Why did Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito have their convictions upheld?

Q&A: everything you need to know about the Italian appeal court’s ruling and what happens next

Why did Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito have their murder convictions upheld on Thursday night? Hadn’t they already been cleared?

In 2011, the appeal court in Perugia overturned the pair’s convictions for murdering Meredith Kercher. The convictions had been handed down by a first-grade court in 2009. So scathing was the judges’ reasoning for the acquittal that Knox and Sollecito could have been forgiven for thinking the worst was behind them. The court criticised almost every aspect of the first trial, dismissing DNA evidence as invalid and tearing into the reliability of witnesses whose testimony clashed with the defendants’ alibi. After nearly four years in jail, Knox flew home to Seattle and Sollecito was free to continue his studies in Italy. But, under his country’s legal system, any second-tier appeal verdict needs to be confirmed by the top court – the court of cassation – before it becomes definitive. And, in March last year, that didn’t happen: instead, in a dramatic turnaround, it was the Perugia appeal court that was roundly rebuked for what the court said were manifold errors of law. A fresh appeal was ordered to take place in Florence.

What happened during the new appeal to make the court issue such a different verdict?

We won’t know exactly what the Florence court’s reasons were until it releases its written “motivazioni” – or explanation – and it does not have to do that for another 90 days. Certainly, to long-term observers, there was no sense that the new appeal moved the case on dramatically. The debate centred largely on by-now-familiar arguments which pit two starkly different versions of events against each other. The court had been instructed by the judges in the cassation court to consider the evidence as a whole, rather than in the “fragmented” way the Perugia appeals court had done. It also said it should pay heed to the sentence of Rudy Guede, the young man in jail for the murder, which found he did not act alone, and encouraged the court to consider Knox’s false naming of Patrick Lumumba in connection with the murder charge, rather than separating it out. (She says she only named him due to intense police pressure.)

What happens to Knox and Sollecito now?

For now, both remain at liberty, but it is going to be a funny kind of liberty. On Friday, Sollecito had his passport taken away and his ID card stamped to show he must not leave Italy, according to police. In his verdict on Thursday night, the judge, Alessandro Nencini, said the precautionary measure had been taken because the 29-year-old was known to have links abroad; his fondness for trips to the Dominican Republic, where he was at the beginning of the new appeal, had not, apparently, gone unnoticed. It could have been worse, however; the judge could have ordered his immediate arrest. For Knox, the situation is very different: although Italy and the United States have an extradition agreement, most experts agree Rome would be very unlikely to request her transfer before the court of cassation had confirmed her conviction. If that were to happen – and a decision is not expected before next spring – it is not certain whether Italy would request the extradition or whether the US would agree to it if it did. Sollecito, if presumably still in Italy, would face a return to jail for the remainder of his 25-year sentence.

And for the Kercher family?

As Meredith’s brother and sister, Lyle and Stephanie, made clear on Friday, this is a waiting game. Although buoyed by Thursday’s verdict, they realise that the process is still far from over and even acknowledge that they may never know the full truth of what happened on the night of 1 November 2007. Stephanie has said that if, next year, the convictions are upheld and made definitive, the family will at least be able to remember Meredith without the stress of a legal process that has gone on for more than six years.

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