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Amanda Knox's freedom leaves family shackled by debt

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 springing her from an Italy prison.
/ Source: msnbc.com

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 .

"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."

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, . 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.

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.

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 and , 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, .

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,”

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 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.

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."