Italian murder trial saga draws to an end

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After lurid headlines, multiple books and even a film, a verdict in Amanda Knox's appeal against her conviction for murdering a British student in an Italian university town is now expected within days.

Media coverage of the killing of British student Meredith Kercher in Perugia on the night after Halloween 2007 has concentrated on Knox -- portrayed alternately as an American naif abroad or a brooding figure consumed by hatred.

The truth is that even the verdict -- expected later this week or early next week after closing arguments in the appeal -- may not shed light on what exactly happened that gruesome night in the stone cottage that Knox and Kercher shared.

Several observers have said the convictions of Knox and her then boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito could be overturned after experts commissioned by the court cast serious doubts on some of the DNA evidence that helped convict them.

The prosecution has tried and failed to get the judge to order another analysis of the alleged murder weapon and Kercher's bra clasp and has pointed to other evidence, as well as damning details of Knox's initial questioning.

Knox and Sollecito "deserve life sentences," prosecutor Manuela Comodi said on Saturday in her final argument before the six-person jury.

"Reasonable doubt? For me, there has never been any," she said.

But prosecutors have failed to establish any real motive and have put forward a theory that Kercher, 21, may have been killed as part of a drug-fuelled sexual attack by Knox, Sollecito and a third person, Rudy Guede.

Guede has been sentenced separately and is serving a 16-year sentence, having exhausted his appeals. Like Knox and Sollecito, who were sentenced to 26 and 25 years at trial, Guede has protested his innocence.

According to the prosecution's theory, Kercher was killed by Knox herself while being held down by Sollecito and Guede, who has pointed the finger at Sollecito and Knox as the murderers.

Knox told investigators during initial questioning just days after the murder that she had been in the house at the time of the killing and had heart Kercher's screams, pointing the finger at a local bar owner as the murderer.

The bar owner, Patrice Lumumba, was later found to have a rock-solid alibi.

Knox's defence now say she was with Sollecito at his home and they have pushed hard to cast doubt on the DNA evidence on a kitchen knife and Kercher's bra clasp, which helped convict them in December 2009.

The appeal opened in November 2010 with a frail-looking Knox breaking down at one of the first hearings to say she was "unjustly convicted", spoke of her "broken life" and paid tribute to Kercher.

She also apologised to Lumumba, saying: "I should have withstood the pressures that made me do you wrong." Knox has claimed that police beat her during questioning -- for which she faces a separate charge of slander.

As the appeal has evolved and the defence's case has been strengthened by the independent review of the DNA evidence, Knox has also appeared to relax.

At a recent concert by Italian rock group Hot at the women's prison in Perugia, Knox and others danced "wildly" according to the band's signer Leonardo.

She has even written a scenario for one of the band's upcoming music clips.

At recent hearings, Knox has smiled at her parents, who now attend virtually every court sitting, while exchanging flirtatious glances with Sollecito.

This week the Kercher family's lawyer, Francesco Maresca, is expected to make his final arguments, followed by those for the defence. Prosecutors will then have a chance to respond and the court will adjourn for a verdict.

© 2011 AFP

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