Amanda Knox and Italy's 'Carnivalesque' Justice System

The former exchange student has been convicted of murder—again.
Reuters (Photo illustration: The Atlantic)

Amanda Knox was convicted of the 2007 murder of her former roommate, Meredith Kercher, in an Italian appeals court in Florence on Thursday, overturning an earlier acquittal. The decision concludes four months of argument in what has been the third trial of Knox and her ex-boyfriend and co-defendant, Raffaele Sollecito. The judge sentenced Knox to 28 years, and Sollecito to 25 years.

"I am frightened and saddened by this unjust verdict," Knox said in a statement. "Having been found innocent before, I expected better from the Italian justice system."

Knox awaited the verdict from her home in Seattle, and it's unlikely Italian authorities would attempt to extradite her until the verdict is finalized, which in Italy is a process that can take up to a year. Some experts say it is unlikely that Knox will be extradited to Italy at all because of U.S. laws against double jeopardy and because of the risk of harming international ties. Plus, Knox's lawyer has said that the case will likely be appealed yet again.

When Amanda Knox was first acquitted in 2011, four years after she was originally arrested for Kercher's murder, Italian newspaper Il Giornale titled its story about the case, "Amanda and Raffaele Acquitted: It's the Magistrates Who Should Be Convicted."

Now, exasperation with Italy's legal system is likely to flare once again, at least among Americans who support Knox. Apparently, this layer-cake appeals process and these reversals of earlier verdicts are nothing unusual for Italy's big cases.

"It's one of the many failings of Italian justice that it never delivers conclusive, door-slamming certainty," wrote journalist Tobias Jones in The Guardian shortly after the 2011 verdict. "What usually happens is that the door is left wide open to take the case to the next level, first to appeal and then to the cassazione, the supreme court."

In fact, judging from media reports, the entire ordeal—from the discovery of Kercher's stabbed, half-naked body to this latest conviction—has been an illogical, clumsy disaster.

Prosecutors lacked a motive or any clear evidence linking Knox to the scene of the crime. Knox didn't know she was a suspect even as she was signing her confession. Nathaniel Rich's excellent 2011 story about the case in Rolling Stone provides a chilling look at some of the other myriad flaws in the investigation that put Knox behind bars for four years of her initial 26-year sentence:

Sollecito called the carabinieri -- the Italian military police -- and the couple went outside to wait. Two officers soon arrived. They weren't carabinieri, however -- they were postal police, a sleepy, junior-varsity unit of the state police responsible for investigating crimes like Internet fraud and stolen phones....

For starters, the carabinieri would have prevented anyone from tramping through the crime scene. The two postal-police officers, however, allowed themselves to be led through the house in search of clues by a band of child sleuths out of Scooby-Doo...

Italy's carnivalesque judicial process, where there is never order in the court, the lawyers and defendants constantly interrupting the proceedings with groans and catcalls and wild gesticulations, while the press in the gallery yammers away like the kids in the back of the classroom. The prosecution's failure to establish motive or intent ("We live in an age of violence with no motive," said one prosecutor). And the fact that prosecutors did not immediately drop the case against Knox and Sollecito after the bloody fingerprints and footprints came back matching a 20-year-old petty thief named Rudy Guede.

Guede was convicted in a separate proceeding and is serving a 16-year sentence. 

To be fair, Perugia, where the murder and early trials took place, is a small university town and seemed to lack the kinds of hot-shot lawyers and judges that might be involved in a similarly important case in a larger city. The prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, told journalists that while it brought him little joy to send a young woman to jail for decades, "things are often touched by Satan" and referred to Knox as a "sex-and-drug-crazed she-devil."

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Olga Khazan is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers health.

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