This post was originally published on March 26, 2013, when an Italian court overturned Amanda Knox’s acquittal on murder charges. On Thursday, Knox was convicted (again) in absentia of the murder of Meredith Kercher.
Oh, good, celebrity murder suspect Amanda Knox is back in the news. You’ll remember Knox as the American college student convicted in 2009 of murdering her roommate, Meredith Kercher, while both women were attending a study-abroad program in the Italian city of Perugia. Her case inspired international outrage, reams of sensationalistic news coverage, a made-for-TV movie starring Hayden Panettiere, and a nickname for the ages: “Foxy Knoxy.”
Knox was acquitted on appeal in 2011, released from prison, and returned to the United States, where she has been attending college and writing a tell-all book that will be released by HarperCollins this April. The publishers might want to hold the presses and make room for an epilogue: Today, Italy’s highest court overturned Knox’s acquittal. She and her co-defendant, Raffaele Sollecito, will have to stand trial all over again.
Is Knox guilty? The one book I’ve read on the case, Nina Burleigh’s The Fatal Gift of Beauty, argued pretty convincingly that Knox and Sollecito were innocent and that Kercher was killed by a drifter named Rudy Guede. But other books have reached different conclusions, and your opinion on the case probably has something to do with your nationality. Whereas most Americans seem to be convinced of Knox’s innocence, most Italians are similarly convinced of her guilt (at least, that’s been my experience). On account of that, I’m not at all surprised that the case was reopened.
Italy and the United States have an extradition treaty, which means that, upon request, America is theoretically obliged to surrender fugitives who have been convicted of crimes in Italy, and vice versa. In practice, there are exceptions to the rule. Countries can and do deny extradition requests for many reasons: if the accused will be subject to double jeopardy; if extradition is requested for political or military offenses; if the would-be extraditee is powerful and famous.
I predict that, even if she is convicted in absentia, there’s no way that Knox will be extradited back to Italy to serve her sentence. Knox is a cause célèbre in the U.S., and her partisans will exert significant pressure on the government to deny any extradition request. Article X of the current U.S.-Italy extradition treaty states that the requesting nation must present a case summary that provides “a reasonable basis to believe that the person sought committed the offense for which extradition is requested.” The United States will probably use this as grounds for blocking Knox’s extradition. They might cite double jeopardy, too, but that’s a trickier argument to win under the current treaty.
More likely is that, if Knox is convicted again, Italy won’t even bother requesting her extradition. Doing so would cause a small but real international incident, something that both nations would prefer to avoid. The two countries will reach some sort of agreement, and Knox will never spend another day in an Italian jail.