American student Amanda Knox flew home free today after spending four years in an Italian jail, leaving the family of murdered British student Meredith Kercher racked with anguish that they are no closer to the truth about her killing.
Knox, cleared of the murder by an appeals court last night, left Rome shortly before midday for London where she and her family were boarding a connecting flight to their home in Seattle, airport officials said.
The 24-year-old broke down sobbing and nearly collapsed with emotion last night after an appeals court in Perugia ruled she and her former boyfriend, Italian computer student Raffaele Sollecito, were not guilty of killing Kercher and should be freed immediately.
Prosecutors said today they would appeal against the ruling and Kercher's disappointed family said their ordeal and the search for answers about the brutal murder would go on.
"We're still absorbing it. You think you've come to a decision and now it's been overturned," Meredith's mother Arline told reporters at a news conference.
The prosecution will appeal to the Court of Cassation, Italy's highest appeals court, which will rule on the legal merits of how the case was conducted, probably early next year.
The verdict was an embarrassment for the prosecutor and Italian police investigators. Independent forensic experts criticised police scientific evidence in the original investigation, saying it was unreliable.
Kercher's half-naked body, with more than 40 wounds, was found in 2007 in the apartment she shared with Knox in the Umbrian hill town of Perugia, where both were studying.
Her sister Stephanie said the family would wait for the written explanation of the acquittal verdict in the hope that all the killers would eventually be found.
"That's the biggest disappointment - not knowing still and knowing that there is someone or people out there who have done this," she said.
Ivorian drug dealer Rudy Guede is serving a 16-year sentence for his role in the murder. But investigators believe more than one person held Kercher down while she was stabbed and had her throat cut.
"I understand the courts agreed that he wasn't acting alone," said Meredith's brother Lyle. "Of course if those released yesterday are not the guilty party, we are now obviously left wondering who is the other person or people."
The appeal 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 Knox family conducted a relentless and well organised public relations campaign to convince the world of Amanda's innocence and counteract both a lurid media image of "Foxy Knoxy", and the prosecution's portrayal of her as a sex-obsessed and manipulative "she-devil".
The family were familiar figures on US talk shows and in Perugia during the trial, assiduously courted by television networks eager for the first interview with a woman who can now expect lucrative offers to tell her story.
"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 already been written on the case.
"She can write a book and she can certainly help her family pay back the bills. She is a beautiful girl and she has a dramatic story to tell," she said.
The Knox family engaged the services of Gogerty Marriott, a Seattle-based public relations firm, to run what the prosecution described as a "million dollar campaign", backed by an internet donor drive and fund-raising events at home.
The Knox family have been quoted as saying they have had to re-mortgage their house to support their legal and other bills but their representatives in Italy were tight-lipped over what the appeal has cost the family.
"They have made many sacrifices to support their daughter," Maria Del Grosso, one of the legal team, said simply, declining to comment in any more detail.
Prosecutors have been bitterly critical of the campaign, which they said had pre-judged the case even before the start of the hearing.
"There has been an abnormal amount of media pressure from outside which reflects a lack of understanding of Italian judicial practice," Perugia prosecutor Giuliano Mignini said.
The court upheld a conviction against Knox for slander after she had falsely accused barman Patrick Lumumba of the murder and Mignini said that element alone meant the appeal could throw up fresh surprises.
"The conviction for slander against Patrick Lumumba still stands. At this point, the question remains as to why Amanda slandered him, what was the motive?"
For their part, Meredith Kercher's family have made no direct criticism of Knox or Sollecito but have made clear they feel that the real victim of the tragedy has been sidelined in the media excitement.
They said they could not begin to forgive as long as it was unclear who had killed Meredith.
"It's still very difficult to speak in terms of forgiveness until we know the truth," said Meredith's sister Stephanie. "Until the truth comes out we can't forgive anyone because no one's admitted to the crime."
"It may be a case of waiting years to get to the truth, we just have to wait again now."
Kercher, a Leeds University student, was on a year-long exchange programme in Perugia when she was killed. Her murder brought a flood of unwelcome attention to the medieval town in central Italy that her family said she loved.
Prosecutors had alleged Kercher resisted attempts by Knox, Sollecito and Guede to involve her in an orgy. Their case was weakened by forensic experts who dismissed police evidence that traces of DNA belonging to Knox and Kercher were found on a kitchen knife identified as the murder weapon.
The defence argued that no clear motive or evidence linking the defendants to the crime had emerged, and said Knox was falsely implicated in the murder by prosecutors determined to convict her regardless of the evidence.