In an unexpected decision, the Italian supreme court in Rome is overturning Amanda Knox's acquittal, saying she will stand trial again for the murder of roommate Meredith Kercher. NBC's Michelle Kosinski reports and Italian legal expert Praxilla Trabattoni discusses the case.
An Italian court on Tuesday ordered the retrial of Amanda Knox, the American college student jailed for four years for killing her British roommate, Meredith Kercher, but acquitted after an appeal. Here are some questions and answers arising from the decision:
What just happened here?
The Court of Cassation, the Italian equivalent of the Supreme Court, overturned the acquittals of Knox and her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, and ordered them to stand trial again before an appeals court in Florence.
They had been convicted in 2009 when Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison and Sollecito got 25 years. An appeals court freed both of them when it overturned the convictions in 2011, ruling that prosecutors had provided faulty DNA evidence, no murder weapon and otherwise insufficient proof.
What was the basis for Tuesday's court ruling?
We don’t know yet. Italian law gives the court three months to explain its decision. In the American system, an appeals court would generally explain itself upon issuing the ruling.
Any idea what they might be thinking?
Prosecutors have filed 16 points of appeal — essentially disputes over how the law was applied at trial, not over the facts of the case. Among other points, prosecutors question the appeals court’s ruling that DNA testing was faulty and that certain witnesses were unreliable.
This sounds an awful lot like double jeopardy.
Italian law prohibits a version of double jeopardy — being tried anew for a crime for which you have already been cleared, said Praxilla Trabattoni, an Italian lawyer who was followed the case. This case is technically different.
Trabattoni said that the Supreme Court was essentially saying that "when the appeals court was evaluating whether she did it or didn’t, the appeals court did that on the basis of evidence that shouldn’t have been admitted.”
Italian law says that a judgment is not definitive until it’s cleared every degree of trial, Trabattoni said, and the Supreme Court is considered the third degree of trial, after the lower court and the appeals court. If the Supreme Court had upheld the acquittal and then prosecutors had brought a new case entirely, that would be considered double jeopardy under the Italian system, Trabattoni said.
What happens next?
After the Supreme Court issues its explanation, an appeals court in Florence gets the case. A retrial probably would not begin until late this year or early next year.
Where is Amanda Knox these days?
Ted S. Warren / AP, file
Amanda Knox talks to reporters, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2011, in Seattle. Knox was freed Monday after an Italian appeals court threw out her murder conviction for the death of her British roommate, Meredith Kercher.
She is a student at the University of Washington, where she stayed up until at least about 2 a.m. Pacific time to learn her fate, one of her lawyers, Carlo Dalla Vedova, told reporters, according to The Associated Press. Now 25, she has a memoir, “Waiting to Be Heard,” coming out April 30, for which publisher HarperCollins reportedly paid her $4 million.
In a statement Tuesday, she said: “No matter what happens, my family and I will face this continuing legal battle as we always have, confident in the truth and with our heads held high in the face of wrongful accusations and unreasonable adversity.”
Does she have to go back to Italy for the retrial?
No. And it appears unlikely that she will. Knox spent almost four years behind bars after her original arrest and conviction, before the appeals court reversed it. The retrial can go forward without Knox being present.
“It simply will proceed, it will be strenuously defended, and we fully expect she will be exonerated,” one of her lawyers, Theodore Simon, told NBC News.
What happens if the conviction is reinstated? Does she get sent back to jail in Italy?
Tiziana Fabi / AFP - Getty Images
The long legal saga of Amanda Knox, an American student accused of the violent death of her roommate, British student Meredith Kercher, has made headlines around the world since it began in Perugia, Italy, in late 2007.
We’re several big steps away from that, but it’s possible. First, Knox would have to be convicted by the appeals court. Then the Italian Supreme Court would have to uphold that verdict. Then Italy would have to seek Knox’s extradition from the United States.
The United States and Italy have an extradition treaty under which the U.S. would be bound to send Knox back, said Juliet Sorensen, who teaches international criminal law at the Northwestern University School of Law.
Such a decision would risk a political furor here at home. Knox has been portrayed by the American media as someone caught up in a hopelessly dysfunctional Italian legal system.
Still, if the conviction is reinstated, “I expect that Italy will make that request because it’s a serious crime,” Sorensen said. “At the end of the day, if she’s convicted of murder, I don’t foresee the Italian authorities letting it drop.”
And Meredith Kercher’s family? What do they make of this?
Kercher’s sister Stephanie, 29, told ITV News, the British partner of NBC News, that all the family ever wanted was the truth about the night of Nov. 1, 2007.
“We are never going to be happy about any outcome because we have still lost Meredith, but we obviously support the decision and hope to get answers from it,” she said.
What became of Sollecito, the boyfriend?
He released his own book last year: "Honor Bound: My Journey to Hell and Back with Amanda Knox." In it, he reportedly wrote that police slapped and stripped him during an interrogation, and that they tried to get him to save himself by turning on Knox.
These days he is 29 and studying in Verona, according to British newspaper reports.
Giulia Bongiorno, one of his lawyers, stressed that the Supreme Court ruling was not the same as a conviction.
“Unfortunately we have to continue the battle,” she told reporters, according to Reuters. “This is a sentence that says, with regards to the acquittal, that something more is needed.”
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.