The European court of human rights has ordered Italy to pay Amanda Knox €18,400 in financial damages for a failure by police to provide legal assistance and a translator during her questioning over the 2007 death of her British flatmate Meredith Kercher in the Italian city of Perugia.
The court in Strasbourg ruled that Italy should pay Knox €10,400 damages plus €8,000 for costs and expenses. The 31-year-old American’s previous conviction for murder and sexual assault have all been previously overturned, but she was still found guilty by an Italian court of making a malicious accusation, allegedly suggesting someone else was guilty of the attack.
The murder of Kercher, a Leeds University student who was on a language course in Umbria, generated global headlines for several years as charges of sexual assault and murder were fought through the courts – exposing Italy’s justice system to international criticism.
Knox, also a language student, and her Italian former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were initially charged with sexually assaulting and killing her flatmate. Kercher had been stabbed in the neck.
The following year Knox was also charged with malicious accusation for suggesting another person should be a suspect. Italian detectives alleged she was trying to hide her responsibility for the attack by blaming someone else.
Knox is appealing against that conviction on the grounds that she was denied an interpreter, assaulted by Italian police and subjected to psychological pressure while under arrest.
Judges at the ECHR said the court did not have any evidence that Knox was subjected to the “inhuman or degrading treatment” she complained about. They also said that the Italian government had failed to show that Knox’s restricted access to a lawyer at police interview had not “irreparably undermined the fairness of the proceedings as a whole”.
In 2009, Knox was convicted in an Italian court of falsifying a break-in at their Perugia flat, sexual assault, murder and defamation. She was sentenced to 26 years in prison. Sollecito was also found guilty of the attack and sentenced to 25 years.
Both appealed. In 2011, the Perugia court of appeal acquitted the pair of the more serious charges, but upholded Knox’s conviction for malicious accusation.
After three years in custody, Knox was released and returned to the US. She appealed again to challenge the malicious accusation conviction. It was quashed but in 2014 she was re-convicted of both malicious accusation and murder.
The murder conviction was again annulled by the court of cassation, the country’s highest court, the following year but malicious accusation was not removed. One man, Ivory Coast-born Rudy Guede, is serving a 16-year sentence for his role in the killing.
Lawyers for Knox, who lives in Seattle, then appealed to the ECHR in Strasbourg to overturn that last conviction. They argued that she was denied the right to legal assistance when first interviewed by police in 2007, was not given access to a professional or independent interpreter and that she did not receive a fair hearing.
Police had played a role of mediator, it was explained, encouraging her to imagine hypothetical scenarios. In statements to the ECHR, Knox said she was slapped on the head twice during police interviews, was subjected to extreme psychological pressure and forced to speak when “she was incapable of showing discernment or willpower”. She has always denied any involvement in the murder.