(Updates with Knox’s sister statement in fourth paragraph, Kercher family in fifth, comment by resident in eighth.)
Oct. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Amanda Knox, a 24-year-old American, was acquitted by an Italian appeals court for the 2007 murder of her British housemate, Meredith Kercher, ending four years of imprisonment.
A jury of six private citizens and two judges found Knox and her Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, innocent in the killing of Kercher. The ruling in Perugia, Italy, tonight overturned murder convictions for the pair in 2009. Under Italian law, the prosecution may still appeal the ruling to Italy’s highest criminal court.
Knox broke into tears when the ruling was announced in the packed 14th-century courthouse. In a final statement earlier today, Knox, a student in Perugia at the time of the killing, had declared her innocence and said, “I want to go home.” Crowds gathered outside the courthouse shouted “shame, shame” after the verdict was announced.
“We are thankful that Amanda’s nightmare is over,” her sister, Deanna Knox said in a statement to reporters after the ruling. “She has suffered for four years for a crime she didn’t commit” and “we are thankful to this court for having the courage to overturn this conviction.”
Knox will depart for the U.S. “as soon as possible,” Carlo Dalla Vedova, one of her lawyers, said after the ruling, Ansa newswire reported. “Amanda loves Italy” but “now she wants to go home.”
The Kercher family said it “respects but doesn’t understand” today’s ruling, Ansa newswire reported.
Knox, an exchange student in Perugia at the time of Kercher’s murder in 2007, and Sollecito, 27, were convicted of the killing in December 2009 and sentenced to 26 years and 25 years in prison respectively. Both were jailed shortly after the crime and denied bail.
Rudy Guede, an Ivorian-born Italian citizen, was also found guilty of the murder in a separate “fast-track” trial in 2008 and sentenced to 30 years. Guede, 24, had his sentence reduced to 16 years in a 2009 appeal.
“I felt there would be an acquittal because there was no proof,” said Claudio Maccheroni, 34, a mechanic Perugia. “But it’s too hard to imagine that Guede did everything by himself.”
Kercher, a 21-year-old student, was found dead in her bedroom, half-naked and strangled with her throat slashed, on Nov. 2, 2007, at the house she shared with Knox and two other women. Prosecutor Giuliano Mignini said at the original murder trial that Knox had masterminded a drug-fueled sex game involving Sollecito and Guede that turned violent, leading to the murder.
“The perversion, the violence and the disrespect for life and for people, that’s not me, I didn’t do the things they said I did,” Knox said in her statement today, speaking in Italian. “I didn’t kill, I didn’t rape, I didn’t rob, I wasn’t there.” Knox said she had been “paying with my life for things I didn’t do.”
Both Knox and Sollecito said in comments to the court today that they had never met Guede, who admitted to being in the house on the night of the killing and said he scuffled with an unidentified Italian there whom he blamed for the murder.
The original trial garnered global media attention and divided opinion along national lines, with U.S. newspapers including the New York Times arguing for acquittal and U.K. dailies portraying Knox as a seductive temptress with a violent streak. Italian newspapers covered everything from love letters Knox received from supporters to the outfits she wore in court.
The appeals trial also saw a wave of foreign media descend on Perugia, a town of 170,000 in central Italy, including local television stations from Knox’s hometown of Seattle. More than 400 journalists were accredited to cover the trial, a court official said, and many were forced to stand during the proceedings in the packed courtroom.
In arguments to the appeals court, Sollecito’s attorney Giulia Bongiorno, a member of the Italian parliament, compared Knox to Jessica Rabbit, saying the American had been unfairly portrayed in the media as a savvy, sex-obsessed manipulator. Like the cartoon-film character, Knox “isn’t bad, she’s just drawn that way,” Bongiorno said.
Kercher family members said at a press conference in Perugia earlier today that they believed in the original verdict and that the media focus on Amanda Knox had left the victim of the crime forgotten.
“Meredith has been completely forgotten in all of this,” Stephanie Kercher, Meredith’s sister, said. “It’s nearly four years now and the focus has shifted for obvious reasons onto the proceedings in the court at the moment. It’s very difficult to try keep her memory alive in all of this.”
During the appeals trial, court-commissioned experts cast doubt on techniques police used to collect DNA evidence linking the two to the murder. A former cellmate of Guede also testified that he said Knox and Sollecito had nothing to do with the crime, Italian newspapers reported.
Prosecutor Manuela Comodi in a Sept. 24 closing statement denied that the experts’ findings had weakened the case and argued that Knox and Sollecito’s sentences should be extended to life terms. Mignini warned that if Knox was let off on appeal she would flee the country before prosecutors could challenge the ruling.
“There is no winner in this ruling,” Knox’s lawyer, Carlo Dalla Vedova said in an interview broadcast on BBC News after today’s decision. “This was a terrible tragedy, Meredith was a friend of Amanda and we must never forget this.”
Knox at first told police she was the villa at the time of the killing and that screaming from Kercher’s room alerted her to the crime scene. Knox also initially named the owner of a bar where she had worked as the possible killer. The man, Patrick Diya Lumumba, was arrested and later released after a witness confirmed his alibi. A lawyer for Lumumba told the court Sept. 26 that Knox was a “she-devil.” Lumumba sued her for damages. The appeals court upheld her conviction for slandering Lumumba.
Knox later retracted her statement, saying she spent the night with Sollecito. Her lawyer said her original account had been coerced by the police.
“If I had been there that night, I would be dead like her,” Knox told the court today. “Only I wasn’t there, I was at Raffaele’s.”
--With assistance from Flavia Krause-Jackson in New York and Marco Bertacche in Milan. Editors: Andrew Davis, Jeffrey Donovan
To contact the reporter on this story: Jerrold Colten in Milan at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: David Risser at email@example.com.