A lawyer for Amanda Knox said the US college student was “ready to fight” after Italy’s top criminal court overturned her acquittal and ordered a retrial for the murder of her British room-mate Meredith Kercher.
“She thought that the nightmare was over,” Knox’s lawyer, Carlo Dalla Vedova, said, minutes after conveying the unexpected turn of events to his client, who had stayed up to hear the ruling, which came shortly after 2am US time yesterday. “But she’s ready to fight.”
Now a student at the University of Washington in Seattle, Knox called the decision by the Rome-based Court of Cassation “painful” but said she was confident she would be exonerated.
She left Italy a free woman after her October 2011 acquittal – but only after serving nearly four years of a 26-year prison sentence from a lower court that convicted her of murdering Ms Kercher, 21.
The exchange student’s body was found in a pool of blood, her throat slit, in a bedroom of the house the two shared in Perugia, a university town 100 miles north of Rome.
Raffaele Sollecito, Knox’s Italian boyfriend at the time, was also convicted of the November 1 2007, murder, then later acquitted. His acquittal was also thrown out yesterday and a new trial ordered.
Italian law cannot compel Knox to return for the new trial and Mr Dalla Vedova said she had no plans to do so.
The judicial saga is likely to continue for years and it will be months before a date is set for the new trial, to be held in Florence instead of Perugia because the small town has only one appellate court, which already acquitted her.
Prosecution and defence teams must also await details of the ruling explaining why the high court concluded there were procedural errors in the trial that acquitted Knox and Sollecito. The court has 90 days to issue its explanation.
“It was painful to receive the news that the Italian Supreme Court decided to send my case back for revision when the prosecution’s theory of my involvement in Meredith’s murder has been repeatedly revealed to be completely unfounded and unfair,” Knox said in a statement.
She said the matter must now be examined by “an objective investigation and a capable prosecution”.
“No matter what happens, my family and I will face this continuing legal battle as we always have, confident in the truth and with our heads held high in the face of wrongful accusations and unreasonable adversity,” she said.
Prosecutors say Ms Kercher was the victim of a drug-fuelled sex game gone wrong. Knox, then 20, and Sollecito, then 24, denied wrongdoing and said they were not even in the apartment that night, although they admitted they had smoked marijuana and their memories were clouded.
An Ivory Coast man, Rudy Guede, was convicted of the murder in a separate trial and is serving a 16-year sentence.
Sollecito, who was 29 yesterday, sounded shaken when a reporter reached him by phone.
“Now I can’t say anything,” said the Italian, who has been studying computer science in the northern city of Verona after finishing an earlier degree while in prison.
Later he said in a statement that he was “saddened” by the high court decision and would “continue to fight for my innocence, hopeful and confident that truth will prevail”.
An Italian news report quoted Sollecito’s current girlfriend as saying he and Knox spoke by phone and described him as being psychologically destroyed.
For those familiar with the US legal principle of “double jeopardy” – which holds that no one acquitted of a crime can be tried again for it – the idea that the Italian justice system allows prosecutors to appeal acquittals is hard to absorb.
Mr Dalla Vedova dismissed the concern, maintaining the high court ruling had not decided the defendants’ guilt or innocence, but merely ordered a fresh appeal trial, which he said was unlikely to start before early 2014.
The appeal court that acquitted Knox and Sollecito had criticised virtually the entire prosecution case, especially the forensic evidence that helped clinch their 2009 convictions. It noted the murder weapon was never found, DNA tests were faulty and that prosecutors provided no murder motive.
In arguing for overturning the acquittals, prosecutors said the Perugia appellate court was too dismissive of DNA tests on a knife they maintained could have been used to slash Ms Kercher’s throat as well as DNA traces on a bra belonging to the victim and tests on bloodstains in the bedroom and bathroom.
The court yesterday also upheld a slander conviction against Knox. During a 14-hour police interrogation, she accused a local Perugia pub owner of carrying out the killing. The man was held for two weeks, based on her allegations, before being released for lack of evidence.
Her defence lawyers say Knox felt pressured by police to name a suspect so her own interrogation could end.
Because of the time she served in prison before the acquittal, Knox did not have to serve the three-year sentence for the slander conviction. The court yesterday ordered her to pay €4,000 to the man, as well as the cost of the lost appeal.
Whether Knox ever returns to Italy to serve more prison time depends on a string of ifs and unknowns.
If she is convicted by the Florence court, Knox could appeal to the Cassation Court. Should that appeal fail, Italy could seek her extradition from the United States.
For now, Knox has a book, Waiting To Be Heard, coming out on April 30, for which publisher HarperCollins reportedly paid her four million dollars.
Kercher family lawyer Francesco Maresca, called yesterday’s ruling “what we wanted” and relayed a message from Meredith’s sister Stephanie.
“To understand the truth about what happened that night is all we can do for her now,” the family’s message said.