Image: Amanda Knox and family members in Seattle
Stephen Brashear  /  Getty Images
Amanda Knox, center, is comforted by sister Deanna Knox, right, and mother Edda Mellas, left, at a press conference on Tuesday after her return to Seattle.
msnbc.com
updated 10/5/2011 8:03:08 PM ET 2011-10-06T00:03:08

Amanda Knox's freedom didn't come cheap for her family, which confronts the challenge of trying to pay off a reported seven-figure debt incurred in a multiyear effort to spring her from an Italy prison.

Now that Knox is back in Seattle, spending private time with family members at a location that has not been disclosed to the media, speculation is rife over what's in store for her in the near term.

Observers say her earning potential as an accidental celebrity — a turnaround from cold-blooded "she-devil" murderer to young woman wronged by a foreign justice system — could go a long way to help repay the debt rung up by her father, mother, grandmother and others.

"Demand is as high as I've ever seen for a figure of notoriety," said Sarah Weinman, a crime-book reviewer and news editor of the book-industry website publishersmarketplace.com.

"And it makes sense, because the story around Knox is full of drama and intrigue: the beautiful college student abroad, caught up in a brutal murder, convicted by a justice system we here in America don't understand as well because it operates different from ours, then vindicated in court," Weinman said Wednesday in an email interview. "And all the while, she herself hasn't spoken up until her press conference in Seattle, and even then it was brief.  The narrative about her is so potent that any narrative she herself can construct will only fan the flames."

Story: Italian judge: Knox might know 'truth' in case

Knox's divorced parents, Curt Knox and Edda Mellas, took out second mortgages on their West Seattle homes and exhausted much of their retirement savings in their efforts to free Knox, according to The Seattle Times. The former University of Washington student, now 24, spent nearly four years in prison in Italy before a  jury in Perugia on Monday absolved her of murdering her British roommate, Meredith Kercher.

Knox's 74-year-old grandmother, Elisabeth Huff, took out a $250,000 loan to contribute to legal bills that are estimated to far exceed $1 million.

Slideshow: Amanda Knox: Her long legal saga (on this page)

In addition to paying for two Italian lawyers and DNA and other experts, the family also hired a stateside lawyer, Philadelphia attorney Theodore Simon, an expert in international law known for representing Americans jailed abroad.

They also had to pay for other expenses, such as international flights, housing in Italy, food and local transportation. Mellas and her current husband, Chris Mellas, have spent much of the past four years in Perugia to be near Knox.

Donations to two organizations set up by friends and supporters of Knox, the Amanda Knox Defense Fund and Friends of Amanda, could help defray some of the costs.

Anne Bremner, a Seattle-based trial attorney with Friends of Amanda, said her group raised $80,000, which it turned over to the family.

"I think there has been some real misinformation about this family, especially in Italy and U.K. press, that they’re a family of means," Bremner told msnbc.com. "They never were a family of means. This has been staggering financially to them."

Knox reportedly kept a journal through her years in a prison in Perugia, and her writings and story could fetch a handsome sum.

"She'll write, because that's her way of dealing with things," her stepfather, Chris Mellas, was quoted as saying by The Guardian.

Simon, the family's U.S. lawyer, said potential book, TV and movie deals weren't discussed on Knox's first night back with her family in Seattle.

"In fact, Amanda is much more about asking people about how they are as opposed to explaining herself and it was only after much time and some curiosity where others started asking some questions about her prison experience. And when everyone hears about all of those (things) I think they’ll be really amazed,” Simon told CBS' "The Early Show."

Video: Knox: 'Thank you for being there for me' (on this page)

Weinmann estimated that bidding by publishers for a book by Knox "would start at low seven figures."

"The core of the Knox case is the clash of two cultures (three, if you count the U.K.) and how tabloid journalism fanned the flames of what, from a forensic science standpoint, is both much simpler and much more complicated than it first appeared," Weinmann told msnbc.com.

"The similarities are nowhere near absolute, but Amanda Knox is the Roxie Hart of our generation: beautiful, willful, manipulated by but also in some control (through the crisis firm her family hired) of her image. At least, she is until she tells her own story and constructs a new image of who Amanda Knox is."

(Roxie Hart is the fictional 1920s-era showgirl in "Chicago" who murders her faithless lover husband and avoids prison with the help of a lawyer.)

Business magnate Donald Trump told CNN that Knox could "become a big star and somehow she can get some dividends out of this nightmare for herself." "The Apprentice" host didn't specify whether he'll personally help Knox in any celebrity deals, he did say that he's offered support to her family.

"I've been supporting the family and helping the family and I'll continue to help the family. They went through a lot; I just felt badly," Trump told CNN.

Story: Meredith Kercher's family seeks answers as Amanda Knox walks free

However, she proceeds, her family has made it clear that it will be solely Knox's choice. The family spent money on her bid for freedom solely out of love, not anticipating a windfall payback, Bremner said.

"Her family has always said it would up to her. There will be no books or movies from anyone in the family. It's Amanda's choice, and if that’s what she wants to do, they’ll support her. If it’s not what she wants to do, they’ll support her."

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Video: Back in Seattle, Knox enjoys privacy

  1. Transcript of: Back in Seattle, Knox enjoys privacy

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: In Seattle tonight, Amanda Knox is with her family and in private, finally back home after the judge in Italy overturned the murder conviction that had her behind bars for four years overseas. NBC 's Stephanie Gosk was there when Amanda Knox touched down in Seattle last night.

    STEPHANIE GOSK reporting: Amanda Knox , exhausted and fighting back tears, did not have to speak when she landed in Seattle , but she wanted to.

    Ms. AMANDA KNOX: What's important for me to say is just thank you to everyone who's believed in me, who has defended me, who has supported my family.

    GOSK: She maintained her composure just long enough.

    Mr. CURT KNOX (Amanda's Father): Amanda is very strong and has stayed very strong throughout this whole process. We're going to kind of have to see, you know, what happens with her at this stage of the game.

    GOSK: Knox has to recovery from four years in an Italian prison far from home for a crime the court now says she didn't commit.

    Professor CRAIG HANEY (University of California Santa Cruz): Prison is a profoundly traumatic experience for anybody. And for people who have been exonerated, in a way it's even more traumatic because they've suffered for no good reason.

    GOSK: Her notoriety and the clamor for her story will only make it more difficult.

    Mr. THEODORE SIMON (Amanda Knox's Attorney): It is obvious to Amanda what is going on, but she has maintained, I guess an uncommon balance. Her focus is on her family.

    GOSK: There is potentially a lot of money at stake. The competition for the first interview is fierce, but there are also possible book deals and movie rights. It may be the only way the family can get out from under a mountain of legal debt.

    Ms. DEREDE McALPIN (Levick Strategic Communications): I don't think it's going to be a windfall where, you know, she's going to be faced with millions of dollars, but she will have a lot of different options.

    GOSK: But first, Amanda's father says his daughter will need time and space. One of her first priorities is a day in the park. After four years in a concrete prison, she just wants a chance to lie in the grass. Stephanie Gosk, NBC News, Seattle .

Photos: Amanda Knox: Her long legal saga

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  1. Amanda Knox: Her long legal saga

    The long legal saga of Amanda Knox, an American student accused of the violent death of her roommate, British student Meredith Kercher, has made headlines around the world since it began in Perugia, Italy, in late 2007.

    Reversal of fortune
    From left, Pierluigi Puglia, member of the British consulate in Italy; Stephanie Kercher, sister of the late Meredith Kercher; her brother, Lyle Kercher, and lawyer Francesco Maresca speak to the press in Florence on Jan. 31, 2014, the day after the guilty verdicts against Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito for the murder of UK student Meredith Kercher in 2007 were reinstated in Italy. The verdict overturned Knox and Sollecito's successful appeal in 2011, which released them after four years in jail. (Franco Origlia / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Reconvicted

    Amanda Knox is shown here in Seattle after serving four years in prison after being convicted in a case involving the murder of her British roommate, Meredith Kercher. Her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito is shown here in Florence, Italy, on Jan. 20, 2014. Though both were acquitted on appeal and released in 2011, they were re-convicted of the murder on Jan. 30, 2014. (Splash News, AP file) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Awaiting another verdict

    Raffaele Sollecito leaves court in Florence, Italy, on Jan. 30, 2014. The Italian ex-boyfriend of Amanda Knox awaited the court's verdict in the retrial of both Knox and himself for the murder of Meredith Kercher more than two years after they were acquitted. (Maurizio Degl' Innocenti / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A new trial

    Francesco Maresca, lawyer for the family of Meredith Kercher, talks to reporters as he arrives for the start of Amanda Knox's second appeals trial in Florence, Italy, Monday, Sept. 30, 2013. Italy's highest court ordered a new trial for Knox and her former Italian boyfriend, overturning their acquittals in the 2007 slaying of Kercher. (Francesco Bellini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Not going back

    Amanda Knox appeared on TODAY on Sept. 20, 2013, to discuss her upcoming retrial in Florence for the murder of her British roommate Meredith Kercher. Knox maintained that she would not go back to Italy to face trial again: "It's not a possibility, as I was imprisoned as an innocent person and I just can't relive that," she told Matt Lauer. (Peter Kramer / NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A memoir

    Filled with details first recorded in the journals Amanda Knox kept while in Italy, "Waiting to be Heard," Knox's memoir, is set to be released on April 30, 2013. (HarperCollins via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Acquittal overturned

    Luciano Ghirga, lawyer of Amanda Knox, center, talks to journalists as he leaves Italy's Court of Cassation in Rome on March 26, 2013. Italy's highest criminal court overturned the acquittal of Amanda Knox in the slaying of her British roommate and ordered a new trial. The court ruled that an appeals court in Florence would have to re-hear the case against the American and her Italian-ex-boyfriend for the murder of 21-year-old Meredith Kercher. (Gregorio Borgia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Home at last

    Amanda Knox makes remarks after arriving in Seattle a day after her release from prison in Italy on Oct. 4, 2011. She was acquitted of murder and sexual assault by an Italian appeals court after spending four years in custody over the killing of her British housemate, Meredith Kercher. At left is her father, Kurt Knox. (Dan Levine / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Welcome home

    Well-wishers greet Amanda Knox upon her arrival at Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle a day after her release from prison in Italy on Oct. 4, 2011. (Dan Levine / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Tears of relief

    Amanda Knox cries after hearing the verdict that overturned her conviction and acquits her of murdering her British roommate Meredith Kercher, at the Perugia court on Monday, Oct. 3. The Italian appeals court threw out Amanda Knox's murder conviction and ordered the young American freed after nearly four years in prison. (Pier Paolo Cito / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Home front

    Supporters of Amanda Knox react as they watch a news broadcast about her appeal verdict from a hotel suite in downtown Seattle on Oct. 3. (Elaine Thompson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Sisterly support

    Amanda Knox's sister Deanna Knox, center, cries tears of joy in Perugia's Court of Appeal after hearing that Amanda won her appeal against her murder conviction on Monday in Perugia, Italy. (Oli Scarff / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Closing arguments

    Amanda Knox, accused of the 2007 murder of her housemate Meredith Kercher, arrives in court as her appeal trial resumes in Perugia, on Sept. 30, 2011. Wrapping up the defense case, Knox's lawyer, Carlo Dalla Vedova, points to alleged errors by police and urges a panel of lay and professional judges to look beyond how Knox has been portrayed by the media and the prosecution. (Tiziana Fabi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Hoping for her release

    Amanda Knox's lawyer, Luciano Ghirga (left), and her father, Curt Knox (right), use their mobile phones at the court during her Sept. 30, 2011, appeal trial session in Perugia. (Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Her fate in the balance

    Amanda Knox arrives at the court during her appeal trial session in Perugia, Italy, on Sept. 30, 2011. (Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Her ex-boyfriend

    Raffaele Sollecito attends his appeal hearing at Perugia's Court of Appeal on Sept. 29, 2011 in Perugia, Italy. Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito are awaiting the verdict of their appeal that could see their conviction for the murder of Meredith Kercher overturned. (Oli Scarff / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. He calls her 'she-devil'

    Carlo Pacelli (center), lawyer for Patrick Lumumba, (left) -- a barman who is seeking damages from Amanda Knox as part of a civil case running alongside her murder appeal -- speaks outside the Perugia courthouse on Sept. 26, 2011. Pacelli called Knox a "she-devil" and told the appeals court she destroyed Lumumba's image by falsely accusing him of the murder, testimony that helps prosecutors attack her credibility. Knox has said she wrongly implicated Lumumba under pressure from police. . (Mario Laporta / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Legal battleground

    Through the bars of holding cells, a view of the courtroom in Perugia on Sept. 6, 2011, before the resumption of the appeal trial of Amanda Knox and her Italian ex-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito. (Fabio Muzzi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. New 'do

    Sporting a new, short haircut, jailed Amanda Knox attends a preliminary hearing in Perugia, Italy, on June 1, 2010. (Fabrizio Troccoli / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Awaiting sentence

    Amanda Knox is driven into court at midnight to hear the sentence in her murder trial on Dec. 5, 2009, in Perugia, Italy. Knox was convicted of the murder of British student Meredith Kercher was sentenced to 26 years in prison. Her former Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, was also convicted of the murder charges. He was sentenced to 25 years. (Franco Origlia / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Pleading her case

    Amanda Knox looks on during a break in the closing arguments of the murder trial in Perugia, Italy on Dec. 3, 2009. She read a statement during her murder trial on Dec. 3, in Italiian saying, "I am afraid of having the mask of a murderer forced onto my skin." (Max Rossi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Police escort

    Murder suspect Amanda Knox, right, is escorted by a police officer as she arrives at Perugia's court, Italy, Friday, Nov. 20, 2009. Italian prosecutors have begun their closing arguments in her trial. (Alessandra Tarantino / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. The murder weapon?

    Prosecutor Manuela Comodi shows a knife during a hearing in the murder trial for Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy, on Sept. 19, 2009. The knife, wrapped in plastic and kept in a white box, was shown to the eight-member jury during the trial of Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito. (Stefano Medici / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Victim in video

    At the trial of Amanda Knox, a music video that included an appearance by slain student Meredith Kercher was shown June 8, 2009. Kercher played the love interest in the video for the song "Some Say" by London musician Kristian Leontiou. The 2007 video was shot only weeks before Kercher died in Perugia, Italy, at age 21. (TODAY) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Boning up?

    Amanda Knox holds the Italian penal code book at the trial of slain British student Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy, on Jan. 16, 2009. (Daniele La Monaca / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Back in court

    Amanda Knox, one of three suspects in the murder of Meredith Kercher, arrives at a Sept. 27, 2008 court hearing in Perugia, Italy. Kercher, a British student, was found dead in her Perugia flat on Nov. 1, 2007 with her throat cut. (Tiziana Fabi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Sister speaks out

    Stephanie Kercher reads a statement during a Sept. 15, 2008 press conference in Perugia, Italy as legal proceedings connected to the death of her sister, Meredith Kercher, approach a critical phase. (Antonio Calanni / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. The victim's family

    Arline, mother of Meredith Kercher, answers newsmen questions flanked by Meredith's sister Stephanie, left, and brother Lyle, during a press conference in Perugia, Italy on April 18, 2008. (Leonetto Medici / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Headed to a hearing

    Amanda Knox's ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, who along with Knox and Rudy Hermann Guede was held on suspicion in the murder of Knox’s housemate Meredith Kercher, is escorted by Italian police to a January 2008 hearing with magistrates. (Paolo Tosti / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Remembering Meredith

    A floral tribute with photographs of Meredith Kercher is shown at her funeral at Croydon Parish Church, South London on December 14, 2007. (Peter MacDiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Another suspect

    In December 2007, police in Germany arrested Rudy Hermann Guede, a native of the Ivory Coast, in connection with Meredith Kercher's murder. Here Guede is shown being led away by Italian police after arriving in Rome from prison in Germany. (Riccardo De Luca / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Arrested, then released

    Patrick Lumumba Diya, a Congolese man who owned a small bar in Perugia where Amanda Knox sometimes worked as a barmaid, was arrested after being implicated in the Meredith Kercher murder by Knox. However, he was released after another suspect, Rudy Hermann Guede, was arrested in the case. He is shown here leaving police headquarters with his lawyer on Nov. 20, 2007. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Under arrest

    Her cap pulled low, American student Amanda Knox was arrested on Nov. 6, 2007, for her alleged involvement in the brutal murder of her housemate, Meredith Kercher. (Pietro Crocchioni / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Searching for clues

    Police forensics investigators examined Meredith Kercher's Italian house while a coroner conducted a post-mortem investigation on the slain student's body. (Chris Radburn / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. The murder scene

    On Nov. 5, 2007, the rented hillside home that murder victim Meredith Kercher had shared with fellow student Amanda Knox in Perugia, Italy was a crime scene. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Front-page news

    By Saturday, Nov. 3, 2007 Meredith Kercher's gruesome murder was front-page news in the central Italian city of Perugia. (Chris Radburn / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. The day after

    Amanda Knox, a student from Seattle who had been living with Meredith Kercher in Perugia, was arrested Nov. 6, 2007 for her alleged involvement in Kercher’s murder. Also held by police was Knox’s Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito. Taken Nov. 2, the day Kercher was found dead, this picture shows the pair outside the rented house Knox shared with Kercher. (Stefano Medici / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. The murder victim

    Meredith Kercher, a 21-year-old British exchange student, was found dead with her throat slit on Nov. 2, 2007 in her room in an apartment she shared with other exchange students in the Italian town of Perugia. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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Timeline: Amanda Knox trial

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