Photo by Federico Zirilli/AFP/Getty Images
An Italian appeals court on Monday overturned the murder conviction of Amanda Knox, the American student who had been found guilty of killing her British roommate in 2007.
The decision means that Knox and her former Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, will be freed in the near future, with Knox expected to return home to the United States as soon as possible after spending the past four years in prison.
(Update: Knox was released from police custody shortly before midnight local time, CNN reports. It is still unclear exactly when she will return to the U.S., although most expect her to fly home sometime Tuesday.)
The judge upheld a separate, related defamation conviction against Knox. That crime, however, carried only a three-year sentence, less than the total time Knox has already spent in prison.
Knox and Sollecito were convicted in December 2009 of sexually assaulting and murdering Meredith Kercher, who was stabbed to death in her bedroom in the Perugia apartment she shared with Knox and two other women. At the time, Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison and Sollecito was sentenced to 25.
Earlier Monday, Knox pleaded with the court to overturn her sentence and let her return to the U.S. "I am not what they say. And I did not do the things they said I did. I didn't kill. I didn't rape. I didn't rob,” she said in near-perfect Italian, according to the Guardian.
The Italian court had a number of options, including: acquitting Knox and Sollecito, either fully or on the basis of insufficient evidence; confirming their sentences; or lengthening them. Prosecutors had asked that the pair’s sentences be increased to life in prison.
The decision to overturn the convictions came at the end of a 10-month appeals trial that has been front-page news on both sides of the Atlantic. More than 400 journalist were accredited for the trial, and the case has "spawned more than a dozen books, one made-for-TV movie and a feature film now in development involving the Oscar winner Colin Firth," according to the New York Times.
The appeal took a dramatic twist in June when court-appointed experts challenged key forensic evidence – DNA on a knife and bra clasp – that prosecutors said placed the couple at the scene of the crime.
Prosecutors, however, argued that the DNA evidence was only a small piece of a case that included a statement Knox gave to Italian police in November 2007 at the end of an all-night interrogation in which she put herself in the house at the time of the murder and claimed that her boss was the one who killed Kercher. She later retracted the statement, although was convicted of defamation as a result of falsely accusing her boss.
Prior to Knox delivering her final plea Monday, Sollecito likewise had one last chance to address the court. "I've never done anyone any harm. Never. In my whole life,” he said, during what the Guardian deemed "a stumbling, but nevertheless moving, appeal for his own freedom."
The victim's family had said prior to the ruling that they felt as though the media's focus on Knox was unfair. "I think Meredith has been hugely forgotten in all of this," the victim's sister, Stephanie Kercher said, according to CNN, adding that her family wanted "truth" and "justice" for Meredith.