An Italian court cleared 24-year-old American Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend of murdering British student Meredith Kercher in 2007 and ordered them to be set free yesterday after nearly four years in prison for a crime they always denied committing.

Seattle native Knox and Italian computer student Raffaele Sollecito had appealed against a 2009 verdict that found them guilty of murdering 21-year-old Kercher during what prosecutors said was a drug-fueled sexual assault four years ago.

Looking pale and tense as the sentence was read out in a packed Perugia court room, Knox was led away in tears and close to collapse by police officers.

The court quashed the conviction against Knox, who was sentenced to 26 years in jail, and against Sollecito, who was sentenced to 25 years, after independent forensic investigators sharply criticized police scientific evidence, saying it was unreliable.

 

Kercher’s half-naked body, with more than 40 wounds and a deep gash in the throat, was found in 2007 in the apartment she shared with Knox in the Umbrian town of Perugia where both were studying.

A third man, Ivorian drug dealer Rudy Guede, was imprisoned for 16 years for his role in the murder.

The defense argued that no clear motive or evidence linking the defendants to the crime had emerged.

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