After ten hours of closed-door deliberations, Italy’s highest court acquitted American defendant-in-absentia Amanda Knox of the 2007 murder of her British flatmate, Meredith Kercher. The surprise ruling shocked both American and European observers, who broadly expected the court to uphold a guilty verdict for Knox and her ex-boyfriend and co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito.
The ruling was the final coda to a transcontinental, high-profile case marked by sensationalism and bitter condemnation of the defendants, the media, and the Italian legal system. Knox and Sollecito were initially convicted of the murder in 2009 by a court in Perugia, Italy, where Kercher and Knox lived together while studying abroad. An appellate court overturned the verdicts in 2011, and Knox swiftly returned to Seattle after four years in an Italian prison. However, in early 2013, Italy’s highest court overturned the appellate decision, which Knox and Sollecito once again appealed — culminating in Friday’s final decision, reached at around midnight Italian time.
In anticipation of the ruling, analysts were bracing themselves for a heated debate and possible showdown over Knox’s extradition to Italy. Italy and the U.S. have a treaty of extradition, which means that an American found guilty of a crime in Italy would be sent back to face charges. But Knox’s case was different than most: high levels of support in the U.S. would have made her extradition a hotly contested political issue, and her conviction after acquittal would be in violation of “double jeopardy,” a judicial tenet Americans consider a fundamental right. Of course, extradition treaties do not provide exceptions for rulings that would violate domestic jurisprudence — indeed, establishing a deference to the legal proceedings of each other’s systems is the entire point. Still, the fact that the Italian ruling would have been impossible in an American court certainly would have increased the fervor of American objections.
Until Friday evening, the possibility of an acquittal for Knox and Sollecito had been all but ruled out. Even Knox’s defense lawyer, Luciano Ghirga, told the New York Times that the 11th hour ruling was “very rare, and goes beyond our most optimistic predictions.” While the Italian Court has yet to release its official reasoning — that document isn’t due for 90 days — there is plenty of international guesswork going on about what happened and why.
The pro-Knox narrative has long argued that the most contemptible villain of the case is the Italian legal system itself. Many aspects of the system reportedly acted against Knox, including the “adversorial” style assumed by prosecutors, the non-sequestered juries, and the ability to overturn acquittals. While some people have bemoaned the condemnation of the Italian legal system as a baseless expression of American chauvinism, it is true that these legal caveats have also been condemned within Italy itself.
In fact, the polarization of public opinion along strictly national lines has been one of the most striking features of the years-long Knox saga. While Americans lauded Friday’s decision as a long-deferred no brainer, Brits and Italians were far more likely to bitterly dismiss the ruling as a miscarriage of justice propagated by the deep pockets and spin of the beautiful Ms. Knox. These perceptions were almost certainly microcosms of national anxieties on all sides — representative of an America that sides with their own and poo-poohs anything foreign, and a Europe resentful of Americans treating the planet as their playground and eager to pay their way out of accepting accountability.
Of course, self-serving narratives are never completely true. Knox’s legal journey may have finally drawn to a close, but the same cannot be said for the deep-seated cultural biases that kept us so fascinated.