In a final ruling, Italy's highest court on Friday overturned the convictions of American Amanda Knox and her former Italian boyfriend in the sensational murder case of Knox's British roommate.
The six judges of the Court of Cassation announced their decision about 10:30 p.m. in Rome (5:30 p.m. ET). They began deliberating at noon after closing arguments by a lawyer for Raffaele Sollecito, Knox's boyfriend when 21-year-old Meredith Kercher was stabbed to death in late 2007.
"I am tremendously relieved and grateful for the decision of the Supreme Court of Italy," the 27-year-old Knox said in a statement from her home in Seattle. "The knowledge of my innocence has given me strength in the darkest times of this ordeal."
She thanked everyone who supported her. "Your kindness has sustained me."
Her Italian lawyer, Carlo Dalla Vedova, said she "was crying because she was so happy" when he called to deliver the news.
The ruling, which struck down last year's guilty verdicts by a Florence appeals court, brings the eight-year case to a close. The judges concluded that the evidence did not support a conviction, and they declined to order another trial. Their reasoning will be released within 90 days.
Knox and Sollecito had served four years in Italian prisons before a lower court overturned their convictions and set them free in 2011. But the Cassation Court reversed that decision in 2013 and sent the case to the lower Florence court.
Knox had consistently maintained her innocence and did not return to Italy for the final hearing. Her Italian lawyer, Carlo Dalla Vedova, said she was "very worried" in the days before the ruling, and vowed to never willingly return to Italy if the conviction was upheld.
Sollecito's lawyer made a final appeal to the court Friday, saying there were "colossal" errors in the Florence appeals court verdict.
In her two-hour argument, Giulia Bongiorno compared Sollecito to Forrest Gump, the naive, dim-witted-but-earnest fictional hero of the book and 1994 movie starring Tom Hanks.
"He is an innocent who became wrapped up in spectacular and gigantic events that, like Forrest Gump, he did not fully realize," she said, saying her client was "was watching cartoons" at home when Kercher was killed.
When the verdict was announced, shocked Bongiorno shouted, "Yes! Yes! Yes" and leaped into the arms of a defense colleague.
"You never saw Raffaele pleading, or praying. He has been a rock," she said, the AFP news agency reported. "He is at home with his father and he is very happy. The verdict has proved him completely right."
Knox was 20 and studying in Italy in November 2007 when Kercher was found dead of multiple knife wounds in the flat they shared in the picturesque hillside town of Peruggia. Authorities determined she had been sexually assaulted and her throat had been slashed.
Under police questioning, Knox said she was in the flat and heard the murder but did not participate. She later recanted, saying she gave the statement under duress.
Knox, then-boyfriend Sollecito and another man, Rudy Guede, were charged with the murder. Guede, whose DNA was found on Kercher's body, agreed to a fast-track trial and was convicted of murder in 2008. The native of the Ivory Coast is serving 16 years in an Italian prison.
In 2009, an Italian court convicted Knox and Sollecito, now 30, of murder. Knox was sentenced to 28½ years in prison, Sollecito to 25. Both served four years before an appeals court overturned their convictions and acquitted them in 2011. Knox returned to Seattle.
But Italy's highest court threw out the acquittals in March 2013 and sent the case to a Florence appeals court, which convicted them again last year. Knox, who did not return to Italy for the trial, was sentenced to 28 ½ years in prison and Sollecito to 25 years.
The Florence court cited "reliable" evidence placing Knox, Sollecito and Guede in the flat when Kercher was killed. The Florence court found Kercher was killed after a "mounting quarrel" with Knox — rejecting the initial prosecution theory that Kercher was killed after a drug-fueled sex game gone wrong.
Contributing: KING-TV, Seattle; Michael Winter in San Francisco.