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Conviction overturned, Knox to head home

The young American woman had been found guilty of killing her roommate in Italy.

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 in the sexual assault and stabbing death of her British roommate.

Knox, 24, collapsed in tears after the verdict was read. 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.”

The eight-member jury acquitted both Knox and Sollecito of murder after a court-ordered review of the DNA evidence cast serious doubts over the main DNA evidence linking the two to the crime.

The discrediting of the DNA evidence was believed to have been the fatal blow to the prosecution’s case in the absence of a clear motive.

The jury had two options to acquit: determining there wasn’t enough evidence to uphold the conviction or that the pair simply didn’t commit the crime. The jury determined the latter, clearing Knox and Sollecito completely.

Even if prosecutors appeal the acquittal to Italy’s highest court, nothing in Italian law would prevent her from returning home to Seattle. An Italian lawmaker who has championed her case, Rocco Girlanda, said she was due to fly out today from Rome.

The jury upheld Knox’s conviction on a charge of slander for accusing bar owner Diya “Patrick” Lumumba of carrying out the killing. But he set the sentence at three years, meaning for time served. Knox has been in prison since Nov. 6, 2007, five days after the murder.

“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 Kercher family said in a statement. “We still trust the Italian justice system and hope that the truth will eventually emerge.”

Also convicted in separately was Rudy Hermann Guede. Guede saw his sentence cut to 16 years in his final appeal.

Lawyers for Knox and Sollecito charged that Guede was the sole killer, which the prosecution and a lawyer for the Kercher family rejected.

Prosecutors maintain that Knox’s DNA was found on the handle of a kitchen knife believed to be the murder weapon. 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 two defense experts found police had made errors in evidence-collecting and that below-standard testing and possible contamination raised doubts over the attribution of DNA traces collected from the crime scene 46 days after the murder.

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