speaking in the fluent Italian that she has learned in jail, she said: “I am paying with my life for a crime I didn’t commit. I want to go home. I want to go back to my life.”

The acquittal of her and her former boyfriend means that only one person now stands convicted of stabbing Kercher to death in her bedroom in November 2007: Mr. Guede, a local drifter who grew up in Perugia but who was born in the Ivory Coast.

Only one of the original charges against Knox was upheld - the slander of Patrick Lumumba, a Congolese bar owner in Perugia who she falsely accused of being the murderer.

The judge set the sentence at three years, but with the four years Knox has already served in jail, the sentence was effectively void.

She was ordered to pay him 22,000 euros in compensation plus legal costs. He spent two weeks in jail but was eventually cleared with a solid alibi.

Knox was driven from the courthouse in Perugia to nearby Capanne prison to gather her belongings and be formally discharged from the penal system.

She was expected to fly out as soon as possible to the United States, possibly out of Rome. Knox's family was relieved at the verdict, with her sister, Deanna, telling reporters that "We are thankful to the court for having the courage ... to overturn the conviction. We now respectfully ask that you give Amanda and the rest of our family our privacy that we need to recover from this horrible ordeal."

Sollecito's father, Francesco Sollecito, also expressed relief at his son's acquittal. "It's evident that Raffaelle had nothing to do with the death of that poor girl, Meredith Kercher, who is in our hearts in any case."

Dismay among victim's family

Knox’s acquittal dismayed the Kercher family, who said at a press conference before the verdict that they wanted her original verdict upheld, saying the evidence pointed to her guilt.

“We were satisfied the last time and nothing has changed since then,” said her sister, Stephanie Kercher, before the verdict was handed down.

They said their Italian lawyers had battled the “large PR machine” that swung into action in the United States to protest Knox’s innocence.

Miss Kercher was stabbed to death in the hillside cottage she shared with Knox and two Italian women.

Prosecutors maintained that Knox, Sollecito, and Guede had forced Kercher into a group sex game which spiraled into extreme violence. But serious doubts emerged over the evidence used to convict her, with accusations that police and forensics experts bungled the initial crime scene investigation.

None of Knox’s DNA was found in the bedroom in which Miss Kercher was stabbed to death.

The prosecution claimed that Knox’s DNA was on the handle of the presumed murder weapon, a kitchen knife, and Kercher’s genetic material on the blade, linking the American to the killing.

They also said that Sollecito’s DNA was found on a bra clasp, which had been cut or torn off the bra, proving that he took part in the attack.

But a review of the evidence by two independent experts from La Sapienza University in Rome found that the DNA traces were too low to be reliable and so small that they could not be retested.

There were also doubts over the murder weapon.

Police and prosecutors said Kercher was killed with a kitchen knife found in a drawer in Sollecito’s apartment.

But the blade of the knife did not match two out of three of the wounds to her neck. Nor did it match a bloody, knife-shaped smear on Kercher’s bedclothes.

The prosecution struggled to come up with witnesses who could place Knox and Sollecito at the scene of the crime.

But they insisted that the murder was carried out by more than one person because of the lack of injuries to Kercher’s hands – a fact which suggested that her arms had been pinned back by at least one person while another plunged the knife into her neck.

There seemed to be no convincing motive for the murder. Prosecutors initially said the crime was inspired by the occult and Halloween fantasies.

They then claimed that tensions between Knox and Kercher had reached boiling point over disagreements about housework, personal hygiene, and boyfriends.

In the end, the prosecution said they could not fathom the reason for the murder but insisted that Knox and Sollecito had carried it out. Those arguments were comprehensively rejected by the jury.

American television networks are reportedly offering large sums of money for her first interview, and a book and film are also said to be in the pipeline.

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