By Daniel Flynn
PERUGIA, Italy (Reuters) - An Italian court sentenced American student Amanda Knox to 26 years in prison and jailed her ex-boyfriend for 25 years after they were found guilty of murdering Knox's British roommate during a drunken sex game.
Lawyers for Knox, 22 and Raffaele Sollecito, 25, said they would appeal the sentences and Knox's family denounced the verdict as a "failure of the Italian judicial system."
The November 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher and the defendant's 11-month trial in the university town of Perugia, drew huge interest around the world. In 2008 a man was sentenced for his part in the murder.
Knox burst into tears and hugged her lawyer as a judge read the verdict to a court packed with media, many from the United States and Britain. An impassive Sollecito turned and looked at his family as his stepmother shouted: "Be strong, Raffaele!"
"There is contradiction between the weakness of the proof and the gravity of the crime," Knox's lawyer Luciano Ghirga told journalists on the steps of the courthouse. "This was a crime with no motive ... Amanda is desperate."
Asked if he would fight on, Knox's father Curt said: "Hell yes." Later Kurt Knox and Amanda's sister Deanna told ABC's 2020 program they were angry with the Italian justice system. "This is completely unjust. I'm in complete shock," said Deanna Knox.
Kurt Knox called the sentence "a failure of the Italian judicial system" and said the court had make a mockery of the legal concept of "beyond a reasonable doubt to come up with a guilty verdict."
He said the Knox family would be "very disappointed" if the U.S. State Department did not get involved in the case.
Knox told the court during closing arguments Thursday she was "afraid of having the mask of a murderer forced upon me."
The American student, from Seattle, was accused of killing 21-year-old Kercher, who was found semi-naked with her throat slit in the bedroom of her apartment in Perugia, where she was doing a year of overseas study.
Prosecutors said small traces of DNA matching Kercher's were found on the blade of a knife, washed with bleach, at Sollecito's home. The defense said the knife did not match Kercher's wounds and questioned the DNA evidence.
Prosecutors had sought life for the defendants, but a jury handed them lesser sentences after 14 hours of deliberation because they were young and had no criminal records.
The Kercher family, from Coulsdon in southeast England, said the whole affair was a tragedy for all concerned.
"We have got a decision but it is not a time for celebration. It is not a moment of triumph. At the end of the day we are all gathered here because our sister was brutally murdered and taken away from us," said Meredith's brother Lyle.
"Not only did that affect us and the lives of everyone who knew her but also some very young people yesterday who have been sentenced to a very long time in prison," he told a news conference.
Rudy Guede, an Ivorian drifter with a criminal record, was sentenced in October 2008 to 30 years in jail for taking part in Kercher's murder. Guede, arrested in Germany after fleeing the country, is appealing against the verdict.
Guede's DNA was found on Kercher's body and he has admitted he was in the house at the time of the killing and had sexual relations with Kercher. However, he pointed the finger at Sollecito and Knox, whom he said he heard arguing with the Briton while he was in the bathroom, followed by a scream.
Prosecutors accused Knox of persuading Guede and Sollecito to take part in an extreme sex game involving Kercher, which turned violent. They said Knox was furious at Kercher's criticism of her lack of cleanliness and her promiscuity.
The American was also convicted of slandering bar owner Patrick Lumumba whom she said had been at the scene of the crime. Lumumba was briefly arrested but then cleared.
(Editing by Matthew Jones)