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10.03.11

Amanda’s Final Plea

Knox could go home tonight—or have her murder sentence increased. Barbie Latza Nadeau reports from the wild scene in Perugia, where the defendant gave an emotional appeal for freedom. Plus, live updates, video from Perugia, and live chat Tuesday, Oct. 4, 1 p.m. ET.

Amanda Knox stood up in front of the jury who will decide her fate and broke down in tears. It was a quick moment that felt like an eternity until she took a deep breath and started to speak again. “I am not the same person I was four years ago,” she said, going on to describe how the prosecution has misrepresented her. “Before this I never suffered in my life at all. I didn’t know what tragedy was.”

Her declaration was delivered by heart in perfect Italian that has improved greatly over the last four years. “I did not rape. I did not kill. I did not steal. I wasn’t there,” she said. “Our innocence is real and must be defended.” With her voice shaking, she pleaded that she wasn’t at the crime scene and she didn’t know Rudy Guede, even though she had testified back in the original trial that they met not long after arriving in Perugia in the fall of 2007. She said that she was glad that she was with her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito the night of the murder and was happy that she had him for support the day after. “My friend was killed in the room next to mine,” she said. “If I would have been home I’d be dead too. But I wasn’t there.”

Hers were the last words the jury heard before heading into the judge’s chambers where they will deliberate until at least 8 p.m. tonight (about 2 p.m. in New York). Before adjourning court, the judge warned the press and supporters who had packed into the frescoed courtroom that “this is not a ballgame,” a comment many assumed was aimed directly at the Knox family. He reminded those in the audience to have respect when the verdict is read because “a beautiful young woman was tragically murdered and the lives of two other young people hang in the balance.”

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Watch the dramatic moments as Amanda Knox was pronounced not guilty in an Italian courtroom Monday.

Knox spoke after Sollecito, whose own declaration was far less powerful in his delivery than hers. He never once mentioned Kercher’s name. At times he seemed like a child giving a book report, frequently looking at prepared notes. He ended his confused banter by removing a plastic bracelet from his wrist that someone had sent him in prison on which was printed FREE AMANDA AND RAFFAELE. With the bracelet in his hands, he said the words represented to him “a light at the end of this dark tunnel.” Sollecito said he was the “forgotten” boyfriend. He complained that he and Knox had spent over 1,400 days in prison, and then went on to describe how tiny his cell was. “I don’t have comfort, affection, or hugs.”

The jury had been cautioned not to show emotion and instead sat stoically as Knox and Sollecito spoke. Theirs is an unenviable job in which they must sort through reams of documents and testimony to come to their truth about how Kercher was killed and who was responsible for it. They must somehow ignore the obvious and immense pressure of the media attention as they make their decision. Their decision will forever define the view of the Italian judiciary system in this case in the eyes of the world.

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Testimony during the closing arguments, which began Sept. 23, was dominated by harsh descriptions of Knox as a “she-devil” and “diabolical witch.” The lawyer for Patrick Lumumba, whom Knox accused of Kercher’s murder during a fateful interrogation on Nov. 5, 2007, delivered a sermon on evil, describing Knox as the chief protagonist. He described her as a dominatrix who led her boyfriend and small-time criminal Rudy Guede to kill Kercher. Her own defense lawyers gained some ground wrestling back her reputation and poking holes in the prosecution’s theory of the crime.  Sollecito’s lawyer Giulia Bongiorno even stepped up to defend Knox, telling the jury that she’s not the sexual vamp the prosecution says she is, but rather more like Jessica Rabbit. “She’s not bad, just drawn that way.”

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As the jury deliberates the fate of Knox and Sollecito, Perugia is literally humming from the sound of TV truck generators. Top anchors from all of the American networks are in town pumping up the hopes of the Knox family, hoping to catch the emotion no matter which way the verdict comes down. No one knows what will happen, but everyone is speculating various scenarios. Satellite trucks line the road near the prison where Knox is waiting out the deliberation with cars poised to follow her if she is released tonight. The tension in the air is palpable. Adding to the mix is the fact that Kercher’s mother and sister arrived in town and will be giving a press conference in the afternoon. They will be in court when the verdict is read tonight.

Perugia is literally humming from the sound of TV truck generators.

In the worst-case scenario, Knox’s sentence could be increased to life in prison—as the prosecution requested. She could also have her sentence confirmed and go back to jail for 22 more years. Her hope, though, is to be fully acquitted and absolved of her crimes.

Legal pundits say the most likely scenario is that there will be a compromise of some sort. She could be sent home due to insufficient evidence, which is not the same as being absolved. She could also be absolved of the worst of the crimes against her—murder and sexual assault—and have the lesser crimes—staging a crime scene and false accusation against Lumumba—confirmed.

As her staunch supporters, as well as those that think she is guilty (including Kercher’s own family), wait to hear her fate, the only thing that is certain is that there will be pandemonium in Perugia tonight.