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European court orders Italy to pay damages to Amanda Knox

One of the three suspects in the murder of British student Meredith Kercher, Amanda Knox from the US (C), is escorted by police upon her arrival at a court hearing in Perugia on September 16, 2008. Kercher, 22, a student from Leeds University studying in Perugia as part of the Erasmus exchange programme, was found dead in her Perugia apartment on November 1 with her throat cut. AFP PHOTO/Federico Zirilli (Photo credit should read Federico Zirilli/AFP/Getty Images)

Italy has been ordered to pay compensation to Amanda Knox, an American former student who spent years in jail for a murder she didn’t commit.

Europe’s top human rights court ruled Thursday that Knox’s rights were violated in the hours after she was arrested over the killing of her British housemate, Meredith Kercher, in 2007.

The European Court of Human Rights (EHCR) said Italy should pay Knox 18,400 euros (about $20,800) for failing to provide her with a lawyer and an appropriate interpreter when she was first detained. But it found there was no evidence for her claim that she was mistreated while in police custody.

Knox’s case and subsequent appeals attracted global attention for years, as it see-sawed through the Italian legal system. Knox was finally cleared of murder in 2015, but she has been fighting a three-year sentence for falsely blaming someone else for the murder who was later found to have an alibi.

As part of her challenge to that conviction, for a claim she briefly made while in police custody, Knox was granted permission to take the case to the EHCR.

In its ruling, the EHCR accepted that the interpreter initially provided to Knox acted inappropriately. The interpreter saw herself as a mediator and had “adopted a motherly attitude towards Ms Knox,” who was 20 and “particularly vulnerable” at the time, the court said. Knox had recently moved to Perugia and was not very fluent in Italian, the court noted.

Italian authorities should have done more to assess the conduct of the interpreter, the EHCR said. “In the court’s view, that initial failure had thus had repercussions for other rights and had compromised the fairness of the proceedings as a whole,” the court said.

Knox welcomed the ruling. “Today, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that my slander conviction was unjust. I am grateful for their wisdom in acknowledging the reality of false confessions, and the need to reform police interrogation methods,” she said in a statement.

“I remain forever grateful to everyone around the world who has believed in me, defended me, and spoken out on my behalf throughout the years. I couldn’t have survived this without your support.”

A case that gripped the world

Knox and her then-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were arrested after the semi-naked body of Kercher, 21, was found with her throat slashed in the Perugia apartment the two women shared.

Another man, Rudy Guede, a drifter originally from Ivory Coast, was arrested two weeks later. He was tried separately and is serving a 16-year sentence for murder.

But prosecutors continued to insist that Knox and Sollecito were involved, and that Knox was responsible for the delivering the blow that killed Kercher.

In 2009, Knox and Sollecito was found guilty of murder and sexual assault. Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison and Sollecito was jailed for 25 years. Knox was also convicted of making a malicious accusation when, during police questioning, she blamed a bar manager for the murder of Kercher. He was later found to be innocent.

Knox and Sollecito maintained their innocence and were freed in 2011 when an appeals court quashed their convictions, citing a lack of evidence.

Two years later, they were retried and their convictions were restored. Knox was sentenced in absentia to 28½ years. Sollecito got 25 years.

In 2015, Italy’s Court of Cassation, the country’s highest appeals court, finally exonerated Knox and Sollecito. But Knox’s conviction for defamation remained in place.

In 2016, Knox was given permission to take her case to the ECHR. In its ruling on Thursday, the court agreed that she should have been granted a lawyer and interpreter when she was first questioned, but rejected her argument that she was subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment.

A spokeswoman for the European Court of Human Rights said Italy has three months to appeal the decision.

Knox, who lives in Seattle, recently got engaged to her longtime boyfriend, whose sci-fi-themed proposal went viral on social media.

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