by Eric J. Lyman and Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY
ROME -- American Amanda Knox and her Italian ex-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, must be retried for the 2007 death of British exchange student Meredith Kercher, Italy's highest court ruled Tuesday.
The Italian Supreme Court overturned the pair's acquittal and ordered an appeals court in Florence to rehear the high-profile case that attracted international attention. Knox and Sollecito initially had been convicted of murder and served four years in prison before they were acquitted on appeal in 2011.
Knox, 25, issued a statement through a family spokesman that said it was "painful" to have the acquittal overturned but that she was "confident" about the truth.
"The prosecution responsible for the many discrepancies in their work must be made to answer for them, for Raffaele's sake, my sake, and most especially for the sake of Meredith's family. Our hearts go out to them," the statement said. "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."
Kercher's family attorney, Francesco Maresca, said after ruling: "Yes, this is what we wanted."
Sollecito's attorney, Giulia Bongiorno, noted that Tuesday's ruling was not a determination of guilt for his 29-year-old client, but merely a need for further study of the appeals court ruling.
Legal experts will now try to gauge the likelihood of Knox, who attends the University of Washington in Seattle, being extradited to Italy to stand trial. The fact that she had been acquitted may complicate the case.
A 2010 Congressional Research Service Report says most U.S. extradition treaties allow or require that extradition be denied under certain circumstances, including "crimes barred by double jeopardy."
Since the U.S. Constitution prohibits successive prosecutions for the same offense -- double jeopardy -- but some other countries do not, "it is common for extradition treaties to contain clauses proscribing extradition when the transferee would face double punishment and/or double jeopardy," the report says.
Giorgio Spangher, head of the law school at Rome's Sapienza University, said that the case hasn't actually been reopened. Instead, the 2011 appeal that acquitted Knox and Sollecito was annulled.
He said that Knox cannot be compelled to raeturn to Italy but can choose to do so voluntarily. If she's convicted in absentia, Italy could request her extradition.
"We have to wait and see what she decides to do, but if she were my client I would not advise her to return for this case," said Spangher.
Kercher's body was found in November 2007 in her bedroom of the house she shared with Knox and other roommates in Perugia, an Italian university town where the two women were exchange students. The 21-year-old's throat had been slashed.
Prosecutors argued that Kercher, from south London, was killed as a result of a sex game that went amiss.
Knox, then 20, and Sollecito, then 24, were prosecuted and found guilty of killing Kercher. Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison; Sollecito got 25 years. They were released four years later, in October 2011, after their convictions were overturned.
An Ivory Coast man, Rudy Guede, was convicted of the slaying in a separate proceeding and is serving a 16-year sentence.
Reaction to Tuesday's ruling was mixed in Italy, befitting a case that captivated people from the U.S., the United Kingdom and Italy.
Enrico Campione, 50, an art restorer from Rome, said: "The poor girl. I don't know if she's innocent or guilty, but they had two trials already and they should know that. If she's guilty she should be punished, of course. But I feel bad for her that she can't put his behind her."
Sabina De Tomaso, 29, a restaurant worker, said: "I had a feeling she was guilty before and she got off because she had expensive lawyers and they found technical problems. I hope they will find the truth now."
Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard reported from London; Associated Press
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