ROME — It's not over yet for Amanda Knox.
Italy's top criminal court dealt a stunning setback Tuesday to the 25-year-old college student, overturning her acquittal in the grisly murder of her British roommate and ordering her to stand trial again.
"She thought that the nightmare was over," Knox's attorney, Carlo Dalla Vedova, told reporters minutes after conveying the unexpected turn of events to his client, who had stayed up to hear the ruling, which came shortly after 2 a.m. West Coast time. "But she's ready to fight."
Now a student at the University of Washington in Seattle, Knox called the decision by the Rome-based Court of Cassation "painful" but said she was confident that she would be exonerated.
The American left Italy a free woman after her October 2011 acquittal — but only after serving nearly four years of a 26-year prison sentence from a lower court that convicted her of murdering Meredith Kercher. The 21-year-old exchange student's body was found in a pool of blood, her throat slit, in a bedroom of the house the two shared in Perugia, a university town 100 miles north of Rome.
Raffaele Sollecito, Knox's Italian boyfriend at the time, was also convicted of the Nov. 1, 2007, murder, then later acquitted. His acquittal was also thrown out Tuesday and a new trial ordered.
Italian law cannot compel Knox to return for the new trial and Dalla Vedova said she had no plans to do so.
In any case, the judicial saga is likely to continue for years. It will be months before a date is set for the new trial, to be held in Florence instead of Perugia because the small town has only one appellate court, which already acquitted her.
Prosecution and defense teams must also await details of the ruling explaining why the high court concluded there were procedural errors in the trial that acquitted Knox and Sollecito. The court has 90 days to issue its explanation.
Another Knox defender, Luciano Ghirga, said she was gearing up psychologically for her third trial. Ghirga said he told Knox: "You have always been our strength. We rose up again after the first-level convictions. We'll have the same resoluteness, the same energy" in the new trial.
Still, it was a tough blow for the former exchange student, whose parents mortgaged both their homes to raise funds for her lengthy, expensive defense.
"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," Knox said in a statement.
She 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.