Nervous Knox in court as appeal verdict looms

3rd October 2011, Comments 0 comments

Amanda Knox's mother said she was hopeful of her release on Monday as an Italian court prepares to issue a verdict in her appeal against convictions for murder and sexual assault.

Knox entered the courtroom with her head bowed and looked nervous as her defence lawyer Luciano Ghirga summed up the case before the 24-year-old American makes a final statement and the eight-person jury retires to consider its ruling.

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

"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 for the gruesome killing of her British housemate Meredith Kercher, 21, in November 2007 in the hilltop university town of Perugia in central Italy where both girls were studying.

Prosecutors have asked for her sentence and that of her co-appellant Raffaele Sollecito, her boyfriend at the time of the murder, to be increased to life in prison because of the futility of the motives for the killing.

Kercher was found almost completely naked naked on the floor of her bedroom in the house she shared with Knox. The body had dozens of knife wounds and bruises on her body and there was evidence of a sexual assault.

Local small-time drug dealer and petty thief Rudy Guede has 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.

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.

The decision in the appeal, which began in November 2010, will be up to a jury presided by main judge Claudio Pratillo Hellmann and including another judge and six jurors from the general public -- five women and one man.

Whatever the outcome, it seems likely that the details of what exactly happened in the cottage that Knox and Kercher shared will never be clear.

In her first interrogation in November 2007, 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.

Sollecito also told police that Knox had been missing for several hours that evening and that she only came to his place at around one in the morning.

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.

As a result, defence lawyers say there is now no physical evidence placing either Sollecito or Knox at the scene of the murder.

© 2011 AFP

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