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Amanda Knox freed, but truth about student's slaying elusive

Amanda Knox on Monday was cleared in the murder of her roommate in Italy, nearly four years after she was arrested.

Story highlights

  • Knox was cleared in the 2007 death of her roommate
  • The defense maintains prosecutors can't prove her involvement
  • Knox spent four years behind bars

Who is Amanda Knox?

Is she a two-faced she-devil, angelic and compassionate to some but Satanic and Lucifer-like to others?

That's what Carlo Pacelli, the lawyer for a man Knox falsely accused in the 2007 murder of her roommate, Meredith Kercher, called her as he summed up his case last week.

Is she "Foxy Knoxy," as the British tabloid press leered and sneered at her within hours of her exoneration in Kercher's murder Monday?

Or is she the fresh-faced girl from Seattle she still appears to be, even after spending nearly four years behind bars before her conviction was quashed?

Is Knox simply the victim of character assassination, painted falsely as a "femme fatale" by prosecutors and media the world over? Defense lawyer Giulia Bongiorno advanced that theory in her own closing argument. She compared Knox to Jessica Rabbit, the hourglass-shaped, husky-voiced cartoon character who insists in the movie "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" that she's not bad, she's just "drawn that way."

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Five women and three men on a jury here weighed in decisively on who Knox is Monday, throwing out the five most serious charges she was originally convicted of in connection with Kercher's death and releasing her from prison.

Audible gasp in courtroom as verdict is read

The jury also freed Raffaele Sollecito, her former boyfriend who became her co-defendant.

Their release came at the end of an appeal lasting just over four months and feeling much more like a re-trial than an appeal as understood in the United States or Kercher's native Britain.

Lawyers battled on two fronts -- DNA evidence and Knox's character.

Police scientists argued that a knife found at Sollecito's home had traces of Kercher's DNA on the blade and Knox's DNA on the handle. And they testified that a bra clasp belonging to Kercher and found in her room had Sollecito's genetic material on it.

Experts appointed by the court questioned police handling of the evidence, suggesting authorities' sloppiness could make the DNA results unreliable and should make them inadmissible in court.

Prosecution witnesses, meanwhile, maintained that the tests were valid -- leading to highly technical and sometimes heated courtroom arguments and prompting the prosecution to ask for new DNA tests, a request the judge rejected.

No end to Knox as pop culture obsession

Knox and Sollecito do not have airtight alibis for the night of November 1, 2007, when Kercher's throat was slashed, her semi-naked body left under a bed cover.

Their cell phones and Sollecito's computer were switched off at the time of the murder, depriving them of potentially exculpatory evidence.

But while they cannot prove they were not at the scene of the crime, their defense team says the prosecution cannot prove that they were. There was no physical trace of them in the room where Kercher died, Knox and Sollecito's lawyers insisted.

They argued that the crime was solely the work of drifter Rudy Guede, who was convicted separately and is serving 16 years. His DNA was all over the crime scene, the defense said.

That may have been enough for the jury to set Knox and Sollecito free.

Defense lawyer Luciano Ghirga reminded the jury repeatedly Monday morning that the prosecution needed to prove its case "beyond a reasonable doubt" -- a standard he made a point of saying was rooted in Italian law and was not imported from America, in a nod to the nationalistic tensions that have sometimes seemed to underpin this case.

The jury must have had sufficient doubts to overturn a verdict rendered by eight of their compatriots less than two years ago. That means that either Knox and Sollecito were the victims of a miscarriage of justice then, or that Kercher is now.

Only Knox and Sollecito themselves may know which it is -- because nearly four years after Kercher's death, incontrovertible evidence about whether Knox and Sollecito were involved remains maddeningly elusive.