U.S. should not return Knox to Italy

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An Italian court last week reinstated the murder conviction of American Amanda Knox, but it is unlikely Italian authorities will ever get their hands on the Seattle college student again.

And hopefully, they won’t.

Knox served four years in an Italian prison after her 2009 conviction in the slaying of her roommate, British exchange student Meredith Kercher. Her conviction, along with that of her former Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, was overturned in 2011.

Knox’s original conviction was reinstated last week and a fourth trial was ordered, raising the possibility of a long, drawn-out extradition fight.

Here in the United States, that’s known as double-jeopardy, the constitutional protection against being retried for a crime one has been acquitted of – a safeguard to prevent overzealous or unscrupulous prosecutors from filing the same charges over and over again until they get the verdict they are seeking.

From the beginning of her ordeal, Knox has been the victim of astonishingly sloppy police work and lurid reporting by European tabloids. Italian prosecutors in the most recent trial completely changed the motive and circumstances of the slaying that were presented during her first trial.

Kercher, 21, was found dead Nov. 2, 2007, in a pool of blood in the bedroom of the apartment she and Knox shared. Her throat had been slit and she had been sexually assaulted. Knox and Sollecito denied any involvement in the killing, insisting they were at Sollecito’s apartment that night.

Prosecutors originally argued that Kercher was killed in a drug-fueled sex game gone awry. But at the third trial, prosecutors argued instead that the violence stemmed from arguments between the roommates about cleanliness and was triggered by a toilet left unflushed by a third defendant in the case, Rudy Guede, who fled Italy after the murder before eventually being captured and pleading guilty.

Legal experts say it is unlikely that Italy will request Knox’s extradition before a verdict is final in the next trial. Knox is all but certain to be tried in absentia at that trial, as she has vowed to “never go willingly” back to Italy.

If the conviction is upheld, a lengthy extradition process is likely to follow, with the U.S. State Department ultimately deciding whether to turn her over to Italian authorities to serve her sentence.

If Knox is again convicted and Italy does seek her extradition, the U.S. government should weigh heavily the long, bizarre course of the case. The legal process was flawed from the beginning of the police investigation through the many abrupt changes in the prosecution’s assertions.

Amanda Knox should not be turned over to Italian authorities.