Italy court orders Amanda Knox retrial for Kercher murder

US student and boyfriend served four years in jail before convictions quashed

Tue, Mar 26, 2013, 14:46

Italy's top court this morning overturned the October 2011 Appeals court ruling, acquitting American student Amanda Knox and her then boyfriend Raffaele Sollicito of the murder of English student Meredith Kercher.

The appeal against Ms Knox's original 26 year sentence for murdering Ms Kirchner in Perugia in 2007, issued in December 2009, will have to be heard again, this time in an Appeals Court in Florence.

Until the court's "motivazioni" (reasoning) is issued in 90 days time, the reasoning behind this morning's decision will remain unclear. However, it already seems more than clear that the court was less than impressed with the manner in which the October 2011 appeal was handled.

Italy's top court, known as the Cassation Court, does not reconsider all the evidence of a previous case, rather it rules on whether the appeals decision has followed correct Italian jurisprudence. In other words, it looks for procedural irregularities which might give grounds for a retrial.

Today's ruling merely adds to the controversy surrounding a case which many believe was initially badly handled by the Perugia investigators.

Arrested in November 2007, Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito were initially found guilty of the murder of Leeds University student Kirchner (21), who was Ms Knox's Perugia house mate.

Ms Kercher's body was found in November 2007 in her bedroom Her throat had been slashed.

Prosecutors said she was the victim of a drug-fuelled sex game. Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito denied involvement and said they were not even in the apartment, although they acknowledged they had smoked cannabis and their memories were clouded.

In December 2009, they were sentenced to 26 and 25 years in prison respectively after a trial that not only prompted international headlines but which also saw the Italian legal system come in for heavy criticism, especially from North American commentators.

In October 2011, their convictions were overturned, allowing Ms Knox to return to Seattle, USA, where she currently lives. The ruling essentially appeared to be based on the testimony of independent forensic investigators who had challenged the police's scientific evidence, saying there had been multiple errors in the investigation.

Last year, prosecutors filed a motion to appeal against the acquittals, calling the verdicts "contradictory and illogical".

A third person, Ivorian Rudy Guede, was found guilty and sentenced to 16 years in a separate trial in 2008. He is now the only person serving time for the murder, although prosecutors say he could not have killed Ms Kercher by himself.

Ms Knox, who remained in Seattle for this hearing, was today reportedly "upset and worried" by this most recent ruling, according to her defence team. Ms Knox had been scheduled to speak publicly about the trial for the first time on US television next month, when her book about the case is due to be released. No date has yet been set for the new appeal hearing.

In a statement, Ms Knox, now a student at the University of Washington, said: "It was painful to receive the news that the Italian Supreme Court decided to send my case back for revision when the prosecution's theory of my involvement in Meredith's murder has been repeatedly revealed to be completely unfounded and unfair."

She said the case must now be examined by "an objective investigation and a capable prosecution.

"No matter what happens, my family and I will face this continuing legal battle as we always have, confident in the truth and with our heads held high in the face of wrongful accusations and unreasonable adversity," she said.

"She thought the nightmare was over," her lawyer Carlo Dalla Vedova said after the decision was released.

Italian law cannot compel Ms Knox to return from the US for the new trial.

Mr Della Vedova said Ms Knox would not go to Italy "for the moment" but would follow the case from home. He said he did not think the new appeals trial would begin before early 2014.

Asked if she would come to Italy for the trial, he said: "I don't think so."

If the new appeals court upholds the previous conviction and the Court of Cassation confirms it, Mr Dalla Vedova said, Ms Knox would have to serve out her sentence. The lawyer said Italian authorities would have to authorise an extradition request and the US government would have to approve it.

Mr Sollecito has been living in Verona, where he is studying for a degree in computer engineering.

Giulia Bongiorno, a lawyer representing Mr Sollecito, said the “battle” continues. “In this trial we always had to climb up the mountain,” she said. "We feel greatly confident; we know that Raffaele is innocent; and we also know this is not a conviction.”

Kercher family lawyer Francesco Maresca said the ruling would provide an opportunity to find out what happened to Meredith. "This is an important day for the Italian justice system," he said outside the court, criticising the earlier judgment acquitting Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito as "extremely superficial".

Key dates in the case of the murder of British student Meredith Kercher.

November 2th, 2007: The body of Ms Kercher, 21, is found in her Perugia apartment. Investigators say she was killed the night before.

November 6th, 2007: Knox is arrested with then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito and Diya "Patrick" Lumumba, the Congolese owner of a pub where Knox occasionally worked.

November 20th, 2007: Lumumba, implicated by Knox's statements to police, is released from jail for lack of evidence.

December 6th, 2007: Ivory Coast national Rudy Hermann Guede is extradited from Germany and jailed on arrival in Italy.

October 28th, 2008: Judge indicts Knox and Sollecito on murder and sexual assault charges. Guede, who was granted a fast-track trial, is convicted of murder and sexual assault and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

January 16th, 2009: Trial of Knox and Sollecito opens in Perugia.

June 12th, 2009: Knox takes stand; tells court she was shocked by Ms Kercher's death, offers alibi, says police beat her into making false statement.

December 4th, 2009: Court finds Knox guilty of murder and sexual assault, sentences her to 26 years in prison. Sollecito is convicted of same charges and sentenced to 25 years.

December 22th, 2009: Appeals court upholds Guede's conviction but cuts sentence to 16 years.

November 24th, 2010: Appeals trial for Knox and Sollecito opens in Perugia.

December 16th, 2010: Italy's highest criminal court upholds Guede's conviction and 16-year prison sentence.

June 29th, 2011: Independent forensic report ordered by the appeals court finds much of the DNA evidence used to convict Knox and Sollecito is unreliable.

October 3th, 2011: Appeals court clears Knox, Sollecito of murder convictions, orders them freed immediately

March 26th, 2013: Italy's highest criminal court overturns acquittal of Knox and Sollecito, orders new trial.

Additional reporting: Reuters/AP