CRIME

Amanda Knox awaits verdict in murder trial

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Also convicted in separate proceedings was Rudy Hermann Guede, a small-time drug dealer and drifter who spent most of his life in Italy after arriving here from his native Ivory Coast. Guede was convicted in a separate fast-track procedure and saw his sentence cut to 16 years in his final appeal.

Lawyers for Knox and Sollecito believe Guede was the sole killer, but the prosecution and a lawyer for the Kercher family say that bruises and a lack of defensive wounds on Kercher's body prove that there was more than one aggressor holding her into submission.

Knox said she had nothing more than a passing acquaintance with Guede, who played basketball at a court near the house, and didn't even know his name. Sollecito, who addressed the court before Knox, told jurors that he did not know Guede at all.

Sollecito was anxious as he addressed the court, shifting as he spoke and stopping to sip water. He said prior to the Nov. 1, 2007 murder was a happy time for him, he was close to defending his thesis to graduate from university and had just met Knox.

The weekend Kercher was murdered was the first the pair planned to spend together "in tenderness and cuddles," he said.

At the end of his 17-minute address, Sollecito took off a white rubber bracelet emblazoned with "Free Amanda and Raffaele" that he said he has been wearing for four years.

"I have never taken it off. Many emotions are concentrated in this bracelet," he said. "Now I want to pay homage to the court. The moment to take it off has arrived."

Knox and her family, present in Perugia, hope she will be set free after spending four years behind bars caught up in what they say is a monumental judicial mistake. Prosecutors, who have depicted Knox as a manipulative liar, are seeking to increase her sentence to life in prison.

The jury is made up of the presiding judge, a side judge and six jurors, five of them women, and they have several options as they go into deliberations. They can acquit both defendants and set them free. They can uphold the conviction, then confirm the sentence, reduce it or increase it.

They can theoretically decide to split the fate of Knox and Sollecito, convicting one and acquitting the other.

The verdict doesn't have to be unanimous, only a majority is required.

Over the course of the appeals trial, the defendants' positions have significantly improved, mainly because a court-ordered independent review cast serious doubts over the main DNA evidence linking the two to the crime.

Prosecutors maintain that Knox's DNA was found on the handle of a kitchen knife believed to be the murder weapon, and that Kercher's DNA was found on the blade. They said Sollecito's DNA was on the clasp of Kercher's bra as part of a mix of evidence that also included the victim's genetic profile.

But the independent review - ordered at the request of the defense, which had always disputed those findings - reached a different conclusion.

The two experts found that police conducting the investigation had made glaring errors in evidence-collecting and that below-standard testing and possible contamination raised doubts over the attribution of DNA traces, both on the blade and on the bra clasp, which was collected from the crime scene 46 days after the murder.

The review was crucial in the case because no motive has emerged and witness testimony was contradictory. It was a huge boost for the defense's hope and a potentially fatal blow for the prosecution.

The prosecutors, however, refute the review and stand by their original conclusions.

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