If Italy’s highest court upholds Amanda Knox's murder conviction Friday, Italian cops aren’t going to descend on Seattle and whisk her off – at least not right away.
An elaborate legal process would ensue, ending, possibly, with Knox boarding a commercial jet bound for Italy, flanked by two Italian law enforcement agents.
She might wear an oversized sweatshirt or windbreaker to hide her chains, so that other passengers wouldn’t notice. Or she might not, as some airlines don’t allow restraints on board. If she would need to go to the restroom, an agent would likely follow her to the back of the plane and stand by the door.
“Whenever we transport prisoners on a commercial flight, we try to be as subtle as possible so we’re not alarming anyone,” said Jack Williams, acting chief deputy for the U.S. Marshals Service, Western District of Washington state.
Before any of that happens, Italy’s petition for extradition would have to be successful. And the petition has a long way to go before being OK’d by a federal judge here in the U.S.
It goes like this:
Petition for extradition > Italian Minister of Justice > U.S. Department of State > Office of International Affairs.
If everyone signs off on the petition, the U.S. Marshals Service would receive a warrant for Knox’s arrest. They would act fast.
“When we make an arrest, we secure the individual as quickly as possible and get them out of there,” Williams said. “We’re not packing suitcases.”
Knox’s case dates back nearly eight years to Perugia, Italy. Knox, then a University of Washington student, was studying abroad, as was her roommate, a 21-year-old British woman named Meredith Kercher.
On the evening of Nov. 1, 2007, Kercher was stabbed to death in her bedroom.
Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, who had been her boyfriend for about a week, were arrested, tried and, in 2009, convicted of murder. In 2011, an Italian court overturned their conviction. That’s when Knox returned to Seattle.
But the saga continued when another court found them guilty in 2014 and sentenced Knox to 28.5 years. Now Italy’s highest court, the Court of Cassation, will decide whether to uphold that guilty verdict.
If the court says she’s guilty and a petition for extradition is approved, the Marshals Service would be tapped to bring Knox to federal court. There, a federal judge would review the petition and listen to arguments on both sides.
Williams said he’s seen judges throw out extradition petitions.
“I’ve seen cases when the warrant doesn’t go through,” he said. “That does happen. The country that wants an individual has to show that their facts are in order. They have to go through quite an arduous process to extradite someone.”
Italy’s treaty with the U.S. was signed in 1983. It obligates both countries to return people who have been charged or convicted of a crime in the other country.
But there are exceptions to the treaty. A country without the death penalty might refuse to return someone facing execution. Countries may also not want to return their own citizens, instead deciding to try the person on their home turf. (This case is made slightly more complicated by the fact that it isn't just about U.S.-Italian relations. It also involves relations with the U.K.)
But about once a year or so, Williams sees a person get extradited from Western Washington. (In the U.S. in fiscal year 2014, 883 people were expelled or extradited from the U.S.) Typically those people have fled their home countries to escape trial.
If the federal judge green lights the petition, Williams said, the Department of Justice would notify the Italians, who would then send law enforcement agents to pick her up.
The U.S. Marshals would host them, Williams said, maybe take them on a sightseeing tour or simply give them a ride from the airport.
Williams said he can’t guess at Knox’s fate. Neither can Anne Bremner, a Seattle attorney who has supported Knox since the beginning.
“It’s unthinkable that she could be extradited, but given the twists and turns in this case, the unthinkable becomes thinkable,” Bremner said.
Bremner lamented how Knox has been the focus of the case – edging out Sollecito, her co-defendant, and Kercher, the victim.
“Amanda Knox, because of who she is, has gotten the best and the worst of this case,” Bremner said. “She’s been vilified, she’s been the centerpiece, she’s been more popular than the first lady of France in the media at a certain point in time.
“And she’s been the focal point of everything in the prosecution. Raffaele Sollecito is a parenthetical. Why is that? There are a lot of societal characterizations of her that have been put on her that wouldn’t be appropriate: She-devil, sex-crazed, et cetera.”
Bremner hasn’t met Knox since her return to Seattle, but she said they have spoken, emailed and texted.
On Wednesday, Bremner emailed her good luck.
Knox replied, “Thanks, Anne! a.”