SEATTLE - The emotional strain built steadily for years as Amanda Knox sat locked away thousands of miles from her loved ones, all the while maintaining her innocence, wondering whether anyone who mattered would ever believe her.
Knox's father, Curt, suggested that at least some of that pressure was released when she gained her freedom. "She pretty much squished the air out of us when she hugged us," he said.
Curt Knox, for the time, is no longer a legal advocate, he's only a father. And, as Amanda Knox returned to her hometown of Seattle on Tuesday after being acquitted on murder charges after four years in prison, he shifted his concern to her future.
"The focus simply is Amanda's well-being and getting her re-associated with just being a regular person again," he said in front of his home in West Seattle.
He said Amanda would like to return to the University of Washington at some point to finish her degree, but for now, he's apprehensive about what four years in prison may have done to his daughter, though there are no immediate plans for her to get counseling. "What's the trauma ... and when will it show up, if it even shows up?" he said. "She's a very strong girl, but it's been a tough time for her."
The 24-year-old's life turned around dramatically Monday when an Italian appeals court threw out her conviction in the sexual assault and fatal stabbing of her British roommate. On Tuesday, photos of Amanda Knox crying in the courtroom after the verdict was read appeared on the front pages of newspapers in Italy, the U.S., Britain and around the world.
She was again overcome with emotion as she returned to Seattle for the first time. "Thank you for being there for me," Knox tearfully told her supporters in front of a crowd of international reporters.
"I'm really overwhelmed right now," she said at a news conference minutes after she was escorted off a British Airways flight out of London. "I was looking down from the airplane, and it seemed like everything wasn't real."
Knox sobbed at the news conference and held her mother's hand as her lawyer Theodore Simon said her acquittal "unmistakably announced to the world" that she was not responsible for the killing of Meredith Kercher.
After her parents offered their thanks to Knox's lawyers and supporters, Knox spoke briefly, saying, "They're reminding me to speak in English, because I'm having problems with that."
"Thank you to everyone who's believed in me, who's defended me, who's supported my family," she said.
"My family's the most important thing to me so I just want to go and be with them, so, thank you for being there for me," she said before she and her family left.
Knox's acquittal, fueled by doubts over DNA evidence, stunned the victim's family and angered the prosecution, which insists that she was among three people who killed Kercher, 21. But for Knox's grandmother Elisabeth Huff, "it was like the weight of the world had gone."
"We all are as happy as can be. I can't tell you how long we've been looking forward to this day," Huff told The Associated Press outside her home in West Seattle, a tight-knit community a few miles across Elliott Bay from downtown.
Knox was studying abroad in Perugia when Kercher was killed in 2007.
In a letter released hours before she left Italy, Knox thanked those Italians who supported her. "Those who wrote, those who defended me, those who were close, those who prayed for me," Knox wrote, "I love you."
Prosecutor Giuliano Mignini expressed disbelief at the innocent verdicts of Knox and her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito. Mignini maintains that Knox, Sollecito and another man killed Kercher during a lurid, drug-fueled sex game.
Mignini said he will appeal to Italy's highest criminal court after receiving the reasoning behind the acquittals, due within 90 days.
"Let's wait and we will see who was right. The first court or the appeal court," Mignini told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "This trial was done under unacceptable media pressure."
One conviction in the slaying still stands: that of Ivory Coast native Rudy Hermann Guede, whose sentence was cut to 16 years in his final appeal. His lawyer said Tuesday he will seek a retrial.
The highest court already has upheld Guede's conviction. It said Guede had not acted alone but did not name Knox and Sollecito, saying it was not up to the court to determine who his accomplices were.
Kercher's family said during an emotional news conference Tuesday that they were back to "square one."
Monday's decision "obviously raises further questions," her brother Lyle Kercher said.
"If those two are not the guilty parties, then who are the guilty people?" he said.
Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison and Sollecito received 25, but the prosecution's case was blown apart by a DNA review ordered during the appeals trial that discredited crucial genetic evidence.
Prosecutors maintain that Knox's DNA was found on the handle of a kitchen knife believed to be the murder weapon, and that Kercher's DNA was found on the blade. They said Sollecito's DNA was on the clasp of Kercher's bra as part of a mix of evidence that also included the victim's genetic profile.
But an independent review - ordered at the request of the defense - found that police conducting the investigation had made glaring errors. The two experts said below-standard testing and possible contamination raised doubts over the attribution of DNA traces, both on the blade and on the bra clasp, which was collected from the crime scene 46 days after the murder.
The review was crucial to throwing out the convictions because no motive has emerged and witness testimony was contradictory.
The highest court will determine whether any procedures were violated. The hearing generally takes one day in Rome, and defendants are not required to attend.
If the highest court overturns the acquittal, prosecutors would be free to request Knox's extradition. It would be up to the government to decide whether to make the formal extradition request.
Curt Knox, answering questions before going inside to a small welcome-home party for his daughter, was aware of such reports, "Obviously, we'll fight it to the end."