FLORENCE, Italy — American student Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend were found guilty Thursday in the 2007 slaying of Knox's British roommate, as an Italian appeals court reversed the two defendants' 2011 acquittal.
Judge Alessandro Nencini sentenced Knox to 28 years and six months in prison, more than the 26 years she received after being convicted in the first trial in 2009. The former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, was sentenced to 25 years, the same sentence he received previously, and was instructed to hand over his passport and forbidden to leave the country pending confirmation of the decision by Italy's Supreme Court.
Knox, 26, did not attend the proceedings. She issued a statement after the verdict saying that "first and foremost" there was no consolation for Meredith Kercher's family, who will grieve her "terrible murder" forever and deserve respect and support. She said she was "frightened and saddened" by the verdict and called it unjust.
"Having been found innocent before, I expected better from the Italian justice system," Knox said. "The evidence and accusatory theory do not justify a verdict of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Rather, nothing has changed. There has always been a marked lack of evidence. My family and I have suffered greatly from this wrongful persecution."
Knox, of Seattle, shared a house in the Italian town of Perugia with Kercher, 21, who was found partially unclothed in a pool of blood, her throat slashed, in November 2007.
Knox and Sollecito, now 29, spent four years in prison before they were acquitted on appeal in 2011. Italy's Supreme Court — the third tier in the Italian justice system — ordered a second appeal last year, saying the acquittal was riddled with "shortcomings, contradictions and inconsistencies."
Lawyers representing Knox and Sollecito said they would appeal Thursday's verdict back to the Supreme Court.
If the guilty verdict is upheld by the Supreme Court, Knox could face extradition proceedings.
"It's hard to feel anything now because this will go on to a further appeal," said Lyle Kercher, Meredith's brother, who was in court. "I feel satisfaction in that this is what the prosecution has been working towards, but it is not a cause for celebration."
Francesco Maresca, the Kercher family's lawyer, said, "This shows the Kercher family that Italian law respects people's rights."
After retiring to deliberate at 10:15 a.m., the jury repeatedly pushed back its scheduled return to the court, finally reemerging shortly before 10 p.m.
The judge had issued word to the packed courtroom before the verdict that he did not want cheering or booing as the sentence was read. The case has spawned heated debate in the six-plus years since Kercher's slaying.
Sollecito, who is Italian, was in the courtroom to hear final arguments Thursday morning, but he was absent as the jury returned with the verdict.
"He did not want to be surrounded by journalists at the moment the verdict was announced," said Luca Maori, a lawyer representing Sollecito.
The judge had ordered that Sollecito's passport be seized, saying he had shown by traveling abroad during the trial that he was at risk of fleeing.
Knox refused to attend the second appeal hearing, which opened in Florence last year, writing to the court from Seattle that she feared being "wrongly convicted."
In an interview with Italian television Wednesday, Knox said she would be waiting at home with her family for the verdict with "my heart in my mouth."
"The proof is in the facts. There is no proof I was there when it happened," she said. "If I am convicted, even if there is no proof, I understand I will be a fugitive, but I will continue fighting until the end."
Under Italy's justice system, the Supreme Court is unlikely to hear the case until April or May 2015, Maresca said.
Lyle Kercher said the waiting had been tough. "To lose someone you love so dearly is hard enough, especially in the way she died, but that has been compounded by the fact that it has gone on for six years and three months. It makes it very difficult to start the grieving in earnest."
A third suspect convicted in the killing, Ivory Coast-born drifter Rudy Guede, has served more than six years in prison.
"We have not asked yet, but Rudy now qualifies for occasional day release," said his lawyer Walter Biscotti. "He has served 61/2 years of his 16-year sentence, and with time off accrued for good behavior he is now considered over halfway through his sentence. Soon he will be able to work during the day outside jail."
Knox, in her statement Thursday, said the case involved problems that include "overzealous and intransigent prosecution, prejudiced and narrow-minded investigation" and "character assassination."
"Clearly a wrongful conviction is horrific for the wrongfully accused," she said, "but it is also terribly bad for the victim, their surviving family and society."
Kington is a special correspondent.