Knox pleads for mercy as Italy murder verdict looms
US student Amanda Knox pleaded for mercy on Monday ahead of an imminent verdict in her appeal on murder and sexual assault as victim Meredith Kercher's family said their loved one had been forgotten.
"I did not kill, I did not rape, I did not steal. I wasn't there," the tearful 24-year-old told jurors in the university town of Perugia in a court packed with dozens of photographers, cameramen and Knox supporters.
"I am paying with my life for a crime I did not commit," an ashen-faced Knox said, speaking in almost flawless Italian with her hands sometimes joined as if in prayer in a hushed courtroom, just before the jury retired for the verdict.
"I want to go home. I want to return to my life," she said in a statement that she had to interrupt frequently as she struggled to contain her emotions.
Knox also told the court that her faith in Italian police had been "betrayed" and that she had been "manipulated" during her four-year legal saga.
"I lost a friend in the most brutal and inexplicable way possible," she said of her housemate Kercher, a 21-year-old British student in the same town.
"I am not the person they say I am. I am not into perversion and violence," she said, after her accusers told the court that she was a "she-devil".
Kercher was found on November 2, 2007 half-naked in a pool of blood on the floor of her bedroom in the cottage she shared with Knox. Her body was covered in dozens of knife wounds and bruises and investigators found traces of a sexual assault.
"The brutality of that night, everything Meredith went through, the fear, the terror, she didn't deserve that," Kercher's sister Stephanie said, wiping away tears in a rare press conference after flying to Perugia for the verdict.
"Mez has been forgotten in all of this. It's difficult to keep her memory alive. We're here today to find justice," she added, using a nickname used by the family and speaking alongside her mother Arline and brother Lyle.
Kercher said jurors should ignore the "media hype" in the case while Lyle Kercher condemned Knox's defence saying: "It's difficult for our legal team, who are battling against what is essentially a large PR machine."
Knox entered the court with her head bowed wearing a black hooded jacket and dark green top as dozens of photographers, cameramen and supporters packed the hall for the final day of her appeal after queueing from before dawn.
She sometimes held the table for her support while she spoke and later hugged her lawyer Luciano Ghirga before being driven out of the tribunal in a police van with sirens blaring as the tense wait for the verdict set in.
Knox's co-appellant Raffaele Sollecito, her former boyfriend, also made a statement before the verdict, saying: "I have never hurt anyone in my life."
He took off a white bracelet with "Free Amanda and Raffaele!" written on it and said he had worn it throughout his time in prison. He presented it to the court, saying it was a symbol of his and Knox's innocence.
Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellmann said the verdict was expected after 8:00 pm (1800 GMT). Under the Italian system, the eight-person jury includes Hellmann himself, another judge and six jurors from the general public.
Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison and Sollecito to 25 years in 2009.
Prosecutors have asked for their sentences to be increased to life in prison during the appeal, which began in November 2010.
Local small-time drug dealer and petty thief Rudy Guede has also been convicted on the same charges as Knox and Sollecito but was tried separately and is serving a 16-year sentence after exhausting his appeals.
Knox and Sollecito would have one more appeal if the verdict is upheld.
All three convicted for the murder have protested their innocence, although Guede claims he was in the house that night but did not wield the knife.
Prosecutors say the murder was the result of a sexual attack on Kercher and that Knox slashed her housemate while the other two held her down. They say Guede may have been in the house for a drug deal with Knox and Sollecito.
In her first interrogation, Knox said she was in the house at the time of the murder and she falsely identified the owner of a bar where she worked as a waitress as the killer. He was arrested but quickly exonerated.
Knox now says that she was with Sollecito at his house all night and that her initial comments were misunderstood and only given after heavy questioning.
The key to the appeal has been an independent analysis of two pieces of evidence that helped convict Knox and Sollecito -- a kitchen knife and Kercher's bra clasp. The review cast serious doubt on the original analysis.
© 2011 AFP