Amanda Knox risks being extradited to Italy to serve out a 28-year sentence for murder if an Italian high court hearing Wednesday doesn't go her way.
The hearing in Rome could be the final word in a long running court battle that began in 2007 when Knox, a student from Seattle, was accused of killing her housemate, 21-year-old British student Meredith Kercher, in the Italian city of Perugia.
Knox, now 27, was tried, convicted and sentenced in 2009 to 26 years in prison, while her then boyfriend, Italian student Raffaele Sollecito, received 25 years. But their convictions were reversed on appeal two years later. She returned to the U.S. before Italy's court of cassation, in effect the country's highest court of appeal, cast doubt on the acquittal and ordered a new trial.
Those proceedings, held last year in Florence, saw the original guilty verdict upheld and Knox and Sollecito, 30, sentenced to 28 plus and 25 years respectively. Now, the case has returned to the court of cassation for what could be a final sign-off, as required under Italian law.
Knox and Sollecito have always maintained that they are innocent and Knox has said she would rather be a "fugitive" than return to Italian prison, where she spent four years before her release on appeal. Sollecito, whose travel documents were seized by Italian police, plans to be present in court Wednesday.
The judges are expected to rule Wednesday evening. Here are possible outcomes:
For the Record
March 24, 3:05 p.m.: While an outright acquittal by the court is highly unlikely, an earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that it was not possible.
The court upholds the guilty verdicts
Sollecito will be arrested and returned to prison, and Italy will start extradition proceedings for Knox, who is working as a journalist in Seattle and is engaged to a musician and longtime friend who wrote to her in jail in Italy.
The extradition request will be forwarded by Italy's Justice Ministry to the U.S. State Department, meaning the decision on whether to comply will ultimately fall to Secretary of State John F. Kerry.
If Knox becomes pregnant, the process could become complicated. Under Italian law, a pregnant woman can put off serving a sentence for three years, which could lead her lawyers to argue that extradition as well should be delayed.
The court finds fault with the Florence conviction and orders a third trial
This is not unheard of in the Italian system, and would add a further twist to a case which has seen serious doubts raised over the DNA evidence found on a knife and a bra clasp which was used to convict Knox and Sollecito, not to mention successive courts arguing an array of motives, from satanic rites to sex games to bullying.
The only open and shut part of the case appears to be the separate murder conviction of Ivory Coast drifter Rudy Guede, whose DNA was found on Kercher's body. Under Italy's legal system, Guede was allowed to request a fast-track trial, which saw him sentenced to 16 years.
A new trial is ordered for one of the defendants
Lawyers for Knox and Sollecito have long worked together. However, before this hearing, Sollecito's lawyers altered their strategy, telling the court that much of the evidence used against the pair, including a partial confession Knox made and then retracted, incriminates only Knox.
Sollecito has also pointedly said he cannot vouch for Knox's whereabouts for the whole night of the murder. The aim could be to get a new trial for Sollecito, leaving Knox's conviction to stand. "We want them both acquitted because they didn't do it, but anything is possible," Luca Maori, Sollecito's lawyer, said this week.
And can there be an acquittal?
On very rare occasions, the high court can cancel a guilty verdict without ordering a new trial, leaving the defendants free to go. But since the court has previously criticized and overturned Knox and Sollecito's 2011 acquittal, this is an unlikely prospect.
As the case has rumbled through the courts over the last eight years, it has turned into a contentious topic on social media, with tempers fraying among the legions of bloggers and tweeters squaring off over Knox's guilt or innocence.
"The appeal of this case has been the characters rather than the crime," said Barbie Latza Nadeau, whose book "Angel Face" details the investigation. "There is sex, drugs and lies, but these are not the usual suspects — they are people who are just like people we all know."
Kington is a special correspondent.
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