The parents of Amanda Knox, the American college student who was convicted of murdering her British roommate in Italy, have been ordered to stand trial on allegations they slandered Italian police by claiming officers slapped and intimidated their daughter during questioning.
It's the latest twist in a real-life murder mystery that has spawned six books, inspired two films, and attracted huge attention on both sides of the Atlantic.
The trial-within-a-trial is another burden for Mr. Knox and Ms. Mellas. They have spent the past three years shuttling between the US and Italy to provide moral support to their daughter, convinced that she is innocent of killing former roommate Meredith Kercher.
The root of the slander case dates back to 2008, when Knox and Mellas gave an interview to The Sunday Times of London in which they alleged that Italian police had physically and verbally abused their daughter when she was interrogated about the murder a few days after Ms. Kercher was found dead.
In the interview, Curt Knox said Amanda told him that officers cuffed her around the head, threatened her with a lengthy prison sentence, and said she would never see her family again.
He said she had been given no food or water during an all-night interrogation and had not been provided with an interpreter, despite the fact that she had arrived in Italy just a few weeks before with a shaky grasp of the language.
He was only repeating what Knox herself told the court when her trial started, but police insisted that the claims were untrue and that he and his ex-wife, Mellas, be charged with slander. Amanda Knox has been accused of the same charges and will face a separate trial starting on May 17.
If found guilty of slander, the former University of Washington student and her parents could face six months to three years in prison.
Prosecutors alleged that she was murdered because she refused to take part in a sex game involving Knox, her Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, and a local drifter and part-time drug dealer, Rudy Guede. Knox, who has always maintained her innocence, was found guilty of the crime in December 2009 and sentenced to 26 years in jail. Mr. Sollecito was also found guilty and given the slightly lesser sentence of 25 years.
The jury chose to accept the prosecution's case despite there being no clear motive for the crime, no definite murder weapon, no credible witnesses, and disputed DNA evidence. Knox and Sollecito have both launched appeals against their convictions, and a judge in Perugia has authorized a full review of the DNA evidence used to convict them.
The next hearing in the appeal is scheduled for March 12. Guede has exhausted the appeals process but managed to have his original 30-year sentence reduced to 16 years by Italy's highest court.