Amanda Knox murder conviction spurs debate on Italian justice

  • 31 January 2014
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Media captionAmanda Knox told ABC she would not willingly go back to Italy

On Thursday an Italian appeals court found American exchange student Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, guilty of the murder of British student Meredith Kercher.

The battle lines in the debate over Knox's guilt have long since been drawn, and the latest news has commentators once again returning to the ramparts.

The judicial saga began in 2009, when the pair were convicted of killing Kercher. After the decision was overturned in 2011 due to lack of evidence, Italy's Supreme Court got involved, saying in March 2013 that the jury hadn't considered all of the information and had ignored discrepancies in Knox's and Sollecito's testimonies.

Sollecito was recently discovered in a hotel near the Austrian border and is now in Italian custody. For Knox, who returned to the US when her original conviction was overturned, the latest decision could mean extradition to an Italian prison if the conviction is upheld.

Some American commentators write that the US shouldn't put Ms Knox's fate back in the hands of the Italian legal system.

Joe Coscarelli of New York magazine calls Italian law "totally insane", as it allows a suspect to be tried multiple times for the same crime - a "double jeopardy" that is constitutionally prohibited in US law. He writes that Knox is "the poster child for not studying abroad".

The Atlantic's Olga Khazan labels the case "an illogical, clumsy disaster" that reflects poorly on Italian justice.

"Judicial appointments in Italy are made through nepotism, juries aren't properly sequestered, and the courts are in dire need of reform," she writes. "Prosecutors may have been right to pursue the case until they're fully satisfied, but the bizarre, never-ending saga that Knox's case has become detracts from the legitimacy of the final verdict."

The Week UK's Andrea Vogt counters that American media are turning the murder of Kercher into "some sort of twisted reality show, not a heinous crime being tried in a serious European court of law".

"Frankly, it makes a mockery of the Italian magistrates who professionally managed this appeal, and who regularly risk their lives prosecuting the mafia in that very same courtroom," she writes. "Has American arrogance ever been so bold? Have the western media ever been so complicit in such an orchestrated public relations sham?"

Assuming Italy's highest court upholds the appeals court's decision, attention will turn to whether the US will extradite Knox if asked by Italian officials. According to Harvard Law Prof Alan Dershowitz, that's more likely than many in the US media may think.

"As popular as she is here and as pretty as she is here - because that's what this is all about, if she was not an attractive woman we wouldn't have the group love-in - she will be extradited if it's upheld," he tells Mira Oberman of Agence France Presse.

The Guardian's Nick Richardson advises that as the case proceeds, everyone should take a look at their opinions and see if they are based in reality and not on biases and cultural stereotypes.

"We should be cautious in our aspersions or feelings about the verdict, lest they say more about us than they do about the case; and if we do feel strongly one way or the other, we'd do well to ask ourselves if something besides evidence has a hand in our opinion," he writes.

If the case turns into an extradition battle between the US and Italian governments, however, such cool circumspection doesn't seem very likely.