Verdict looms in Amanda Knox sex-murder appeal

2nd October 2011, Comments 0 comments

American Amanda Knox's future hangs in the balance on the eve of a verdict in her appeal against murder and sexual assault convictions for the brutal killing of her British housemate in Italy.

Prosecutors have asked for her 26-year sentence to be increased to life because they say that she, her then boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito and local drug dealer Rudy Guede killed Meredith Kercher in November 2007 "for nothing".

Knox says she is innocent and was at Sollecito's house on the night of the murder in the university town of Perugia where Knox and Kercher were studying.

If the verdict is overturned on Monday, her family has said they will take her back to Seattle immediately even though prosecutors say they would appeal.

The jury can also uphold the verdict and keep the sentence the same, increase it to life in prison or reduce it to a minimum of 16 years in prison.

Under Italian law, appeals are decided by a jury made up of eight people.

Knox's jury is led by main judge Claudio Pratillo Hellmann and includes another judge and six jurors from the general public -- five women and one man.

They will have to stay in chambers until they can reach a verdict.

Overturning a verdict on first appeal is relatively rare in Italy. If it is upheld, Knox would have one more chance in Italy's highest appeals court.

Her alleged accomplice, Guede, was tried separately and sentenced to 30 years in prison on the same charges. The verdict was upheld but then reduced to 16 years on first appeal after he appeared to show some contrition.

The verdict was upheld on Guede's second and final appeal last year.

Kercher was found almost completely naked in a pool of blood with 43 knife wounds and heavy bruising all over her body. Forensic tests determined that she had been sexually assaulted, possibly even while she was being stabbed.

The exchange student from Leeds University in Britain was 21 years old.

Knox's defence has had the upper hand for much of the appeal trial, which began in November 2010. Their request for a review of DNA evidence in the case was accepted and cast doubt on the presumed murder weapon -- a kitchen knife.

Portrayals of Knox in the media -- an important factor since in Italy there are no restrictions on jurors' exposure to news of the case -- has also been more favourable, with reports emphasising the genuine suffering of her family.

Her defence lawyers have ably picked holes in what at times seemed like over-the-top reconstructions of the events. In particular they questioned why the three would find themselves together and all take part in a violent attack.

There have also been none of the tough cross-examinations of Knox that were seen as undermining her case in the original trial because of her evasiveness.

Knox made an emotional statement to the court at the start of the appeal and is to make another on Monday before the jury retires to consider the verdict.

Guede was called into the court in one hearing and said that he "believed" Sollecito and Knox were responsible for the murder but the defence stressed that he was a petty thief, a drug dealer and had lied multiple times to police.

Knox's lawyers also sought to question the reliability of the witness -- a local homeless man -- who says he saw Knox and Sollecito outside Knox's house on the night of the murder, which would undermine their alibis.

Her accusers seems to have resorted to desperate methods including a claim by the main prosecutor in the case that Knox has a one-million dollar public relations campaign behind her and descriptions of her as a "she-devil".

In the final hearings before the verdict they have also however drawn attention to some of the more incriminating elements in the case including Knox's false information to investigators in the days after the murder.

Knox originally told the police that she had been in her house at the time of the murder and had heard Kercher's screams. She identified Patrick Lumumba, the owner of a bar where she worked as a waitress, as the killer.

Lumumba was arrested and held for two weeks before it was found that he had a rock-solid alibi and he was completely exonerated.

Prosecutors say there was also evidence of a staged break-in at the house and point to traces of Knox's blood mixed with Kercher's.

They have emphasised too that she was seen by a shopkeeper on the morning after the murder, which would also undermine her alibi.

© 2011 AFP

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