New DNA experts in Knox murder appeal
Amanda Knox was back before an Italian court Saturday in her bid to overturn a conviction for the murder of British student Meredith Kercher with new experts reviewing key forensic evidence.
Lawyers for the 23-year-old American have described the appeal as a "key moment" in the case, saying it provides the first opportunity for independent experts to review the evidence which convicted her.
Knox came into court with her head bowed but turned and smiled at her stepfather, Chris Mellas, and mouthed hello to her best friend Madison Paxton, who has moved to Perugia and regularly visits Knox in prison.
She was sentenced to 26 years in prison for the 2007 killing of Leeds University student Kercher, 21, with whom she shared a house in the town of Perugia in central Italy where both were studying.
Raffaele Sollecito, Knox's boyfriend at the time, was sentenced to 25 years for his part in the murder and is also appealing his conviction.
A relaxed looking Sollecito chatted with his guards and smiled at journalists.
In the first hearing this year, two experts from Rome's Sapienza University -- Stefano Conti and Carla Vecchiotti -- were formally appointed to review the evidence.
Conti and Vecchiotti, called in after the court ordered fresh tests on the presumed murder weapon, asked for 90 days to re-examine the DNA evidence used to convict the pair and will present their findings at a hearing on May 21.
"This is a key moment. Today, for the first time, independent experts will be asked to examine the evidence," Knox's lawyer Carlo Dalla Vedova had said ahead of the hearing.
Knox's defence says a kitchen knife -- found in Sollecito's house and said to have Knox's DNA on the handle and Kercher's on the blade -- does not fit the wounds on Kercher.
The absence of blood and low level of Kercher's DNA on the knife mean it was probably contaminated in the lab and should be excluded, they say.
They also want a bra clip with traces of Sollecito's DNA disregarded because it was collected days after the murder, had been moved, and is also likely to be contaminated.
Conti asked the judge for permission to remove the knife handle to test for DNA traces on the lower part of the blade but was told he and Vecchiotti would have to make a formal request to the court.
Mellas, who has been living in Perugia since September to help prepare for the appeal, said "I'm happy the so-called evidence is being reviewed."
"But it's hard to be excited. Things have happened before that sounded good but then you saw how the trial ended. It's a step in the right direction," he said.
Kercher's body was found semi-naked in her room on November 2, 2007. A third person, an Ivorian man called Rudy Guede, was sentenced for his part in the murder in a fast-track trial in 2008.
Knox, Sollecito and Guede were charged with sexually assaulting and killing Meredith in a drug-fuelled attack.
Prosecutors say they want Knox to be sentenced to life in prison -- the term they had requested at the original trial -- if her conviction is upheld.
Mellas said he had visited Knox on Friday ahead of the hearing and said she was tired but "cautiously optimistic... She wishes things would move more quickly."
Knox's friend Madison said "she's doing the best she can to cope, but we both try not to get our hopes up too much."
The Seattle native's lawyers have questioned the reliability of the prosecution's key witness, Antonio Curatolo, a homeless man who testified to seeing Knox and Sollecito the night of the murder.
Curatolo also claimed that he saw students on a bus that night coming from a discotheque in town, a detail challenged by the defence who say there was no disco open that night.
The court will call on the manager of the disco and the bus driver to testify in hearings scheduled for March 12 and 26 and April 16. Kercher's legal team will call on two further witnesses they claim support Curatelo's story.
The outcome of the trial is expected later this year.
Knox has repeatedly protested her innocence and her case has continued to attract large-scale media attention, particularly in the United States and Britain where protest groups have rallied to her defence.
"There's a lot of support in the US. Those who've reviewed the case have come to the same understanding... the evidence doesn't support the verdict. Documentaries in the UK have come to the same conclusion," Mellas said.
In November Knox was indicted on additional charges of slander for claiming police hit her during questioning to coerce her into giving a false confession.
She faces a separate trial on the slander charges from May 17.
© 2011 AFP