Italian experts doubt DNA in Knox murder trial

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Italian experts raised serious doubts Monday over DNA evidence that helped convict Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend for the murder of British student Meredith Kercher in 2007.

The experts, who have been carrying out tests as part of the convicted pair's appeal, told the Perugia court that international procedures had not been followed and evidence had been tainted during the original investigation.

They said police had not changed their gloves before picking up Kercher's bra clasp, which the first trial linked to Knox's boyfriend at the time, Raffaele Sollecito -- and had likely contaminated the DNA traces found on it.

"There is a series of circumstances which do not follow protocol and procedures," forensic expert Stefano Conti told the court.

Detailed analysis of footage taken during the collection of evidence at the crime scene showed that "a dirty glove touched the clasp," he said.

"Today there has been a thorough and unequivocable analysis of the DNA, the only element for which Sollecito was convicted," lawyer Giulia Bongiorno said, adding that her client was "incredulous" the tests had not been done before.

"These are not words or opinions. These are photographs which clearly show the contamination. It's a shame these tests were only done today because we've been calling for them for a long time," she added.

The original trial had said that a kitchen knife found at Sollecito's house was the murder weapon, because traces of Knox's DNA were found on the handle and Kercher's DNA was found on the blade.

The independent experts attempted to re-examine the findings but discovered there was not enough DNA left on the evidence to carry out a test.

They then retraced the steps taken by Italy's forensic police and concluded that the original DNA traces on the knife and clasp had either been so weak that they were unreliable matches, or had been contaminated.

"There are traces of starch on the knife, not blood. It means it was used to cut bread, not to commit murder," said Sollecito's lawyer Luca Maori.

Kercher, an exchange student from Leeds University, was found in a pool of blood in the cottage she shared with Knox in the Italian university town. Her throat had been slit.

Prosecutors have said they believe Knox and Sollecito killed Kercher in a drug-fuelled sexual assault, but the blond-haired Seattle native says she was at Sollecito's house at the time of the murder.

Knox and Sollecito were sentenced to 26 years and 25 years each in 2009.

A third person, Rudy Guede, was also convicted for the murder. While he has admitted to having sex with Meredith in the house shortly before the homicide, he claims he was out of the room when she was attacked.

Knox's mother, Edda Mellas, said it had been a "good day" but Amanda's family and friends would "fight on, until she is released from prison."

Patrizia Stefanoni, the police forensic scientist who found the DNA on the kitchen knife and the torn bra clasp, has said she will fight the experts' accusation that basic errors were made on her watch.

"I am angry about the false statements in this report and ready to come to court to highlight the past record of these experts," she told Britain's Observer newspaper in an interview published on Sunday.

"I am also looking into taking legal action against them," she said.

The next hearing in the appeal was set for July 30.

© 2011 AFP

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