, PERUGIA, Dec 5 – American Amanda Knox was found guilty early on Saturday along with her former Italian boyfriend in the 2007 sex murder of her British housemate Meredith Kercher and sent to prison for 26 years.
Co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito was imprisoned for 25 years in the sensational trial.
Knox, 22, cried out "no, no" and broke into sobs when the judge began reading out the lengthy verdict, while 25-year-old Sollecito\’s face was blank.
Judge Giancarlo Massei cited extenuating circumstances for reducing the sentence from the maximum life terms sought by the prosecution.
Prosecutors presented DNA and other forensic evidence against Knox, Sollecito and a third person, Rudy Guede of Ivory Coast, who was convicted separately after opting for a "fast-track" trial in exchange for clemency.
The prosecution alleged that the three youths were high on drugs when they tried to engage Kercher, 21, in a sex game that turned violent, leaving her dead with stab wounds to the neck.
Knox\’s family issued a statement saying they planned to appeal the verdict. "We will continue to fight for her freedom," the statement said.
"We find it difficult to accept this verdict when we know that she is innocent, and that the prosecution has failed to explain why there is no evidence of Amanda in the room where Meredith was so horribly and tragically murdered," it said.
"It appears clear to us that the attacks on Amanda\’s character in much of the media and by the prosecution had a significant impact on the judges and jurors," they added.
Knox\’s aunt Janet Huff told CNN: "We are just crushed."
When asked what had "most damaged" Knox\’s case, Huff said: "The media from the get-go was fed false information and they ran with it.
"Boy, is it a sexy story: beautiful, young American girl caught up in this horrible nightmare," she added.
Huff said the US government was expected to wade into the fray. "They are involved. They have been involved since the beginning," she told CNN.
"We\’ve been receiving e-mails from government officials saying now it\’s time to do something," Huff said, without naming US officials or describing how they would step in.
The murder sparked lurid headlines around the world, notably in Britain, fed by rampant rumours as well as repeated leaks to an eager press corps during the investigation.
Knox was portrayed as "acqua e sapone" (water and soap) – an Italian idiom for squeaky clean, or wholesome – by her defenders, and a cold, duplicitous "she-devil" by her accusers.
The case cast a dark shadow over Perugia and the prestigious University for Foreigners where Knox and Kercher studied.
The defendants were provisionally ordered to pay one million euros (1.5 million dollars) to each of the victim\’s parents, plus 800,000 euros to each of Kercher\’s three siblings – two brothers and a sister.
The Kercher family had sought 25 million euros in damages.
Their lawyer Francesco Maresca told reporters the verdict "did justice to Meredith Kercher\’s memory," adding that the family was "fully satisfied" with the judgement and "acknowledged the fine work of the investigation and trial."
Knox and Sollecito went on trial in the medieval walled city in January, more than a year after the murder on November 1, 2007.
The defence insisted that Guede, described as a drifter who was taken in by a Perugia family who have since broken ties with him, was the sole killer.
Guede, now 22, is appealing his 30-year sentence.
Knox was also found guilty of defaming her former part-time employer Patrick Lumumba, whom she accused of the murder early in the investigation, and ordered to pay him 10,000 euros in damages and 40,000 in court costs.
The Congolese immigrant who ran a bar in Perugia spent two weeks in jail before being freed without charge.
An extra year was added to Knox\’s sentence for this charge.
Knox claimed that aggressive police questioning led her to accuse Lumumba during 54 hours of interrogation over a four-day period.
Knox and Sollecito were also ordered to pay 33,000 euros to the owner of the cottage where the murder took place for loss of income and court costs.