ROME — It took Italy’s highest court more than 10 hours to rule on a case that has spanned almost eight years. On Friday, the court ruled to overturn the 2014 conviction of Amanda Knox, 27, and her former Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, 31, meaning they are forever cleared of the murder of Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy in 2007.
Knox and Sollecito were first found guilty in 2009 and later acquitted on appeal in 2011. That acquittal was thrown out by Italy’s high court in 2013 and a new appeal was ordered. That appeal resulted in a guilty verdict in January 2014, which is the decision this court decided to annul.
The long legal battle began with the conviction of Rudy Guede for his role in the murder in a fast-track trial that wrapped up in 2008, the details of which are still sealed. Guede’s conviction paved the way for the murder trial of Knox and Sollecito, which was ordered in tandem with his guilty verdict.
Guede’s sentence was nearly halved, cut down to 16 years in his appellate trial in 2009. He was convicted as one of three of Kercher’s assailants, which has always been a particularly sticky point for Italy’s high court to square. Even when the high court confirmed his conviction in 2010, they noted in their reasoning that he did not act alone. Definitively acquitting Knox and Sollecito means that, according to the judicial record on Guede handed down by Italy’s highest court, two killers remain unknown.
Knox and Sollecito conducted their defense in tandem through all of their many trials, and only in the end did Sollecito’s defense team begin to pull away. Last July, he held a press conference outlining his appeal to the high court in which he said he and Knox were not “the inseparable twins they make us out to be.” His lawyers then asked that he be considered a separate entity and not held culpable for the crimes attributed to his co-defendant. “I am not a crazy person. I am not a criminal. I am innocent,” Sollecito said. “My name is Raffaele Sollecito, not Amanda Marie Knox.”
In closing arguments delivered before Friday’s high court decision, Knox’s lawyers said the two stood strong together. On Friday, when Sollecito’s lawyers delivered their final plea, they seemed less certain. Giulia Bongiorno, Sollecito’s lead lawyer told the court, “Raffaele Sollecito is an innocent who finds himself in a gigantic, high-profile event that he had nothing to do with,” Bongiorno said. “You know who he is like? Forrest Gump. It would be like sending Forrest Gump to prison for 25 years.”
One of the key arguments in Sollecito’s final defense related to the so-called false confession and a prison diary written by Knox. In one of her initial interrogations after the murder, she accused her pub boss Patrick Lumumba of Kercher’s murder. Lumumba was arrested and spent two weeks in jail before he was cleared.
During that interrogation and in a diary she wrote afterwards, Knox said that she was in the house when Kercher was killed but that Sollecito was not. Sollecito’s lawyers argued that while the so-called false-confession and the subsequent diary should not be admissible, if the court was to believe them, they should then consider that she effectively cleared Sollecito. Knox was convicted definitively of calumny by all courts for her accusation against Lumuba, including the high court when it overturned her acquittal in 2013 based on that confession and diary. Lumumba was in court on Friday, telling The Daily Beast that he had still not received the $54,000 in damages the high court ordered her to pay. “I have not received a single cent,” he said.
Knox and Sollecito maintained their joint defense because their alibis were dependent on each other. After changing versions several times in the initial days after the murder, they settled on an alibi in which they were both at Sollecito’s house the night of the murder making love, smoking pot and watching the French romantic comedy Amelie.
According to both lower courts that convicted them, the key piece of evidence against Sollecito was his DNA on the tiny metal clasp cut from Kercher’s bra after she was stabbed. Sollecito’s lawyers argued that the clasp was contaminated because it had not been collected from the sealed crime scene for six weeks. The courts that convicted Knox also believed that the key piece of evidence against her was a kitchen knife found in Sollecito’s apartment that had Knox’s DNA on the handle and had Kercher’s DNA on the groove of the blade. They also believed that mixed blood and DNA belonging to both Knox and Kercher found in the bathroom the girls shared was there because of the murder, not because of their cohabitation. Italy’s high court did not agree, apparently throwing out all forensic evidence previously used against Knox and Sollecito.
The case, now closed forever, has been divisive from the start, pitting those who believe in Knox’s innocence against those who are certain of her guilt.
Before Friday’s decision, Knox’s lawyer Luciano Ghirga told The Daily Beast that he was disappointed in the way the trial had played out in both Italy and abroad. In a lunch with journalists, he quoted from various pieces we had written and told us where he thought we had all gone wrong. “In the end, there was no way this was ever going to be fair,” he said. “That chance passed a long time ago.” There is little doubt no one feels that as much as the Kercher family.