PERUGIA, Italy — Amanda Knox left prison Monday, a free woman for the first time in four years, after an Italian appeals court threw out the young American’s murder conviction for the brutal stabbing death of her British roommate after a drug-fueled sexual assault.
Knox, 24, collapsed in tears after the verdict was read, a stunning reversal in a sensational saga that became a cause celebre in the U.S. Her co-defendant and former boyfriend, Italian Raffaele Sollecito, also was cleared of killing 21-year-old Meredith Kercher in 2007.
“We’re thankful that Amanda’s nightmare is over,” her younger sister, Deanna Knox, told reporters outside the courthouse. “She suffered for four years for a crime she did not commit.”
About 90 minutes after the verdict was handed down, a black Mercedes carrying Knox was seen leaving the prison. She was expected to board a commercial flight for home on Tuesday.
The fatal blow to the prosecution’s case was a court-ordered DNA review that discredited crucial genetic evidence used to convict Knox and Sollecito in 2009. They were sentenced to 26 and 25 years, respectively.
While waves of relief swept through the defendants’ benches in the courtroom, members of the Kercher family, who flew in for the verdict, appeared dazed and perplexed. Meredith’s older sister, Stephanie, shed a tear, and her mother, Arline, looked straight ahead.
“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.”
The Kerchers had pressed for the court to uphold the guilty verdicts, and resisted theories that a third man convicted in the case, Rudy Hermann Guede, had acted alone. Guede, convicted in a separate trial, is serving a 16-year sentence.
There were two options to acquit: that there wasn’t enough evidence to uphold the conviction or that the pair simply didn’t commit the crime. The eight-member jury determined the latter, clearing Knox and Sollecito completely.
The verdict reverberated through the streets of this medieval hilltop town, where both Knox and Kercher had arrived with so much anticipation for overseas studies programs four years ago.
Hundreds of mostly university-age youths gathered in the piazza outside the courtroom jeered as news of the acquittals spread. “Shame! Shame!” they yelled, adding that a black man had been made to shoulder all of the guilt for the murder.
Knox was pale, clearly terrified and appeared breathless as she arrived for the verdict shortly after 9:30 p.m.
Presiding Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellmann read out the verdict in a frescoed subterranean courtroom packed with reporters. In five minutes, Knox’s fate was reversed.
“The appeals Court of Perugia … orders the immediate release of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito,” Hellmann said.