ROME — Italy’s highest court on Tuesday ordered a new trial in the sensational case of Amanda Knox, an American exchange student accused of murdering her 21-year-old roommate, Meredith Kercher of Britain, in 2007.
The judges’ announcement that earlier acquittals had been overturned was greeted by a shocked silence in the courtroom here.
The ruling by the Court of Cassation means that the case against Ms. Knox and her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, will be reheard at a new appeals court in Florence either later this year or in 2014. The two were initially convicted in a trial that divided public opinion internationally but were acquitted on appeal 18 months ago. Prosecutors then challenged that acquittal.
The decision opened a further tangled and dramatic chapter in a long-running case whose youthful protagonists, sometimes lurid detail and courtroom spectacle has fascinated many people in the United States, Britain and the rest of Europe.
Ms. Kercher, a 21-year old exchange student at the University of Perugia, was killed in her bedroom on the night of Nov. 1, 2007. Her half-naked body was found under a duvet, her throat slit.
Ms. Knox, then 20, and Mr. Sollecito, then 24, were arrested days later and convicted of murder in December 2009 in a lower court in Perugia. Both were sentenced to 25 years in prison for the crime, and Ms. Knox received an extra year for calumny after she falsely accused another man of committing the murder.
When the convictions were overturned on appeal, the two were released in October 2011. But in 2012, Italian prosecutors and lawyers for the Kercher family filed an appeal with the Court of Cassation, whose rulings are final. Ms. Knox’s lawyers appealed against the accusation of calumny, but the ruling on Tuesday upheld the charge.
A third man, Rudy Guede, an Ivorian residing in Perugia, was tried separately and sentenced to 16 years.
The ruling on Tuesday did not call for the rearrest of the two defendants. Carlo Dalla Vedova, Ms. Knox’s lawyer, said she was unlikely to return to Italy for a retrial. “The psychological stress of the case has been heavy. I don’t think that she’ll come,” he said.
In a statement issued by her media advisers within minutes of the announcement, Ms. Knox said it was “painful” to receive the court’s ruling “when the prosecution’s theory of my involvement in Meredith’s murder has been repeatedly revealed to be completely unfounded and unfair.”
No matter what happens, my family and I will face this continuing legal battle as we always have, confident in the truth and with our heads held high in the face of wrongful accusations and unreasonable adversity,” the statement said.
Giulia Bongiorno, a lawyer representing Mr. Sollecito, said in a telephone interview: “The battle continues. In this trial we always had to climb up the mountain.”
“We feel greatly confident; we know that Raffaele is innocent; and we also know this is not a conviction,” she said.
Ms. Bongiorno said she did not believe that Mr. Sollecito would be sent back to prison, as he had been acquitted on appeal.
A lawyer for the Kercher family was jubilant.
“This is marvelous,” said Francesco Maresca, the Kercher family lawyer. “I am very happy. I had faith in the Court of Cassation. I was sure it would annul the acquittal.” He added: “This ruling gives justice the chance to re-establish the truth. No matter what’s said, more than one person committed this crime.”
Mr. Maresca said the Kercher family had not traveled to Rome for the latest hearings because Arline Kercher, the victim’s mother, was unwell.
Mr. Dalla Vedova, Ms. Knox’s lawyer, said his client was in Seattle and had stayed up waiting for the outcome until 2 a.m. local time. “She was sad. She believed the nightmare was over,” the lawyer said. But a day of hearings on Monday about the case “went on for so long, it became clear that there was going to be further harassment against this young girl.”
Ms. Knox “is ready for a new trial, she’s gone through this before. She’s ready to fight,” the lawyer said.
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