Raffaele Sollecito was on the move long before the guilty verdict in his murder case was read on Thursday night. Less than an hour after the jury in the second appellate court in Florence, Italy, started deliberating Thursday morning, Sollecito and his girlfriend had already checked out of the Hilton Gardens Hotel near the Justice Palace courthouse and were no where to be seen. Calls went unanswered to his father throughout the day, and when asked where he was, his lawyer Luca Maori told The Daily Beast, “He’s in Italy, don’t worry.”
On Friday morning, Sollecito was found about 24 miles from the Italian border with Austria after reports that he had been seen across the border the night before. He was located in a hotel with his girlfriend, who lives nearby, after police unsuccessfully searched for him in his hometown in Puglia. Apparently, he had slipped into Austria at the moment the verdict was read, presumably fearing conviction. The prosecutors in the case had asked the judge to also take precautionary measures ranging from removal of travel documents to incarceration to make sure he didn’t flee. He was apparently waiting to hear what the judge decided and could have made an escape either into Slovenia and the Balkans or somewhere by air before an arrest warrant could be issued. His lawyers deny he was planning to flee, but the spontaneous trip—some four hours by car from Florence—was a curious choice given the context of the murder appeal verdict.
Sollecito was not required to attend the verdict reading, and he was—and remains—free to move within Italy. The judge who handed down the guilty verdicts also ordered that all of Sollecito’s travel documents, including his passport and identity card, be surrendered. On Friday morning when police located him in the hotel, he was taken briefly to a nearby police station where he handed in his documents. Local police in Udine released a statement stating that “Raffaele Sollecito was notified of the cautionary measures of the travel ban and the confiscation of his passport.”
His lawyers deny he was planning to flee, but the spontaneous trip – some four hours by car from Florence—was a curious choice given the context of the murder appeal verdict.
Meanwhile Knox was making her tearful rounds on American television after being whisked away by a black limo from her mother’s home in Seattle after the verdict. She told ABC Good Morning America that the verdict hit her “like a train.”
“I did not expect this,” she said. “I will never go willing back. I’m going to fight this to the very end.”
After the verdict, her public relations manager David Marriott issued a statement to selected press on her behalf in which she tersely lambasted the court decision. “I am frightened and saddened by this unjust verdict.
Having been found innocent before, I expected better from the Italian justice system,” she wrote. “This has gotten out of hand. Most troubling is that it was entirely preventable. I beseech those with the knowledge and authority to address and remediate the problems that worked to pervert the course of justice and waste the valuable resources of the system: overzealous and intransigent prosecution, prejudiced and narrow-minded investigation, unwillingness to admit mistake, reliance on unreliable testimony and evidence, character assassination, inconsistent and unfounded accusatory theory, and counterproductive and coercive interrogation techniques that produce false confessions and inaccurate statements.”
While Sollecito was handing in his documents in Udine and Knox was making the rounds with her favorite networks , Kercher’s siblings held a brief press conference in Florence before flying back to London to wait, perhaps another year, for Italy’s high court to finalize—or reverse—the conviction. They could uphold the conviction and order Knox and Sollecito to begin serving their sentences, or they could send it back to a new appellate court for yet another trial.
“I think we are still on a journey for the truth and it may be the fact that we don’t ever really know what happened that night,” Kercher’s sister Stephanie said. Kercher’s brother Lyle said that even if they find out the truth, it won’t make any difference. “No matter what the decision and whether it is finally upheld or not, nothing of course will ever bring Meredith back. Nothing will ever take away the horror of what happened to her,” he said.
“The best we can hope for is finally bringing this whole case to a conclusion with a conviction and then everyone can move on with their lives.”