“She thought the nightmare was over,” Amanda Knox’s lawyer, Carlo dalla Vedova, said soon after today's Supreme Court verdict overturning her murder acquittal was read out. But instead the young American must continue the struggle to clear her name more than five years after she was first arrested for the murder of British student Meredith Kercher in Perugia.
Ms Knox, 25, and her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito – who was said to feel “destroyed” by the news – will now be retried for the November 2007 killing in a court in Florence.
The decision does not suggest Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito are guilty, simply that the appeals court did not apply the law correctly. Prosecutors argued that the Perugia court had “lost its bearings” during the original appeal and had failed to test forensic evidence sufficiently, among other things.
While Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito expressed their dismay at the decision, Francesco Maresca, the Kercher family’s lawyer, could not contain his delight. He punched the air as the court’s decision was read out and later said: “Yes, this is what we wanted.”
“This decision serves to review the definitive and final truth of Meredith’s murder. Rudy Guede was not alone: the judges will tell us who was there with him,” he said in reference to the Ivorian drifter who was convicted in 2008 for sexually assaulting and killing Ms Kercher in her room.
Meredith’s elder sister Stephanie Kercher said her family were pleased at the court’s decision to order a retrial. Speaking from the family home in Coulsdon, Surrey, she said: “All that we want is justice for Mez, but there is still a long journey ahead of us. It’s making sure that we find out exactly what did happen that night. Nothing’s going to bring her back. We know that.”
Meredith’s mother Arline Kercher was reported to be “surprised but pleased” with the latest development.
Ms Knox was portrayed as both a she-devil and an innocent abroad during her original trial, after which she and Mr Sollecito were sentenced to 26 and 25 years in jail respectively. She 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.
“I believe any questions as to my innocence must be examined by an objective investigation and a capable prosecution. The prosecution responsible for the many discrepancies in their work must be made to answer for them, for Raffaele’s sake, my sake and for the sake of Meredith’s family.”
The decision to order a retrial looks set to ignite a diplomatic row between Italy and the US, which is unlikely to comply with any request to extradite Ms Knox. Mr Sollecito, who is currently studying in Verona, northern Italy, will not have that luxury should his original conviction be upheld.
Rebecca Shaeffer, of Fair Trials International, said that, were Ms Knox convicted, and were that conviction upheld by the Supreme Court, then the US authorities would probably cite the double-jeopardy clause in a 1983 bilateral US-Italy treaty in order to block any request to bring Ms Knox back.
In 2011, after the pair had already spent four years in prison, the Perugia appeals court cleared them of the killing Meredith Kercher, the 21-year-old student from Surrey who was found with her throat cut in the Perugia apartment she shared with Ms Knox in 2007. In acquitting the pair, the senior appeal judge Claudio Pratillo Hellmann lambasted both the weakness of the prosecution’s original case and its treatment of the accused after their arrest. Despite the feeling among many foreign observers that justice had been done when the pair were freed, some in Italy expressed their surprise at the appeal court verdict.
Professor Renzo Orlandi of Bologna University, a leading expert in Italian criminal trials, is one such doubter. “To be honest I was somewhat amazed by the Perugia appeal court’s verdict,” he said yesterday. He added that the reasoning behind today’s Supreme Court verdict, which will be made public in the next few months, would have significant bearing on the retrial in Florence, set to begin next year.
The prosecutor Luigi Riello, who successfully argued before the Cassation Court judges for the acquittals to be overturned, said he thought that Ms Knox’s conviction for slander – over her accusation that a local bar owner Patrice Lumumba was responsible – may have been a factor in yesterday’s verdict.
Mr Sollecito’s lawyer, Giulia Bongiorno, acknowledged that the appeals court may have been “too generous” in ruling that the pair simply did not commit the crime. But she said that she was confident that her client’s innocence would be affirmed.
She added: “We have had to climb a mountain, but we draw great strength both from being innocent and from the fact the court’s ruling today is not a guilty verdict. The retrial means the court has decided some details need to be reviewed. The battle continues.”