Amanda Knox could face extradition to Italy if highest court upholds murder conviction over killing of Meredith Kercher next week

Will the woman at the centre of Meredith Kercher's murder be dragged 'kicking and screaming' back to Italy?

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Amanda Knox’s judicial rollercoaster ride faces fresh political uproar as she awaits what may be her final trial in a six-year legal battle.

Italy’s highest court is about to consider once again what to do about the murder of Meredith Kercher, a 21-year-old British student stabbed to death in Perugia, Italy, on 1 November 2007.

American Amanda Knox, now 27, and her former Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, 30, stand convicted of Meredith’s murder.

Knox’s never-ending trials over the brutal killing of her housemate have dominated headlines all over the world.

And next week a greatly-anticipated ruling could open the door to a whole new legal battle over Knox’s potential extradition from the US.

 

This decision, which could be made on Wednesday, will have significant global consequences because if Italy decides to definitively confirm Knox’s conviction and prison sentence, it would seem the US will have little choice but to extradite her. 

Knox - whose engagement to childhood friend and Seattle-based musician Colin Sutherland was reported last month - has already said she would have to be dragged “kicking and screaming” back to Italy.

Attempting to live a normal life since returning to Seattle, Knox started working as a freelance journalist reporting for her local paper, the West Seattle Herald, last year.

Many factors will contribute to the final decision and issues outside of the trial, like a pregnancy or timing in relation to the upcoming American election, could also play a role.

But according to legal experts the final decision could ultimately hinge on relations and agreements between Rome and Washington DC.

The case has been long and complicated, with a series of drawn-out rulings, appeals and reversals that are common in the notoriously slow Italian justice system.

Knox and Sollecito were convicted of Meredith’s murder in 2009, then freed on appeal two years later because of doubts about the strength of the evidence.

Both Knox and Sollecito have always maintained their innocence.

That acquittal was then thrown out of court in 2013 because the appeals court was ruled to have been inconsistent in its assessment of the evidence.

A year later, after a retrial, the pair were again found guilty of murder, with Knox sentenced to 28 and a half years in prison, and Sollecito to 25 years.

Under Italian law, that decision will not be considered final unless it is upheld by the court in its ruling this week.

That is why Knox has been able to live freely in the US, even though she is currently considered guilty of murder in Italy.

Sollecito is also free in Italy right now, but would be arrested immediately if the conviction were upheld.

If it does not uphold the conviction, the court could also decide to send one or both defendants back to trial, but it does not have the power to acquit Knox or Sollecito outright.

Even if their convictions are upheld, nothing will happen immediately.

After the court releases its legal rationale for the decision – which could take up to 90 days – the Italian minister of justice would then have up to six months to determine whether to demand Knox’s return from the US.

If such a request was made, the US would technically have to abide by it under the strict terms of an extradition treaty between the countries.

Steve Clemons, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and foreign policy expert, said: “If the Italian supreme court sustains the conviction, it will be nearly impossible for the US – despite the political uproar that will occur among those who believe she is innocent – not to extradite her to Italy.

“Emotions may run high, but in the end the relations between Italy and the US are deep, strategic, complex, and are designed to respect each other’s laws, even in controversial cases.”

It is far from clear on what grounds the US government could ultimately challenge a legal request.

Double-jeopardy - or being tried twice for the same crime, which is prohibited in US law - is a term that does not apply to the Italian judicial system and legal experts flatly reject that argument.

They say Knox and Sollecito are not being tried multiple times for the same crime - they are still being tried for the same crime almost eight years after it happened.

Under US law, if an extradition request is made, it would be looked at closely by the State Department and then the Justice Department, and would then have to be approved by a US court, where Knox could appeal the extradition.

The State Department is yet to comment on whether it would send Knox back to Italy, but legal experts suggest any extradition would take a long time, if it was enforced at all.

But if the courts approve of the request, the final decision rests with the US secretary of state, John Kerry.

For now, we wait until March 25 to see if the Italian high court will decide to uphold the latest conviction or throw the case back into the system.

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