Amanda Knox wanted for retrial over Meredith Kercher murder

Appeal decision to acquit young Seattle woman and her Italian boyfriend was 'full of holes', court agrees

Column LAST UPDATED AT 11:46 ON Tue 26 Mar 2013

ROME - In a stunning turn-around of one of Europe's most sensational murder trials, Italy's Court of Cassation has annulled the 2011 acquittals on appeal of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito and ordered a retrial.

"It is a victory for us, but more importantly for the Italian justice system. That appeal decision was full of holes," said Francesco Maresca, the lawyer for the family of Meredith Kercher.

Kercher was Knox's 21-year-old English housemate. She was found dead in a pool of blood on 1 November 2007 in the home they shared as foreign students in Perugia.

The decision by Italy's highest court of appeal came after nearly six hours of debate - not just on points of law, but on the evidence, too.

"This was a rare mix of exceptional violations of law and monumentally illogical reasoning," said Procurator General Luigi Riello in his scathing description of the appeals court's 2011 decision to acquit. "I believe all the elements are there to make sure the final curtain does not drop on this shocking crime."

And so another act in this five-year-long drama looks set to unfold. Whether 25-year-old Amanda Knox, now at home in Seattle, appears in person at her retrial is debatable. Most observers here assume she will be tried in absentia and, only if she is found guilty of murder at the new hearing, and it is upheld by the Court of Cassation, will the Italian authorities seek to extradite her from the US.

Knox and Sollecito, her Italian boyfriend at the time, were convicted of murder in 2009 and sentenced to 26 and 25 years prison respectively. Then, in 2011, they were acquitted after a Perugia appeal court hired two independent forensic experts who pointed out a number of flaws regarding the two main items of evidence that had been used to convict them.

A third man, African immigrant Rudy Hermann Guede, continues to serve a 16-year prison sentence in Viterbo after being sentenced in a separate "fast-track" trial for his role in the crime.

The tension was thick as yesterday's Court of Cassation hearing kicked off, with Francesco Maresca biting his fingernails, Knox's lawyer Carlo Dalla Vedova cracking his neck from side to side, and the lawyer who assisted him repeatedly running her hands through her thick black hair.

The five judges included the president of the penal section, Severo Chieffi, a 72-year-old magistrate from Naples who has handled some of Italy's most high-profile crime cases. Prosecutor-general Riello, also from Naples, is known for his hard line against the clans of the Camorra.

Riello told the court that the appeal judges in Perugia had used illogical and inappropriate reasoning to arrive at the acquittals, assuming contamination happened when it was convenient for Knox and Sollecito, yet defending the forensics when it implicated Rudy Guede.

"'Anything is possible' seemed to be what governed this court of appeal," Riello said, going on to defend the forensic police and criticise the Perugia court for being unwilling to re-test key pieces of evidence.

"These were not kids playing with chemistry sets, these are professionals with highly advanced training," Riello said. "There were avant guarde techniques that could have been done to pick up just a few picograms of DNA, but this was not done."

Francesco Maresca told the court it was "incredible" that so much evidence was ignored, while certain pieces of evidence that pointed to Knox and Sollecito's innocence were highlighted.

Riello also questioned why so much of the evidence, including that of eye witnesses, seemed not to be taken into account in the appeal. He accused the appeal court judges of "snobbism" because they treated as "banal" much of the evidence presented in the first trial and laid out in a 425-page explanation of the convictions.

Specifically, he discussed the appeal court's failure to take into account a range of witnesses who saw or heard something relevant, such as Marco Quintavalle, the shop owner who came forward months later to say he recalled seeing Knox waiting outside his store to buy cleaning supplies the morning after the murder.

"There was not an efficient global analysis of all the evidence," Riello said. "And we must remember that the principle of reasonable doubt is to be convinced 'beyond a reasonable doubt' - not 'beyond any doubt'."

A new trial date now has to be set - probably in Florence in 2014. "The battle will continue," said Knox's Perugia lawyer, Luciano Ghirga, clearly disappointed. ·