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Sollecito denies trying to flee Italian justice

Picked up near Austrian border after found guilty with Knox

31 January, 16:39
Sollecito denies trying to flee Italian justice (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Florence, January 31 - Raffaele Sollecito raised suspicions he was trying to flee Italian justice on Friday when police stopped him after a brief trip to Austria, just hours after a Florence court found him guilty along with his American ex-girlfriend Amanda Knox in the 2007 murder of British exchange student Meredith Kercher. At dawn police caught up with the 29-year-old at the Carnia hotel in Venzone, 40 kilometers from the Austrian border, to notify him he was banned from leaving the country while awaiting an appeal trial at the supreme court. The information technology graduate from Puglia reportedly was with his girlfriend, driving in a Mini Cooper registered to her father's company. Later at a police station, officers said he confessed to "driving in Austria, then coming back to Italy". "I stopped there to rest," he said, according to police. He later told his lawyers "I never thought of fleeing, not in the past nor now". Attorney Luca Maori said his client went to police "on his own accord" to hand over his passport. He said Sollecito was visiting his girlfriend in the northeastern border region of Friuli because he was "stressed" by court proceedings that lasted over 12 hours Thursday. Rather than being detained, Sollecito was at the police station "as bureaucratic issues were being taken care of," said the lawyer.

In a fourth verdict on the case, Sollecito was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the stabbing murder of Kercher on the night of November 1-2, 2007 at the flat she shared with Knox in the medieval city of Perugia, central Italy.

He denies any wrongdoing, and has testified that he was having sex with Knox the night of the murder at his home. In an interview with ANSA Friday, Sollecito asked people for empathy. "I'd like others to put themselves in my shoes. I won't talk about the verdict," he said. Knox, who remained in her hometown of Seattle for the appeals trial, was sentenced to 28 years and six months - three and a half years more than Sollecito because of her libel of a local bar owner she initially fingered, Patrick Lumumba.

Before the verdict was read Thursday she reiterated she has no intention of returning to Italy in a series of interviews with the Guardian. "I'm definitely not going back to Italy willingly. They'll have to catch me and pull me back kicking and screaming into a prison that I don't deserve to be in. I will fight for my innocence", Knox told the British daily. Knox said she had been in touch with Sollecito during the six-month appeals trial in Florence but she denied reports that he asked her to marry him to gain US citizenship and escape imprisonment. "It is not true. I don't know where that came from," she said. The Seattle-based student, 26, said she was lucky she had been able to return to America and worried for Sollecito.

"He's really scared and really vulnerable," she said. "I think he feels abandoned by his own country. Where's he going to run and hide? It's a shame that more people aren't fighting to protect him". She said it would "drive me crazy" if Sollecito was jailed while she remained free.

Knox said she had been irreparably damaged by the case. "I don't even know what my place is anymore. What's my role in society? Who am I, after everybody has branded me?". Knox and Sollecito are appealing the verdict to Italy's supreme court. A third man, Ivory Coast drifter Rudy Guede, was sentenced to 16 years in a separate trial. Guede, whose DNA was found inside Kercher and all over the flat, did not implicate Knox and Sollecito, whose DNA was not found at the crime scene. Tiny traces of Knox's DNA were found on the handle of kitchen knife found in Sollecito's kitchen, with smaller traces of Kercher's on the tip. Defence experts argued these findings were inconclusive but the Florence appeals court did not agree.

In her first interview after the verdict, she told American television that she felt "hit by a train" and "could not believe" what was happening.

Wearing newly bobbed hair and a pink sweater, Knox told ABC News she is "not prepared" to return to Italy, would never want to return, and will fight "to the end".

Legal experts say that extradition is possible under a 1984 bilateral treaty between the United States and Italy, one that takes precedence over a ban in the US constitution against "double jeopardy", or being tried again on the same criminal charges once a person has been acquitted of them in court.

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