Amanda Knox Explainer: Trial Begins in Italy for the Third Time

The American student's court saga begins another chapter

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Amanda Knox interviewed during an interview on NBC's Today show in New York City on Sept. 20, 2013

Amanda Knox, the American student accused of killing her roommate in Italy in 2007, went on trial Monday for the third time, marking the latest stage in the roller-coaster saga.

Knox and her then boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were convicted in 2009 of killing Leeds University student Meredith Kercher in 2007, and she was sentenced to 26 years in prison. But that verdict was overturned two years ago, and Knox, now 26, returned to school at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The case returned to the spotlight in March, when the highest court in Italy overturned the decision and ruled that Knox and Sollecito must again stand trial. They aren’t required to be present for the trial, so Knox has stayed put in the U.S. even as the court potentially determines her fate.

Here’s a quick primer on some of your most pressing questions:

Wasn’t Knox acquitted already?
Yes, in October 2011 an Italian appellate court overturned the murder conviction and Knox was free to return to Seattle. In America, the “double jeopardy” clause of the Fifth Amendment protects a defendant from being tried again after a legitimate acquittal verdict, so the acquittal would be final. Under Italian law, the appellate court can issue an acquittal verdict that the prosecution can still appeal in Italy’s Supreme Court of Cassation — it’s not so much the end of the trial as another step. The prosecution did appeal in this case, and in March the Supreme Court of Cassation overturned the appeal court’s decision, arguing that “too many questions remained unanswered” and sending the case back down to an appeal court. Whatever the decision in this trial, the Supreme Court of Cassation will again have to sign off on it.

Is there any new evidence in this trial?
Very little. On Monday, the court rejected most requests for new evidence and testimony, the Associated Press reports. But it did accept the prosecution’s request to hear testimony from convicted mafioso Luciano Aviello, who has accused his brother in the murder and is scheduled to appear before the court on Friday. The court also agreed to run a test on a trace of DNA from the alleged murder weapon, a kitchen knife, which was previously deemed too small a sample.

Will Knox be extradited to Italy if she’s convicted?
Even if Knox is convicted for good, Robert Anello, a New York City lawyer who has dealt with extraditions in the past, says there’s less than a 50% chance the American would be delivered to Italy. On paper, the U.S. does have an extradition treaty with Italy that requires the U.S. to hand over American citizens, if asked. But that’s a big if. And if the Italians were to make the request, they would face two potential hurdles, says Anello. First, the U.S. government could find legal arguments, including the previous acquittal verdict, to oppose extradition. Second, even if the U.S. agrees, Knox could try to block extradition in American courts, and “double jeopardy” could again come into play.

If convicted, will Knox lose the $4 million advance she was paid to write her memoir, Waiting to Be Heard?
The “Son of Sam” laws famously first appeared in New York state to prevent David Berkowitz, the New York City serial killer who called himself the “son of Sam,” from profiting from his crime by selling his story. The Supreme Court has since limited the scope of such laws, but many states, including Knox’s home state of Washington, facilitate the transfer of funds from a convicted criminal to a victim who has filed suit. So it’s possible that the British family of the victim, Kercher, would try to recuperate funds from Knox if she’s convicted. To be sure, the family could sue even if Knox isn’t convicted. But given the cross-border complications, among many others, don’t expect Knox to hand over her advance anytime soon, Anello says.