Amanda Knox appeal: Key people in the case

Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito have been cleared of the murder of British exchange student Meredith Kercher.

Miss Kercher, 21, from Coulsdon, south London, was murdered in the city of Perugia in November 2007. It was a killing that gained international notoriety when the grisly details of the crime emerged.

Three people were initially found guilty of Miss Kercher's murder; her American housemate Knox, Knox's Italian boyfriend Mr Sollecito and drug dealer Rudy Guede. They were sentenced to 26, 25 and 30 years respectively, but Guede's term was later cut to 16 years.

Knox and Mr Sollecito's convictions were overturned by an Italian appeals court after they had served nearly four years of their terms. Both have now walked free.

Meredith Kercher

For 21-year-old Miss Kercher, the chance to live and study in Italy was not to be missed.

Coming from a family of six in suburban Coulsdon, south London, she was excited at the prospect of adventure in the Umbrian countryside.

Image caption The family of Meredith Kercher said they were left utterly devastated by her death

She hoped to immerse herself in the language and culture and make new friends as she fulfilled what her family described as her dream.

Miss Kercher chose the idyllic city of Perugia because it was smaller, quieter and, so her family thought, safer than the alternatives of Milan or Rome.

But little more than two months after she arrived she was dead.

Suspicion quickly fell on her US housemate Amanda Knox, who was later convicted of murder, together with her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito. Their convictions have since been overturned.

The picture that has emerged of the two roommates could not be more different.

Knox - nicknamed "Foxy Knoxy" - was portrayed in the media as a party girl who abused drink and drugs and had an active sex life.

Miss Kercher, meanwhile - known as "Mez" to family and friends - was described as caring and a girl-next-door who was intelligent but studious.

Hundreds of mourners attended her funeral, including friends from the University of Leeds, where she had studied.

Giacomo Silenzi, a 24-year-old Italian who was said to have dated Miss Kercher before her death, said the differences between the victim and Knox were stark.

"The two were like chalk and cheese - totally opposite in character," he told the Sunday Mirror.

"Meredith was calm, sweet and shy. Amanda was an extrovert and always showing off."

Hours before Knox's appeal resumed, Miss Kercher's sister Stephanie urged that the real victim in this case - her sister - was remembered.

"In the midst of all this interest Meredith has been forgotten, she is no longer with us and so everything should be for her and to try and understand what really happened that tragic night," she said.

"'We have never forgotten her and we will continue our fight."

Amanda Knox

Knox, now 24, has rarely been out of the media's glare since her arrest and conviction for the killing of Meredith Kercher in November 2007.

To her family, she was a popular, all-American young woman who travelled to Italy to study and have fun but who was instead caught up in a brutal murder mystery.

Image caption Amanda Knox, released after an appeal, served nearly four of the 26 years she was sentenced to

In stark contrast, prosecutors portrayed her as a cold-hearted killer - a "she-devil, a diabolical person focused on sex, drugs and alcohol, living life to the extreme".

Her nickname - "Foxy Knoxy" - was widely used in the media to propagate this image but in fact the name originated from her participation in football as a child. The University of Washington student was also dubbed "Angel Face" by the Italian press.

From turning cartwheels at the police station following her arrest, to wearing an "All You Need is Love" T-shirt in court, and consistently sporting a carefree smile, her behaviour often seemed wildly incongruous compared to the gory crime with which she was accused.

But Seattle-born Knox has always insisted she had no involvement in the murder.

In court, she spoke of being "afraid of having the mask of a murderer forced on to my skin", and her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, described the thought that she could be a killer as "impossible" in a letter to his father from prison.

At Perugia's Capanne jail, she was given the nickname Bambi by her fellow inmates and was said to have been transformed by prison.

"Amanda has had four years to really reflect on who she is, a time no-one else gets," her best friend Madison Paxton told the Observer newspaper.

"Her character is really honed and she is more confident now than she ever was. It is strangely beautiful."

Raffaele Sollecito

In contrast to the international media attention surrounding his former girlfriend, Sollecito, now 27, has remained relatively in the shadows.

According to a letter that Sollecito wrote to an Italian magazine, he met Knox at a concert just two weeks before the murder.

Image caption Raffaele Sollecito was portrayed as solidly middle class

"One morning you return to her house and find a big mess," he wrote.

"The problems begin: the police arrive, break down the locked door to a bedroom and discover the lifeless body of one of her (Knox's) friends.

"From then on they suspect everyone and everything."

He was portrayed during the trial as solidly middle-class, and from a sufficiently wealthy background that he had his own flat in Perugia.

The computer science student from the southern Italian city of Giovinazzo was portrayed by the defence team as naive and shy, while his father, Dr Francesco Sollecito, said he "wouldn't hurt a fly".

Seemingly mesmerised by Knox, the couple sparked widespread revulsion by cuddling and kissing at the murder scene just days after the crime, and two days after Miss Kercher's death, CCTV footage found its way into the Italian press reportedly showing the pair buying sexy underwear together.

Their behaviour after the murder fuelled suggestions that, rather than being a naive party to the murder, Sollecito had sought sexual experimentation with Knox, and it was this desire that led to the killing of Miss Kercher, an unwilling participant in a sex game.

Also central to the prosecution was the murder weapon - a 12in (30cm) kitchen knife - found at Sollecito's apartment and prosecutors also suggested he had a large collection of knives and read violent Japanese Manga comics before the murder.

He put down what was seen as a fairly hazy testimony during the trial to smoking marijuana - and later promised his father he would never smoke cannabis again.

The appeal court, however, decided that the evidence against Mr Sollecito and Knox was unreliable.

Rudy Guede

During the case Guede, now 24, was portrayed as an immigrant who turned his back on his adoptive Perugian family and fell into a life of petty crime and drug dealing.

The Ivory Coast national had denied any wrongdoing but, when news of Miss Kercher's murder broke, his actions appeared to be far from those of an innocent man.

Image caption Rudy Guede was sentenced to 30 years - later cut to 16 - for Miss Kercher's murder

Guede fled to Germany and spent several days on the run, sleeping rough. His mistake - to travel on the train without a ticket - was the crime for which he was eventually arrested in the city of Mainz.

He was extradited to Italy to face murder charges; police claiming his bloody fingerprints had been found on Miss Kercher's pillow.

Guede opted for separate, fast-track proceedings because he feared a pact between former lovers Knox and Sollecito to frame him.

He admitted he was in Miss Kercher's home the night she was murdered for a planned date - but denied any wrongdoing.

He claimed he was "on the toilet" when the crime was committed and that he rushed into the bedroom when he heard screams. He told the court he tried to help her but panicked and left the house.

"He has not changed his story about what happened that night," his lawyer told the court.

However, the Italian judge did not believe him and found him guilty of murder.

During Knox and Sollecito's appeal, doubt was cast on his contention that Miss Kercher was killed by the young couple.

Guede's fellow inmate, convicted child killer Mario Alessi, said the West African had confided in him that the couple were innocent and Miss Kercher had in fact been murdered by his unnamed accomplice, who slit her throat.

Guede later denied this.