Amanda Knox not guilty of Meredith Kercher's murder
Italy's highest court has overturned the convictions of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito in the final ruling on the case
ROME - Italy's high court has overturned the guilty verdicts of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, acquitting them of the murder of Meredith Kercher and bringing an end to an eight-year legal saga.
The landmark decision by a panel of five Court of Cassation judges in Rome brings to an end the series of trials that have unfurled over more than seven years from the cold day in November 2007 when the 21-year-old Leeds University exchange student's battered body was found in the flat she shared with Knox in the Umbrian hilltop city of Perugia.
Ivory Coast national Rudy Guede is serving a 16-year sentence for her murder. He remains the only person convicted for the crime, though the high court has ruled that he did not act alone.
The divisive rollercoaster case has left many families in tatters, first and foremost in the UK, where Kercher's extended family resides, but also in Italy and the US, where Sollecito and Knox's intense attempts to prove their innocence over the years has drained both families emotionally and financially.
"This court showed courage to not just order another appeal and pass the case along, but rule that they are fully innocent," Sollecito's lawyer Giulia Bongiorno said.
Francesco Maresca, the lawyer for the Kercher family, said he the ruling was "drastic and definitive".
"I have no words," he said.
Sollecito's family erupted in shouts of joy as the ruling was announced and his lawyer, Giulia Bongiorno, jumped into the arms of Knox's lawyer, Carlo Dalla Vedova, when he confirmed to her that the court had fully acquitted them both.
"It could not have gone any better for us," Dalla Vedova said. "They agreed on every count."
Patrick Lumumba said he felt very sorry for Kercher, and her family. "I believe this was a judicial error," he said.
Amanda Knox's Washington DC lawyer Robert Barnett released a statement from Amanda Knox. "I am tremendously relieved and grateful for the decision of the Supreme Court of Italy," it read. "The knowledge of my innocence has given me strength in the darkest times of this ordeal."
Her family also released a statement, saying they were thrilled by the decision and thanking all those who had supported her over the years.
Is Amanda Knox guilty? Italian court to make key ruling
Amanda Knox's judicial "roller coaster ride" could finally come to an end tomorrow if Italy's highest court definitively ratifies her murder conviction.
But her defence was dealt a blow on the eve of the ruling when Raffaele Sollecito, her former boyfriend, changed his story and withdrew his support for her alibi on Tuesday evening.
The final hearing began yesterday in the court of cassation in Rome. Its verdict will be final, and no further appeal will be possible.
"Although observers in the case initially believed a verdict could be announced as early as Wednesday evening," The Guardian reports, "the presiding judge in the case, Gennaro Marasca, said the hearing would continue at 9am on Friday."
The 27-year-old American and Sollecito, who turns 31 on Thursday, currently stand convicted of murdering British student Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy, on 1 November 2007.
Sollecito had previously said that he was with Knox when the killing occurred, but court documents show that he is now distancing himself from her version of events.
"In a dramatic change in legal strategy, Sollecito has cast serious doubt on Foxy Knoxy's alibi," the Daily Mail reports, "with the Italian now saying he can't be sure she was at his house for the whole of the night on which the British student was brutally murdered."
Eight years after Kercher was brutally stabbed to death, only one person, Rudy Guede, is currently serving time in prison for the murder.
So, why has the process taken so long and will Knox return to prison?
Is Amanda Knox guilty?
Knox and Sollecito were found guilty of Kercher's murder in 2009, but were subsequently acquitted on appeal in 2011, after which Knox returned home to the United States. Then in 2013, those acquittals were thrown out by Italy's highest court due to "grave mistakes". The original murder convictions were upheld by a second appellate court last year. Knox was sentenced to 28 and a half years in prison and Sollecito was sentenced to 25 years.
But there are many people, particularly in the US, who see this as a miscarriage of justice. Newsweek's Nina Burleigh, who has written a book about the case, claims that every item of circumstantial evidence against Knox can be "explained by the predictable confusion of a naïf in a country whose laws and social mores she didn't understand, being grilled by cops in a language she spoke poorly". Guede's fingerprints and DNA were found in the room and his DNA in Kercher's body, says Burleigh, but "no scientifically credible physical evidence puts Knox or her boyfriend in the murder room".
Former Perugia appellate Judge Pratillo Hellmann, who overturned the convictions in 2011, has since described the investigation as "scarily amateurish" and blamed bias and self-protection among the fraternity of magistrates for the reinstated convictions. Even a juror who served on a panel that reinstated Knox's conviction last year has told Italy's Oggi magazine that there was "questionable proof, flimsy evidence and bizarre testimony".
Why is Amanda Knox not in prison?
Knox and Sollecito spent four years in prison before they were released, but there are still more rulings to be made before they potentially return. On Wednesday, Italy's highest court – Corte Suprema di Cassazione – will decide whether to order a third appellate trial for the pair, or whether to uphold their convictions and finally close the case. If the convictions are upheld, Sollecito, who is in Italy, would likely be arrested to begin his prison sentence, while Knox, who is in the US with no plans to voluntarily return to Italy, could face a lengthy extradition process.
Will Amanda Knox be extradited?
The US State Department is yet to comment on whether it would send Knox back to Italy, but legal commentators suggest any extradition would take a long time, if it was enforced at all. The Daily Beast's Barbie Latza Nadeau, who has also written a book on the case, says it is possible that Italy's justice minister could refuse prosecutors' requests for extradition, with political factors coming into play. Knox's own legal team could also force a lengthy case against her extradition. The timing of Italy's request could be impacted by the upcoming American election, she says, while other issues, such as a pregnancy, could also cause delays.
Amanda Knox engaged to prison penpal as appeal looms
Amanda Knox is due to marry a school friend who wrote to her while she was in prison in Italy for the murder of British student Meredith Kercher.
The 27-year-old had her murder conviction reinstated last year but has refused to voluntarily return to Italy to appeal the verdict in person.
Jonathan Martin, a columnist for the Seattle Times, has revealed that she is now engaged to Colin Sutherland, a "lanky rock musician" whom she has known since middle school and who recently moved to Seattle from New York. No date has been set for the wedding, according to a source close to the family.
"Her husband-to-be wrote her while she was in prison, and now he has signed up to be stalked by paparazzi, British tabloids and internet trolls. It must be love," says Martin.
Knox and her ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito spent four years in prison for the 2007 murder of her flatmate Kercher before they were acquitted in 2011. But an Italian court upheld the original murder conviction following a trial last year. Italy's Court of Cassation, the country's highest court, will hear their appeal on 25 March.
Martin says Knox's case has "pinballed through the Italian judicial system in ways that baffles many Americans" and he suggests she "might be America's most famous wrongfully convicted person".
Kercher was found stabbed to death in her bedroom at the house she shared with Knox in the Italian town of Perugia in November 2007. Only one person, Rudy Guede, is currently serving time in prison for her murder.
Barbie Latza Nadeau, a Rome-based Daily Beast journalist who has written a book about Knox, says marriage will make little difference to her extradition rights.
"Italy and the US have a valid and tested extradition treaty, in which marital status has no role," she says. "If she were to be pregnant, however, that could make a difference, though no baby is known to be on the way."