Amanda Knox: new trial to reopen Meredith Kercher murder case
Amanda Knox’s retrial for her alleged role in the murder of British student Meredith Kercher starts in Florence on Monday, the latest chapter in a tortuous legal process that has dragged on for six years.
While the trial will reopen old wounds for the families involved in the tragedy, the two main protagonists will be absent from court.
Miss Knox, 26, has confirmed in recent television interviews that she has no intention of returning to Italy – not because she fears being incriminated again, she insists, but because she is innocent and in any case cannot afford the air fare.
Her co-accused, Raffaele Sollecito, 29, with whom she was having a fling in the days before the murder was committed, is also likely to be a no-show for the start of the trial.
He has recently been on holiday in the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean and was photographed by an Italian news magazine chatting with friends on the idyllic beach of Bayahibe and swimming in the sea.
His father says he will attend some of the retrial, but probably not the first hearing – under Italian law neither he nor Miss Knox are obliged to be in court.
“If things go as we hope, he might attend at the end of October,” Francesco Schettino, a doctor, told Ansa news agency.
“We have complete respect for the justice system and Raffaele is certainly not running away. “We are convinced that he is completely innocent.”
Miss Kercher, 21, from Coulsdon in Surrey, was studying for a year in the Umbrian hill town of Perugia when she was found stabbed to death in her bedroom in Nov 2007.
Her semi-naked body was found covered with a sheet on the floor of the room, in the house she shared with Miss Knox and two Italian women.
Prosecutors claimed that she died as a result of a twisted sex game organised by Miss Knox, Mr Sollecito and Rudy Guede, a small-time drug dealer who was born in Ivory Coast but grew up in Italy.
In 2009 Miss Knox and Mr Sollecito were convicted of murder and sexual assault and given long prison sentences, but an appeals court in Perugia acquitted them in 2011.
It released a damning 100 page report in which it cast doubt on crucial DNA evidence and said that prosecutors had failed to identify a motive or even come up with a convincing murder weapon.
But in March this year, in a surprise decision that sent the saga back to square one, Italy’s Supreme Court overturned those acquittals and ordered that the entire case be re-examined by another appellate court, this time in Florence.
The new court, made up of a panel of appellate judges, will conduct an examination of all the evidence in the case but is unlikely to order the gathering of new material.
The judge in charge, Alessandro Nencini, will decide whether to order fresh scrutiny of the existing DNA evidence and whether to call witnesses again.
The court in Florence will have to take into account the pronouncements of the Supreme Court, which said that serious errors were made when Miss Knox and her former boyfriend were acquitted.
The Supreme Court said that the sex game theory, as put forward by prosecutors, should not be dismissed and that Guede was “not the sole author” of the crime.
It said the appeals court had wrongly dismissed traces of blood at the scene of the crime, as well as a mystery footprint, both of which could place Miss Knox and her lover in the house on the night of the killing.
There had been “multiple instances of deficiencies, contradictions and illogical” conclusions in the judgment handed down by the appeals court in Perugia, the Supreme Court said.
A calendar of hearings has been established, with the last one set for Nov 26 – meaning that the new trial could be over by Christmas.
If the court finds Miss Knox and Mr Sollecito guilty all over again, they will be able to launch another appeal.
If they lose that, then Mr Sollecito would have to return to prison and Italy could apply for the American’s extradition so that she too can be imprisoned.
She returned to the US after her acquittal and is currently studying creative writing at the University of Washington in Seattle, her hometown.
But experts are divided as to the legal grounds for such a request and whether the US would ever consent to it.
Miss Knox’s lawyers could invoke double jeopardy – the principle that one cannot be tried twice for the same crime.
They will point to the extradition treaty between Italy and the US, which states that “extradition shall not be granted when the person sought has been convicted, acquitted or pardoned, or has served the sentence imposed...for the same acts for which the extradition is requested.”
Italy would argue against that, saying that the original trial, the acquittal and now this latest round are part of a single legal process and that Miss Knox was never definitively convicted or acquitted, meaning that double jeopardy should not apply.
But even then, the Americans have shown themselves extremely reluctant in the past to extradite their citizens to Italy.
A group of 23 Americans, including CIA agents, were convicted in absentia in Italy in 2009 for their role in the “rendition” of an Egyptian Muslim cleric, who was snatched from the streets of Milan and secretly flown out of the country.
The US refused to send any of them back to Italy to serve their sentences.
In 1998 a US Marine Corps plane sliced through a ski lift cable in the Dolomites, sending a gondola crashing to the ground, killing 20 people.
In an incident that severely strained relations between the two countries, the US refused to extradite the pilot and navigator to Italy.
Instead they were tried in the US, where they were found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide.
Miss Knox said recently that she had aged “40 years” during her four years in an Italian prison and insisted she had nothing to do with Miss Kercher’s murder, saying it was carried out by Guede, who is serving 16 years in prison.
"I was imprisoned as an innocent person and I just can't re-live that," she told NBC television.
The several interviews she gave to American, British and Italian television networks were criticised by Francesco Maresca, the lawyer for the Kercher family.
“These remarks are completely out of place and I think people are becoming tired of Knox presenting herself as a victim of the Italian justice system,” he said.
“There is a legal process underway and Amanda should start respecting the judges, both those from the Supreme Court and those in Florence, who carried out meticulous work. Amanda is always thinking about her own position but there also needs to be respect for the victim.”
In Perugia, where the crime took place, there is frustration and bewilderment that the case is still ongoing.
“Perugia is tired of this never-ending judicial process, which has caused a great deal of damage to our image,” said Wladimiro Boccali, the city’s mayor. “We are waiting for a definitive conclusion and above all, the truth.”