For the fourth time in six years, an Italian court will once again decide the fate of Seattle native Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito for the murder of Meredith Kercher. The duo were convicted and sentenced to 25 and 26 years for Kercher’s murder in 2009, only to be acquitted and set free on appeal two years later. That acquittal was overturned in the spring of 2013. Knox and Sollecito are effectively appealing their original 2009 murder convictions for the second time. Rudy Guede, from the Ivory Coast, was convicted for his role in Kercher’s murder in a fast-track trial in 2008 and sentenced to 30 years in prison. His sentence was reduced to 16 years on appeal. His case is final after it was upheld by Italy’s high court.
No matter what the second appellate court decides when it rules on January 30, the case will still have to be heard by Italy’s high court before the decision is considered final. Under the Italian legal system, this is not considered double-jeopardy. If the high court isn’t satisfied with the appellate court decision, they can send it back for yet another appeal. The process can be repeated indefinitely, effectively keeping the case alive for as long as it takes to satisfy the high court.
Despite the various outcomes of the trials, the details of the case have not changed much in the six years it has been heard. The prosecutor, judges and lay jurors have all changed, and the new appeal is being heard in Florence, not Perugia, and, perhaps most notably, Sollecito has been in court alone since Knox has not attended any hearings. But the elements of the case that have always been the most contentious from day one remain unresolved, meaning that the new appellate trial is a cliffhanger going into the verdict next week. Conventional wisdom in Italy, based on how presiding judge Alessandro Nencini has been ruling so far and how the high court ruled on the acquittal, is that Knox and Sollecito stand a good chance of having their murder convictions upheld. But in a case as complicated as Kercher’s murder, anything could happen.
The key questions remain.
Why did Knox, during the interrogation that led to her arrest, accuse her barman boss Patrick Lumumba of Kercher’s murder? Her defense maintains that she made the false accusation under pressure after the police hit her on the head and yelled at her. The prosecution maintains that she did it because she was trying to trick investigators and get them off her trail.
Is Kercher’s DNA really present on the blade of a knife that has Knox’s DNA on the handle? According to the forensic experts who conducted the original investigation back in 2007, a tiny sample of DNA in the groove of the blade of a knife found in Sollecito’s apartment belongs to Kercher. That sample was too small to double-test, so defense attorneys have long argued that it cannot be considered as evidence. The lower court that convicted Knox and Sollecito believed the knife was the murder weapon, but the first appellate court discounted it as the murder weapon. The new appellate court has revived the knife. It was the only piece of forensic evidence tested in the current appeal. But this appellate court did not retest the Kercher sample because there is nothing left to test. Instead they opted to test a spot on the blade near the handle that had never been examined in any previous trial. The new appellate court heard evidence that the new spot belongs “100 percent” to Knox, which has bolstered the prosecution’s theory that it is the murder weapon. But the lack of DNA material on the blade to double-test for Kercher’s DNA remains a point of contention for the defense, who say this appellate court should also discount it as the murder weapon.
Is Sollecito’s DNA really on the clasp of Kercher’s bra? According to blood splatter patterns left on her body, whoever killed Kercher cut her bloodied bra from her body after she was stabbed in the neck twice, possibly when she was still alive. When her bra was cut from her body, the assassin or assassins also cut off the tab on which the tiny metal clasp was affixed. That metal clasp has DNA attributed to Sollecito (in multiple tests), which should have sealed the conviction. But the clasp was left in Kercher’s room for six weeks before forensic police finally collected it, giving the defense ample room to argue that the sample could have been contaminated. The first appellate court discounted it because it had been left at the crime scene and his DNA was a result of contamination in the forensic laboratory. The prosecution has always argued that “DNA doesn’t fly” and as such, the DNA on Kercher’s bra rightly belongs to Sollecito.
Whose bloody footprint is in the bathroom? A partial footprint in Kercher’s blood was found on a blue bathmat in the bathroom Knox and Kercher shared. The prosecution has argued that the footprint belongs to Sollecito. His defense says it instead belongs to Guede. Because the footprint is only partial, there is no definitive way to positively identify just whose print it is.
Other elements of the case are just as confusing, depending on which side presents the evidence. Forensics police identified five spots of various combinations of mixed DNA and blood belonging to Kercher and Knox in the bathroom the girls shared. Prosecutors say they are from the murder; Knox’s mother once told The Daily Beast they are from her bleeding pierced ears. Previous courts have heard reports by a homeless man that he saw Knox and Sollecito arguing the night of the murder near the scene of the crime, though he didn’t wear a watch or have a calendar. Then there was the store owner who swears he saw Knox buying cleaning products early the morning of the murder, even though he didn’t have a receipt from the purchase. None of the evidence is definitively conclusive, yet all of it is curious. In his opening arguments in the current appellate trial, prosecutor Alessandro Crini told the court that they must consider the evidence “as a whole, not in parts” conceding that none of it will stand up on its own.
The most notable change in the new trial has been the defense for Sollecito, whose lawyers have been distancing their client from Knox. “Raffaele would not kill for Amanda,” his lawyers told the court during closing arguments. And on Monday, when Sollecito’s lawyer asked to absolve their client, he did not mention Knox’s name.
Knox, whose absence has been noted more than once by Judge Nencini, sent an email to court explaining that she was “afraid” to return, and that while she trusted the court hearing her case, she couldn’t be sure they would make the right decision. She even went to far as to tell one of Italy’s leading newspapers that if convicted she would, “as they say, be on the run.”
Sollecito, who has been attending court, told The Daily Beast on Monday that he wasn’t sure if he would come to court or the verdict. “It depends what my lawyers advise,” he said. As the prosecutor finished his rebuttals on Monday, he also asked that if Knox and Sollecito are convicted on the 30th of January, that “cautionary measures” ranging from removing their passports, putting them on house arrest or putting them in jail are enforced until the high court rules definitively. None of that will matter for Knox, who is safe in Seattle. But for Sollecito, it could mean he is carted off to jail if the verdict upholds their convictions. And for the family of Meredith Kercher, whose siblings are expected to attend the trial, it just means a longer wait until they can finally put this case to rest and find the closure they deserve.