Dec. 11, 2010 -- Amanda Knox made an impassioned and emotional plea for her freedom Saturday in the Italian court where she is appealing her conviction to 26 years in prison for the murder of her college roommate, breaking into tears as she spoke of the victim, Meredith Kercher.
"I am innocent," said Knox in Italian to the new jury that is judging her along with her co-defendant and ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito.
"I am innocent. Raffele is innocent. We did not kill Meredith … we are paying with our lives for a crime we did not commit," she added strongly.
"I never would have expected to find myself here," said Knox to the jury, "condemned for a crime that I did not commit … I will never get used to this broken life."
Knox stood to speak at the beginning of the second hearing of her appeal which is taking place in the same courtroom in Perugia, Italy, where she was convicted almost exactly one year ago together with Sollecito, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
A third person, Ivorian immigrant Rudy Guede, was also convicted for participating in Kercher's murder in a separate trial. His 30-year conviction was reduced to 16 on appeal, and he is appealing again to Italy's highest Cassation court next week.
As a defendant, Knox is allowed by Italian law to make a "spontaneous statement" when she chooses during court proceedings.
"I and [Raffaele] deserve our freedom, like everyone else in this courtroom today," Knox insisted.
Knox spoke in an emotional crescendo that turned to sobs as she addressed her words to the family of the victim, Meredith Kercher, the UK student she is accused of murdering.
"To Meredith's family, I want to say that I am very sorry she is no longer living. I cannot know how you are feeling, but I have little sisters too, and the idea of them suffering and missing [someone] forever, terrifies me," she said.
The Kerchers, who live in England, were not present in court, but Knox said she hoped her words "would reach them."
"What you are going through is unacceptable," Knox sobbed, and after a long pause added, "I am sorry that all this happened to you...it isn't right and never will be."
She said Meredith was "nice, intelligent, and friendly, it was she who showed me around Perugia. I am grateful to her and honored to have known her."
In the three years since she was arrested, this was the first time Knox has publicly expressed her sorrow to the victim's family.
Meredith Kercher's father, John, who has spoken out very rarely since Kercher's death, has criticized the Knox family recently for never having expressed their condolences to him and his family, "no letter of sympathy, no word of regret."
Francesco Maresca, the lawyer representing the Kercher's as civil plaintiffs walked out of the courtroom as Knox began her statement.
He later told reporters that he left because he "didn't want to have to listen to these affirmations which come too late, are inappropriate, and devoid of any meaning, and intended to [impress] the appeals court."
In the appeal hearing on Friday the General Prosecutor, Giancarlo Costagliola, summarized the verdict in the first trial and outlined the appeals by defense and prosecution. In Italy prosecutors can also appeal a verdict they do not agree with, and the prosecutors in Knox's first trial have asked for a heavier sentence.
Then the lawyers for Sollecito and Knox respectively made their cases at length for the need to re-open debate on the case and admit new witnesses. They also requested an independent review of all the forensic evidence, with special emphasis on the DNA found on the kitchen knife prosecutors believe is the murder weapon.
The DNA has been attributed to Kercher, and the knife has Knox's DNA on the handle. Another point of strong contention is Sollecito's DNA found on a hook of the victim's bra -- but which was taken into evidence weeks after police first searched the crime scene.
A decision on these requested is expected on December 18.
When appeals proceedings began at the end of November, Knox had not been seen in public for months, and she appears worn out and distraught compared to the days before her conviction -- the years of detention taking their toll.
"I still don't know how to face all of this except by being myself, as I always have been, notwithstanding this suffocating unease," Knox said.
In court on Saturday she kept her eyes down and her manner demure. She had the support of her step-father Chris Mellas, and her good friend Madison Paxton, who has moved to Perugia for the year and is doing a photography internship with a local newspaper.
But hearing Knox "fight for herself" was a strong experience for both. Paxton cried the entire time Knox spoke.
"She's been wanting to speak for a long time and she's finally gotten strong enough to do it," Paxton told ABC shortly after Knox spoke.
"It's hard for her to speak. She really wants to fight but this is exhausting. And she wants this to be over but she is incredibly focused and she's very determined to defend herself but it is a hard thing to do."
Knox told the court she was not good at speaking out in public in her defense, saying that a college friend used to tell her "'stand up for yourself, Poindexter!'"
"But my mind would block and my tongue would get stuck…and I was unable to defend myself," said Knox, " … imagine doing it in this courtroom, where I am the weakest," she told them.
But in her defense, Knox told the court she was not "the dangerous, diabolical, jealous, uncaring and violent girl that the prosecution insists I am," and she asked the court to "really take into consideration the fact that there has been an enormous mistake" in how she was judged.
"No justice is done to Meredith and her loved ones by taking our lives from us and making us pay for something we did not do."