Italy’s top court to rule on Knox conviction in Kercher murder

Italy’s highest court prepares to rule on whether to uphold former U.S. exchange student Amanda Knox’s conviction for the 2007 murder of Briton Meredith Kercher.

ROME, ITALY (MARCH 24, 2015) (REUTERS) – Italy’s highest court will decide on Wednesday (March 25), whether to uphold former U.S. exchange student Amanda Knox’s conviction for the 2007 murder of Briton Meredith Kercher, potentially sparking an extradition battle with the United States.

Knox, 27, and her former boyfriend, Italian Raffaele Sollecito, were convicted for the second time last year in the killing of 21 year-old student Kercher, who was found stabbed to death in a house the women shared in Perugia, central Italy.

Now the Court of Cassation must choose whether to confirm the conviction or order a retrial in a case for which Knox and Sollecito, who have both maintained their innocence throughout, have already served four years in jail.

The high-profile case has inspired books and at least two films, and Kercher’s family said Meredith, the real victim, risked being forgotten.

Author of “Angel Face” a story about Amanda Knox which inspired the film “The Face of an Angel”, Barbie Latza Nadeau has been following the ins and outs of the trial from the very beginning.

“There are only two possibilities, they can either uphold the conviction for one or both of the suspects, or they can turn it back to the appellate level. They could also possibly ask another section of the high court to take a look at it before that decision is made. But very likely they will uphold it or order another appellate trial,” Nadeau said.

The judges who passed the second guilty verdict, handing Knox a 28-1/2-year jail sentence and Sollecito 25 years, said the murder was the result of a domestic argument.

The Cassation Court is making a technical judgement on the validity of the last conviction, which the defence says is flawed.

If the conviction is scrapped, the case will almost certainly go back to an appeals court for the third time.

If the conviction is confirmed, Sollecito, whose passport has been confiscated, could face a return to jail in his home country, and Italy may ask the United States to extradite Knox from her hometown of Seattle, where she has been since 2011, when the pair were acquitted on appeal and freed.

Legal experts are split on the likely outcome if Italian authorities seek her return.

“I think there is a lot of speculation that an extradition hearing, trying to bring Amanda Knox back to Italy from the United States would cause a diplomatic rift but the reality is it could cause much more of a diplomatic rift if Raffaele Sollecito is in prison and Amanda Knox is free,” Nadeau said.

“I think the tension would be much greater if Italians thought only their citizen was paying for the crime, the murder of Meredith Kercher,” she said.

Some say a “double jeopardy” U.S. constitutional ban on retrial for the same offence after an acquittal would stand in Knox’s favour, and that U.S. courts would frown on her having been tried in absentia.

Others argue the very existence of an extradition treaty implies that the United States accepts the Italian justice system, strengthening the case for extradition.

Any attempt by the United States not to adhere to an extradition, legal sources say, would be an unusual occurrence.

“This would be a great anomaly,” said Professor of Comparative law at Luiss university in Rome, Pier Luigi Petrillo.

“..in the sense that in virtue of the international agreements between Italy and the United States; if an American citizen has been found guilty of a crime and in particular a serious crime such as murder on Italian soil, there is an obligation by the United States to extradite the American citizen and bring them back to our national territory,” he said.

“This means that American authorities should arrest Amanda Knox even if she is in the United States and put her at the disposition of the Italian justice system,” Petrillo added.

The U.S. State Department has said officials are monitoring the case.

The high court will begin discussing the case at 0900GMT on Wednesday (March 25) morning, a ruling is expected to come out later in the day.