(Updates with quote from Kercher’s sister in 13TH paragraph.)
Oct. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Amanda Knox, a 24-year-old American jailed in Italy for the 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher, told an appeals court deciding her fate today that she didn’t kill her British housemate, a friend with whom she’d “shared” her life.
Knox, who broke down in tears as she left the packed 14th- century courtroom in Perugia, asked the jury to free her and said she’d been “manipulated” by Italian police to confess and “betrayed” by the nation’s justice system. The jury, which has begun deliberations, won’t announce its ruling before 8 p.m.
“The perversion, the violence and the disrespect for life and for people, that’s not me, I didn’t do the things they said I did,” Knox said, speaking in Italian. “I didn’t kill, I didn’t rape, I didn’t rob, I wasn’t there.” Knox said she’s “paying with my life for things I didn’t do.”
An exchange student in Perugia at the time of Kercher’s murder in November 2007, Knox and her Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, 27, were convicted of the killing in December 2009 and sentenced to 26 years and 25 years in prison, respectively. Both defendants were jailed shortly after the crime and denied bail. If the verdict is upheld today, they will have one final chance to appeal to Italy’s highest court.
Rudy Guede, an Ivorian-born Italian citizen, was also found guilty of the murder in a separate “fast-track” trial in 2008 and sentenced to 30 years. Guede, 24, had his sentence reduced to 16 years in a 2009 appeal.
Never Met Guede
Both Knox and Sollecito said in comments to the court today that they had never met Guede, who admitted to being in the house on the night of the killing and said he scuffled with an unidentified Italian there whom he blamed for the murder.
The original trial garnered global media attention and divided opinion along national lines, with U.S. newspapers including the New York Times arguing for acquittal and U.K. dailies portraying Knox as a seductive temptress with a violent streak. Italian newspapers covered everything from love letters Knox received from supporters to the outfits she wore in court.
The appeals trial also saw a wave of foreign media descending on Perugia, a town of 170,000 in central Italy, including local television stations from Knox’s hometown of Seattle. More than 400 journalists were accredited to cover the trial, a court official said, and many were forced to stand during the proceedings in the packed courtroom. Tonight’s ruling will be broadcast live by television networks around the world.
“This story has helped us sell newspapers, but it’s dishonored our name,” said Rosella Gazzella, who owns a newsstand near the courthouse. “I’m scared that they’ll be acquitted.”
Curt Knox, Amanda’s father, on Sept. 28 denied to Sky TG24 television that a U.S. media company had a private jet standing by to fly his daughter out of Italy and pay her for an exclusive interview if the conviction was overturned.
In arguments to the appeals court, Sollecito’s attorney Giulia Bongiorno, a member of the Italian parliament, compared Knox to Jessica Rabbit, saying the American had been unfairly portrayed in the media as a savvy, sex-obsessed manipulator. Like the cartoon-film character, Knox “isn’t bad, she’s just drawn that way,” Bongiorno said. The case is being heard by a jury composed of six private citizens and two judges.
Kercher family members said at a press conference in Perugia today that they believed in the original verdict and that the media focus on Amanda Knox had left the victim of the crime forgotten.
“Meredith has been completely forgotten in all of this,” Stephanie Kercher, Meredith’s sister, said. “It’s nearly four years now and the focus has shifted for obvious reasons onto the proceedings in the court at the moment. It’s very difficult to try keep her memory alive in all of this. That’s why the trial is going on so we can find truth and we can find justice for her.”
Kercher, a 21-year-old U.K. citizen, was found dead in her bedroom, half-naked and strangled with her throat slashed, on Nov. 2, 2007, at the house she shared with Knox and two other women. Prosecutor Giuliano Mignini told the court that Knox had masterminded a drug-fueled sex game involving Sollecito and Guede that turned violent, leading to Kercher’s murder.
During the appeals trial for Knox and Sollecito, court- commissioned experts cast doubt on techniques police used to collect DNA evidence linking the two to the murder. A former cellmate of Guede also testified that he said Knox and Sollecito had nothing to do with the crime, Italian newspapers reported.
Prosecutor Manuela Comodi in a Sept. 24 closing statement denied that the experts’ findings had weakened the case and argued that Knox and Sollecito’s sentences should be extended to life terms.
“Even setting aside the scientific evidence, the outcome of this case cannot be anything less” than the confirmation of the sentences, she said. Comodi also told news agency Ansa that, in case of an acquittal, the prosecution would appeal. In Italy, both prosecutors and defendants can appeal verdicts.
Knox, who told police she discovered her housemate’s body, at first claimed she was in the villa at the time of the killing and that screaming from Kercher’s room alerted her to the crime scene, according to her lawyer Carlo Dalla Vedova. Knox later altered her story. Her lawyer said that her original account had been coerced by the police.
“If I had been there that night, I would be dead like her,” Knox told the court today. “Only I wasn’t there, I was at Raffaele’s.”
Knox also initially named the owner of a bar where she had worked as the possible killer. The man, Patrick Diya Lumumba, was arrested and later released after a witness confirmed his alibi. A lawyer for Lumumba told the court Sept. 26 that Knox was a “she-devil.” Lumumba sued her for damages.
Mignini warned that if Knox was let off on appeal she would flee the country before prosecutors could challenge the court’s decisions. The prosecutor defended the handling of the evidence and urged the jury not to be swayed by the press coverage.
“It’s up to you to save the honor of this sovereign country,” he said.
--With assistance from Flavia Krause-Jackson in New York, Marco Bertacche in Milan and Chiara Vasarri in Perugia, Italy. Editors: Andrew Davis, Jeffrey Donovan
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