Amanda Knox, the American accused of killing her British roommate, Meredith Kercher, in an Italian hill town in 2007, had her original guilty verdict for the murder upheld by a court in Italy on Thursday and was sentenced in absentia to 28 years and six months in prison.
The ruling is likely to set off a bruising extradition fight between Italy and the US, given that Ms. Knox had refused to attend the retrial in Florence and was at home in Seattle, Washington, with her family when the verdict was handed down.
She said recently that if the verdict went against her, she would evade the Italian justice system and become “a fugitive.”
Raffaele Sollecito, the Italian computer-studies graduate with whom she was in a relationship at the time of the murder, also had his original guilty verdict upheld and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. He had intended to be in court for the verdict but in the end was “too stressed,” his lawyers said.
The court ruled that he was a flight risk, having spent several weeks last year in the Caribbean nation of Dominican Republic, and ordered that his passport and other travel documents be confiscated to prevent him traveling abroad.
The jury, which consisted of six jurors guided by two judges, took nearly 12 hours to reach their decision.
Lawyers for Knox and Mr. Sollecito said they would lodge a new appeal against the fresh convictions, ensuring that a judicial process that has already dragged on for more than six years will continue for many months more, probably until the spring of 2015.
In a statement from Seattle, Knox, who has resumed her studies at the University of Washington, said: “I am frightened and saddened by this unjust verdict. Having been found innocent before, I expected better from the Italian justice system."
“There has always been a marked lack of evidence. My family and I have suffered greatly from this wrongful persecution.”
Insisting on her innocence, she said her initial conviction in 2009 was the result of an “overzealous and intransigent prosecution, a prejudiced and narrow-minded investigation, an unwillingness to admit mistakes, reliance on unreliable testimony and evidence, character assassination, inconsistent and unfounded accusatory theory, and counterproductive and coercive interrogation techniques that produce [sic] false confessions and inaccurate statements.”
Lyle Kercher, one of Meredith's three siblings, shook hands with the family's Italian lawyers when the verdict was announced.
Speaking in court a few minutes later, he said: "It's hard to feel anything at the moment because we know that it's going to a further appeal by the defendants. Whatever the verdict, it was never going to be a case of celebrating for us."
Francesco Maresca, the Kercher family’s Italian lawyer, welcomed the guilty verdict. "I feel great satisfaction. It confirmed everything that has been said by the prosecution in these past few years. I hope it delivers justice to the Kercher family."
Patrick Lumumba, the Congo-born owner of a bar in Perugia who was wrongly accused by Miss Knox of being the murderer and spent two weeks in jail before an alibi secured his release, said in court: "I was convinced they would be found guilty again. Amanda knows what happened that night, she bears great responsibility. I want to express my solidarity with the Kercher family, and satisfaction at the verdict."
The verdict was the latest twist in a torturous legal process that has attracted enormous attention on both sides of the Atlantic.
Ms. Kercher was found dead in the hillside house she shared with Knox in the university town of Perugia, Umbria, in November 2007.
Prosecutors claimed in the original trial that she died as a result of a sex game organized by Knox, Sollecito, and Rudy Guede, a small-time drug dealer who was born in Ivory Coast but grew up in Perugia. But in the latest trial in Florence, the prosecution changed tack, saying that the murder was a result of simmering tensions between Knox and Kercher over cleaning and standards of hygiene.
Mr. Guede was convicted of murdering and sexually assaulting Kercher in a separate trial in 2008 and is now serving a 16-year prison sentence.
Knox and Sollecito were found guilty in 2009 of murdering and sexually assaulting Kercher. A court in Perugia sentenced them to 26 years and 25 years respectively, but their convictions were dramatically overturned by an appeals court in the same city in 2011.
In March last year, however, the Supreme Court in Rome overturned those acquittals and ordered that the entire case be re-examined by another appellate court, this time in Florence.
Lawyers for Knox and Sollecito maintain that the murder was committed by one person alone – Guede.
The drifter, who fled Italy after the murder and was then extradited from Germany, has admitted that he was in Kercher’s room that night but denies that he killed her, though his DNA was found all over the crime scene.
Lawyers for Sollecito said the conviction was unjust and wrong, confirming that they would refer the case back to the Supreme Court. "There isn't a shred of proof," Luca Maori, one of the attorneys, said.