Court battle over DNA as Knox murder appeal winds up

5th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

The appeal trial of Amanda Knox over the murder of British student Meredith Kercher in a medieval Italian town moved towards a verdict on Monday amid heated exchanges over key DNA evidence.

Commissioned by the court, the independent experts have cast serious doubts on the original DNA analysis on a bra clasp and a kitchen knife that helped convict US student Knox and her then Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito.

"We're happy that their experts agreed with our experts," Knox's stepfather, Chris Mellas, told reporters ahead of the hearing in the university town of Perugia where the murder took place in 2007.

"This is the nail in the coffin for this evidence," he said.

Mellas attended the hearing along with Knox's father, Curt Knox, and a friend of Knox's from Seattle in the northwestern United States.

Knox, 24, looked tense throughout the hearing and did stretching exercises during pauses in the trial, while Sollecito appeared relaxed and smiling.

Lawyers have said they expect a verdict by the end of the month in an appeal which began in December 2010 but has proceeded only very gradually.

Newspaper reports said early October was the latest date for a conclusion.

Kercher, 21, was found half-naked with her throat slashed in a pool of blood in her bedroom in the house that she shared with Knox on November 2, 2007.

The investigation instantly became a media sensation, with British tabloids focusing on sordid details about Knox's uninhibited lifestyle in Perugia. There have since been several books about the case and even a television film.

Prosecutors at the original trial said the murder was the result of a drug-fuelled sexual assault by Sollecito, Knox and a third person, Rudy Guede, who has been convicted separately and is serving a 16-year sentence.

Sollecito and Knox are serving 25 and 26 years in prison, respectively.

During initial questioning by police, Knox said she had been in the house at the time of the murder and that she believed the killer was Patrice Lumumba, a local bar owner subsequently found to have been innocent.

She now says she was at Sollecito's house at the time of the murder.

At Monday's hearing, a lawyer for the victim's family questioned the new DNA experts' conclusions, triggering heated exchanges.

Questioned about the analysis of Kercher's bra clasp believed in the original trial to contain Sollecito's DNA, one of the independent experts, Carla Vecchiotti said she found it contained too many traces to be reliable.

Vecchiotti said that apart from the victim's DNA, she had found small traces of at least 17 other people including Sollecito and herself -- presumably as a result of her being the one who carried out the most recent tests.

"I didn't mention them in my report because there are too many," she said.

"Your DNA could be on it, just like mine. Anyone's DNA could be on there!" Vecchiotti, who is head of the genetic forensics laboratory at La Sapienza university in Rome, shouted at the Kercher family lawyer, Francesco Maresca.

She said some of the evidence may have been contaminated by dust containing mixed traces of DNA, as well as through sloppy police work.

Giulia Bongiorno, an Italian member of parliament and lawyer who is representing Sollecito, said: "There is no longer proof against Raffaele Sollecito and that means everything else will disintegrate."

The author of the original DNA analysis, police forensics scientist Patrizia Stefanoni also took to the stand and defended her work at a highly technical hearing that was attended by some of Italy's leading DNA experts.

Stefanoni has said she plans to sue to defend her reputation.

© 2011 AFP

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