Amanda Knox's ex-boyfriend: I wasn't trying to flee
UNDATED (NBC) -
By Tracy Connor, Claudio Lavanga and Alexander Smith, NBC News
Amanda Knox's ex-boyfriend said Friday that he was out of Italy when he got the stunning news that they had been re-convicted of her roommate's brutal murder and he immediately returned to surrender his passport.
But Raffaele Sollecito said that before he could get to a police station, officers swooped down on him in a border hotel in Italy, woke him up and took him in.
"As soon as I got the news there was a guilty verdict … I came right immediately back in Italy," Sollecito told NBC News in an exclusive interview.
Sollecito, 29, said he was so certain he and Knox would be acquitted of Meredith Kercher's murder that he had already planned a trip out of the country. When he got the news that he had been convicted again and sentenced to 25 years, he was floored. "It was completely unexpected," he said.
"Psychologically, it’s devastating," he said of the prospect of being sent back to prison, where he spent nearly four years before he and Knox had their original convictions reversed.
He said he is now clinging to the "hope" that the latest conviction will be tossed on appeal by Italy's highest court.
"I have to fight until the end," he said.
Knox, 26, an American citizen, was at home in Seattle when Thursday's guilty verdict and her sentence of 28 years and six months was announced. It does not appear Italy will seek her extradition before appeals are exhausted. She said on Friday that she will "fight this until the very end -- It’s not right and it’s not fair."
On ABC’s "Good Morning America," she was asked about Sollecito being found near the Italian border and said: "My initial thought after the verdict was, 'Oh my God, Raffaele' … I don’t know what I would do if they imprisoned him. It’s maddening."
While Knox was retried in absentia after an earlier conviction was reversed, Sollecito stayed in his homeland. After he was found guilty again, the court announced a travel ban for him.
The cabinet chief of the Udine police station, Giovanni Belmonte, told The Associated Press that officers went to a hotel in Venzone — a tiny town about 25 miles from the border with Slovenia and Austria — to look for Sollecito after a tip-off at 1 a.m. Friday (8 p.m. ET Thursday).
Asked whether he thought Sollecito was going on the lam, Belmonte said: "I don't know if he was planning to do so, but keep in mind the hotel is close to the border of Austria and Slovenia. Make your own conclusions."
Sollecito said he chose that hotel because it was the first one in Italy he found after crossing the border.
He said that he has not been in touch with Knox. Asked about her absence from the trial, he said, "It was her decision."
Knox and her then-boyfriend Sollecito spent four years in prison after their initial conviction in the murder of Kercher in the university town of Perugia in 2007.
The 21-year-old British student was found dead in a pool of blood in the apartment she shared with Knox, her half-naked body covered in up to 40 knife wounds. With prosecutors arguing she was killed in a sex game, Knox and Sollecito were convicted and sentenced to 26 years.
Knox was also convicted of slander for falsely telling police she heard a Congolese bar owner kill Kercher — a claim that prosecutors say is evidence of her guilt but that she says was made out of fear during a high-pressure grilling.
In 2011, an appeals court reheard the case and acquitted Knox and Sollecito after independent experts said crucial DNA evidence had been contaminated by police. But in March, Italy's highest court dismissed that acquittal — slamming the lower court for "contradictions and inconsistencies" in its decision — and ordered a new trial.
Knox and Sollecito say that only one person is responsible for Kercher's death: small-time drug dealer Rudy Hermann Guede. The Ivory Coast-born man is serving 16 years for the slaying, but a court found that he did not commit the crime alone.
Now that the pair have been convicted again, Kercher's family is calling for Knox to be extradited from the U.S. to Italy.
The victim's brother, Lyle, said it would be "strange" if Knox was not handed over. "If somebody's found guilty and convicted of a murder, and if an extradition law exists between those two countries, then I don't see why they wouldn't," he told reporters.
"I imagine it would set a difficult precedent if a country such as the U.S. didn't choose to go along with laws that they themselves uphold when extraditing convicted criminals from other countries. It probably leaves them in a strange position not to."
Kercher's sister Stephanie said the family will only be able to move on at the end of the legal process. "You can't ever really get to a point where you just start to remember Meredith solely because it is following the case, coming over to Italy and everything associated with it," she said.
Appeals in the case could take a year or more, and legal experts say it's unlikely that Italy would seek to extradite Knox before those are over.
Some observers have questioned whether the American protection against double jeopardy — being retried and convicted of a crime after being acquitted — would give the U.S. an excuse to balk at extradition.
But Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz told NBC News that theory would not apply in this case and that the U.S., which seeks the extradition of more people than any country in the world, would be hard-pressed to deny an Italian request for Knox's return.
In a written statement issued soon after the verdict, Knox said that she was "frightened and saddened" by the court's decision.
"Having been found innocent before, I expected better from the Italian justice system," she said.
WHDH TV 7NBC WLVI TV CW56
Sunbeam Television Corp
7 Bulfinch Place
Boston, MA 02114