CRIME

Amanda Knox awaits verdict in murder trial

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PERUGIA, Italy (AP) - Amanda Knox tearfully told an Italian appeals court Monday she did not kill her British roommate, pleading for the jury to free her so she can return to the United States after four years behind bars. Moments later, the court began deliberations.

Knox frequently paused for breath and fought back tears as she spoke in Italian to the eight members of the jury in a packed courtroom, but managed to maintain her composure during the 10-minute address.

"I've lost a friend in the worst, most brutal, most inexplicable way possible," she said of the 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher, a 21-year-old Briton who shared an apartment with Knox when they were both students in Perugia. "I'm paying with my life for things that I didn't do."

Knox and co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito, Knox's former boyfriend from Italy, were convicted in 2009 of sexually assaulting and murdering Kercher, who was stabbed to death in her bedroom. Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison, Sollecito to 25. They both deny wrongdoing.

"I never hurt anyone, never in my life," Sollecito said Monday in his own speech to the jury.

Hundreds of eager observers gathered outside the courthouse ahead of the highly anticipated announcement, joining television vans that have been camped out for more than a week. One hundred reporters were being allowed into the subterranean courtroom.

Observers lined the street leading to the courthouse, taking pictures as the two vans carrying Knox and Sollecito from the prison to the court passed by.

Kercher's mother, sister and a brother traveled to Perugia for the verdict.

They have expressed worry over the possibility of an acquittal but told reporters as deliberations were under way that they hoped the jury would do the right thing and not be influenced by the media's focus on the case.

"As long as they decide today based purely on the information available to them and they don't look into the media hype, I think justice will be found," the victim's sister, Stephanie Kercher, told reporters. She said the family was satisfied with the original verdicts.

She lamented that Meredith had been "most forgotten" in the media circus surrounding the case, with news photos more frequently showing Knox and Sollecito than "Mez" - the victim's nickname. "It's very difficult to keep her memory alive in all of this," she said.

The family, however, said it could understand the Knox family's media campaign.

"They fully believe in her innocence. You can't blame them for that," said Lyle Kercher, the victim's brother. "But it's obviously hard for us."

The verdict will be broadcast live. Hundreds of reporters and camera crews filled the underground, frescoed courtroom before Knox's address on Monday, while police outside cordoned off the entrance to the tribunal.

The trial has captivated audiences worldwide: Knox, the 24-year-old American, and Sollecito, a soft-spoken Italian, were convicted of murdering a fellow student in what the lower court said had begun as a drug-fueled sexual assault.

Knox insisted Monday that she had nothing to do with the murder and that Kercher was a friend who was always nice to her. Gesticulating, at times clasping her hands together, the American said she has always wanted justice for Kercher.

"She had her bedroom next to mine, she was killed in our own apartment. If I had been there that night, I would be dead," Knox said. "But I was not there."

"I did not kill. I did not rape. I did not steal. I wasn't there," Knox said.
After the morning court session, Knox was relaxing in the prison chapel, playing guitar and singing as she awaited the verdict, according to an Italian lawmaker who visited her in prison Monday.

"These are obviously the most difficult hours," Rocco Girlanda, who has spearheaded a campaign in Italy in support of Knox, told The Associated Press. "The time never seems to pass."

In the event Knox is acquitted, there is nothing in Italian law that would prevent her from leaving the country and returning to the United States - even though any outcome will most certainly be appealed to Italy's highest court. The prosecutor warned the court in his closing arguments this week that Knox would certainly seek "a swift escape abroad," if acquitted.

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