Amanda Knox, who says she’s “haunted” by nearly four years spent in an Italian jail, won’t return from the U.S. for an appeals retrial for the 2007 killing of her British roommate Meredith Kercher, which starts today in Florence.
Seattle native Knox, now 26, was an exchange student in the central Italian city of Perugia at the time of Kercher’s killing in 2007. She was convicted of murder and sentenced to 26 years in the original case, serving almost four years in prison before the decision was overturned in October 2011. Her former Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, now 29, was also sentenced to 25 years in jail in the first ruling in 2009, and found not guilty on appeal in 2011.
On March 26, Italy’s highest court approved a prosecutor’s request to void the appeals court verdicts and try Knox and Sollecito again.
In an interview with daily la Repubblica published Sept. 20, Knox maintained her innocence and said she had aged 40 years in prison. “I felt hunted like an animal,” said Knox, who’s said she’s suffered from depression and panic attacks since her release. “I had to understand how to survive.”
Kercher, a 21-year-old student, was found dead in her bedroom, half-naked and strangled with her throat slashed, on Nov. 2, 2007, in the house she shared in Perugia with Knox and two other women. Prosecutor Giuliano Mignini said at the original trial that Knox had masterminded a drug-fueled sex game involving Sollecito and Rudy Guede, an Ivorian-born Italian citizen, which turned violent, leading to the murder.
Guede was found guilty in a separate “fast-track” trial in 2008 and sentenced to 30 years. His sentence was reduced to 16 years in a 2009 appeal.
The first Knox trial was the subject of intense media interest in Italy, the U.K. and the U.S., and the 2011 appeals trial also saw a wave of journalists descend on Perugia, a city of 170,000.
In an interview with NBC television this month, Knox dismissed the suggestion that not returning to Italy could be interpreted as an admission of guilt. “I look at it as an admission of innocence,” she said. “I was imprisoned as an innocent person and it’s common sense not to go back.”
Knox first told police she was inside the Perugia villa at the time of the killing and that screaming from Kercher’s room alerted her to the crime scene. She also initially named the owner of a bar where she had worked as the possible killer. The bar owner, Patrick Diya Lumumba, was arrested and later released after a witness confirmed his alibi.
In her book “Waiting to Be Heard,” published this year by Harper Collins, Knox says police coerced her into accusing Lumumba and describes being caught in the gears of a dysfunctional justice system.
Eight hearings have already been scheduled through the end of November in the latest trial, Knox’s lawyer Luciano Ghirga said by phone, saying the court calendar may change.
An extradition request would be possible if Knox is convicted in the retrial and that ruling is confirmed by Italy’s highest court, according to an Italian Justice Ministry official, who asked not to be named, citing department policy. Still, a definitive conviction may not result in extradition due to a U.S. prohibition on being tried twice for the same crime.
Knox’s defense has “extremely powerful arguments to put a halt to the extradition process,” Sean Casey, a New York attorney at Kobre & Kim LLP and a former U.S. prosecutor, said in an interview earlier this year.
“The treaty between the two countries specifically prohibits extradition of someone that was once acquitted for a crime,” Casey said. Given the “massive flaws” in the original trial, he said, Knox’s lawyers would have strong grounds to lobby the U.S. government to turn down any request.
To contact the reporter on this story: Chiara Vasarri in Rome at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jerrold Colten at email@example.com