An Italian court freed Amanda Knox from prison, and newspapers from Perugia to Seattle warmed up the presses.
Media coverage of the sensational trial over who killed British student Meredith Kercher reached new heights in the hours after Knox’s acquittal. A photograph of Knox, overwhelmed by the verdict and in a flood of tears as she exits the court, was splashed on front pages the world over, stirring sympathy for Knox and conveying the horror of her four-year ordeal. In Britain, sympathy dominated the headlines the morning after the verdict. The Guardian led with “‘The nightmare is over’—Knox and Sollecito freed,” while the Sun declared, “Cry Freedom: Knox weeps as she’s cleared of Meredith murder after 4 years.”
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Referencing Kercher, the 21-year old victim whose body was found with more than 40 injuries, won’t have gone unnoticed in England: Kercher was raised in Surrey, outside of London, where her family still lives. Hoping to redress the perceived wrong that Knox and her ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito have replaced Kercher as the victim, the Daily Mirror made Meredith the star of its coverage with an article entitled “Foxy’s Free: Meredith family agony as Amanda cleared.” The Daily Mail featured a large photo of Kercher on page four. It described her as “the forgotten victim” and suggested the “Knox circus” had overrun the most important aspect of the investigation: justice for Meredith and her grieving relatives. “For Meredith Kercher’s family, the agony will now only continue after last night’s dramatic court decision leaves them still wondering how exactly their ‘lovely, lovely girl’ came to be so horrifically killed.” Although images of Knox’s homecoming dominated the news channels on the morning of Oct. 5, the Independent kept an eye on the Kerchers: “Kercher family left with just a question: who killed Meredith?”
In Italy, La Repubblica made room for the Kerchers, too. The paper quotes the Kercher family as saying they respect the court’s decision and the Italian justice system. Stephanie Kercher, Meredith’s younger sister, says they still want the truth. “We do not want innocent people to pay,” she’s quoted as saying. “We think that there is still much work to do.” Writing in La Stampa, Carlo Federico Grosso says the acquittal is “a bitter pill for Italy to swallow” and that the result “leaves no one satisfied.” He encourages the system to look within itself—at its rules and processes—so that it can avoid the “holes and contradictions” of the Knox-Sollecito case, and avoid “chasing false leads” in the future. “And so, almost by necessity, the debate shifts to the efficiency of our judicial system and the capacity of our judges,” he writes, “because now there are too many murder cases in which they give responses that fail to convince completely, or fail to convince at all.”
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The harshest criticism of the botched investigation and initial conviction came from the United States. There, Knox has consistently been portrayed as a victim of the blundering Italian justice system. “The case against former University of Washington student Amanda Knox was always just too far-fetched,” the Seattle Times writes.”Kercher’s family has every right to want justice for their slain beloved daughter and sister. The family has ached deeply for four years. But the other tragedy is for a Seattle family and Knox, who has spent more than 1,000 days of her young life behind bars.” Writing in the L.A. Times, Nina Burleigh says Knox suffered as a result of her femininity and good looks, and that investigators and criminologists in Italy became obsessed with attributing blame to a femme fatale. “In person, in prison and in the media, Knox was subjected to all manner of outlandish, misogynistic behaviour,” she writes. “The focus on her sexuality suggests that civilisation can easily tip backward to the primeval era when the feminine was classified, worshipped and feared in the form of powerful archetypes: Madonnas and Dianas, virgins and whores.”
But for all the squabbles about Italy and its courts and police investigators, the media have, to a large extent, praised the Italian system for giving Knox and Sollecito a second chance. “We have to thank an Italian legal system that essentially gives every convicted criminal a do-over – more formally, an appeal before fresh eyes,” Timothy Egan writes in the New York Times. “Bravo for Italy.”
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William Lee Adams is a staff writer at the London bureau of TIME. Find him on Twitter at @willyleeadams or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME‘s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.