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12.04.09

Amanda Knox's Next Move

After a grueling, 11-month trial, the young American co-ed was found guilty of murder by an Italian court. Barbie Latza Nadeau on how she'll try to shorten her sentence.

Amanda Knox put her face in her hands when she was convicted of sexually assaulting and murdering Meredith Kercher. Then she turned to her lawyer and wept in his arms. “Condannato” said the judge after deliberations that had begun around 10:30 that morning finally ended just after 9 p.m. “Amanda Marie Knox is condemned to 26 years in prison.”

The reaction in the courtroom was nothing short of explosive. As the judge read out the sentences for sexual assault, murder, staging a crime scene, and criminal defamation, Knox’s younger sister Deanna’s cries filled the room. At one point the stepmother of Raffaele Sollecito, Knox’s former boyfriend who was sentenced to 25 years for his part in the murder, yelled out “Fuck you,” then cried loudly in a fit of hysteria. Knox’s family cried and hugged. The family of Meredith Kercher sat stoically, at one point staring in awe at the parents of the woman who was just convicted of killing their daughter.

As the judge read out the sentences for sexual assault, murder, staging a crime scene, and criminal defamation, Knox’s younger sister Deanna’s cries filled the room.

It wasn’t the life sentence with nine months of isolation that the prosecutor had asked for, but it was a harsh penalty for the 22-year-old American whose trial in the small city of Perugia, Italy, had captivated the world for 11 months. The prosecutor presented forensic evidence and painted a circumstantial caricature of Knox as a beautiful young woman capable of murder. The defense tried its best to sow seeds of uncertainty with words like “contamination” and “reasonable doubt.” But in the end, the two judges and six lay jurors trusted the sanctity of the DNA evidence, and doubted the words of Knox and Sollecito.

The case has been a media sensation ever since Kercher’s bloodied corpse was found in the apartment she shared with Knox in November 2007. For those who believed that Knox was guilty, the most damning evidence was the presence of her DNA mixed with Kercher’s blood in the house, and her statement that she was in the house at the time of the murder. Those who believed she was innocent have maintained throughout that the evidence was fabricated or contaminated. But for the family of Meredith Kercher, tonight's sentence offered a modicum of closure. “This is the justice we were looking for,” said Francesco Maresca, lawyer for the Kercher family, after the hearing. “The family is satisfied.”

The Knox family is not. They have vowed to continue to fight for her innocence. When asked if they would fight this in appeal, her father Curt Knox responded, “Hell, yes.”

Italian cases are automatically appealed and Knox may be able to shave a few years off her lengthy sentence during the process, which will take place within a year and a half. Until then, she will spend her days in prison a convicted murderess. “We were expecting this, but that does not make it easier,” said Knox’s lawyer Luciano Ghirga.

Despite the verdict, many still believe it does nothing to clarify exactly what happened the night Kercher was killed.

Barbie Latza Nadeau has reported from Italy for Newsweek since 1997. She also writes for CNN Traveller, Budget Travel Magazine and Frommer's.