Sollecito stopped near Austria border after conviction in Knox murder case

By Naomi O'Leary and Silvia Ognibene

FLORENCE, Italy (Reuters) - Italian police stopped Raffaele Sollecito close to the Austrian border on Friday, a day after a court upheld his conviction with his former girlfriend Amanda Knox in a retrial of the brutal 2007 murder of Briton Meredith Kercher.

A police statement said the 29-year-old was picked up between the northern towns of Udine and Tarvisio, less than 10 km from Italy's border with Austria.

It was not immediately clear what he was doing in the region. Italian media said he briefly crossed into Austria before returning to Italy, but his lawyer denied he was trying to escape, having left Thursday's hearing early due to stress.

"Raffaele Sollecito had no intention of fleeing. He went to the police station in Udine voluntarily," lawyer Luca Maori said. He said Sollecito was still completing the formalities for the surrender of his passport at the police station.

Late on Thursday, Knox and Sollecito were both found guilty for a second time of the murder of Kercher, who was found stabbed to death in an apartment she shared with Knox while all three were students in Perugia.

Knox was sentenced to 28-1/2 years in prison and Sollecito to 25 years, although neither sentence will have to be served pending further appeals.

Hours before the verdict was announced, Sollecito left the hearing in Florence and began travelling north, preferring not to attend to listen to the verdict, his lawyer said.

Under the terms of his sentence, authorities were confiscating his passport and have instructed him not to leave Italy after the verdict. For the moment he is free to travel around inside the country.

The case, which has hit the headlines around the world, has divided opinion internationally.

Knox has been widely vilified in Italy but is commonly seen as the victim of a faulty justice system in her home country and the prospect of a fraught battle to extradite the student is now on the horizon.


Knox has remained in her U.S. hometown of Seattle since being released from prison in 2011 after an appeal overturned an original conviction and freed her and Sollecito after four years in custody.

The family of the victim urged the United States to agree to extradite Knox if her conviction is upheld after a final appeal process expected to conclude in 2015.

"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," Meredith's brother Lyle Kercher said.

"It ... leaves them in a strange position not to."

An effort to extradite Knox would almost certainly be challenged by her lawyers.

The Kercher family said the six years of legal wrangling since Meredith was killed, which has done little to clear up the mysteries surrounding the case, had compounded their loss.

Sister Stephanie said she had not been able to properly grieve due to a drawn-out struggle to establish the basic facts of the night their sister was killed.

"It may be that we never know the truth about what happened that night," she said.

Knox and Sollecito gave confused alibis in initial testimony to police and DNA evidence linking them to the crime has been disputed by their defence lawyers who say it was contaminated in a botched investigation.

(Editing by Alison Williams)