A smiling Amanda Knox flew out of Italy a free woman yesterday after four years in prison, leaving behind a divided public and angry prosecutors who vowed to appeal against her acquittal.
Ms Knox left the country on a scheduled flight to Seattle via London after a dramatic few hours which saw her acquitted, leave prison for the last time and spend the night surrounded by her family. Minutes after bursting into tears in court on hearing that she had been acquitted of murder on Monday, Ms Knox was whisked away in a black Mercedes back to Capanne jail outside Perugia to finish formalities. Her fellow prisoners cheered and clapped as she left them for the last time, and the usually sluggish Italian bureaucracy signed her out at top speed.
Within an hour of acquittal, prison life was behind her and she was on her way to the bed and breakfast apartment near the prison that her family have rented over the past years as they took turns to keep her company. The world's front pages were plastered with the image of her face convulsed with tears, but in the Mercedes she was apparently dry-eyed; then she disappeared from view.
As her family celebrated in Italy and at her home town of Seattle, the prosecutor Giuliano Mignini raged that the appeal court's verdict was "an absolute contradiction" in finding her guilty of defaming Diya "Patrick" Lumumba but innocent of all other charges.
He said he would appeal against the verdict to the court of Cassation, Italy's highest court. "We will appeal," he said. "The [higher] court will decide whether to confirm the first sentence or the second sentence."
He added: "Let's wait and see who's right, the first court or the appeal court. This trial was held under unacceptable media pressure. The decision was practically pre-cooked. This is not normal."
If the highest court overturns the acquittal, prosecutors would be free to request Ms Knox's extradition to Italy to finish whatever remained of a sentence. It is up to the government to decide whether to make the formal extradition request. In 2009, Mr Mignini secured the murder convictions that saw Ms Knox jailed for 26 years and her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito jailed for 25. However, the prosecution's case was blown apart by an independent review of DNA evidence at the appeal.
A lawyer for the sole man now convicted for the stabbing of Meredith Kercher, Rudy Guede, said that he would seek a retrial. Prosecutors had maintained the three killed Ms Kercher during a lurid drug-fuelled sex game.
But as the recriminations played out in the Italian media, Ms Knox was already heading to Rome by car. Even in prison Ms Knox had insisted that she loved Italy and hoped to return after she was exonerated. In a letter released yesterday to the Italian-American Foundation, she said of her Italian supporters: "I will always be grateful for their courageous commitment ... I am forever grateful to whoever wrote to me, defended me, was close to me, prayed for me."
Corrado Maria Dacion from the Foundation, who accompanied Ms Knox in the car that took her to Rome, said: "She told me she does not feel any resentment. She was serene, even with all the strong and contrasting emotions she felt as she glimpsed freedom for the first time after four long years in which she was wrongly locked up in a cell. She confirmed that she would like to return to Italy."
By 9am, Ms Knox was spotted checking in at Rome's Fiumicino airport. Photographers caught her beaming broadly and lugging a black bag down an escalator at the airport.
Donald Trump, long a supporter of hers, remarked yesterday: "She went to Italy to learn the language. Well, she learned the language."
The party boarded a BA plane leaving for London at 11.45am. At bothFiumicino and Heathrow airports, authorities took special precautions to prevent her being filmed going through passport control and security.
At Heathrow, Ms Knox was given the run of the Windsor Suite, reserved for royalty and celebrities. By 3.30pm she was airborne again, bound for Seattle, where a tumultuous reception awaited her.
Meanwhile in Perugia her lawyer, Carolo della Vedova, said he was ready to meet Mr Mignini's challenge in the Supreme Court – which could, he said, only examine points of law, not the evidence.
"We will be ready to defend and support our client's rights," he said. "We are not worried."
Raffaele Sollecito is 'reborn'
In contrast to the frenzied reception that greeted the release of Amanda Knox and her journey back to the US, public interest in her ex-boyfriend and former fellow defendant, Raffaele Sollecito, was much more subdued yesterday in Italy.
The father of Mr Sollecito, 27, addressed cameramen and reporters outside their home in Bisceglie, on the southern Adriatic coast. Dr Francesco Sollecito said: "He tried to sleep but he could only rest for a few hours, and he woke up before I did.
"We had breakfast together after all this time. He sat down at the table, had a coffee and ate some fruit – they are the small things that say so much, the things he hasn't been able to do for four years.
"It's as if Raffaele has been reborn. Today is a beautiful day and we're enjoying it completely," he said, before adding that his son was still very confused and was trying to re-orientate himself.
"He's going around, touching things as if he were a child who needed to re-connect with the things in his life to reacquire things he's forgotten about."
His son received lots of phone calls from delighted friends, and above all expressed his desire to gaze at the sea.
His father said that his son was unwilling to face the media after so many years and months in the spotlight.
He might, however, find himself back under public scrutiny if he accepts the invitation by the Knox family to visit Seattle. Dr Sollecito said yesterday that it was "too early to say" whether such a trip would take place.