News World Sollecito found near border after verdict

Sollecito found near border after verdict

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Amanda Knox’s former Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, says he had no plans to flee his country when police apprehended him near the north-eastern border with Austria and Slovenia, shortly after a murder conviction.

“I never thought about escaping. Not before, nor now,” Sollecito said through one of his lawyers, Luca Maori.

The ANSA news agency reported that Sollecito made a brief foray into Austria on Thursday, just as a Florence appeals court was preparing to convict him and Knox for the 2007 murder of British student Meredith Kercher.

In a verdict issued late in the day, Sollecito was sentenced to 25 years in prison and banned from travelling abroad, while Knox, who stayed in the US and was tried in absentia, was sentenced to 28 and a half years.

Overnight, officers caught up with Sollecito in the north-eastern village of Venzone, which is a few dozen kilometres away from crossings with Austria and Slovenia. He was in a hotel with his current girlfriend, air hostess Greta Menegaldo.

Sollecito was not arrested, but taken to police headquarters in Udine to have his passport confiscated. He left the facility in the early afternoon, driving a Mini Cooper car that had an Austrian motorway stamp on its windscreen.

On Thursday morning, he was in Florence for the final hearing before the court retired to deliberate, but cancelled plans to return for the verdict, fuelling speculation about his possible escape.

Neither Sollecito nor Knox face immediate imprisonment, as they are expected to challenge their convictions, making them non-enforceable until final judgment is passed by Italy’s top appeals body, the Court of Cassation.

The legal saga over the Kercher murder has been going on since the 21-year-old was found dead on November 2, 2007, in the central Italian university town of Perugia.

She was lying half-naked, with multiple stab wounds, in the flat she shared with Knox and others.

Knox and Sollecito were arrested days after the crime.

They were convicted in 2009, then acquitted and freed on appeal in 2011, and then put on trial again last year after the Court of Cassation quashed the previous judgment.

The 2011 acquittal came after incriminating DNA samples, testimonies and other evidence were dismissed by Perugia appeal judges.

Italy’s top court said they were wrong to do so, and moved proceedings to Florence, where opposite conclusions where reached.

Relatives of the victim said on Friday it was frustrating to deal with the twists and turns of the Italian legal system, but insisted that they still had confidence in it.

“This was always a scenario, with convictions, appeals and counter appeals,” Meredith’s brother, Lyle, said. “It is incredibly difficult for us,” he added.

“We are still on the journey to the truth,” said Meredith’s sister, Stephanie. “It may be that we will never know what happened that night,” she added.

Francesco Maresca, a lawyer for the family, said a new round of appeals by Knox and Sollecito before the Court of Cassation – presumably the final stage in the long-running legal saga – would take about a year.

Speaking amid reports that Knox had written a letter to her family, Stephanie Kercher said they would not consider reading it until the end of judicial proceedings.

“It is not something we would want to do [now] and I can’t say if we ever will,” she said.