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Tears of joy as Knox is home

A sobbing Amanda Knox said she was "overwhelmed" to be back home in the US after spending four years in an Italian jail for the brutal murder of British student Meredith Kercher.

Speaking in an emotion-fuelled press conference following her dramatic release, the 24-year-old also paid tribute to the people who supported and believed in her during her lengthy ordeal.

But the American's acquittal has left Miss Kercher's family still seeking answers to what happened on the night of her murder, with her parents revealing the court ruling had taken them "back to square one".

Knox arrived in her hometown of Seattle today after her conviction for killing the Leeds University student (21) at their shared home in Perugia was overturned by a jury on Monday.

Speaking to journalists and supporters minutes after her arrival, she said: "What's important for me to say is just thank you to everyone who has believed in me, who has defended me, who has supported my family.

"I just want.. My family is the most important thing to me right now and I just want to go and be with them. So thank you for being there for me."

Knox, who spoke publicly for the first time since her release from Perugia's Capanne prison, added that she felt "overwhelmed" by the situation and that she had to be reminded to speak in English rather than Italian.

"I am really overwhelmed right now, I was looking down from the aeroplane and it seemed like everything wasn't real," she said.

Journalists were also addressed by Knox's defence lawyer Theodore Simon and her parents Curt Knox and Edda Mellas.

Mr Simon, who was interrupted by cheers from Knox's supporters, said: "It has been a trying and gruelling four-year nightmarish marathon that no child or parent should have to endure."

Mr Simon added that Knox and her family had "persevered in unusual grace and under extremely difficult circumstances," telling the conference there were "profoundly absent" facts in the case against his client.

He said the Italian jury's decision to release her following an 11-month appeal was "bold and courageous".

The Philadelphia-based lawyer added: "Let us not forget that Meredith was Amanda's friend and I know that Amanda and the family want us to remember Meredith and to keep the Kercher family in our prayers."

Before Knox spoke, her father Curt said his daughter's time in jail had been a "very long four years, but we could not have made it through without all you people out here who have supported us, and especially Amanda".

Miss Kercher was stabbed to death during her year of studies in the Italian city. Her semi-naked body was found on November 2, 2007, in her bedroom in the house she shared with fellow student Knox. In 2009, the American was found guilty and sentenced to 26 years in prison along with former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito (27). He was sentenced to 25 years but was also acquitted by the Perugia court on Monday.

Friends and family who held spaghetti dinners, bowling events and concerts to raise money for Knox's defence were thrilled to have her home, though at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport her supporters were a small presence compared to the dozens of US and international reporters.

"Welcome home Amanda", read the marquee at a record store in the neighbourhood where Knox grew up. Another welcome sign was hung at her father's house. A bar offered half-price drinks to celebrate her acquittal. At least one TV station in Washington state tracked the progress of her flight on the air.

Knox left prison amid cheers that a companion compared to those at a soccer stadium.

Hundreds of inmates -- most of them in the men's wing -- shouted "Amanda, ciao!" and "Freedom!" as she walked into the central courtyard, said Corrado Maria Daclon, head of the Italy-US Foundation, which championed Knox's cause. Daclon said Knox jumped a little for joy and waved to the prisoners.



Secluded

She was soon on her way home, protected by the darkened windows of a Mercedes that led her out of the prison in the middle of the night, and then yesterday morning to Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport. She flew from Rome to London, where she took a direct British Airways flight to Seattle, flying business class.

She and her family were on the plane's secluded upper deck. At least nine members of media organisations were on board below, but a flight attendant blocked them from climbing the stairs "to preserve the privacy" of passengers.

Knox was a University of Washington student studying abroad in Perugia when Kercher was killed in 2007.

In a letter released hours before she left Italy, Knox thanked those Italians who supported her.

"Those who wrote, those who defended me, those who were close, those who prayed for me," Knox wrote, "I love you."

hnews@herald.ie