ROME – It’s not over yet for Amanda Knox.
Italy’s top criminal court dealt a stunning setback Tuesday to the 25-year-old college student, overturning her acquittal in the grisly slaying of her British roommate and ordering her to stand trial again.
“She thought that the nightmare was over,” Knox’s attorney, Carlo Dalla Vedova, told reporters minutes after conveying the unexpected turn of events to his client, who had stayed up to hear the ruling, which came shortly after 2 a.m. West Coast time. “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 that she would be exonerated.
The American 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 killing Meredith Kercher. The 21-year-old 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 Nov. 1, 2007, slaying, then later acquitted. His acquittal was also thrown out Tuesday and a new trial ordered.
Italian law cannot compel Knox to return for the new trial, and Dalla Vedova said she had no plans to do so.
In any case, the judicial saga is likely to continue for years. It will be months before a date is set for the new trial, which is to be held in Florence instead of Perugia because the small town has only one appellate court, which already acquitted her.
Prosecution and defense 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.
Prosecutors alleged that Kercher was the victim of a drug-fueled sex game gone awry. Knox, then 20, and Sollecito, then 24, denied wrongdoing and said they weren’t even in the apartment that night, although they acknowledged they had smoked marijuana and their memories were clouded.
An Ivory Coast man, Rudy Guede, was convicted of the slaying in a separate trial and is serving a 16-year sentence.
Sollecito, whose 29th birthday was Tuesday, 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 up an earlier degree while in prison.
Knox attorney Dalla Vedova said the high court ruling hadn’t decided the defendants’ guilt or innocence, but merely ordered a fresh appeals trial, which he said was unlikely to start before early 2014.
The appeals court that acquitted Knox and Sollecito had criticized virtually the entire prosecution case, especially the forensic evidence that helped clinch their 2009 convictions. It noted that the slaying weapon was never found, and it said DNA tests were faulty and that prosecutors provided no motive.
But 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 Kercher’s throat as well as DNA traces on a bra belonging to the victim and tests done on blood stains in the bedroom and bathroom.