Amanda Knox freed after jury overturns conviction

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by KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on October 3, 2011 at 12:54 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 4 at 6:01 AM

Amanda Knox's four-year ordeal at the hands of the Italian justice system came to an end Monday after an appeals court overturned her conviction for the Nov. 2007 murder in Perugia of roommate and fellow student Meredith Kercher.
 
Knox was seen leaving Perugia's Campanne prison in a black Mercedes sedan shortly after 11 p.m. local time (2 p.m. Seattle time). Italian lawmaker Rocco Girlanda, who has spearheaded Knox's case and is close to the American, said Knox and her family will leave Italy on Tuesday aboard a commercial flight from Rome.
 
Corrado Maria Daclon, the secretary general of a foundation that has championed Knox's cause, quoted Knox as telling him as she left prison that she just "wanted to go home, reconnect with her family, take possession of her life and win back her happiness."
 
Shortly after the verdict was announced, Amanda Knox's sister, Deanna, issued a statement on behalf of the family. She said the family is "thankful that Amanda's ordeal is over" and went on to thank Amanda's legal team who "defended her brilliantly" and "loved her dearly."  

Deanna Knox also said the family was "thankful to the court for having the courage to look for the truth and to overturn the conviction." She finished with a plea to the media and public for "privacy to recover from this horrible ordeal."
 
The prosecution has said that it would appeal a decision in Knox's favor, and under the Italian criminal justice system prosecutors have the right to ask Italy's highest court to weigh in.
 
Praxilla Trabattoni, an Italian lawyer who was in the courtroom when the verdict was read, told KING5's Linda Byron that 30 members of Perugia's police force stood near the prosecution's table as the verdict was read, demonstrating their support for Giuliano Mignini, the lead prosecutor.
 
The eight-member jury -- comprised of the presiding judge, a side judge and six jurors -- had two options to acquit: determining there wasn't enough evidence to uphold the conviction or that they simply didn't commit the crime. The jury determined the latter, clearing them completely.

The jury upheld Knox's conviction on one charge, that of slandering her former employer, Diya "Patrick" Lumumba. Knox had identified Lumumba as the killer early on, but she later retracted the accusation. The presiding judge set the sentence at three years, meaning for time served. Knox and Sollecito were expected to be freed within hours.

Earlier Monday, Amanda Knox issued a tearful final statement to the court, declaring again that she did not kill her British roommate. She frequently paused for breath and fought back tears as she spoke in Italian to the eight members of the jury in a packed courtroom, but managed to maintain her composure during the 10-minute address.

"I've lost a friend in the worst, most brutal, most inexplicable way possible," she said. "I'm paying with my life for things that I didn't do."

Sollecito also addressed the court, saying, "I never hurt anyone, never in my life."

At the end of his 17-minute statement, Sollecito took off a white rubber bracelet emblazoned with "Free Amanda and Raffaele" that he said he has been wearing for four years.

"I have never taken it off. Many emotions are concentrated in this bracelet," he said. "Now I want to pay homage to the court. The moment to take it off has arrived."

Earlier Monday, after the court adjourned for the jury deliberations, the family of Meredith Kercher spoke to the media gathered in Perugia, with the victim's sister, Stephanie, saying Meredith has been forgotten in the publicity surrounding the trial.

"Meredith has almost been forgotten in all of it. The media photos aren't really of her," said Stephanie Kercher.

"There's not a lot about what actually happened in the beginning, so it's been really difficult to keep her memory alive in all of this, which is why the whole trial is still going on in the first place, so we can find the truth, so we can find justice for her. That's why we're here today."

"The lower court found the defendants guilty. The Kercher family's interest is to have the verdict confirmed," family lawyer Francesco Maresca said Monday.

Later, as the verdict was read, the Kercher family looked on grimly and a bit dazed. Outside the courthouse, some of the hundreds of observers shouted "Shame, shame!"

"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."

Prosecutors maintain that evidence collected at the scene of the crime ties Knox and Sollecito to the violent murder. Kercher was found stabbed to death in her bedroom on Nov. 2, 2007. Found guilty in Dec. 2009, Knox was later sentenced to 26 years in prison, Sollecito to 25.

Also convicted in separate proceedings was Rudy Hermann Guede, a small-time drug dealer and drifter who spent most of his life in Italy after arriving here from his native Ivory Coast. Guede was convicted in a separate fast-track procedure and saw his sentence cut to 16 years in his final appeal.

Lawyers for Knox and Sollecito believe Guede was the sole killer, but the prosecution and a lawyer for the Kercher family say that bruises and a lack of defensive wounds on Kercher's body prove that there was more than one aggressor holding her into submission.

Over the course of the appeals trial, the defendants' positions significantly improved, mainly because a court-ordered independent review cast serious doubts over the main DNA evidence linking the two to the crime.

Prosecutors say that Knox's DNA was found on the handle of a kitchen knife believed to be the murder weapon, and that Kercher's DNA was found on the blade. They said Sollecito's DNA was on the clasp of Kercher's bra as part of a mix of evidence that also included the victim's genetic profile.

But the independent review -- ordered at the request of the defense, which had always disputed those findings -- reached a different conclusion.

The two experts found that police conducting the investigation had made glaring errors in evidence-collecting and that below-standard testing and possible contamination raised doubts over the attribution of DNA traces, both on the blade and on the bra clasp, which was collected from the crime scene 46 days after the murder.

The review was crucial in the case because no motive has emerged and witness testimony was contradictory.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

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