American student Amanda Knox
's second appeals trial in her British roommate's murder
opened in Florence Monday in the absence of the star defendant.
Italy's highest court ordered a new trial for Knox and her former Italian boyfriend, overturning their acquittals in the gruesome 2007 slaying of Meredith Kercher with a harsh assessment of an appeals court acquittal in 2011. The Court of Cassation said the acquittal was full of "deficiencies, contradictions and illogical" conclusions.
The appellate court is expected to re-examine forensic evidence to determine whether Knox and her former boyfriend helped kill the 21-year-old Kercher
while the two women shared an apartment in the Umbrian university town of Perugia.
Knox, now a 26-year-old University of Washington student
in Seattle, has not returned to Italy for the trial, nor is she compelled by law to do so. The appellate court hearing the new case could declare her in contempt of court but that carries no additional penalties.
"We refute the idea that because Amanda is not coming, that Amanda is guilty, that Amanda is using a strategy. Amanda always said she was a friend of Meredith's, Amanda has always respected the Italian justice system," Knox's defense lawyer Luciano Ghirga told reporters before the trial opened.
Knox and her former Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, now 29, were convicted and later acquitted in Kercher's death. Knox served four years of a 26-year sentence, including three years on a slander conviction for falsely accusing a Perugia bar owner in the murder, before leaving Italy a free woman after her 2011 acquittal.
The bar owner, Patrick Lumumba, showed up at the trial Monday, saying he did so to underline the damage he suffered from Knox's false accusations.
"I say the same thing I said six years ago. I think she is guilty, and that is why she slandered me," Lumbumba told reporters. Knox's conviction for slandering Lumumba has been confirmed by the high court, but it asked the Florence appeals court to determine if it should reinstate it as an aggravating circumstance that Knox lied to derail the investigation and protect herself from becoming a murder suspect.
In its first move, the Florence court rejected a motion by Knox's lawyers to exclude Lumbumba from the new appeals trial as a civil participant, a status that allows him to seek further damages. His lawyer says Lumbumba is owed more than $139,500 in legal fees.
Knox's protracted legal battle in Italy has made her a cause célèbre
in the United States and has put the Italian justice system under scrutiny. Italian law allows prosecutors to appeal acquittals. In the United States, the principal of double jeopardy would have prohibited another appeals round after her acquittal.
At the same time, the trials have left the Kercher family without clear answers in the death of their daughter.