Amanda Knox case goes to Italy’s high court

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ROME (CNN) — When Italy’s highest court meets Wednesday to consider the latest verdict in the 2007 murder of British student Meredith Kercher, most eyes will be on Amanda Knox, the 27-year-old Seattle native who stands convicted of killing her former roommate.

But it’s not just Knox’s future that hangs in the balance.

Knox’s erstwhile boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, who turns 31 on March 26, has a lot more to lose — at least in the short term.

The two were originally convicted of Kercher’s murder in 2009 and acquitted in 2011 on appeal, at which point Knox returned to the U.S.

Italy’s highest court threw out that acquittal in 2013 and ordered a new appellate trial that upheld the original 2009 conviction last January. Italy’s judicial system is based on a three-tier structure where no case is considered final until the highest court signs off on it.

Rudy Guede, from the Ivory Coast, was convicted separately in a fast-track trial and is midway through his 16-year sentence for Kercher’s murder. His case was confirmed by Italy’s high court in 2010.

The high court judge at the hearing this week will either uphold the convictions definitively, or send the case back for another appeal, or potentially on to a different section of the high court.

Purgatory

If a new trial is ordered, both Knox and Sollecito will buy a little time in purgatory before a final decision is reached. But if the court upholds the conviction, the case will be closed for good — and what happens to Knox next is uncertain.

Conventional wisdom dictates that she will eventually face an extradition hearing or reach a deal with the Italian Justice Ministry to serve her 28-year sentence, but that could take years. The statute of limitations is double the sentence, meaning the Italians have 57 years to bring her back to the country.

Sollecito, however, will be scooped up immediately and hauled off to prison to start his 25-year sentence. All of his options will have been exhausted and he will have no choice but to go to directly to jail.

Sollecito says he will be in court on Wednesday to face the judge. He told Italy’s Quarto Grado crime program: “I’ve been living this for eight years — not appearing in court would be like hiding in the corner during a tsunami, it will take you away anyway.”

Many commentators in the U.S. have reasoned that Italy may not ask America for Knox’s extradition because it would cause a diplomatic rift between the two nations. But the reality is that it could easily cause a greater rift if it appears that Knox gets away with murder and her Italian ex-boyfriend pays for the crime without her.

If Sollecito is languishing in prison and Knox is sipping Frappuccino in a Seattle Starbucks, Italians will not be pleased, says Alessandro Capponi, an Italian journalist for Corriere Della Sera who has been covering the case since Kercher was killed in 2007.

“It will be seen as an injustice,” Capponi told CNN. “You may not see people out on the streets, but if you ask 10 people what they think, those 10 people will tell you they see it as a complete injustice that only the Italian and the African are in prison. The Italians will say that the American gets away with murder and it won’t be the first time.”

U.S.-Italian cases

This is not the first time Italy and the U.S. have butted heads on matters involving American suspects accused of crimes in Italy.

In 1998, an American Marine aircraft sliced through a ski lift cable in the Dolomites, sending 20 people plummeting to their death. Even after admitting to destroying the videotape of the deadly flight, only two of the four marines were charged and convicted. Only one served jail time — just over four months of a six-month sentence.

In 2012, Italy’s highest court upheld the convictions of 23 Americans (22 CIA agents and an Air Force pilot) for the kidnapping of Egyptian cleric Abu Omar from a street in Milan. They were sentenced to between five and eight years in prison, but Italy has not yet asked for extradition.

“Our relationship with the United States is full of these diplomatic tensions,” said Capponi. “This will just be added to the list.”

Knox’s case has been divisive from the start, and her supporters have come down hard on the Italian judicial system. Sollecito has never had the luxury of that attitude, knowing full well that he is in the hands of the system whether he likes it or not, so vocally criticizing it wouldn’t be in his best interest.

In fact, he has long suffered the impact of Knox’s ardent campaigners who have mostly criticized Italy from the other side of the Atlantic.

By almost any Italian precedent, Sollecito should not have had to be in prison during his initial trial — but because Knox was deemed a flight risk, she had to stay in jail. Because Sollecito was her co-defendant, he did too, even though he had no ties to anyone abroad.

“Knox could still beat the system, but Sollecito’s game is up if the convictions are upheld,” Nicola Canestrini, an Italian extradition lawyer familiar with both legal systems, told CNN. “He has no wiggle room and it could be that he serves the time for both of them, which will likely cause deep resentment here in Italy.”

Perhaps a little too late, Sollecito’s defense team has been slowly inching away from Knox, especially since the latest conviction.

Last summer, he held a press conference when his lawyers filed their appeal to the high court, in which his lawyer Giulia Bongiorno pointed out “certain anomalies” in Knox’s testimony that have nothing to do with Sollecito.

“We ask that the court to not extend the anomalies of Amanda’s testimony to Raffaele,” Bongiorno said at the time.

Whether that is enough to get the high court to give Sollecito another, independent chance is yet to be seen.

“I am not a crazy person. I am not a criminal. I am innocent,” Sollecito told reporters last summer at the press conference. “But my name is Raffaele Sollecito, not Amanda Marie Knox.”

Now it is up to the judge to determine whether that makes any difference.

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