The Amanda Knox verdict: 5 lessons

After four years in prison, Knox is cleared in the murder of her British roommate in Italy. Once the spotlight fades, how will the case be remembered?

Amanda Knox reacts after her murder conviction was overturned in October 2011 by an Italian court.
(Image credit: REUTERS/Tiziana Fabi/Pool)

Amanda Knox headed home to Seattle a free woman on Tuesday, after an Italian appeals court dramatically overturned the American student's conviction for the 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher, Knox's British roommate. Prosecutors claimed that Knox and her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, killed Kercher in a "drug fueled sex game," but their case unraveled after DNA evidence was discredited. What can we learn from the 24-year-old Knox's four-year ordeal and the court's stunning reversal? Here, five possible lessons:

1. Verdicts don't settle everything

From the moment Knox was cleared, say Rachel Donadio and Elisabetta Povoledo at The New York Times, it was obvious that her "case had lost none of its power to polarize." Many Americans applauded, seeing vindication for a young woman "widely seen as an innocent who was smeared in the Italian news media as a sex-crazed femme fatale." But for many Italians, the reversal only compounded four years of humiliation at the hands of "an American media circus" that "depicted Italy as a banana republic with amateur police and compromised magistrates." Knox's future has changed dramatically, but the hard feelings remain.

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2. Misogyny still runs rampant

Police found "almost no material evidence" linking Knox to the death of Kercher, who was found the day after Halloween 2007, "raped, with her throat slit," in the apartment she shared with Knox, says Nina Burleigh in the Los Angeles Times. It was clear early on "that it wasn't facts but Knox — her femaleness, her Americaness, her beauty — that was driving the case." Time after time, "Knox was subjected to all manner of outlandish, misogynistic behavior" — from prosecutors who called her a she-devil to the prison guards who asked if she liked sex — and it only stopped when the injustice had erased Knox's youthful smile and her "power to bewitch and beguile."

3. The Italian justice system is broken

"In a land in which appointments are invariably made through nepotism rather than competence," says Tobias Jones at Britain's Guardian, virtually every investigation is bound to have holes in it. And "a fair trial is often impossible because there's no jury (at least not in the sense that we understand the term)." Everyone knows that the Italian judiciary is "in desperate need of reform." And until that reform comes, no verdict will deliver "door-slamming certainty."

4. But it's not beyond hope

"Bottom line: The appeals jury who acquitted Knox did the right thing," says Jeanine Pirro at Fox News. Yes, the prosecutor got away with character assassination by calling Knox a "she-devil." And yes, the handling of the crime scene and evidence was amateurish and tainted the case. But in the end, the appeals court had the integrity and professionalism to correct those mistakes.

5. Freedom won't end Knox's ordeal

Knox will never again be the "kooky, free-spirited" college junior she was when her roommate was murdered, says Susan Donaldson James at ABC News. According to Columbia University Teacher's College psychology professor Judy Kuriansky, "she is going to be just as wrecked as Casey Anthony" — the lurid details of the accusations of violent, drug-filled orgies will follow her forever.

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