Amanda Knox was tonight acquitted of the murder of British student Meredith Kercher in the Italian city of Perugia following a successful appeal against her conviction. Her ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito will also walk free from prison.
The 24-year-old American has spent four years behind bars for the killing in Perugia, Italy, that she insisted she played no part in. But her nightmare ended when jurors in her appeal trial found her not guilty of stabbing Miss Kercher after forcing her into a violent sex game
Knox, from Seattle, was jailed for 26 years in December 2009 after a year-long trial, along with her Italian ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito who was jailed for 25 years.
Sollecito, 27, was also cleared tonight after a successful appeal.
The verdicts came after the former lovers delivered heartfelt addresses to the Perugia court this morning, proclaiming their innocence once more.
Knox, watched by her anxious family in the medieval chamber, declared: "I am not who they say I am - the perversion, the violence, the lack of respect for life - and I did not do the things they say I did.
"I did not kill, I did not rape, I did not steal. I was not there at the time."
Choking back emotion, she told jurors: "I want to go back to my life. I do not want to be punished. I do not want my life taken away for something that I did not do because I am innocent."
The semi-naked body of Leeds University student Miss Kercher, 21, from Coulsdon in Surrey, was found on November 2, 2007, in the house she shared with Knox on her year abroad.
Small-time drug dealer Rudy Guede, 24, from the Ivory Coast, was jailed for the murder and sexual violence after separate proceedings and, while he too protests his innocence, his conviction was upheld on appeal.
Hundreds of people gathered in the streets outside the court shouted "shame" when they heard about the decision.
Knox was told she must pay 22,000 Euros in compensation to Diya "Patrick" Lumumba, a barman she falsely accused of the murder.
Knox walked out of the court in floods of tears, followed shortly afterwards by Sollecito, who showed little expression on his face.
Members of Knox's family smiled and hugged each other after the results were read out by the judge. Some friends and relatives simply clasped their hands over their mouths, seemingly in surprise.
Her mother Edda Mellas helped wipe the tears from the face of one of her daughter's friends as the verdict sunk in. Lawyers were also seen embracing and patting each other on the back.
Meredith's brother Lyle and sister Stephanie comforted each other as they remained seated in the courtroom with their mother Arline.
Television pictures showed hundreds of people outside the court building, with dozens of cameramen and photographers trying to get pictures.
Shouts and jeers could be heard outside the building in reaction to the acquittals.
Knox's victory was won after a successful PR campaign fought by her family, who have repeatedly given media interviews about her wrongful conviction.
In marked contrast to the Kercher family, who have largely maintained a dignified silence since losing their daughter and sister, the Knoxs deployed every resource at their disposal to save theirs.
Knox's stepfather, Chris Mellas, even moved to Perugia to be near his stepdaughter and attend her appeal hearings.
Her acquittal secured, Knox is now expected to return to the US with her family at the earliest possible opportunity.
Her next move remains to be seen, but she is known to have been penning her memoirs in prison, while rumours of million dollar bids for the first television interview with her have been rife.
The Kerchers refused to comment earlier on whether they would fight the court decision should the convictions be overturned but are likely to address this issue tomorrow.
Prosecutors are expected to appeal, even in the knowledge that once Knox has gone home she will almost certainly not be extradited back to Italy.
Knox's lawyer Carlo dalla Vedova said that Knox and Miss Kercher had been friends and he expressed his condolences to the Kercher family on behalf of his client and her family.
Asked what Knox would do now, he said: "We're looking forward to taking her back home as soon as possible.
"We're going to the prison now to complete the procedure. I know that Amanda wants to go home - she's been far away from home now for four years and she wants to go back to Seattle."
He said she had been tense before the hearing as it was a "very important day for her".
He told the BBC: "The justice has superseded and has rectified a mistake.
"It was a terrible tragedy at the beginning because of the death of Meredith.
"Meredith was a friend of Amanda, so we should never forget this. We have to respect the sorrow of the family.
"But there's no winner here. Justice has recognised that Amanda was not involved in the murder."
Asked what the American said to him after she heard the result, he said: "She didn't say anything but she was so happy she started to cry.
"She had relief. She was extremely worried at the beginning. She was scared. She was feeling that today was a very important day."
The lawyer said his client had been on the "border" between life in jail and freedom.
He said of her: "Amanda is a very intelligent girl.
"We were able to appreciate the extreme sensible and intense intelligence of Amanda and we're very happy that we had Amanda as a client."