The family of Amanda Knox, sentenced to 26 years in an Italian prison, sees glimmers of hope as small victories in her appeal seem to cast doubt on the guilty verdict against her.
After nearly four years, three birthdays, four Christmases and one college graduation have passed with Knox, now 23, living in a grim Italian prison cell. Her family now is cautiously optimistic that the appeal of her murder conviction will go her way.
Knox, who was a 20-year-old student from Seattle, and her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were convicted of the brutal November 2007 murder of Knox's roommate Meredith Kercher. Knox was sentenced to 26 years and Sollecito was given 25 years following their conviction in 2009.
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In recent weeks, the Knox defense team has notched some small victories. It was delighted when the appeals panel cast doubt on the testimony of Antonio Curatolo, a 53-year-old drug addict who lived in a park near the murder scene. During the trial he testified that he saw Knox and Sollecito together on the night of the murder near the cottage where Kercher was killed.
Amanda Knox Defense Team Cautiously Optimistic
But when he spoke with the appeals panel, Curatolo said he was sure of the moment because he remembered also seeing the buses that were used to take Halloween partiers to area bars that night. The murder, however, happened the night after Halloween and no party buses were running on the night of the murder.
The Knox team was also encouraged last week when 11 Italian legislators signed a petition calling for a review into whether the Knox criminal investigation was conducted properly.
The defense is most hopeful over signs that the appeals panel -- two judges and six jurors -- may be casting doubt on the crucial DNA evidence that was used to convict Knox and played an even more significant role in the conviction of Sollecito.
During the trial Knox suffered a blow when her defense team's request for an independent review of the DNA evidence was denied. But when Knox's appeal began late last year, a new judge granted the request and assigned two renowned Italian independent experts to review the forensics.
For Knox and her family, there was finally a small win after years of legal setbacks.
Amanda's father, Curt Knox, told ABC News, "It really appears [the judge] wants to get to the truth. And the truth is really going to set her free."
The case has hinged on two crucial pieces of DNA evidence: a kitchen knife found in Sollecito's apartment and the victim's bra clasp.
During Knox's trial, her lawyers argued that the victim's DNA -- which was not blood -- found on the dull side of the knife's blade was too weak to be tested.
A piece of Kercher's bra clasp was found in her bedroom, the room where she was murdered. Sollecito's DNA was found on the tip of the hook on a piece of the clasp, which had been torn or cut from the rest of Kercher's bloody bra.
Police crime scene video shows the bra clasp was collected six weeks after the murder. The defense argued that the bra clasp was contaminated because the crime scene video shows the clasp had been moved from one part of the room to another. They also pointed out that Sollecito's DNA was not found on the rest of the bra, collected the day after the murder.
On Feb. 9, in Rome, the two Italian independent experts began poring over the DNA evidence.
In another indication that the appeals may be looking favorably on some of Knox's claims, it granted a request by the independent experts to consult documents relating to the identification of the alleged murder weapon and the testimony of the police who searched Sollecito's house that day.
"Truth comes from science. I think the story of how this evidence was collected doesn't fit the evidence collected," said Greg Hampikian, an American DNA expert and director of the Idaho Innocence Project. Hampikian, who gave ABC News access to his lab, independently reviewed the procedures for collecting and testing critical DNA evidence in the Knox case.
Hampikian said the knife had such a minute amount of DNA, it could not be tested a second time. He added, "[The Italian crime lab] didn't have enough of a [DNA] sample. It was certainly well below what the FBI uses, or any American crime lab that I know." He is confident the knife is not the murder weapon.
Hampikian, who reviewed hours of crime scene video, concluded that the Knox case is "a glaring example of bad evidence handling." According to Hampikian, the clasp could have been contaminated during the six weeks between the murder and when it was bagged as evidence. During those six weeks, numerous items in the room had been moved by police who were not changing their gloves during evidence collection.
Amanda Knox Family Hopeful That Appeal Is Going Her Way
He said that DNA can be easily transferred.
"DNA moves around. It's very different than a traditional fingerprint," Hampikian said. "If I had your fingerprint on an innocent object in my office, and I wanted to somehow peel that fingerprint off and move it somewhere, that's very difficult and usually easy to detect.
"On the other hand, if I wanted to take the DNA that you left on a mug in my office and plant it on a knife or gun, it's very easy to do. The strength, and the weakness, of DNA is that it moves very easily. You just have to move a few cells and you have DNA," he said.
Most troubling to Hampikian is the absence of any DNA from Amanda Knox in the bedroom where the gruesome crime occurred.
He also pointed out the strong evidence against an Ivory Coast drifter, Rudy Guede, who also was convicted of the murder. Guede's saliva was found on the victim, his hand prints in blood were on the bedroom wall, his fingerprints were in the room, and his DNA was on the victim's bra and purse.
Guede, who fled to Germany after the murder, was arrested two months later after DNA from the crime scene was tested and matched his. Guede was convicted after a fast-track trial. His appeal was rejected, and he is serving a 16-year sentence.
Amanda Knox Case Takes Toll on Family
Knox came to Italy to study the language, but her Italian adventure has become a nightmare behind bars. She has spent 44 months in Capanne prison on the outskirts of Perugia, in a 10-by-13-foot cell that she shares with another inmate. She is allowed one hour outdoors per day, and two hour-long visits with family per week.
Her stepfather, Chris Mellas, has moved to Italy to visit Knox and attend her hearings. Six thousand miles away, in Seattle, Knox's sister, Deanna Knox, 21, is playing the role of big sister to their half-sisters, Ashley, 16, and Delaney, 12.
Deanna Knox went nearly a year without seeing her sister. "It gets harder and harder each year," she said. "People are growing up, people are changing. I really know she will come home. She will. It's just waiting."
To stay connected the sisters rely on a weekly 10 minute phone call with Knox, along with artwork and letters she mails home.
In addition, the financial toll has been astronomical. Knox's family has spent more than $1 million on her defense and on living expenses incurred on trips to Italy
There is no doubt Amanda Knox has captured the world's attention, and it's fair to say she has become a minor celebrity.
Judy Bachrach, a journalist who lives in Italy who has covered the case for Vanity Fair, told ABC News, "Amanda Knox has been portrayed by the Italian and British press from the beginning as the classic American girl with a heart of stone."
Bachrach also clarified that criticism of Knox's behavior -- kissing Sollecito outside the crime scene, reportedly doing a cartwheel in the police station -- and assessments of her demeanor during the trial must be separated from forensic evidence.
"Amanda Knox is very different. She is quirky. She is also at times seemingly callous. That does not, however, make her guilty, and that's a very important thing to remember," explained Bachrach.
There are countless pro and anti Amanda Knox blogs, all of which seem to take a strong stance on her presumed guilt or innocence. A Google search for "Amanda Knox" shows nearly 4 million results.
The fascination with Knox has led to at least eight books and a Lifetime TV movie, "Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy," which starred Hayden Panettiere as Knox and premiered earlier this year. A Hollywood film is reportedly a possibility.
Knox Makes Emotional Plea in Court
The TV movie stirred controversy when graphic images of the re-created murder were seen in the movie's trailer. Knox's lawyers took legal action to block the movie and excerpts on TV and online. The case is ongoing.
Both Knox and her parents face slander charges over their allegations that police hit Amanda during her interrogation.
Prosecutor Guiliano Mignini is fighting his own battle. He was convicted of obstruction of justice and abuse of power in another case he argued, in Milan. He faces possible jail time.
The prosecution also has appealed the verdict in Knox's case. They are asking for a harsher sentence: life in prison for Knox.
During a May 21 appeal hearing, Knox made a composed but emotional plea in court. "I have been in prison for three years now and I am innocent. It is very frustrating and it is mentally exhausting and I want the truth to be found," she said, speaking in good Italian with a slight American accent. "There have been many mistakes and many prejudices."
Tearing up halfway through the brief statement, Knox went on to say, "I remember how I was young and how I did not understand anything and the most important thing is that I do not want to stay in prison unjustly for all my life."
An appeal decision is expected to come this fall. The possible outcomes for Amanda Knox include a life sentence, a reduced sentence or acquittal. Her family says if Knox loses this appeal, she will appeal to the Italian Supreme Court in Rome.
Bachrach was sure of Knox's guilt in the early days of the case, but her opinion has changed. "I was pretty positive when I started working on the Amanda Knox story that she was guilty," she said. "But as I examined the so-called evidence against her -- and the judge's words particularly -- I became convinced that she is not guilty. Absolutely convinced. This was a railroad job."
As for Amanda, more than three years ago she wrote in her prison diary: "I want to get married and have children. I want to create something good…. I want my time. I want my life."
Phoebe Natanson and Zachary Nowak contributed to this report.