Amanda Knox leaves prison after acquittal

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In the meantime, nothing in Italian law prevents Knox from returning home to Seattle.

At a news conference earlier in the day, the Kerchers expressed hope that the jury would deliberate without considering the intense media coverage of the case.

Stephanie Kercher lamented that her sister "has been nearly forgotten" as attention shifted to Knox and her appeal. "We want to keep her memory alive," the sister said before the verdict.

The trial captivated audiences worldwide. Knox and Sollecito, who had just begun dating, were convicted of murdering Kercher in what the lower court said had begun as a drug-fueled sexual assault.

Lawyers for Knox and Sollecito charged that Guede was the sole killer, but the prosecution and a lawyer for the Kercher family said bruises and a lack of defensive wounds on Kercher's body prove there was more than one aggressor holding her down.

After the verdict, the U.S. State Department said it appreciated the "careful consideration" the Italian justice system gave to the case. "Our embassy in Rome will continue to provide appropriate consular assistance to Ms. Knox and her family," spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

In Seattle, about a dozen supporters began hugging each other at a downtown hotel suite. "She's free!" and "We did it!" they shouted after they watched the court proceedings on TV.

Supporters also expressed sympathy for the Kercher family. "This is primarily a sad occasion," said Tom Wright, one of the main organizers of the Friends of Amanda group, after the verdict. "They lost their daughter. We'll keep them in our prayers."

Kellanne Henry, a friend of Knox's mother, Edda Mellas, visited the family in Italy.

"It's the first night in four years that (Edda) is going to know her daughter is safe," said Henry, holding crumpled tissues in her hand. "That was a really overwhelming thought for me."

Earlier Monday, Knox tearfully told the court in fluent Italian that she did not kill the woman who shared an apartment with her when they were both students in Perugia. Knox frequently paused for breath as she spoke to the eight members of the jury in a packed courtroom, but managed to maintain her composure during the 10-minute address.

"I've lost a friend in the worst, most brutal, most inexplicable way possible," she said. "I'm paying with my life for things that I didn't do."

Knox said she always wanted justice for Kercher. "She had her bedroom next to mine. She was killed in our own apartment. If I had been there that night, I would be dead," Knox said. "But I was not there."

"I did not kill. I did not rape. I did not steal. I wasn't there," she said.

In his own speech to the jury, Sollecito said: "I never hurt anyone, never in my life."

The prosecution's case was set back during the appeal when two court-ordered independent experts reviewed the DNA evidence that had been used to link Knox and Sollecito to the crime during the first trial.

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