Amanda Knox Freed After Appeal in Italian Court
I’ve been following this case with some interest–mostly because its every college student’s worst nightmare of studying abroad. New York Times journalist Elisabetta Povoledo reports on the case.
PERUGIA, Italy — A court here overturned the homicide convictions of the American college student Amanda Knox and her Italian co-defendant on Monday and ordered them freed after nearly four years in prison, ending a sensationally lurid trial of murder and rough sex that had made Ms. Knox notorious on both sides of the Atlantic.
An appellate court jury of eight Italians, which included two judges, delivered their verdict after more than 11 hours of deliberations. Ms. Knox and her supporters packing the court let out whoops of joy and relief as the verdict was read on live television, prompting court officials to shout for silence. Ms. Knox broke down in tears.
The decision overturns the December 2009 ruling that sentenced Ms. Knox to 26 years in prison her co-defendant, Raffaele Sollecito, a former boyfriend, to 25 years in prison for the 2007 stabbing murder of 21-year-old Meredith Kercher, a Briton who shared an apartment with Ms. Knox. The case was built largely on DNA evidence that legal experts called flimsy and suspect.
Ms. Knox, 24, from Seattle, was returned to prison to collect her possessions and left less than a few hours later.
All three figures in the trial were young, promising students in the picturesque central Italian city of Perugia, a fact that largely ignited the media hype that surrounded the case from the start. The unprecedented international attention in a murder trial in Italy was fueled by looming question marks over means and motive that made the case a classic whodunit.
“We’re thankful Amanda’s nightmare is over,” Ms. Knox’s sister, Deanna, read in a statement after the verdict. “We’re grateful for the support we have received from all over the world.” A lawyer for Mr. Sollecito, Giulia Bongiorno, said, “We’ve been waiting for this for four years.”
Earlier in the day, Ms. Knox read a tearful statement in fluent Italian beseeching the court to overturn the verdict, claiming her innocence. “I did not kill, I did not rape, I did not steal. I was not there,” she said. “I want to go back home. I want to go back to my life. I don’t want to be punished. I don’t want my life and my future to be taken away for something I didn’t do.”
The elation at the acquittal extended to Ms. Knox’s circle of friends and supporters in Seattle, who had rented a suite at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel to watch the verdict broadcast on television. They cried with joy as the news was read shortly before 4 p.m. Eastern time.
The joyful reaction of the defendants and their families and friends contrasted sharply with the looks of ashen disappointment by relatives of Ms. Kercher.
The British media had openly sympathized with the tragic figure of Ms. Kercher and her family, which backed the prosecution in seeking to uphold the original trial’s outcome. “The lower court found the defendants guilty,” said a lawyer for the family, Francesco Maresca, said at a news conference earlier Monday, as deliberations were under way. He said the Kercher family wanted to “have the verdict confirmed.”
Hundreds of people had massed outside the courtroom before the verdict was read. Many cheered as the acquittal news filtered out to the crowd, but some shouted “shame!” in apparent sympathy with the murder victim’s family.
The trial and retrial of Ms. Knox attracted widespread attention partly because of its sensational details and the starkly differing portraits of the main defendant, who was alternately described as a hard-working college student caught up in an arcane foreign justice system and a marijuana-smoking criminal.
Ms. Kercher was found stabbed in her room on Nov. 2, 2007, in what prosecutors described as a game of rough sex involving Ms. Knox and her boyfriend that went horribly wrong. Ms. Knox and Mr. Sollecito were arrested a few days later.
The appeal, which began last November, was dominated by the re-examination of the DNA evidence.
Court-appointed independent experts said that the DNA had been collected in a way that could have allowed for contamination and that the genetic information on two main pieces of evidence could not be matched to the defendants with certainty. Ms. Bongiorno argued that the evidence collected 46 days after the police first went through the scene should have been thrown out.
In their closing arguments, prosecutors dismissed the findings of the independent experts, calling them inept and inexperienced. They also reiterated other evidence from the first trial, including eyewitness evidence placing Ms. Knox and Mr. Sollecito at the scene.
The appeals court upheld Ms. Knox’s conviction on a charge of slander for accusing a bar owner, Diya “Patrick” Lumumba, of committing the murder. The court set the sentence for that conviction at three years — meaning time served — and a fine of 22,000 euros, or about $29,000.
A third defendant, Rudy Guede, 24, was also convicted of Miss Kercher’s murder in a separate trial and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. His conviction was upheld on appeal but his sentence was shortened to 16 years.
Isolde Raftery contrbuted reporting from Seattle.