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Amanda Knox conviction: Italy strikes back at US complaints

US student Amanda Knox's conviction for the murder of her roommate in Italy, has sparked some complaints of an unfair trial. Prosecutors and the Italian press are striking back.

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Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini played down the chances the conviction would affect relations with the US on Sunday. Front page stories in the Italian press have alleged US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was planning to intervene in the matter, having been petitioned by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) of Washington.

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Ms. Cantwell said the 11-month trial was tainted by anti-American bias, perhaps overlooking the fact that Knox's codefendant is Italian.

Mr. Frattini said Mrs. Clinton's interest in the case "seems to me to be right and normal." Clinton had said only that she would listen to anyone who has concerns about the conduct of the case.

Frattini said that strong criticism of the trial had come from Knox's relatives and supporters, and it was wrong to confuse that with the position of the US government.

No motive offered

After a 13-hour deliberation, the eight-person jury found that Knox and Sollecito had stabbed Kercher in the neck during a violent sex game.

It failed, however, to offer a motive for the killing – suggesting that jurors were less than 100 percent convinced by the prosecution's lurid insistence that the murder was the result of Knox's alleged sexual deviancy and weeks of bitter arguments between the two women, who were both studying at Perugia's University for Foreigners.

The fact that the jury rejected the prosecution's request for life sentences also hinted at doubts about the couple's guilt, defense lawyers said.

Claudia Matteini, the judge who signed the arrest warrant for Knox and Sollecito a few days after Miss Kercher was found dead in her bedroom, said the condemnation of the Italian justice system by American commentators was offensive. "The trial followed all the right steps without a single irregularity," she said. "The investigation was conducted with absolute transparency."

The upcoming appeal

Lawyers for Knox and Sollecito are preparing appeals.

Giulia Bongiorno, a high-profile lawyer and member of parliament who led Sollecito's defense, said she was confident the convictions would be overturned on appeal, or at the very least the prison sentences would be reduced.

The first appeal, which is expected to start sometime in late 2010, could take up to a year. If that is rejected, Knox and Sollecito are entitled to go to a second appeal in front of Italy's Supreme Court. The whole process could take up to five years, judicial experts said.

Unlike in the US and Britain, where appeals are allowed on merit, in Italy all convicted criminals have the right to embark on an exhaustive, two-stage appeals process.

Massimo Consolini, an Italian law expert, said "the prospects are good" for Knox and her ex-boyfriend to have their convictions overturned.

The main problem with Italian law, he said, was not that it was hard to secure a fair trial, but that trials, and ensuing appeals, took so long.

Many cases are dropped altogether when they expire under Italy's complicated statute of limitations, which varies according to the severity of the allegations.

Italians have at times been upset with the course of US justice as well.

Italians were outraged after a US Marine fighter plane sliced into the cables of a ski gondola in northern Italy in 1998, killing 20 people. An American military jury acquitted the pilot of manslaughter.

More recently, an Italian court convicted 23 Americans in absentia — most of them CIA agents — on charges of kidnapping related to the "extraordinary rendition" of an Egyptian cleric.

The Muslim cleric was bundled off the streets of Milan in 2003 and flown to Egypt, where he alleges he was tortured.