Amanda Knox verdict: Is there hope for an appeal?

The American convicted of murder in Italy this weekend will have to wait at least three months before launching an appeal, but many say she stands a good chance of being acquitted.

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Amanda Knox shares a word with her Italian lawyer Carlo Dalla Vedova, left, prior to a final hearing before the verdict, at the court in Perugia, Italy, Friday.
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It will be at least three months before American college student Amanda Knox is entitled to launch an appeal against her 26-year prison sentence for the murder of her British flatmate, with the process likely to take years, during which time she will remain in an Italian jail.

Ms. Knox, from Seattle, and her Italian former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were found guilty of the vicious sexual assault and murder of Englishwoman Meredith Kercher by an eight-person jury in Perugia.

Prosecutors claimed they forced Ms. Kercher to take part in a violent group sex game, but Knox's parents and many US legal experts say the trial was a travesty of justice, based on a coerced confession, unreliable DNA evidence, and the jury being influenced by the Italian media's portrayal of Knox as a calculating, promiscuous vamp.

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Knox's family has vowed to launch an appeal against the verdict, which was handed down by a court in Perugia just after midnight on Friday.

Her parents, Curt Knox and Edda Mellas, who separated when she was young, said: "We are extremely disappointed in the verdict. While we always knew this was a possibility, we find it difficult to accept this verdict when we know that she is innocent, and that the prosecution has failed to explain why there is no evidence of Amanda in the room where Meredith was so horribly and tragically murdered."

The verdict brought shame on Perugia, a hilltop university city in Umbria, and on the whole of Italy, they said.

The appeal process

An appeal can only be initiated after the judge in the trial, Giancarlo Massei, publishes a comprehensive explanation of the sentence – one of the many peculiarities of the Italian legal system.

It must be issued within 90 days of the end of the trial, after which the defense has 45 days in which to launch an appeal.

The first appeal, to be heard by a fresh judge but no jury, is expected to be in the fall of next year.

If Knox loses that, then under Italian law she is entitled to a second appeal, to be heard by a panel of judges from Italy's highest court, the Court of Cassation.

Should that fail, then her sentence will be confirmed and she will remain in jail until well into middle-age.

Italy could have it both ways

The suggestion from many people familiar with the Italian justice system, including court reporters and lawyers in Perugia, is that Knox will have a good chance of being acquitted at either the first or second level of appeal.

That would allow the Italians to have it both ways. The guilty verdict and heavy sentence will have upheld the professional honor of Italian police, prosecutors and judges, while demonstrating to Kercher's family, and to the British newspapers that showed such an avid interest in the case, that the Italian justice system is capable of punishing serious crimes.

But overturning the verdict on appeal would appease the howls of outrage in the United States, where many people felt Knox and Sollecito were the victims of nothing short of a kangaroo court, and silence the many critics of the slipshod investigation, oddly-conducted trial, and media character assassination of Knox.

Strong words from a senator

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) of Washington, Knox's home state, issued a highly critical statement in which she said she had profound concerns that Knox had been failed by the Italian justice system.

"I am saddened by the verdict and I have serious questions about the Italian justice system and whether anti-Americanism tainted this trial," Senator Cantwell wrote in the statement, which was released through the Friends of Amanda Knox website, set up to campaign on her behalf. "The prosecution did not present enough evidence for an impartial jury to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Knox was guilty. Italian jurors were not sequestered and were allowed to view highly negative news coverage about Ms. Knox."

Cantwell said that flaws displayed by the Italian justice system included "the harsh treatment of Ms. Knox following her arrest; negligent handling of evidence by investigators; and pending charges of misconduct against one of the prosecutors stemming from another murder trial" - a reference to the chief prosecutor in the case, Giuliano Mignini.

She said she was in contact with the US ambassador in Italy and the Italian embassy in Washington and would also convey her concerns to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Sadness – and comfort – from Knox's jail cell

Depressed and profoundly upset by the verdict, Knox, a Jesuit-educated, former University of Washington student, cried herself to sleep and was comforted by her cell mates this weekend as she contemplated 26 years behind bars, according to her lawyers.

"Nobody believes me and I don't understand why," she told her lawyers after the guilty verdict. "I've always told the truth. It wasn't me who killed Meredith."

The Knox family visited Amanda in Capanne maximum security prison near Perugia on Saturday afternoon. It was the first time they had been able to talk to her since the verdict was handed down.

Her mother, Edda, told reporters outside the prison: "She got a lot of support when she got back to the jail. Everybody there, the inmates and the guards were all taking great care of her."

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Related story:

Amanda Knox verdict: US student in Italy found guilty of murder in controversial trial

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