ROME, Italy — After deliberating for 14 hours, a jury found American exchange student Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito guilty in connection with the gruesome murder of Knox’s roommate, Meredith Kercher, in 2007.
The families of all three were on hand as the chair of the eight-member jury read the verdict and announced a sentence of 26 years in prison for Knox and one year less for Sollecito. The jury also ordered them to pay a third of 22 million pounds ($36.3 million) in damages sought by Kercher’s family. They were found guilty of all charges against them except for one minor charge of criminal theft.
A third suspect, Ivory Coast native Rudy Guede, was previously found guilty in connection with Kercher’s slaying and sentenced to the maximum 30-year term in a fast-track trial. On Friday, he was also ordered to pay a third of the damages.
Knox and her family broke into tears as the verdict was announced, sobbing loudly after maintaining composure for the first few seconds after the verdict was announced. As she was lead away from the court, Italian television reported that Knox's sobs could be heard from the corridor that led to her holding cell.
Sollecito, who had been less composed than Knox during the trial, sat rigidly, staring into space. His father sat silently with his head in his hands and his stepmother appeared to hyperventilate.
(The reaction online was similarly virulent, as GlobalPost's student correspondents report.)
Knox was sentenced to an extra year for the additional charge of criminal slander for incorrectly implicating Diya “Patrick” Lumumba, a Congolese bar owner who was cleared of charges after being held for two weeks. But both sentences were under the 30-year maximum allowed by law in murder cases.
Lawyers for both parties immediately announced their intention to appeal the sentence.
Knox’s parents said they had prepared two statements while waiting for the verdict. Their plan was to hold a 30-minute press conference and answer a few questions at Perugia’s Brufani Hotel if their daughter was found not guilty. With the guilty verdict, they simply had the statement they prepared read to the huge scrum of reporters covering the event, saying they were “extremely disappointed in the verdict rendered,” and adding that they “find it difficult to accept this verdict when we know that she is innocent.”
Similar reaction followed from the U.S., where U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Knox’s home state of Washington said she was “saddened by the verdict.” The Democratic senator said she had “serious questions about the Italian justice system and whether anti-Americanism tainted this trial.” Cantwell vowed to call for a review of the trial through Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Italian embassy in Washington.
The 11-month trial, which featured more than 150 witnesses, riveted Italy, where — in contrast to the U.S. — Knox was portrayed as manipulative and dark in the wake of her introduction as “Foxy Knoxy” (based on her MySpace profile nickname), and the release of emails in which she boasted about her experiments with drugs and sex. She has also been cast as insufficiently remorseful in the wake of the murder of Kercher, her roommate, who was found dead with her throat cut open on the morning of Nov. 2, 2007, amid evidence of a sexual attack.
“Most Italians say they believe Knox is guilty ever since the start,” Maria Rossi, co-director of the polling firm Opinioni, said in an interview on the final day of the trial. “The number has come down some in the lead up to the final verdict, but those who believe her guilty still remains above 60 percent.”
The trial moved quickly by the standards of the Italian justice system, and concluded only after Knox and Sollecito were given a chance to make statements in their defense. Dressed in the same lime-green jacket she wore to hear the verdict, Knox used her statement on Thursday to reiterate her innocence.
“I am not calm,” she said in heavily-accented Italian, her voice quivering. “I do not want the mask of an assassin forced on my skin.” Despite maintaining her innocence, she also took time to thank prosecutors and the judges for doing their jobs.
“They are only trying to bring justice to someone whose life has been taken away from this world,” she said.
Sollecito made a similar argument in his final statement, with a plea to the jury. “I ask you to give me my life back,” he said.
The next step is for lawyers to file their appeals. Since Knox and Sollecito mounted separate defenses in the just-completed trial, it is likely that their appeals will be heard separately.