She crumpled, then she wept, her lawyers' arms around her for support. To stifled cheers from supporters in an Italian courtroom, the American woman Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were freed from jail last night after a jury quashed their convictions for the murder of the British student Meredith Kercher.
Ms Knox, 24, appeared to struggle to remain standing as the judge read out the verdict that cleared her, nearly four years after the body of Miss Kercher was found in their shared apartment.
Outside the court, the Knox family thanked their supporters saying "their nightmare was over" and pleaded for privacy to try to rebuild their lives. Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito were taken back to the prison to complete the final paperwork before they could be freed.
But the divisions of opinion were noisily evident, with Knox supporters cheering and clapping while dozens of local people, infuriated by the acquittal, screamed "Shame on you!" and "Assassins!" at lawyers coming out of the court. The mother and two siblings of Miss Kercher also burst into tears in court, devastated by a judgment that came after a review cast serious doubts over the main DNA evidence linking the two to the crime.
Rudy Guede, the third person convicted of the murder, is serving a reduced sentence of 16 years for his role in the crime but has always denied blame for the murder, which many lawyers in court argued could only have been performed by more than one person.
Ms Knox's three-year sentence for libelling Patrick Lumumba, a local man who she had named as the killer during her police interrogation, was upheld, but she has already served the time. She was also ordered to pay €21,000 (£18,000) to him in compensation. On all other counts the pair were ruled not guilty on the grounds of insufficient evidence.
Prosecutors are expected to appeal the acquittal to Italy's highest court, although there was no official confirmation late on Monday. The decision announced last night was the climax of an appeal which had elements of both a Hollywood premiere and a witch-burning, with hundreds of local people packed into the narrow piazza outside the court. "We've been waiting for this for four years," said one of Mr Sollecito's lawyers, Giulia Bongiorno. For the Kercher family, the feelings were much more bitter. Meredith's sister, Stephanie, lamented that her sister "has been nearly forgotten".Reuse content