After more than five months and two deadline extensions, Italy’s highest court on Monday finally explained why it ruled to throw out the convictions of Seattle native Amanda Knox and her former Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, for the 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher.
Knox and Sollecito were first found guilty of Kercher’s murder in 2009 and acquitted on appeal in 2011. That acquittal was thrown out by Italy’s high court in 2013 and a new appellate trial was ordered. That new appeal resulted in the reinstatement of the original guilty verdicts in January 2014. But the guilty verdicts were definitively annulled in March 2015, when Italy’s highest court ruled to throw out the case in its entirely. The reasoning filed on Monday was to explain just why it did that.
Citing the lack of “whole proof” based on evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, the court squarely blamed investigators for their faulty police work, accusing them of “investigative amnesia” and “guilty omissions,” which the high court judges said led to the absence of a solid case that could have easily gone the other way.
"In the opinion of the Supreme Court, if it were not for the weak investigation and if the investigation had not been affected by guilty omissions, the court would, in all likelihood, be allowed right now to outline a framework, if not on absolute certainty at least of tranquil reliability, in view of the guilt of Knox and Sollecito for the charge of killing the British student Meredith Kercher in Perugia on Nov. 1, 2007.”
Instead, the court had no choice, it said, but to throw out the case in its entirety because of the marred investigations and the procedural mistakes in the many trials of the case which, it said, were so unsound they could not be considered just. In the reasoning, the high court pointed out a number of examples of procedural malpractice in both the courts that convicted and acquitted Knox and Sollecito, ruling that reasonable doubt prevailed under such circumstances.
The high court also largely blamed the media and international attention for effectively rushing the processes of both the investigators and the courts.
“Certainly the unusual hype of the story, due not only to the dramatic mode of death of a twenty-two year old, so absurd and incomprenesible in its genesis, but also to the nationality of the people involved meant international repercussions,” the court wrote. “That has meant that the investigations suffered a sudden acceleration, which, in the frantic search for one or more culprits to be delivered to international public opinion, certainly did not [facilitate] seeking the truth.” That rush, the court said, “affected not only the timing, but also the completeness and correctness of the investigative activities.”
The court wrote, “The murder trial was a process objectively wavering, whose oscillations are, however, also the result of sensational defaillance or investigative amnesia and guilty omission of investigations.”
In the 52-page ruling, the judges agreed that one of the most troubling aspects of the case was Knox’s accusation against her pub boss Patrick Lumumba for Kercher’s murder in the early days of the investigation. “The troubled path and inherently contradictory fact of the Kercher murder trial is a result of the irrefutable certainty: the guilt of Amanda Knox of the slanderous accusations against Patrick Lumumba.”
Those accusations, it said, were made under duress, but not to such an extent that they could be considered nullified in the eyes of the law. Their final word of the document is a line restating that guilty verdict and supporting the three years of prison handed down to Knox, which she served during her incarceration. That also means that she cannot sue Italy for more than one year of unlawful incarceration since the high court ruled that she had committed a crime.
The high court also wrote that the inability of the investigators to definitively put Knox and Sollecito in the murder room made it impossible to uphold the convictions, even with the ample circumstantial evidence that pointed to their presence in the house where the murder took place—and which was supported, according to the document, by Knox’s own admission, both verbally and in writing, to being there.
The judges wrote that they had to “exclude [Knox and Sollecito’s] participation in the material murder, despite the assumption of their presence in the house on Via della Pergola,” citing the prosecution’s “absolute lack of evidence related to their biological traces in the room or on the body of the murder victim.”
Instead, they said, there was ample and indisputable evidence pointing to Ivory Coast native Rudy Guede, who was found guilty in a fast-track trial that wrapped up in 2008. The details of that trial are still sealed, but his conviction led to the original indictments handed down to Knox and Sollecito. In 2009, during Guede’s own appellate process, his 30-year sentence was nearly halved to 16 years, of which he is more than halfway through. He already qualifies for work release, but his lawyers have urged him not to apply just yet.
According to a different section of the same high court that released Knox and Sollectio definitively, Guede was one of three of Kercher’s assailants, which means that by the point of law at least, two of Kercher’s killers remain at large. Guede’s lawyers in Perugia are appealing their client’s case on those grounds, but have yet to be given an audience to present their case.
With the final reasoning now filed in Italy’s highest court, the case is forever closed, which comes as a surprising relief to the family of Meredith Kercher. When reached by phone for comment on Monday, Kercher’s mother told The Daily Beast that at least now the trials are over and the slow process of healing can begin.
“We don’t really know what to think,” she said. “But at least hopefully this means we won’t have to hear about Meredith’s murder in the news anymore.”