The scene in the Italian courtroom on Tuesday morning was oddly reminiscent of verdicts past in the complicated case, with the exception of two missing characters: Knox and Sollecito. The rest were there, including the lawyers who defended the two former lovers and the lawyers who represented the family of the victim -- and of course the hoard of television cameras who had come for the latest installment of the seemingly endless saga.
Kercher, who shared an apartment with Knox in Perugia near the University for Foreigners, was stabbed in her bedroom and left for dead on November 1, 2007. Her autopsy showed that she choked on her own blood. She had not been raped, according to her autopsy, but she was found partially nude, adding an element of mystery to the case that laid the groundwork for what would become a theory that Kercher died as part of a "sex game gone wrong."
The door to her bedroom was locked from the inside and pulled closed.
There were no fingerprints on the outside of the door and scant blood in the rest of the house, which eventually led to the theory of a cleanup. Rudy Guede, an Ivory Coast native who was raised by a local family in Perugia, was the first to be found guilty of the crime in a fast-track trial in 2008. His conviction was upheld on appeal but his sentence was reduced from 30 years to just 16 years.
Knox and Sollecito were initially found guilty in connection with Kercher's murder, but were ultimately acquitted two years later on appeal. Knox went home to Seattle to finish her studies at the University of Washington. Sollecito moved to Verona to take up studies in robotic surgery. The case seemed to be over. For most people, especially those of us who followed the case closely, the high court hearing was supposed to be just a formality -- they would confirm the acquittal and we could all go home and put the case to rest.
Now everything is up in the air again. Italy's highest court decided to reject the acquittal in its entirety and send the case back to a panel of appellate judges to reconsider. What that means in practical terms is nothing short of a complicated, confusing mess. When Knox was first convicted of murder, there was outcry in the United States that she was wrongfully convicted, based on shoddy evidence collected by sloppy Italian police. When she was acquitted two years later, there was nearly as much of an outcry in Italy that the courts had succumbed to American pressure. Now, the outcome is again uncertain, with the only guarantee that whatever happens, it will again cause an outcry -- it's just not clear yet by whom.
But even though retrying the case may seem something like déjà vu, there is going to be one stark difference. Knox will not be in court this time around. During the first trial in which she was convicted and the appeal in which she was acquitted, she was the star of the show that drew the masses to court each week. Her lawyer, Carlo Dalla Vedova, believes Knox will not attend and will be tried in absentia this time.
Without her presence, it remains to be seen whether the media will be as interested.
Even if Knox is convicted this time around, it is unlikely she will ever come back to Italy. There is a valid extradition agreement between the two nations, but the U.S. has not set much of a precedence in returning suspects for such matters. In 1998, an American fighter jet clipped a ski lift cable sending a gondola of 20 passengers to their death in the Italian Dolomite mountain range.
Italy had requested their extradition to try them for multiple manslaughter, but the U.S. refused and tried them in a military tribunal instead. They were found not guilty.
And in 2012, Italy's high court upheld the conviction of 22 CIA agents and an Air Force colonel in conjunction with the extraordinary rendition of Egyptian cleric Abu Omar from a street in Milan. Again, the U.S. refused to comply with the extradition order. Both previous high-profile cases involved state employees or military members. Knox's case is a private matter with very little precedence.
Knox may be safe in Seattle, but her erstwhile boyfriend is far more vulnerable here in Italy. By the same law that protects Knox, Sollecito is also free to skip the retrial. But because he is an Italian citizen, he will not have to face extradition if reconvicted.
The police can simply pick him up and put him in jail. Sollecito's father attended the high court hearing on Monday but he was not present for Tuesday's verdict. He has staunchly defended his son's innocence, but it remains to be seen if he supports having him stay here in Italy for the retrial.
The only people who expressed relief at Tuesday's verdict and news of the retrial were Kercher's family. Their lawyer Francesco Maresca said they felt that now, finally, "justice might be served."
When Knox was acquitted of the murder in 2011, the Kerchers were left flabbergasted and disappointed by the reversal. "We respect the court but we had hoped for a different outcome," Kercher's mother told me the day Knox was set free.
Meredith's brother Lyle said that he felt the wounds had been left open. "We haven't really had a chance to properly grieve," he said at the time. "We accept the decision and respect the court. But now we are left looking at this again. We really are back to square one." No matter how the case ultimately ends, there will likely always be far more questions than answers.