updated 02/06/2014 AT 8:00 AM ET
•originally published 02/06/2014 AT 1:45 PM ET
Raffaele Sollecito, emotionally drained and still shaken by the news that he and Amanda Knox were convicted again of the 2007 murder of Knox’s roommate Meredith Kercher, tells PEOPLE he has “no regrets” about returning to Italy to attend the trial.
“I have nothing to hide,” says Sollecito, who returned from the Dominican Republic to attend the legal proceedings and now faces 26 years in prison. “Almost everyone I knew said not to come back, but I made this choice over a year ago with honesty and courage. I wanted to face this this incredible injustice.”
Knox, 26, and Sollecito, 29, who have both maintained their innocence, spent four years in prison before a higher court voided their earlier conviction in 2011. The case was returned to the appellate level, and Knox and Sollecito were convicted again on Jan. 30.
Knox got 28½ years, but it is unclear if she will be forced to return to Italy, since U.S. law prohibits a person from being tried twice on the same charge.
“The Italian prosecutors manufactured a case against Ms. Knox based on innuendo, rank speculation and outrageous inferences drawn from her conduct,” says John Q. Kelly, Sollecito’s U.S. attorney. “Raffaele is collateral damage. His only crimes are honesty and integrity, refusing to assist in a witch hunt in exchange for his freedom.”
Sollecito didn’t attend the reading of the court’s verdict, he says, because he “was confident of a good outcome.” Instead he drove to northern Italy to “celebrate” with his girlfriend what he believed would be an acquittal. The couple traveled to nearby Austria but drove back to Italy when they heard the news on the radio. Officials quickly took Sollecito’s passport and ordered him not to leave the country.
“This has all been very difficult for me,” he says. “I thought I had put it all behind me but it’s not going away.”