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'Overwhelmed' Amanda Knox returns to Seattle

She thanks her supporters for believing in her innocence in the slaying of her roommate, Meredith Kercher, four years ago in Italy.

October 04, 2011|By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times
  • Amanda Knox sobs at the sound of supporters' cheers in Seattle while her mother, Edda Mellas, comforts her.
Amanda Knox sobs at the sound of supporters' cheers in Seattle while… (Stephen Brashear, Getty…)

Reporting from Seattle — Looking shaken and shy, Amanda Knox returned home to Seattle on Tuesday, ending a four-year Italian ordeal that began when her roommate was brutally slain and she was imprisoned for the crime.

Appearing before a madhouse of television cameras, jostling reporters and security guards at Seattle-Tacoma airport, the diminutive Knox at first hunched over in a chair, then tearfully spoke to her hometown.

"I'm really overwhelmed right now. I was looking down from the airplane, and it seemed like everything wasn't real," she said, her voice quaking.

Photos: Amanda Knox

"What's important for me to say is just thank you to everyone who's believed in me, who's defended me, who's supported my family," she said. She took no questions.

Moments later, Knox left with her parents, stepparents and other family members.

Knox's conviction in Meredith Kercher's slaying was overturned by an appellate panel Monday amid evidence casting doubt on the DNA that supposedly linked her and her then-boyfriend to the crime. His conviction also was voided.

The working-class West Seattle neighborhood where Knox lived before traveling to Italy sprouted "Welcome home Amanda" posters — one at her father's house — and, it seemed, a big population of well-wishers.

A few showed up at the airport.

"I came to support her," said Stephanie Torreblanca, a 21-year-old student at a local community college who said she'd studied Knox's case in her criminal justice class. "I think she's innocent. Otherwise I wouldn't be here."

The overturning of Knox's murder conviction in Perugia, Italy, set the stage for the 24-year-old former college student's speedy return, first on a plane from Rome to London, then on a direct flight to Seattle, where British Airways flight attendants kept her upstairs in business class, isolated from reporters who'd boarded the flight.

In some ways, it was a different woman who returned to the city she'd left as the graduate of an expensive private Jesuit high school and then a student at the University of Washington. In Seattle, she was known for acting in musicals, playing soccer, rock climbing and writing.

But what was to have been an adventurous year of study in Italy turned nightmarish in 2007 when Kercher, 21, was found dead in her room, her throat slashed and her body bearing more than 40 stab wounds and signs of sexual assault. Knox spent the next four years fending off charges that she and her Italian then-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, had participated in the slaying.

She was sentenced to 26 years in prison after prosecutors said her DNA had been found on the knife that killed Kercher — a finding that was later undermined by an independent review that said the evidence had been severely compromised by sloppy police work. Knox had alternately said she was at the apartment the night of the killing and heard Kercher's screams, then denied it, saying brutal interrogations had forced her to make false statements.

"We are appreciative and thankful and ever so grateful to the appellate jurors for their willingness to reopen and reexamine the facts, to conduct a thorough and searching inquiry into the true facts, which we think can only be characterized as profoundly absent, and thereafter render a bold and courageous decision," Theodore Simon, the Philadelphia lawyer who coordinated Knox's legal defense in the U.S., said as the family filed out of the airport arrival hall Tuesday.

"This decision unmistakably announces to the world that Amanda Knox was wrongly convicted, and she was not, absolutely not, responsible for the tragic loss of Meredith Kercher," he said.

One person, Rudy Hermann Guede, remains behind bars for the crime. His DNA was found all over the victim's room and elsewhere in the apartment. Guede was sentenced to 30 years, which was later reduced to 16 years. The court concluded he probably did not act alone. He maintains his innocence and has fingered Knox and Sollecito as the killers.

Knox, who has reportedly started writing a book about her experience, spoke for only a few moments Tuesday. Wearing a long gray-brown sweater and black leggings, her hair pulled back with an elastic band, she appeared overcome.

"They're reminding me to speak in English, because I'm having problems with that," she said, referring to the years she spent perfecting her Italian in prison that culminated in the steady, powerful address she made to the court Monday before her acquittal on all but a defamation charge.

"My family's the most important thing to me right now, and I just want to go be with them. So thank you for being there for me." Then she fell into her sister's embrace and sat down.

Knox's parents — who divorced when she was a child but who have carried out the fight to free their daughter together — stood side by side and spoke only briefly.

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