Italy's top court has overturned the 2011 acquittal of American student Amanda Knox and former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito for the murder of Meredith Kercher from the UK, and ordered a retrial.
The decision by the Court of Cassation on Tuesday adds a further twist to a long-running case whose initial handling was sharply criticised by independent forensic experts.
"No matter what happens, my family and I will face this continuing legal battle as we always have, confident in the truth and with our heads held high in the face of wrongful accusations and unreasonable adversity."
- Amanda Knox
Prosecutors accused Knox and Sollecito of killing Kercher in 2007 during a drug-fuelled sexual assault. They were initially found guilty and sentenced to 26 and 25 years in prison respectively.
Knox called the decision "painful" but said she was confident that she would be exonerated.
Italian law cannot compel Knox to return for the new trial, and her lawyer said she had no plans to do so.
The appellate court hearing the new case could declare her in contempt of court but that carries no additional penalties.
Italy's Court of Cassation ruled that an appeals court in Florence must re-hear the case against the American student and her former Italian boyfriend for the murder of 21-year-old Kercher.
The exact issues that have to be reconsidered won't be known until the court releases its full ruling within 90 days.
'Unfounded and unfair'
Knox, now a student at the University of Washington, stayed up until 2am Seattle time to hear her fate and issued a statement through a family spokesman.
"It was painful to receive the news that the Italian Supreme Court decided to send my case back for revision when the prosecution's theory of my involvement in Meredith's murder has been repeatedly revealed to be completely unfounded and unfair," she said.
Knox said the matter must now be examined by "an objective investigation and a capable prosecution".
"No matter what happens, my family and I will face this continuing legal battle as we always have, confident in the truth and with our heads held high in the face of wrongful accusations and unreasonable adversity," Knox said.
Knox, now 25, and Raffaele Sollecito, who turned 29 on Tuesday, were arrested shortly after Kercher's body was found in a pool of blood in November 2007 in her bedroom.
Kercher, whose throat had been slashed, had shared an apartment with Knox and others in Perugia, an Italian university town where the two women were exchange students.
Knox and Sollecito denied wrongdoing and said they weren't even in the apartment that night, although they acknowledged they had smoked marijuana and their memories were clouded.
An Ivory Coast man, Rudy Guede, was convicted of the slaying in a separate proceeding and is serving a 16-year sentence.
"She thought the nightmare was over," Knox lawyer Carlo Dalla Vedova said after the decision was released.
The court on Tuesday also upheld a slander conviction against Knox. During a 14-hour police interrogation, Knox had accused a local Perugia pub owner of carrying out the killing.
The man was held for two weeks based on her allegations, but was then released for lack of evidence.
New appeals trial
Dalla Vedova said Knox wouldn't come to Italy "for the moment" but would follow the case from home. He said he didn't think the new appeals trial would begin before early 2014.
It is unclear what would happen if Knox was convicted in a new appeals trial.
"If the court orders another trial, if she is convicted at that trial and if the conviction is upheld by the highest court, then Italy could seek her extradition," Dalla Vedova said Monday.
It would then be up to the United States to decide if it honors the request. US and Italian authorities could also come to a deal that would keep Knox in the United States.