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Amanda Knox acquittal thrown out in Italy; retrial ordered

ROME -- Italy’s highest court Tuesday ordered Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito to stand trial again for the murder of British student Meredith Kercher in 2007, overturning their acquittals.

The Seattle-born Knox and Sollecito, her former boyfriend, were convicted in 2009 of murdering fellow student Kercher, 21, who was found half-naked in a pool of blood in the house in Perugia that she shared with Knox. The convictions were overturned in 2011 on grounds of a lack of sound evidence and motivation. The case has attracted international attention.

“Amanda is very sad at this news but is strong and ready to fight on,” Carlo dalla Vedova, a lawyer representing Knox, said after he had spoken to her in Seattle immediately after the ruling. “She thought the nightmare was over, but was ready for this after the discussion in the Supreme Court went on longer than predicted. This means further harassment, but she’s ready to fight.”

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Francesco Maresca, a lawyer representing the Kercher family, said: “I am happy the Supreme Court has seen the faults in the acquittal, and I trust the next trial will be fair and balanced.”

The six-judge panel did not immediately release the reasoning behind its decision Tuesday. With the acquittal annulled, a retrial is set to be held, again in Florence, possibly by the end of the year or in 2014.

“This is very heavy psychologically for Amanda,” said Dalla Vedova. “She told me she wanted to return to Italy. She loves this country, but she probably will not come now.”

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Supreme Court judges were due to rule on Monday evening but put off the verdict, citing the complexity of the case. “This was an extremely rare” delay, said Guilia Buongiorno, a lawyer representing Sollecito.

Knox and Sollecito spent four years in prison before their acquittal on appeal in 2011. In a separate trial, Ivory Coast-born Rudy Guede was sentenced to 16 years in prison for his role in the slaying.

Prosecutors challenged the acquittals of Knox and Sollecito in the Supreme Court, as permitted by Italian law, which grants two levels of appeal. The prosecution’s petition, which was backed by Kercher’s family, was upheld after a five-hour hearing Monday during which prosecutors and lawyers representing Knox and Sollecito battled over key evidence.

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The court is expected to issue an explanation of its decision at a later date.

Knox will not need to return to Italy for the new trial because defendants in Italy are not required to be present. Should she be convicted, however, Italy could lodge a request for Knox’s extradition with the U.S. government, said Dalla Vedova.

Sollecito, who is currently studying robotics in Verona, Italy, was “unlikely” to be jailed again in the run-up to the retrial, said Buongiorno.

At the hearing Monday, prosecutor Luigi Riello said that freeing Knox was a “violation of the law which must be annulled.”

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“I believe all the premises are there to make sure the final curtain does not drop on this shocking and dire crime,” he told the judges.

Under Italian law, Supreme Court judges do not hear evidence but check verdicts for any procedural or technical errors. But what should have been a quick hearing rapidly turned into a hard-fought battle, as prosecutors and lawyers ignored protocol to pour over the finer details of the 7-year-old case.

Buongiorno said it was possible that the judges had found fault with just one aspect of the appellate ruling that had freed Knox and Sollecito. “As such, when the case returns to the appeals stage, the court may be asked to consider just that aspect, rather than restaging the entire appeal. We will have to wait for the judges’ motivations to be released to find out,” she said.

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