She crumpled, then she wept, her lawyers' arms around her for support. To stifled cheers from supporters in an Italian courtroom, Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were freed from jail last night after a jury quashed their convictions for the murder of British student Meredith Kercher.
Ms Knox (24), appeared to struggle to remain standing as the judge read out the verdict that cleared her nearly four years after the body of the student was found in their shared apartment. She appeared dazed as guards rushed her from the court.
Outside court, her family thanked supporters, saying "their nightmare was over" and pleaded for privacy to try to rebuild their lives. Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito briefly returned to prison to complete paperwork before leaving shortly after.
The divisions of opinion were noisily evident outside the Perugia court, with Knox supporters cheering and clapping while dozens of local people, infuriated by the acquittal, screamed "Shame on you!" and "Assassins!" at lawyers coming out of the court.
The mother and two siblings of the victim of the murder also burst into tears in court, devastated by a judgment that came after a review cast serious doubts over the main DNA evidence linking the two to the crime.
Rudy Guede, the third person convicted of murder, is serving a reduced term of 16 years for his role in the crime but has always denied blame for the murder, which lawyers argued could only have been performed by more than one person.
Knox's three-year sentence for libelling Patrick Lumumba, who she named as the killer during her interrogation, was upheld, but she has already served the time.
She was also ordered to pay €21,000 (£18,000) to him in compensation.
On all other counts the pair were ruled not guilty on the grounds of insufficient evidence.
As had been widely predicted, the testimony of court-appointed scientists, who were scathing about sloppy police work during the investigation, proved crucial.
Prosecutors can appeal the acquittal to Italy's highest court. There was no word late yesterday if they planned to do so.
The decision announced last night was the climax of an appeal which had elements of both a Hollywood premiere and a witch-burning, with hundreds of local people packed into the narrow piazza outside the court.
The victim's sister, Stephanie, in Perugia with her mother and brother for the verdict, said her sister "has been nearly forgotten."
"We want to keep her memory alive," she said after the verdict.
In court Ms Knox and her then boyfriend Mr Sollecito earlier told the court they had nothing to do with the murder of Leeds University student Meredith Kercher.
In pin-drop silence Ms Knox, wearing a jade green dress, told the court that, with the death of Meredith, "I lost a friend in the most vile way imaginable."
In the weeks that followed, she said, she also lost her faith in the police. It was during an all-night interrogation at police headquarters that she admitted she had been in the house when the murder was committed. She withdrew the admission soon afterwards.
Amanda's then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, fighting the same conviction, told the court that he had "never hurt anyone in my life" and that on the night of the murder he was "in a beautiful situation" with "beautiful, sunny, vivacious, sweet" Amanda.
Speaking after him, Ms Knox told the court: "I'm paying with my life for something I did not do."
Yesterday Meredith Kercher's mother Arline and two of her children, Lyle and Stephanie, told the press in Perugia they felt their daughter's suffering had been forgotten in the enormous attention on Amanda and Raffaele's appeal.
Stephanie Kircher said: "Everyone needs to remember the brutality of what happened."
Jurors in the original trial had heard the prosecution claim that DNA found on a knife allegedly used in Meredith Kercher's murder, and on the clasp of the British student's bra, indicated the involvement of Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito in the killing.
But expert witnesses employed for the appeal said that the tiny quantity of DNA available was not sufficient for reliable analysis. They also said there was no trace of blood on the knife identified as the murder weapon and that original forensic scientists made a series of glaring errors in collecting the evidence that might have caused serious contamination.