“I’m really overwhelmed right now. I was looking down from the airplane and it seemed like everything wasn’t real,” Knox said as she addressed supporters and a media scrum at Seattle airport shortly after her plane landed.
“What’s important for me to say is just thank you to everyone who’s believed in me, who’s defended me, who has supported my family,” she said in her first public comments since being freed, brushing away tears.
“My family’s the most important thing to me right now. I just want to go be with them. So thank you for being there for me.”
Her parents, Kurt Knox and Etta Mellas, also offered their thanks, as they accompanied their daughter off the plane and back home.
Lawyer Theodore Simon said the 24-year-old had been through “a trying and gruelling four-year nightmarish marathon that no child or parent should have to endure.”
Knox left Rome swiftly after the decision was handed down by an Italian court, first heading for London to board a connecting flight to Seattle on the US west coast.
She had been convicted along with two others and sentenced to 26 years in prison for taking part in the murder and sexual assault of her British house-mate Meredith Kercher, then 21, who was found stabbed to death in the cottage they shared.
Knox’s ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, who also had appealed his conviction on the same charges, was likewise acquitted Monday in the university town of Perugia in central Italy where Knox and Kercher were studying.
Kercher was found in a pool of blood on the floor of her bedroom. Her body was covered in dozens of knife wounds and bruises and investigators found traces of a sexual assault.
The only person now convicted of the crime is local drifter Rudy Guede, who is serving 16 years after his earlier appeals were rejected.
Prosecutors had claimed that Knox, Sollecito and Guede may have been in the house for a drug deal and then taken part in a frenzied sexual attack.
Knox sobbed and had to be escorted out of the courtroom after the verdict was read out on Monday as her family hugged and cried in joy.
Outside the court, an angry crowd of local residents shouted: “Shame! Shame!” and “Murderers!”
Although she was cleared of murder and sexual assault, Knox was found guilty of slander for incriminating the owner of a local bar where she worked as a waitress in her first interrogation just days after the murder.
She was sentenced to time already served and will have to pay compensation to the unjustly accused man, Patrick Lumumba, as well as his legal fees.
Prosecutor Giuliano Mignini said he will petition against the ruling in Italy’s highest appeals court to “ensure justice is done.”
But an appeal by the prosecution would probably have to be held in Italy in absentia as the US does not extradite its citizens abroad for trials.
And Kercher’s family were left in shock.
“This result is crazy. It makes a mockery of the original trial,” Kercher’s father John was quoted as saying by the British tabloid Daily Mirror.
“There were 47 knife wounds on Meredith and two knives used. One person couldn’t possibly have done that,” said John Kercher, who did not attend the verdict.
Kercher’s mother, brother and sister, who travelled to Italy to hear the verdict, said the truth of what really happened on the night their loved one was killed on November 1, 2007, had suddenly been thrown into doubt.
“We’re back to square one. The search goes on to find out what really happened,” Kercher’s brother, Lyle said.
Italian newspapers said the acquittals were inevitable given the problems with the investigation highlighted during the appeal, but there was still no convincing picture of what had happened to Kercher.
Knox's defence had the upper hand for much of the appeal, particularly after independent experts cast serious doubt on some crucial DNA evidence.