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Murdered Meredith my friend - Knox

Amanda Knox, "relieved and grateful" that Italy's highest court overturned her conviction for the murder of Meredith Kercher, has described her British flat-mate as her friend.

When asked outside her mother's house in Seattle, Washington, what she would say to the Kercher family, Ms Knox, 27, told reporters: "Meredith was my friend. She deserved so much in this life."

Then, shepherding her daughter back into the house, Edda Mellas said the family was "so thankful that everything is finally right".

In a rare decision, the supreme Court of Cassation overturned last year's convictions by a Florence appeals court and declined to order another trial.

The judges declared that Ms Knox and her then Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, 31, did not commit the crime in 2007 - a stronger exoneration than merely finding that there was not enough evidence to convict.

The ruling brings to a definitive end the high-profile case that captivated trial-watchers on both sides of the Atlantic.

"Finished!" Ms Knox's lawyer Carlo Dalla Vedova exulted after the decision was read out. "It couldn't be better than this."

In a statement, Ms Knox said she was "relieved and grateful" for the decision.

"The knowledge of my innocence has given me strength in the darkest times of this ordeal," she said, thanking her supporters for believing in her.

She later emerged from her mother's home in Seattle, Washington, supported by her fiance Colin Sutherland and Ms Mella, and said: "Right now I'm still absorbing what all this means and what comes to mind is my gratitude for the life that's been given to me."

She said she was thankful "for the justice I've received and for the support I've had from everyone - from my family, from my friends, to strangers. I'm so grateful to have my life back".

Asked what the future held, she said, "I don't know. I'm still absorbing the present moment, which is full of joy."

Experts have said such a complete exoneration is unusual for the high court, which could have upheld the conviction or ordered a new trial as it did in 2013 when the case first came up to its review on appeal.

The justices' reasoning will be released within 90 days.

The decision ends the long legal battle waged by Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito to clear their names over the death of Ms Kercher, 21, of Coulsdon, Surrey, after they spent nearly four years in prison immediately after the murder, only to be freed when they were first acquitted in 2011.

The case aroused strong interest in three countries for its explosive mix of young love, murder and flip-flop decisions by Italian courts.

Across the Atlantic, a spontaneous shout of joy erupted from inside the Seattle home of Ms Knox's mother as the verdict was announced. Several relatives and supporters went into the garden, where they hugged and cheered.

Mr Dalla Vedova said he called Ms Knox to tell her the news, but said she could not speak through her tears. "She was crying because she was so happy," he said.

Ms Kercher was found dead on November 2 2007, in the flat she shared with Ms Knox and two other students in Perugia. Her throat was slashed and she had been sexually assaulted.

Kercher family lawyer Francesco Maresca, was clearly disappointed by the decision.

"I think that it's a defeat for the Italian justice system," he said.

Ms Kercher's mother Arline said she was "a bit surprised and very shocked".

"They have been convicted twice so it is a bit odd that it should change now," she said.

Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito were arrested a few days after Ms Kercher's death. Eventually another man, Rudy Guede from Ivory Coast, was arrested, tried and convicted of the murder in a separate trial and is serving a 16-year sentence.

But the court that convicted Guede ruled he did not act alone, citing the absence of defensive wounds on Ms Kercher and concluding that bruises on her arms indicated she was restrained while one or two others inflicted numerous stab wounds.

Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito maintained their innocence, insisting that they had spent the evening together at Mr Sollecito's home watching a film, smoking marijuana and making love.

They were initially convicted by a Perugia court in 2009, then acquitted and freed in 2011, and then convicted again in 2014 in Florence after the Cassation court overturned the acquittals and ordered a new appeal trial.

That Florence appeal conviction was overturned late last night.

In closing arguments, Mr Dalla Vedova had pounded away at the absence of any physical trace of Ms Knox in the room where Ms Kercher was found and highlighted doubts about the presumed murder weapon, a bread knife found in Mr Sollecito's kitchen drawer that bore Ms Knox's DNA - which the defence said was from kitchen use .

The defence also said Ms Knox's false accusation was coerced by police and obtained without being advised she was a suspect.

Mr Sollecito's defence lawyer, Giulia Bongiorno, argued there were errors of "colossal proportions" in the guilty verdicts.

Mr Sollecito, who was 31 on Thursday, sat in the front row during hours of arguments during the Cassation Court over two days, a new girlfriend by his side. He returned to his home in southern Italy to await the decision followed by Italian police, presumably ready to act in case his conviction had been upheld.

Ms Knox had been convicted of slander for having falsely accused a Congolese man of the murder. That conviction was upheld by the high court, but Ms Knox has already served the three-year sentence in prison. Mr Dalla Vedova has challenged the conviction with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Mr Sollecito's lawyer, Luca Maori, called the young man with the good news from the steps of the court.

"You have your whole life ahead of you now, Raf," he told him.

Speaking to reporters, he added: "He almost couldn't speak. Eight years of nightmare over."

Also disappointed by the decision was bar owner, Diya "Patrick" Lumumba, who was jailed for two weeks after Ms Knox falsely accused him of the murder and is convinced of her guilt.

"It is a strange justice for me, long, uncertain, a little opaque, a lot of darkness," he said outside the court.

"This is a judicial error in Amanda's case."

Ms Knox has sought to resume a normal life since returning to the United States three years ago, recently announcing her engagement and writing theatre reviews and human interest stories for a weekly paper in her home town.

Mr Sollecito has completed a computer science degree, but has said the notoriety surrounding the case has made it difficult to find a job.

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