An Italian court on Thursday convicted American Amanda Knox and her former Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito for a second time for the murder of a British student in Perugia in 2007.
The court sentenced Knox to 28 years and six months in prison and Sollecito to 25 years.
Knox was following proceedings in the Florence courtroom from her hometown of Seattle where she returned after a previous acquittal. In a statement, she said, "I am frightened and saddened by this unjust verdict. Having been found innocent before, I expected better from the Italian justice system."
Lawyers said Sollecito, who was in court earlier Thursday for a morning hearing, was not present for the verdict as is his right under Italian law. Italian news agency ANSA said he may have left Florence.
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Exchange student Meredith Kercher was found dead in the house she shared with Knox on Nov. 2, 2007 in the university town of Perugia in central Italy.
Explaining her decision not to return to Italy, Knox, 26, told the New York Times: "I would be putting myself in the hands of people who very clearly want me in prison for something that I didn't do."
Knox, who is finishing a degree in creative writing at the University of Washington, added: "I never thought that I would be convicted and then look what happened."
Kercher's family were also in Italy for the ruling.
"The anxiety builds as we get nearer the time. It's really hard to say what we expect the verdict to be," her brother Lyle, 34, said before the verdict. "We are not going to get closure today, so there won't be any celebration on our part, but it's hopefully a step towards reaching a conclusion," he said.
"To lose someone you love so dearly is hard enough, especially in the way she died, but that has been compounded by the fact that it has gone on for six years and three months."
Knox, Sollecito and a third person, drug dealer Rudy Guede, were initially convicted for the crime, which prosecutors said was the result of a sex game turned violent due to tensions between Kercher and Knox.
Guede is now the only one of the three still in prison after exhausting his appeals but investigators say that multiple stab wounds on the body from two different knives indicate he could not have acted alone.
Knox and Sollecito have always protested their innocence and Guede has changed his story several times but maintains he did not commit the murder although he was in the house when it happened.
Prosecutors have asked for Knox to be given a 30-year sentence and Sollecito 26 years, saying the punishment should be harsher for her because she initially accused someone else of the crime, bar owner Patrick Lumumba.
Knox says the accusation of Lumumba, as well as her since retracted memory of hearing Kercher's screams, were due to intimidating police interrogation tactics.
Knox now says she was at Sollecito's house that night.
The two served four years for the murder and were acquitted in 2011 but the supreme court overturned that ruling in 2013, sending the case back for re-trial.
Thursday's verdict might still not be the final word in the long-running case since both the prosecution and the defense have the right to appeal again.
Knox explained her absence in an email to the court in which she told jurors: "I am not a monster."
Experts doubt that Knox could ever be extradited to Italy, but she may not be able to travel freely outside the United States if Italy issues an international warrant for her arrest.
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© AFP 2014