By Naomi O'Leary
FLORENCE, Italy (Reuters) - Amanda Knox, the American student who became tabloid fodder, will not be in court on Thursday to hear Italian judges give their verdict in her retrial for the murder of Briton Meredith Kercher when the two were roommates studying abroad in 2007.
Knox, who is living in Seattle, is standing trial alongside her Italian former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito. She denies any involvement in the brutal killing and has declared she will remain a "fugitive" if found guilty.
Six years of trials and investigations have so far failed to clear up mysteries surrounding the murder of Kercher, 21, who was found stabbed to death in her bedroom in the picturesque town of Perugia, where she shared a student flat with Knox.
Knox, 26, and Sollecito, 29, were convicted of the murder in 2009 and spent almost four years in jail, but the verdicts were overturned on appeal and Knox immediately returned home to the United States upon her release in 2011, where she has remained. She is currently a student at the University of Washington in Seattle.
However, last year, Italy's highest court quashed the appeal ruling due to what it called "contradictions and inconsistencies" and ordered a retrial.
The case has played out through the media as much as through the courts, propelling Knox and Sollecito to something approaching celebrity status in their home countries. Armies of bloggers battle over disputed evidence about the case online.
Supporters of Knox in the United States have done much to transform an initial public image of her as a sex-obsessed party girl, which critics say prevented a fair trial, to one portraying her as a victim of a faulty justice system.
The Kercher family has repeatedly called for the full truth to come out about the case, and the victim's brother Lyle and sister Stephanie are expected to hear the verdict in court.
Knox has pleaded her innocence in an email to the court. Sollecito is in Italy, but it is not clear whether he will attend the trial, which could lead to his immediate detention or house arrest.
The prosecution has asked for Sollecito and Knox to be jailed for 26 years for the murder and for staging a robbery to cover it up.
It has also asked for a separate sentence of four years for Knox for a standing slander conviction, for falsely implicating Congolese bar owner Patrick Lumumba in statements to police in which she described hearing her roommate scream.
The prosecution says this points to her guilt, but Knox has said she was confused and spoke under duress.
Lawyers for Sollecito and Knox argue that only one person is guilty of the murder: Ivory Coast-born Rudy Guede, who is serving a 16-year sentence for sexually assaulting and stabbing Kercher. His trial found that he did not act alone because of the number and variety of Kercher's more than 40 wounds.
The initial case argued that Knox and Sollecito had killed Kercher in a sex game gone awry, but the prosecution has moved away from this interpretation in the current appeal.
The retrial has focused on a re-examination of DNA evidence.
In closing defense arguments, Sollecito's lawyer argued that a trace of his client's DNA on a metal hook on Kercher's bra clasp was there due to contamination, because it was not collected from the crime scene until more than a month after the murder and was repeatedly touched.
The defense and prosecution contest whether Kercher's DNA was on the blade of a kitchen knife from Sollecito's apartment, which had been used by Knox.
The case may not be over for some years to come.
Whatever the verdict, one side is likely to challenge it, and it will have to be confirmed by Italy's high court to become definitive.
Italy could ask for Knox to be extradited to serve any sentence, but her legal team is likely to challenge this.
Additionally, Knox has appealed her slander conviction to the European Court of Human Rights, one of a plethora of spin-off cases from the trial, and could do the same if convicted again of the murder.
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Leslie Adler)