'Friends Of Amanda' Elated Knox Is Coming Home

American college student Amanda Knox will return to Seattle now that an Italian appeals court has overturned her 2009 conviction for murder. For the last four years, Knox has benefited from a tireless public relations campaign on her behalf. The Seattle group "Friends of Amanda" has kept her name in the media.

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College student Amanda Knox is returning to her hometown of Seattle today. An Italian appeals court yesterday overturned her 2009 murder conviction. For the last four years, the Knox case has been has been a cause celebre in three countries: Italy, the U.S. and the U.K., the home country of murder victim Meredith Kercher. As NPR's Martin Kaste reports, 24-year-old Amanda Knox has benefited from a tireless public relations campaign on her behalf.

MARTIN KASTE: Here in Seattle, the group calling itself Friends of Amanda rented a suite in a downtown hotel to watch the verdict.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS)

KASTE: And if the cheers were hesitant at first, it was only because of the uncertain translation of the Italian legalese. Soon enough, the cheers were replaced by tears of joy.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We did it. We did it, you guys. We did it. We did it!

KASTE: Friends of Amanda may deserve some of the credit for the acquittal, or at least for making Knox's case in the court of public opinion. They organized volunteers with legal and forensic backgrounds to go on cable TV. They ran social media campaigns, and they raised money to help Knox's parents travel to Italy and give interviews there.

Reporter Barbie Latza Nadeau wrote a book about the case. She recalls how the prosecutor and the Italian media initially portrayed Knox as a cold-blooded, American party girl.

BARBIE NADEAU: And at that time, after she'd been arrested, her parents - with the help of some supporters in Seattle - decided they needed to take control of the story, and take control of her image. So they started the Friends of Amanda group. And they were - they really, I think, did an effective job at controlling the media and controlling the message.

KASTE: Nadeau says that message control eventually trickled into the Italian media, and may have influenced the outcome.

NADEAU: The jury had to walk through the giant media scrum on their way to court every day. The local Perugian papers printed stories constantly about how the American supporters of Amanda Knox were looking down on their city, down on their judiciary, down on their investigators, and things like that. And I think it would have been really difficult for this jury not to feel pressure.

KASTE: The family of murder victim Meredith Kercher felt the need to hold their own news conference before the verdict. Her brother, Lyle Kercher, implied that the trial had become a publicity war.

LYLE KERCHER: There comes a point where obviously, it's difficult for our legal team, who work very hard and do a lot of good work out here, to be constantly battling against what's essentially a large P.R. machine, for want of a better term.

KASTE: Back in Seattle, Friends of Amanda organizer Tom Wright insists that the credit for the acquittal goes to Knox and her co-defendant, her former boyfriend. Wright says they made their own case in their statements to the court.

TOM WRIGHT: I think it was jarring to the Italians who had launched this campaign against these kids, to see them for real, speaking from the heart. And that they couldn't - they said(ph) how did we incarcerate these - these children? How did that happen?

KASTE: And Joe Starr, a friend of Knox's father's, dismisses the talk of media manipulation.

JOE STARR: There was no big P.R. campaign. You heard this over and over and over. This is just a middle-class family. We're just regular people.

KASTE: Regular, middle-class Americans who know something about how the media work.

Martin Kaste, NPR news, Seattle.

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