SEATTLE/PERUGIA (Reuters) - Amanda Knox returned home to Seattle on Tuesday, one day after an Italian court cleared the 24-year-old college student of murder and freed her from prison.
A plane carrying Knox, who grew up in the close-knit West Seattle neighbourhood where both of her divorced parents still live, landed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport shortly after 5 p.m. local time.
Knox wiped away tears as she spoke to a throng of reporters at the airport minutes after she stepped off the plane.
“They are reminding me to speak in English because I’m having trouble with that,” Knox, 24, said in brief remarks. “I’m really overwhelmed right now. I was looking down from the airplane and it seemed like everything wasn’t real.”
A former University of Washington student, Knox thanked “everyone who has believed in me, who has defended me,” during her ordeal. “I just want my family. That’s the most important thing to me right now, and I just want to go be with them.”
Anne Bremner, a Seattle defence attorney and spokeswoman for Friends of Amanda Knox, said that, according to her family, Knox was looking forward to having a backyard barbecue, being outside in the grass, playing soccer and seeing old friends.
“Just normal things that you would want to do after being in prison for four years for a crime you didn’t do,” she said.
Knox sobbed on hearing that the court had overturned her 2009 conviction for murdering her housemate, 21-year-old Meredith Kercher, in what prosecutors have said was a drug-fuelled sexual assault.
Also cleared was her former boyfriend, Rafaele Sollecito, leaving Ivorian drifter Rudy Guede as the only person convicted in a killing which investigators believe was carried out by more than one person.
Kercher’s half-naked body was found, with more than 40 wounds and a deep gash in her throat, in the apartment she shared with Knox in Perugia, where both were studying.
The trial gripped attention on both sides of the Atlantic. There was an outpouring of sympathy and outrage from many in the United States who regarded Knox as an innocent girl caught in the clutches of a medieval justice system.
The Italian prosecutor has announced he intends to appeal Knox’s acquittal to Italy’s highest appellate court, Corte Suprema di Cassazione, which can only review technical errors that occurred in the lower courts.
In Italy, an acquittal becomes final only after all judicial avenues have been pursued. In this case, that would mean the Corte Suprema would have to either affirm or decline to hear the appeal.
If the Corte Suprema overturns the acquittal, it could reinstate the original murder charges against Knox, which would allow prosecutors to seek her extradition from the United States under a treaty between the two countries.
Considering the controversy surrounding the case, legal experts say there likely would be a heated diplomatic dispute before the U.S. would agree to extradite Knox.
Kercher’s family has refrained from criticizing Knox or Sollecito but has said repeatedly that Meredith has been forgotten in the media frenzy.
Kercher’s sister Stephanie said after the trial “the biggest disappointment (is) not knowing still and knowing that there is someone or people out there who have done this.”
Knox’s supporters cheered, cried and hugged on Monday at the news that she had been released. Her home, framed by Puget Sound waters on three sides, is one of Seattle’s oldest neighbourhoods and is known for its strong sense of community.
Evan Hundley, head of the private Explorer Middle School, where Knox attended sixth, seventh and eighth grades, described West Seattle as “a city within a city.
“When something happens here, it’s big news,” Hundley said. “We’re a strong neighbourhood.”
Hundley said students whooped with delight during the school’s daily student assembly on Monday when the news of Knox’s release was announced.
WELL-LIKED IN HER HOME TOWN
Knox won the school’s first Manvel Schauffler Award, named after a founder of the school, which has about 100 students who pay an annual average tuition of about $15,000, said Debbie Ehri, the school’s business manager, who knew Knox.
“It was our first award for our most outstanding student. Amanda was an academically strong student. She was genuinely a lovely, kind and talented student,” Ehri told Reuters.
“Teachers absolutely adored her. She was just delightful to have in class,” she said. “She was caring, not only with her studies, but she was a kind, lovely girl.”
Knox also attended Seattle Preparatory School, a small Jesuit high school, graduating in 2005. The school organized letter-writing campaigns on her behalf and fund-raising efforts to help pay for her defence.
“She should be free, it’s really sad that she was in prison for four years,” 47-year-old Cora Ploetz said at the Westwood Village shopping centre, a few miles from the home of Curt Knox, Amanda’s father.
Her friend, Ken Iverson, said he felt relief for Knox.
“I was under the impression it was like the Inquisition,” Iverson, 63, said of the court proceedings.
“She has earning power now that she is free,” said Candace Dempsey, Seattle-based author of “Murder in Italy,” one of around a dozen books that have ben written on the case.
“She can write a book and she can certainly help her family pay back the bills” they incurred in her defence, and on their prolonged visits to Italy.
Additional reporting by Nicole Neroulias in Seattle, Noleen Walder in New York and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Greg McCune and Todd Eastham