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Originally published October 4, 2011 at 9:56 PM | Page modified October 5, 2011 at 4:34 PM

Amanda Knox: home at last

Amanda Knox returned to Seattle on Tuesday after being freed from an Italian prison where she spent nearly four years. She had been convicted of murder in the stabbing death of her British roommate in Perugia, Italy, in 2007. The conviction was overturned by an appeals court Monday.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Amanda Knox left Seattle as an ingénue on the cusp of her 20th birthday, still listing "Finding Nemo" as a favorite movie.

Four years later, she returned, prison-hardened, as the city's most famous wrongfully convicted case, stalked by a horde of international media.

Knox acknowledged the surreal transition at a Tuesday news conference moments after landing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. She sobbed as a handful of supporters, sprinkled among a media throng, cheered.

"I'm really overwhelmed right now," she said in a brief statement. "I was looking down from the airplane, and it seems like everything wasn't real. Thank you for everyone who believed in me, who defended me, who supported my family. My family is the most important thing to me, and I just want to go be with them."

She and her family, all just arrived from Rome after a reversal of her murder conviction, left the stage, hopefully to disappear for a while. A family spokesman pleaded with the media to let them do that. "Give them a break," David Marriott said.

Family and friends say Knox and her family are likely to leave Seattle for a period of time. On Tuesday, reporters and photographers were parked outside the West Seattle homes of Knox's father and mother.

The news conference begins a new life for Knox, now 24, that seems uncertain to even supporters and fans.

"I don't think she's got any idea what's gone on" while in prison, said Trish McInturf, a Portland woman watching the news conference while awaiting a flight.

Proof of innocence

Theodore Simon, a Philadelphia criminal defense attorney representing the Knox family, led the news conference by praising Knox and her parents, Curt Knox and Edda Mellas, for persevering.

"It has been a trying and grueling nightmarish, four-year marathon that no child or parent should have to endure," Simon said. Acknowledging the loss of Meredith Kercher, Knox's British roommate who was sexually assaulted and murdered, Simon said Monday's court ruling was proof of innocence.

"This decision unmistakably announces to the world that Amanda Knox was wrongfully convicted and she was not — absolutely not — responsible for the tragic loss of Meredith Kercher."

Cheers from about 40 supporters erupted as Knox, comforted by her sister, Deanna, cried.

Knox's parents, surrounded by Mellas' sister and other family members, thanked their Italian and American attorneys.

The family, and Amanda Knox, have benefitted from an ad hoc support group that raised at least $80,000, spent months picking apart forensic evidence and sent a constant stream of letters. "We couldn't have made it without all you people out here who supported us," Curt Knox said.

"All I can say is thank you," Mellas said. "It's because of the letters and the calls and the amazing support we've received from all over the world and especially here in Seattle that we've been able to endure and that we've been able to make sure Amanda had the support she needed."

Arrested in junior year

It's unclear what comes next for Knox. Family friends say her family has avoided making long-term plans until Knox was freed.

John Lange, her former theater teacher at Seattle Prep, believes she eventually might return for her college degree. She was arrested a month into her junior year, but completed some correspondence work through the University of Washington.

"She's not going to lie down, to let this Italian tragedy dictate all her movements," Lange said. "I'd like to see in six months that she's free enough to go back and take classes."

But her ability to do so may depend in part on the paparazzi's pursuit. On Tuesday, reporters were staking out her home, chasing her old friends and flying in by the plane load from across the world.

"Welcome Home" signs were posted at or near her parents' West Seattle homes, but Curt Knox, who arrived at his home in the early evening, said she would not be at either of them. He said she would be with family and asked again that the media "give her space."

"The focus simply is Amanda's well-being," he said.

Amanda Knox may feel an obligation to repay her parents, who are buried under a seven-figure pile of debt.

Sarah Weinman, a longtime crime-book reviewer and news editor of the book-industry website publishersmarketplace.com, speculated via Twitter that "opening bids for the inevitable Amanda Knox book have to begin in the low seven figures, if not more."

The exclusive first TV interview with Knox could fetch between $500,000 and $1 million, said Bruce Merrin, a Las Vegas publicist, although others speculated it could be considerably more. She also would receive top-shelf speaking fees — perhaps $60,000 or more for an hour talk — at conventions or trade shows, Merrin said.

"Because she is so unique, and because of what she's gone through, her speaking fees would be relatively high," Merrin said.

Before that happens, however, Knox had to be reminded of something by her parents during the news conference. "They're reminding me to speak in English, because I'm having problems with that," she said.

Seattle Times staff reporter Alexis Krell contributed to this report.

Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605

or jmartin@seattletimes.com

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