Uh Oh

03.25.13

Back to Jail for Amanda Knox?

An Italian court is set to decide whether to retry Amanda Knox for murder. Barbie Latza Nadeau on how it could shake out—and whether Italians could haul her back to a cell in Perugia.

The sensational case of Amanda Knox and the murder of Meredith Kercher is back in the headlines—again. This time, Italy’s highest court will rule once and for all whether to close the case for good or send it back to a lower court to retry.

On Monday, Italy’s top court heard testimony from Italian prosecutors who want to put the Seattle native back in jail. In 2009, Knox and her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were convicted and sentenced to 26 and 25 years in prison, respectively, for knifing Kercher, Knox’s British roommate, in 2007, leaving her to die choking on her own blood. Two years later, the duo was sensationally acquitted in an appellate trial that set them free. Rudy Guede, a drifter from the Ivory Coast, was convicted separately in a fast track trial and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. His conviction was upheld by Italy’s high court in 2011, but his sentence was reduced to 16 years.

Monday’s hearing marks the final phase of Italy’s three-tiered judicial system for the Knox and Sollecito case. If the acquittal is upheld, the high court’s final ruling cannot be appealed again, and Knox is guaranteed her freedom. If the high court rules that the case must be retried, it goes back only to the appellate stage, not to square one. Effectively, it would revert back to the 2009 ruling in which Knox and Sollecito were originally convicted.

In Italy all criminal cases are automatically accepted for appeal after the lower court ruling (though not all prosecutors or defense lawyers choose to appeal). More than 50 percent of all appellate cases are amended on appeal, as in the Knox case. Far fewer than that are amended again by the high court, but it is not uncommon for the court to order a retrial or to amend a sentence or fine in some way.

Perugia prosecutor general Giovanni Galati filed a 112-page appeal in early 2012 after Knox and Sollecito were acquitted. He argued that the appellate court erred in judgment when applying reasonable doubt to specific elements of the case and not the case as a whole. Galati also argued that the appellate court was wrong to approve only a partial independent review of the forensic evidence, and that they should have instead adopted an all-or-nothing stance, independently reviewing all forensic evidence, including that which was used to convict Guede, and not just the high-profile items.

Knox’s lawyers are also appealing one element of the appellate finding, part of a tangle of legal issues still circling the 25-year-old. The reason Knox was given one more year in prison than Sollecito is because of a criminal slander charge stemming from her accusation of her former boss Patrick Lumumba in the early days of the murder investigation.  The appellate court acquitted her of murder but confirmed her slander charge. Her lawyers argued on Monday that the slander charge also be overturned, or retried, since she says she was coerced into the accusation. Knox is also facing a separate slander charge for accusing Perugia police of brutality during her interrogation. That case is still in the lower courts with a verdict expected sometime this summer. Knox’s parents, Edda Mellas and Curt Knox, are also on trial for slander for repeating their daughter’s claims of abuse to a British newspaper.

Giuliano Mignini, the Perugia prosecutor who successfully convicted Knox and Sollecito the first time around, and who unsuccessfully prosecuted their appeal, has also been subject to his own trials. During the Knox trial, he was convicted of abuse of office for illegally wiretapping journalists during the infamous Monster of Florence investigations. That conviction was overturned in an appellate hearing in 2011.

The big question still remains: could Amanda Knox somehow find herself back in an Italian jail cell? Defendants in criminal cases are not required to attend hearings, so even if the case is retried, Knox would not have to return to Italy. If she were reconvicted and sentenced to jail time on the appellate level, Italian authorities may be able to extradite her based on an alliance with the United States. More likely, they would wait until a second high-court ruling on the appeal.

In the meantime, Knox is keeping busy. Her memoir Waiting to Be Heard is expected to be released late next month, and she will be giving her first-ever face-to-face interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, scheduled for April 30.  If her case is closed for good, Knox never has to worry about the Kercher case again—at least legally speaking.