Amanda Knox’s fugitive fears: she’s right to be worried

Is the writing on the wall for Amanda Knox? Apparently even she thinks so. The 26-year-old American currently appealing her conviction for the 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher recently told an Italian journalist half-jokingly that she was prepared to become a fugitive if there's a conviction on 30 January.

Sources close to defence lawyers confide that they, too, fear it may not go their way.

It didn’t help that Knox ignored her lawyers’ pleas to travel from Seattle and attend court in Florence - she sent an email instead - nor that she repeatedly requested to meet the Kerchers, only to be sternly rebutted by their lawyer, who suggested she act more like a defendant.

Then she started a new blog and began blithely responding to comments – most recently posting an admission that she had once faked a break-in as an April Fool’s prank before she left for Italy (a staged burglary is a key part of the case against her).

Have the wheels come off Knox’s public relations machine now that she’s safe in Seattle? She may need them again soon, because this appeal differs radically from the first one in 2011 which resulted in her acquittal, but which was harshly criticised and eventually annulled by Italy’s Supreme Court earlier this year.

There are three good reasons why this trial is different – and why Knox has reason to be nervous:

First, her co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito’s lawyers have distanced his defence from Knox’s.  “He may have brushed her hair and cleaned her ears, but he would not have killed for the love of Amanda,” his lawyer Giulia Bongiorno told jurors in closing arguments earlier this month. “Turn off Amanda,” she said. “Raffaele is not Amanda’s other half.”

Second, the uncompromising Perugia prosecutor Giuliano Mignini has stayed away from Florence. Without him in court as a convenient villain, the “innocent American abroad being railroaded by a rogue prosecutor” narrative no longer holds water. The Florentine prosecutor, Alessandro Crini, has distanced the state’s case from the always controversial kitchen knife that may or may not have been the murder weapon. He’s also given less credence to the ‘sex game gone wrong’ theory that was central to the prosecution case in the first trial. Instead he’s considered all the evidence as a whole. There might have been a fight about missing money and hygiene, he said, but motive doesn’t matter: murders happen all the time for banal reasons. And convictions happen on much less evidence.

Third, the strict Florence judge, Alessandro Nencini, has curbed all antics by lawyers, public and media. There are no perp walks with popping flashbulbs this time. However the appeal ends, no one can argue that this trial wasn’t professionally managed.

If Knox is acquitted, gone is her Sword of Damocles. She has a life, albeit forever marked by her six-year ordeal. Sollecito could finish his degree at the University of Verona.

If convicted, Knox would never be able to visit Italy without being arrested for murder. But what happens if she stays in Seattle?

It is not 100 per cent certain that the Italian government would request her extradition: they didn’t, for example, in the case of the 22 CIA agents convicted in the Abu Omar rendition case, even though the prosecutor asked for it.

If Italy does request extradition, the road is a long one. First, Italy’s Supreme Court must uphold the 30 January ruling before any extradition request can be made. Then there’s a potential stumbling block in Strasbourg where Knox’s lawyers have filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights. Only when that is resolved, would a request be likely.

But would the Americans grant it? There is an extradition treaty between the two countries. Any request from Italy would go to the US Department of Justice for a sufficiency test and then to the US Attorney’s Office for an arrest warrant. But, the final decision lies with the State Department, which would take into account questions of politics and diplomacy as well as the pure legal case.

If the conviction is upheld, the Kercher family will doubtless want justice. One option is that Italy might agree to her staying in the States as long as she does jail time there.

If Knox were to sense it was not going her way, she could flee to a South American country with no extradition policy. Sollecito has been hedging his bets by establishing a home away from home in the Dominican Republican, a favourite locale for Italians with legal problems.

Whatever the appeal ruling, Knox’s freedom quest is bound to continue, either as an innocent trying to dissipate a cloud of suspicion, or as a fugitive hoping to avoid punishment. Either way, it is rough justice for Meredith Kercher.

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