Amanda Knox left Rome for the U.S. today after the 24-year-old American was acquitted by an Italian appeals court for her British housemate’s murder, ending almost four years in prison.
Knox departed on a British Airways flight via London for her native Seattle, Italian media including Sky TG24 television reported. Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellman ruled late yesterday that she be freed after a jury found Knox and her Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, innocent in the killing of Meredith Kercher. The ruling overturned convictions for the pair in 2009.
Perugia, a central Italian city of 170,000 that was inundated with reporters and onlookers for the appeals case and the original murder trial, was returning to normal today, after crowds outside the courthouse last night chanted “shame, shame” on hearing the verdict.
Residents said they were happy the ordeal was over, though they’ll miss the business brought in by hundreds of journalists and onlookers.
“As far as work is concerned, it was like the hand of God,” said Matteo Piselli, 28, who works at a bar near the courthouse. “There weren’t even this many people out in the square when Italy won the World Cup.”
Knox, who came to Perugia as an exchange student, left the city after being freed and spent last night in “a protected place” in Rome, Ansa news agency reported, citing family members. “I’ll always be grateful, I love you,” Knox said in a letter to Italians who supported her, Ansa said.
Knox 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 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.
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 trial that Knox had masterminded a drug-fueled sex game involving Sollecito and Guede that turned violent, leading to the murder. Mignini told reporters today that he would appeal the latest verdict to Italy’s highest court.
‘Paying With My Life’
“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 a final statement to the court yesterday, 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.”
More than a dozen of Knox’s friends and family members yesterday packed a hotel suite in downtown Seattle to watch the verdict. The supporters clapped, cheered and embraced after Knox was freed.
“I’m delighted, elated, relieved, very, very happy,” said family friend Karen Pruett, 55.
The State Department also weighed in, saying the U.S. “appreciates the careful consideration of this matter within the Italian judicial system,” according to a statement by spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
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.
Francesco Maresca, the Kercher family’s lawyer, told reporters in Perugia today that he believed the DNA had been just one “of many” elements and the overall weight of the evidence “was sufficient to confirm the original sentence.”
In arguments to the 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.
“If Amanda and Raffaele were freed yesterday, today we’re wondering who it was that collaborated with Rudy Guede in killing Meredith,” Lyle Kercher, Meredith Kercher’s brother, told a news conference in Perugia today. “Our search for the truth continues.”
Knox was convicted in 2009 after first telling police she was at the villa at the time of the killing and heard screaming from Kercher’s room. Knox later altered her story and 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 yesterday. “Only I wasn’t there, I was at Raffaele’s.”
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. Lumumba sued Knox for damages and the appeals court yesterday upheld her conviction for slandering him and her three-year sentence, which she has already served.