Knox murder appeal edges towards verdict

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An appeal by Amanda Knox against her conviction for the gruesome murder of a British student in Italy moved towards its final stages on Monday as DNA experts came under fierce cross-examination.

Commissioned by the court, the experts have cast serious doubts on the original DNA analysis that helped convict Knox and her then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, criticising its methodology and questioning its conclusions.

"We're happy that their experts agreed with our experts," Knox's stepfather, Chris Mellas, told reporters ahead of the hearing in the Italian medieval university town of Perugia where the murder took place in 2007.

"This is the nail in the coffin for this evidence," he said.

Mellas attended the hearing along with Knox's father, Curt Knox, and a friend of Knox's from Seattle in the northwestern United States.

Lawyers have said they expect a verdict by the end of the month in an appeal which began in December 2010 but has proceeded only very gradually.

Newspaper reports said early October was the latest date for a conclusion.

Kercher, 21, was found half-naked with her throat slashed in a pool of blood in her bedroom in the house that she shared with Knox on November 2, 2007.

The case instantly became a media sensation, with British tabloids focussing on sordid details about Knox's uninhibited lifestyle in Perugia.

Prosecutors at the original trial said the murder was the result of a drug-fuelled sexual assault by Sollecito, Knox and a third person, Rudy Guede, who has been convicted separately and is serving a 16-year sentence.

Sollecito and Knox are serving 25 and 26 years in prison respectively.

During initial questioning by police, Knox said she had been in the house at the time of the murder and that she believed the killer was Patrice Lumumba, a local bar owner subsequently found to have been completely innocent.

She now says she was at Sollecito's house at the time of the murder.

At Monday's hearing, a lawyer for victim Meredith Kercher's family questioned the new DNA experts' conclusions, triggering heated exchanges.

Questioned about the analysis of Kercher's bra clasp believed in the original trial to contain Sollecito's DNA, one of the independent experts, Laura Vecchiotti said she found it contained too many traces to be reliable.

Vecchiotti said that apart from the victim's DNA, she had found small traces of at least 17 other people including Sollecito and herself -- presumably as a result of her being the one who carried out the most recent tests.

"I didn't mention them in my report because there are too many," she said.

"Your DNA could be on it, just like mine. Anyone's DNA could be on there!" Vecchiotti, who is head of the genetic forensics laboratory at La Sapienza university in Rome, shouted at the Kercher family lawyer, Francesco Maresca.

A prosecutor also told the court that she had retrieved the original raw data from the DNA work carried out on the bra clasp and a knife believed to be the murder weapon that had been requested by lawyers for the defence.

"We found them in a garage," she told the court, adding: "We believe they are admissible to the court."

Defence lawyers rejected the findings as coming "too late" and asked the judge to exclude them from the trial.

The judge, Claudio Pratillo Hellmann, was still to make a decision.

© 2011 AFP

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