Knox pleads for mercy as murder verdict looms

3rd October 2011, Comments 0 comments

American student Amanda Knox broke down in court and pleaded for mercy on Monday as an Italian jury retired to consider its verdict in her appeal against convictions for murder and sexual assault.

"I did not kill, I did not rape, I did not steal. I wasn't there," she told jurors in a courtroom in the university town of Perugia in central Italy that was packed with dozens of photographers, cameramen and Knox supporters.

"I am paying with my life for a crime I did not commit," she said.

"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.

The 24-year-old also said 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 unspeakable way possible," she said of the victim, her British housemate and fellow student Meredith Kercher.

Kercher, 21, was found half-naked in a pool of blood in 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.

Knox's sister Deanna cried as she spoke and the judge said she could sit down if she preferred. But Knox gathered her strength and remained standing.

She entered the courtroom 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 since before dawn.

Francesco Maresca, a lawyer for Kercher's family, said: "The Kerchers want the verdict to be upheld. The hours of waiting will be long and their only wish is for Meredith to be remembered outside the confines of the court."

Knox's co-appellant Raffaele Sollecito, her boyfriend at the time of the killing, also made a statement ahead of the verdict saying: "I have never hurt anyone in my life. The accusations are completely deranged."

He held up a bracelet with "Free Amanda and Raffaele" written on it to the court and said he had worn it throughout his time in prison.

"Every end of a day in prison is like death," Sollecito said.

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.

"We're all tense but hopeful because the defence has clearly shown that Amanda is innocent," Knox's mother, Edda Mellas, told reporters.

"But we can't allow ourselves to get too caught up in the wave of optimism now surrounding the case because there was no evidence last time," she said.

Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison and Sollecito to 25 years.

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 the analysis of two pieces of evidence that helped convict Knox and Sollecito -- a kitchen knife and Kercher's bra clasp.

Police said they had found Knox's DNA on the handle and Kercher's on the knife, the presumed murder weapon, which was found in Sollecito's kitchen.

The bra clasp was picked up by investigators at the scene of the murder several weeks after the killing and was believed to have Sollecito's DNA on it.

But independent experts commissioned by the appeal court said the DNA work in the investigation had been shoddy and that the DNA traces were too low.

© 2011 AFP

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