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Knox's ex-boyfriend drove to Austria as court deliberated fate; found in hotel near border

Amanda Knox puts her hand to her face while making a television appearance, Friday, Jan. 31, 2014 in New York. Knox said she will fight the reinstated guilty verdict against her and an ex-boyfriend in the 2007 slaying of a British roommate in Italy and vowed to

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Amanda Knox puts her hand to her face while making a television appearance, Friday, Jan. 31, 2014 in New York. Knox said she will fight the reinstated guilty verdict against her and an ex-boyfriend in the 2007 slaying of a British roommate in Italy and vowed to "never go willingly" to face her fate in that country's judicial system . "I'm going to fight this to the very end," she said in an interview with Robin Roberts on ABC's "Good Morning America." (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

FLORENCE, Italy - Amanda Knox's ex-boyfriend left Italy and drove to Austria while an appeals court deliberated his fate, police said Friday, but he eventually returned to Italy and surrendered his passport following their joint conviction for murdering British student Meredith Kercher.

Raffaele Sollecito's lengthy travels were revealed on the same day that Knox made clear she would never voluntarily return to Italy to serve the 28 1/2-year sentence handed down by an appeals court.

"I will never go willingly back to the place," she said on ABC's Good Morning America program. "I'm going to fight this until the very end. It's not right, and it's not fair."

Lawyers for the pair have vowed to appeal the conviction, which upheld the 2009 verdict in the murder of Kercher, Knox's roommate in the university town of Perugia.

Kercher was found in a pool of blood with her throat slit on Nov. 2, 2007, in their apartment. Knox and Sollecito were arrested a few days later and served four years in prison before an appeals court acquitted them in 2011. Italy's high court later threw out that acquittal and ordered a new trial, resulting in Thursday's conviction.

Sollecito's lawyer, Luca Maori, insisted his client was in the area of Italy's northeastern border with Austria on Thursday because that's where his current girlfriend lives. He said Sollecito went voluntarily to police to surrender his passport and ID papers.

But the head of the Udine police squad, Massimiliano Ortolan, said police were tipped off that Sollecito had checked into a hotel in Venzone, on the Italian side of the border, and they went to find him there, waking him and his girlfriend up Friday morning and bringing him to the police station in Udine.

No arrest warrant had been issued by the Florence court. But the court demanded that Sollecito turn over his passport and ID papers to prevent him from leaving the country.

At the police station, Sollecito told investigators that he had driven into Austria on Thursday afternoon after attending the opening session of the trial in Florence. After the court began deliberating, Sollecito said he travelled the 400 kilometres (250 miles) from Florence to Udine on Italy's northeastern border with Austria and crossed the frontier, Ortolan said.

He said Sollecito and his girlfriend had told investigators they had visited Villach, a town near the border, and had then returned to Italy and checked into the Venzone hotel at about 1 a.m. He said Sollecito didn't explain why he had taken the trip.

"I think it's somewhat significant that, before the sentence was handed down, he left Florence where he had been and travelled many kilometres to get close to two frontiers, Slovenia and Austria," Ortolan said. "It is a bit perplexing."

In Italy, adults checking into hotels must hand over ID upon check-in. Hotels are then required to communicate the information to local police. At about 6:30 a.m., police showed up at the Carnia hotel and brought Sollecito to the Udine police station, where he handed over his passport and ID papers.

Since the court didn't order Sollecito detained, he was freed Friday afternoon and was seen driving away with his girlfriend.

Ortolan said the Udine police would officially advise the Florence court about Sollecito's travels, and that it would be up to the court to order any additional restrictions on his movements beyond the prohibition from leaving the country.

The court on Thursday upheld the conviction against Knox and Sollecito, sentencing Knox to 28 1/2 years in prison and Sollecito to 25 years. It noted that Knox was "justifiably abroad" after an appeals court in 2011 acquitted the pair and ordered them freed.

The new conviction immediately set the stage for a drawn-out extradition process for Knox, assuming the verdicts are upheld on final appeal, a process that could take another year.

For Kercher's family, the verdict was another step in what has been more than six years of uncertainty about how Meredith died and finding justice.

"I think we are still on the journey of the truth and it may be the fact that we don't ever really know what happened that night, which will be something we have to come to terms with," said Stephanie Kercher, the victim's sister who attended the verdict with her brother Lyle.

In her Friday morning interview, Knox said the verdict "hit me like a train. I didn't expect this to happen."

Lawyers for both Knox and Sollecito have vowed to appeal, but must wait to see the written reasoning behind the verdict before doing so. The Florence court has 90 days to issue its motivations.

___

Winfield reported from Rome.

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