By Laura Myers

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Amanda Knox was expected to get a warm welcome on her return to Seattle on Tuesday afternoon, one day after an Italian court cleared the 24-year-old college student of murder and freed her from prison.

Knox, who grew up in the close-knit West Seattle neighborhood where both of her divorced parents still live, was expected to land at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport shortly after 5 p.m. local time.

It was not immediately clear whether she would head directly home or would speak to reporters on her arrival.

Knox's supporters cheered, cried and hugged on Monday at the news that she had been freed after nearly four years in an Italian prison for the November 1, 2007 murder of her British housemate, Meredith Kercher.

Her home area, framed by Puget Sound waters on three sides, is one of Seattle's oldest neighborhoods and is known for its strong sense of community.

Evan Hundley, head of the private Explorer Middle School, where Knox attended sixth, seventh and eighth grades, described West Seattle as "a city within a city.

"When something happens here, it's big news," Hundley said. "We're a strong neighborhood."

Hundley said students whooped with delight during the school's daily student assembly on Monday when the news of Knox's release was announced.

Knox won the school's first Manvel Schauffler Award, named after a founder of the school, which has about 100 students who pay an annual average tuition of about $15,000, said Debbie Ehri, the school's business manager who knew Knox.

'MOST OUTSTANDING STUDENT'

"It was our first award for our most outstanding student. Amanda was an academically strong student. She was genuinely a lovely, kind and talented student.

"Teachers absolutely adored her. She was just delightful to have in class," Ehri told Reuters. "She was caring, not only with her studies, but she was a kind, lovely girl."

Knox also attended Seattle Preparatory School, a small Jesuit high school, graduating in 2005. The school organized letter-writing campaigns on her behalf and fund-raising efforts to help pay for her defense.

Knox sobbed on hearing that the court had overturned her 2009 conviction for murdering 21-year-old Kercher, in what prosecutors had said was a drug-fueled sexual assault.

The court also reversed the conviction of her former boyfriend, Rafaele Sollecito.

"She should be free, it's really sad that she was in prison for four years," 47-year-old Cora Ploetz said at the Westwood Village shopping center, a few miles from the home of Curt Knox, Amanda's father.

Ploetz's friend, Ken Iverson, said he felt relief for Knox.

"I was under the impression it was like the Inquisition," Iverson, 63, said of the court proceedings against the college student.

(Writing by Dan Whitcomb)




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