After a British woman studying in Italy was brutally murdered and sexually assaulted in her apartment, her American roommate was charged and convicted in one of the most public cases of the decade. Two years after Amanda Knox was acquitted and returned home to the United States, she faces extradition for a retrial in Italy.
In the first grade of her Italian trial, Amanda Knox was charged and convicted of the murder of Meredith Kercher, as well as sexual assault and staging a burglary. The conviction was vacated in the second grade of her trial. The Italian Court of Cassation has since ordered a retrial by an appellate trial court in Florence, Italy.
Meredith Kercher, a young British woman studying in Perugia, Italy, was found dead in her apartment on November 1, 2007. She had been cruelly murdered. Several of her belongings, including her mobile telephone, credit cards and her keys, were missing.
Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were arrested for Kercher’s murder five days later. A third person, Rudy Guede, was arrested in Germany and returned to Italy also to face charges in the murder of Kercher.
Knox was one of Kercher’s roommates, a 20-year-old woman from Seattle who was also in Perugia for school. Sollecito was an Italian student Knox had met days earlier, and they had since struck up an intense romantic relationship. Guede was virtually unknown to Sollecito and Knox, but he was acquainted with a man Kercher was romantically linked to who lived in an apartment below Kercher and Knox.
Prosecutors argued that Knox, Sollecito and Guede had conspired to kill Kercher after sexually assaulting her, then staged the apartment to look like a burglary. The defense for Knox and Sollecito have always denied their involvement. They argued there was no credible forensic evidence linking Knox and Sollecito to the bloody scene in Kercher’s bedroom. But Guede’s bloody shoeprints, DNA, and fingerpints were found throughout her bedroom.
Guede, who was prosecuted separately from Knox and Sollecito, opted for what’s called a fast track trial. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to 30 years, reduced to 16 years. Knox and Sollecito were tried together, convicted and sentenced to 26 and 25 years, respectively. Their trial ended in December 2009.
When Knox and Sollecito’s convictions were reviewed, their convictions were overturned two years later. The Italian appellate court found significant errors in the police work and the prosecution that led to a wrongful conviction. The result, under Italian criminal procedure was to change the verdict to an acquittal.
A study conducted by researchers at the University of Rome found many basic errors involving the collection and preservation of DNA evidence, including rampant cross-contamination. Videos of the crime scene showed police collecting vital evidence with dirty gloves.
The court also found that Knox’s alleged incriminating statements were made after a period of “obsessive” police questioning and that such statements prove Knox was confused and under great psychological pressure. While today Knox is fluent in the Italian language, she was still learning it when questioned by the police in Italian. She was provided an interpreter for some of the interrogation. The court also questioned the plausibility of the prosecution’s theory: that three people who barely knew one another – Knox, Sollecito and Guede – would conspire to carry out such a brutal attack.
When the reviewing court’s decision was final, Knox was released from custody and returned to her home and family in Seattle where she remains today.
However, the Italian Court of Cassation subsequently found that the lower court had not conducted a comprehensive enough review of the evidence to justify an acquittal. The higher court called for a new trial to be held in Florence. That trial is expected to begin on September 30, 2013. Knox can be tried in absentia. It appears she will remain in Seattle during the pendency of the trial though the question remains whether she will be extradited if she is convicted again in her third go-around with the Italian criminal justice system.
At the time of Knox’s arrest and prosecution, the police and news media in Italy and Europe at large were convinced of Knox’s guilt. Her erratic behavior and conflicting statements all seemed to show a woman with a guilty conscience, rather than a young woman in a foreign country who was in shock. English tabloids, searching for justice for their countrywoman, maligned Knox openly, painting her as an immoral sex addict and dubbing her “Foxy Knoxy.” The Italian media was little better, and the reporting grew seedier and more prurient as the investigation and prosecution went on. The murder was reported to be part of a Satanic ritual, an orgy and a violent sexual game.
In one of the iconic images from the case, Knox and Sollecito are kissing outside of the apartment Knox and Kercher shared, after Knox learned of her roommate’s murder. Prosecutors argued that this was proof of Knox’s guilt, that she would kiss and embrace someone after learning of her friend’s death. Knox defended the kiss, saying that she turned to Sollecito for comfort in a time of grief.
Similarly, Italian police and Knox’s and Kercher’s friends were struck by how unmoved Knox seemed after Kercher’s death. They believed she was too stoic and unemotional and that pointed to her guilt.
However, the second time Knox was questioned, she was so overcome with emotion that she began shaking uncontrollably, and medical help was called. This, too, was seen as evidence of Knox’s guilt — first she was too calm, then she was too emotional.
After that breakdown, Knox was questioned over the course of 50 hours by Italian detectives and investigators. During this time she made an incriminating statement of having a “vision” the night of the murder and hearing Kercher’s scream, and seeing another man, her boss, a cafe owner, at the scene. The cafe owner was initially charged but later found to be unconnected to the case. Knox was also held criminally liable for the slander against him.
The police were wiretapping Knox’s telephone communications in the days after Kercher’s murder, and when they learned her mother would be coming to Italy to help Knox navigate the system and to hire a lawyer, the police called her in for a final round of questioning. The tabloids also got wind of Knox doing cartwheels in the police interrogation room — what she says is a mischaracterization of her doing yoga stretches to calm down while waiting to be interviewed.
Knox and Sollecito were questioned separately for hours, and the police went back and forth between them whenever their stories varied. Knox said that when she was telling the investigators where she had been the night before, they would slap her and tell her to remember different things. The police denied that she was mistreated.
As her questioning came to a close, Knox wrote a note to the police, explaining that she could not remember anything clearly anymore, that she did not know if what she told them was true, and that her statements were all made under the pressures of “stress, shock and extreme exhaustion.” Like everything else Knox did or said following the murder of her roommate, this was seen as evidence that Knox was a guilty liar.
That note was inadmissible at her first trial. The Italian Supreme Court found her rights were violated because no attorney was present when she made it.
Amanda Knox: An American woman from Seattle accused of the 2007 murder of her roommate, Meredith Kercher, while studying abroad in Perugia, Italy. She was tried and convicted in 2009, the conviction was subsequently overturned in 2011 and then on March 26, 2013, the acquittal was reversed. Knox faces potential extradition from the United States to stand trial in Italy once again for Kercher’s murder.
Meredith Kercher: A 21-year-old university student from Great Britain who was slain during her study abroad year. Kercher, who shared an apartment in Perugia with Knox, was studying Italian history, politics and film and aspired to a career in journalism. The University of Leeds posthumously awarded her the degree she was working toward at the time of her death.
Raffaele Sollecito: A student and Italian native who Knox and Kercher met at a concert in Perugia five days before Kercher’s murder. Knox and Sollecito began a romantic relationship, and he was also charged, convicted, then acquitted of the murder of Kercher. He was 23 years old at the time.
Rudy Guede: A native of the Ivory Coast who was raised in Perugia, Guede was also accused of Kercher’s murder. He was convicted in October, 2008, of the sexual assault and murder of Kercher and is now serving a 16-year sentence. Guede was also an acquaintance of an Italian man who Kercher was dating.
Italy’s infamous “luciferina” – she-devil – will almost certainly not return to the country that first convicted her of murder – only to then overturn her conviction, followed by yet another reversal by the Italian Supreme Court (known in Italy as the Court of Cassation).
While the United States and Italy generally honor their mutual extradition treaty, it is extremely likely that the United States will cite the Italian appellate court’s finding that Amanda Knox’s original trial was besieged by corruption and contaminated evidence and that she has no hope of getting a fair retrial.
Truly, the police work in the original investigation was shockingly poor. Cross-contamination of DNA in the forensic laboratories, evidence gathering from a crime scene that was not secure – it is enough to make the writers on the television show CSI cringe, and it was enough to get Knox released from jail and sent home.
Without that evidence, could Knox still be convicted? She was notorious at the time of the 2007 investigation and trial for her unusual demeanor, careless antics and open criticism of the Italian legal process, but that behavior may have been in response to the mistreatment she received by police investigators, who were later cited for police misconduct for the way they handled the case.
Criminal Justice In Italy
Serious criminal cases in Italy are handled in two phases: primo grado (first grade) and secondo grado (second grade). The primo grado is similar to American trial proceedings, with witnesses and a formal presentation of evidence. The secondo grado is a review of the primo grado by an independent fact-finder. As in Knox’s case, a conviction obtained at the primo grado level can be overturned at the secondo grado level.