If there is a rule book—and surely there is—listing all the things you shouldn’t say if you are on trial for murder, one would think that “If they convict me, I’ll become a fugitive” must be somewhere near the top of the list. The second thing on the list might well be, “When all of this is over, I want to visit the victim’s parents.”
But that’s exactly what Amanda Knox, the now 26-year-old Seattle native who is appealing her 2009 conviction for the murder of her British roommate Meredith Kercher, told Italy’s top national newspaper La Repubblica ahead of the last day of defense closing arguments in her second appellate trial, now being held in Florence.
Knox and her erstwhile Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, are fighting to keep their freedom after Italy’s high court threw out their 2011 acquittals that had cleared them of Kercher’s murder last March. They currently stand convicted of Kercher’s murder after their acquittals were reversed. The ongoing trial is their appeal of that conviction. A verdict in the new appeal, which began in September, is expected on January 30, and will still have to be considered by Italy’s high court before this case is finally closed.
Knox apparently made the ill-advised remarks to Meo Ponte, the La Repubblica correspondent who has been covering the Kercher murder case that has been lumbering through the Italian legal system for more than six years, in an unrecorded Skype interview ahead of Thursday’s hearing. Ponte, who stands by his story and who has championed her innocence in previous trials, concedes that Knox was likely making a lighthearted joke about an extremely serious appellate case that has not exactly been going her way. But a comment about becoming a fugitive is hardly a laughing matter in a murder trial. It undoubtedly sends a signal that Knox might just go into hiding should her murder conviction be upheld on January 30. If that’s the case, American authorities may be compelled to keep a close eye on her until the case is definitively concluded.
In Italy, appeals are not considered final until and unless the high court signs off on them. In Knox’s case, that could happen sometime in late 2014. If her conviction is upheld by the Florentine appellate court, the high court would also have to uphold the conviction before any extradition request is made. There is a valid extradition agreement between the United States and Italy and the U.S. State Department—not a hometown Seattle court, in a city where Knox is often viewed as an innocent—would make the final decision if Italy chooses to request that Knox return to serve a prison sentence.
Knox says she will not come back for the new appeal verdict because she is afraid.
Speculation runs the gamut on whether or not Italy would actually request extradition. The two countries have an uneasy history when it comes to handing over prisoners. In 2102, the United States refused to return 22 CIA agents and an Air Force captain who had been convicted in the extraordinary rendition of an Egyptian cleric on suspicion of terrorism. The Americans were never handed over. Knox, of course, is a civilian and not a CIA agent, so it remains to be seen whether the United States would hand her over. The new appeal is not “double jeopardy” under the Italian legal system—she is not being tried twice for the same crime; she is still being tried for the same crime.
On Thursday, the Florence appellate court heard closing arguments by Sollecito’s legal team. Knox’s lawyers delivered her closing arguments on December 17, which included an email sent to the court. The presiding judge, Alessandro Nencini, grudgingly read the five-page email to the lay jurors, but made the comment that an email was “highly irregular” because its authenticity could not be verified. He concluded that, “If someone wants to be heard in court, they should appear in court,” virtually dismissing its contents for their consideration.
Sollecito’s lawyers focused on their client’s individuality, underscoring the fact that he is often linked with Knox when they are two separate suspects. “He’s not her other half,” his lead attorney Giulia Bongiorno said. “Raffaele was not a puppy. He wouldn’t have killed for the love of Amanda.” His defense team maintains that the two young lovers were used as scapegoats to calm fears of a murderer on the loose in Perugia after Kercher’s body was found in the apartment she shared with Knox. Sollecito has been attending court sessions and says he will also attend the verdict hearing.
Knox says she will not come back for the new appeal verdict because she is afraid. “I am afraid that the prosecution’s vehemence will leave an impression on you,” she wrote to the judge. “That their smoke and mirrors will blind you. I’m afraid of the universal problem of a wrongful conviction.” Knox has instead taken to Twitter to maintain her innocence in the case, tweeting articles and websites that support her side of the story. Her lawyers say she remains “hopeful” that she will be exonerated of the murder.
Lawyers for Kercher say they hope the court will uphold the original conviction. Kercher’s siblings are expected to attend the verdict at the end of the month. “There is only one truth,” Kercher lawyer Francesco Maresca told The Daily Beast. “And we hope this court will find it.”