An appeals court in Florence, Italy, has ruled Amanda Knox and ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito guilty of murder. Knox had awaited the verdict back home in the United States with, in her words, "my heart in my throat."
After lengthy deliberations on Thursday, the panel of two professional judges and six lay jury members ruled the American Knox and the Italian Sollecito (pictured) guilty. The verdict ends four months of arguments in the third trial for Knox and her former boyfriend, both charged with the 2007 murder of her British roommate, Meredith Kercher, in the Italian university town of Perugia.
Knox received a sentence of 28 years and six months in prison; Sollecito got 25 years.
In a statement from Seattle, where she had awaited the verdict, Knox said she was "frightened and saddened" by the "unjust" decision. She said the verdict was the result of an overzealous and narrow-minded prosecution that worked to "pervert the court of justice."
"This has gotten out of hand," she said. "Having been found innocent before, I expected better from the Italian justice system."
Her lawyer, Dalla Vedova, alleged that police had betrayed Knox's trust, holding her overnight without representation or advising her that they considered the then-20-year-old student a suspect. Knox had originally told police that she had heard Kercher's screams as she was killed, but later claimed she was pressured into making that and other statements and maintains that she had been at Sollecito's house the night of the murder - not her own.
Now 26, Knox is living in Seattle, where she returned after spending four years in jail before a court acquitted her in 2011.
The first court had found Knox and Sollecito guilty of murder and sexual assault based on DNA evidence, confused alibis and Knox's false accusation against a Congolese bar owner, which later resulted in a slander verdict against her. However, a Perugia appeals court overturned the guilty verdict two years later, criticizing the "building blocks" of the conviction, including DNA evidence now deemed unreliable by new experts, and the lack of motive.
In March 2013, Italy's highest court dismissed the acquittal, calling for the examination of evidence and testimony that it ruled the Perugia court had improperly omitted.
In Florence, the current prosecutor, Alessandro Crini, redefined the motive, moving away from the drug-fueled erotic game alleged by his colleagues in Perugia. Crini contended that the violence had its roots in arguments between Knox and Kercher about the cleanliness of their shared flat.
Crini demanded 26 years for each of the defendants. He also asked the court to give an additional four years to Knox for her conviction of slander against the bar because, Crini alleged, she had accused the wrong man to remove suspicion from herself.
Rudy Hermann Guede, a small-time drug dealer originally from Ivory Coast who had previous convictions for break-ins, received a 16-year prison sentence for the murder, but courts have ruled that he did not act alone as Kercher's 40 stab wounds came from two different knives. The initial trial had convicted Knox and Sollecito alongside Guede, who has changed his story several times but maintains that he did not commit the murder.
mkg/msh (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)