(CN) – Amanda Knox, an American at the center of a sensational murder case in Italy, suffered unfair treatment at the hands of Italian police and is entitled to damages, a European human rights court ruled Thursday.
A seven-judge panel of the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Italian investigators violated her rights by not allowing a lawyer to be present during an initial police interrogation in which she falsely accused someone for the murder.
The court said Knox should have been allowed access to a lawyer, especially in light of the fact that she was a young foreigner unfamiliar with Italy and the Italian language and the interview was held in an atmosphere of intense psychological pressure.
The panel also said she received inadequate help from an interpreter in that first interrogation. The interpreter was a police officer who acted improperly in a “motherly” manner and as a mediator, the court said.
The human rights court, however, dismissed her allegation that police treated her inhumanely. Knox has claimed police shouted at her and slapped her on the head. But the court said there was insufficient evidence “to conclude that Ms. Knox had actually sustained the inhuman or degrading treatment of which she had complained,” the court said.
However, it ruled that Italian authorities violated her rights by not investigating her complaints of mistreatment.
The court ordered Italy to pay her about $21,000 in damages and costs. The ruling can be reviewed by the court's high chamber.
Knox’s story gained worldwide attention, becoming the subject of a film and books. She now lives in Seattle.
The court, based in Strasbourg, France, handles cases involving human rights abuses as set out in the European Convention on Human Rights, the foremost set of human rights laws in Europe.
In 2007, Knox, then a 20-year-old student studying in Italy, became a suspect after her 21-year-old British flatmate, Meredith Kercher, was found dead with her throat cut in Perugia, Italy. Police believed Kercher had been sexually assaulted too.
Knox spent several years in Italian prisons in connection with the murder and on a conviction of maliciously accusing someone for the murder. Thursday's ruling, released only in French, is related to Knox's legal fight over the conviction of falsely accusing an innocent man.
In an early morning interrogation on Nov. 6, 2007, Knox told police that a manager at a pub where she worked killed her flatmate. A few hours later, she changed her story in a written statement.
Police arrested Knox, her boyfriend at the time Raffaele Sollecito, and the pub manager, a Congolese man named Diya “Patrick” Lumumba. Lumumba was released two weeks later after providing an alibi, the court said. He was found to be innocent.
In 2008, Knox was charged with making a malicious accusation against Lumumba. She and Sollecito were then convicted in December 2009 for murder and sexual assault. Knox also was convicted for telling police Lumumba committed the murder.
In appealing the malicious accusation conviction, Knox argued psychological pressure, exhaustion, ignorance of legal procedures and a lack of knowledge about her rights led her to accuse Lumumba.
In October 2011, an Italian appellate court acquitted Knox and Sollecito on the murder and sexual assault charges. But her conviction of malicious accusation was upheld. Having already spent three years in prison, Knox was released and she returned to the United States.
Subsequently, Italy's high court, the Court of Cassation, quashed the acquittals and the appellate court sentenced Knox to 28 ½ years in prison. On further appeal, though, the Court of Cassation acquitted Knox and Sollecito.
Later, Italian authorities charged Knox with a new count of malicious accusation. The new charge alleged Knox falsely accused police officers who interviewed her of violence and threats against her. She was acquitted on that charge.
Police, in the meantime, charged another person with the murder of Kercher, an Ivory Coast-born young man named Rudy Guede. His conviction on murder and sexual assault charges was upheld by the Court of Cassation in December 2010. Guede, who remains in prison, says he is innocent.
Knox and Sollecito were cleared definitively of the murder charges only in 2015 when the Italian courts annulled their convictions. Their convictions had been reinstated in 2014.
In a statement Thursday, Knox said the ruling showed that her “slander conviction was unjust” and shed light on “the reality of false confessions” where police “get suspects to say whatever the police want” by breaking people down through “isolation, exhaustion, deception, verbal and physical abuse.”
She described the Italian police as coercing her into accusing Lumumba during a grueling all-night interrogation. They were “determined to break me,” she said, and made her believe that she was suffering trauma and amnesia but that she had watched Lumumba kill Kercher.
Knox added, “Scapegoating the wrongfully convicted for the mistakes and misconduct of the police prevents us from reforming the system, leading to further miscarriages of justice.”
(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)
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