PERUGIA, Italy, Oct. 3, 2011— -- The Italian jury considering whether to overturn Amanda Knox's murder conviction and let her go home to Seattle -- or send her back to prison -- has reached a verdict, court officials said.
The six jurors and two judges are scheduled to announce their decision at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Knox and her ex-boyfriend and co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito were brought back to court from prison in separate vans to hear the decision.
The Knox family left its hotel together and headed to the court to hear the verdict that stepfather Chris Mellas said last week it had been waiting for with a mixture of "dread and hope."
They were followed a little later by Kercher's family who made it clear earlier in the day that they believe Knox and Sollecito are guilty.
Knox reportedly spent some of the time while waiting for the verdict playing guitar in the prison chapel, Italian parliamentarian Rocco Girlanda told news agecny ANSA.
The verdict comes hours after Knox and Sollecito made impassioned pleas for their freedom, insisting they did not kill Knox's British roommate Meredith Kercher.
Knox, who has spent the past four years in prison and is serving a 26-year prison term, began shakily as she addressed the jury in Italian. Overcoming tears, she pressed on with her voice breaking at times.
"I want to go home. I want to go back to my life. I don't want to be punished. ... I don't want my future taken away from me for something I didn't do because I am innocent," she said.
Seated in the courtroom, Knox's mother Edda Mellas and her younger sister, Deanna, cried.
Knox, 24, had the last word in her nearly year-long appeal. She spoke after her ex-boyfriend and co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito, 27, said that at the time of his arrest in November 2007 he was "in a beautiful situation." He was about to defend his college thesis,and he had met this "beautiful vivacious girl, and so sweet," he said referring to Knox.
Knox's statement combined sweet memories of her brief time with Sollecito and what she insisted was her friendship with Kercher, but she had bitter words for the Italian police.
"I made myself available up to the point of total exhaustion. ... I was betrayed," she said. "I was manipulated."
"I didn't do what they say I did. I didn't kill. I didn't rape. I didn't steal. I was not there," Knox insisted.
She dismissed prosecution claims that her relationship with Kercher had become strained and angry.
"We had a friendship. ... She was concerned for me. She was always kind to me. She cared about me," Knox said.
Kercher's death in the Perugia cottage they shared frightened Knox, she said.
"I couldn't believe it. How was that possible first of all. Then fear, because this person who I shared my life with, who had the bed next to mine, had been killed in our home, and if I had been there that night, I would be dead. I would be killed.
"The only difference is I was not there. I was at Raffaele's place," she said.
In an apparent reference to criticism that she and Sollecito were kissing and hugging during the police investigation, Knox said that in her fear, "He was everything to me at that very moment."
In encouraging the six jurors and two judges to set her free, Knox said, "I am not escaping truth. I am not fleeing from justice. I insist on the truth."
During his comments, Sollecito told the court that he could not convey all the suffering he has endured.
"At the end of the day, every single day in prison is like death," he said.
Sollecito pointed to a rubber bracelet he was wearing with the inscription "Free Amanda and Raffaele" that had been given to him.
"I think it's time for me to take it off," he said, removing the band and hoping the court would not send him back to prison.
Knox and Sollecito were returned to prison while the judges and jury retired to consider a verdict, which is expected later today.
Interest in the pending verdict is so intense that court officials removed seats from the courtroom to accommodate more observers, although it is standing room only.
The couple are appealing their 2009 conviction for murder. A jury concluded the two were guilty of killing Kercher in November 2007 in the cottage the two women shared in Perugia. Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison and Sollecito was given 25 years.
A third person, local drifter Rudy Guede, was also convicted of taking part in Kercher's killing in a separate trial. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison on appeal.
Amanda Knox Tells Italian Court She Is Innocent
The six jurors and two judges do not have to be unanimous in their verdict. A majority vote will decide their fate, and if they are evenly split, Knox and Sollecito will walk.
The final week of the nearly year-long appeal was a barrage of verbal fireworks.
Lawyers for the prosecution called Knox a sex obsessed "she devil" and a liar. Twice they showed the court grisly photos of Kercher's nude and bloodied body, along with close-ups of the gash in her neck.
"They [the defendants] are young, and they killed for nothing, for no reason," said prosecutor Manuela Comodi.
An attorney for Kercher's family told the jury, "On Monday, Meredith's mother, sister and brother will be here to hear your sentence. ... They will look you in the eyes for the first time. With one look, they will ask you to confirm the sentence."
Knox's defenders countered saying that she wasn't a "she devil" but was more like Jessica Rabbit, the voluptuous cartoon character who was tender and loving. "I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way," was her trademark line.
ABC News has the full story in its new video eBook, THE AMANDA KNOX STORY: A Murder in Perugia, available for sale on the iBooks, Kindle, and Nook eBook stores.
Knox's lawyers told the court she had been "crucified" by the media during the investigation and trial, a reference to the often lurid coverage of the case in tabloid papers, as well as seven books and a movie.
Luciano Ghirga, part of Knox's defense team, told the jury to look at her and told them, "Her heart is full of hope to be set free."
Forensics may have played a bigger role than rhetoric in the court's verdict. Much of the appeal has revolved around whether the DNA on two key pieces of evidence were credible.
Two court appointed experts looked at the prosecution's evidence and delivered a damning assessment that the manner in which the DNA was collected, stored and analyzed was below international standards.
One involved the alleged murder weapon, a knife found in Sollecito's kitchen. Prosecutors claimed the handle contained Knox's DNA and a speck on the blade contained Kercher's DNA. But the experts said the speck was too small to make a second test to confirm the analysis and the experts concluded that DNA came from bread.
The second piece of evidence was allegedly Sollecito's DNA on the bra clasp cut from Kercher's bra during the attack. The experts said it was improperly handled and likely had been contaminated.