REPORTING FROM LONDON -– Former American exchange student Amanda Knox became a free woman Monday after an Italian appeals jury threw out her murder conviction in the slaying of her roommate, Meredith Kercher, four years ago.
After hours of deliberation, jurors in the town of Perugia, Italy, decided to free Knox and her alleged accomplice, Italian Raffaele Sollecito. Knox, 24, and Sollecito, 27, were convicted in 2009 of murdering Kercher and sentenced to 26 years and 25 years in prison, respectively.
The verdict was read out Monday night amid intense international media attention. Knox, a native of Seattle, looked tense and fearful as she was led into the courtroom. She burst into tears when the verdict was announced.
Prosecutors have said that they would bring the case to Italy's high court if the verdict went against them. They contend that DNA and circumstantial evidence tie Knox firmly to the killing of her British roommate. But Knox's supporters say she has been the victim of a botched police investigation and prejudicial media coverage.
The jury found that the evidence against her was not credible. But it found her guilty of slander against police and against a Congolese barman whom she had falsely accused of involvement in the crime.
Knox is free to return to the United States. Her family celebrated in the courtroom, crying and hugging each other in relief. Kercher’s family sat impassively in the courtroom absorbing the news.
Earlier Monday, Knox made an emotional appeal for her freedom, telling the eight members of the jury that she was not the violent, promiscuous killer portrayed by the prosecution, and that her trust in the Italian police had been betrayed.
"I was manipulated. I am not what they say," Knox said. "I have not killed; I have not raped. ... I wasn't present at the crime."
Knox addressed the court in Italian, at times emphatic and at other moments too overcome by emotion to continue speaking.
She has been in prison since the November 2007 slaying of the 21-year-old Kercher, whose throat was slashed in what authorities described as a sex game gone wrong.
Knox's lawyers argued that the police investigation into Kercher's death was bungled and that the case against Knox and Sollecito was based on flawed DNA evidence. An independent review of the DNA evidence has found it to be unreliable.
But prosecutors take issue with that finding and say that circumstantial evidence also points to the defendants' guilt.
-- Henry Chu
Photo: Amanda Knox arrives in court for her appeal trial in Perugia, Italy on Monday. Credit: Giorgio Benvenuti / Reuters