DCSIMG

Two deny murder as Meredith trial opens

A SMILING Amanda Knox walked into court yesterday to stand trial for the murder of a British student Meredith Kercher.

Dressed in a grey hooded sweatshirt, Knox, 21, smiled and shook hands with her legal team as she was led into the city's historic Aula dei Affreschi, or Court of the Frescoes.

She seemed overwhelmed by the mass of over 150 journalists and TV crews. For several seconds, all that could be heard was the clicking of cameras.

Knox is jointly charged with her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, 24, of the brutal murder of Meredith, 21. The Leeds University student was found semi-naked and with her throat cut in her bedroom in the house she shared with Knox in Perugia in November 2007.

Six jury members – three men and three women – were sworn in by the court, presided over by judge Giancarlo Massei.

Sollecito, who has cut his long hair and was dressed in a green jumper and beige rollneck, did not exchange glances with Knox.

The American did smile at her aunt, Christine Hagge, who sat in the back of the court. Knox's parents, Curt and Edda, did not attend the opening.

The hearing began with a request from the Kercher family lawyer, Francesco Maresca, for the hearing to be conducted behind closed doors.

However, Knox's lawyers, Luciano Ghirga and Carlo Dalla Vedova, both objected to this, as did Sollecito's lawyer, Giulia Bongiorno.

Ms Bongiorno said: "The rights of justice have to be protected. We are not going to betray the dignity of the victim by producing photographs of her at every hearing. We are going to demonstrate that there is no evidence against Raffaele Sollecito and that the DNA evidence...does not exist."

Meredith, from Coulsdon, Surrey, had been in Italy for just two months, as part of a year-long exchange programme with her European Studies degree. Police suspect she was murdered after refusing to take part in a drug-fuelled sex game, with her death staged to resemble the aftermath of a robbery. Rudy Guede, 21, a drifter originally from the Ivory Coast, was jailed for 30 years last October for his part in the killing. Knox and Sollecito, a computer studies graduate, both deny the charges. Their lawyers base their defence on the theory that DNA evidence has been contaminated.

After a brief adjournment, Judge Massei ruled that the case would be heard in public, but he reserved the right to exclude the media as he deemed fit.

During legal arguments, Ms Bongiorno claimed that Sollecito had been kept in jail for 24 hours and was held without access to legal representation following that, before being grilled by Giuliano Mignini, described as a notorious case prosecutor.

Ms Bongiorno also described how Sollecito had been kept in jail because of the evidence of the "famous bloody footprint" and added that, at the time, requests to examine it were turned down. She said: "It was later shown that this bloody footprint belonged to Rudy Guede."

She added: "The prosecution says this was a sex crime that evolved out of a party, but we will prove the crime scene was not a party scene. There were no empty glasses, no wine, no music. We will also show that Raffaele did not know Rudy Guede, and that the first time he saw him was in court."

Meanwhile, Knox's lawyer, Luciano Ghirga, said that her so- called "confession" should be thrown out. Mr Ghirga said: "She had been questioned all night, without a lawyer and without an interpreter. She had no idea that she was even being questioned as a suspect; therefore, her so-called confession should not be admitted."

As she left court, a British journalist asked Knox how it went. She smiled, and replied: "Fine."

The trial is expected to last until autumn.

Who's Who

AMANDA KNOX

THE 21-year-old student who liked to be known as Foxy Knoxy has been the focus for much of the investigation into the murder of her flatmate. Amanda Knox was a lively, carefree girl, who lived for pleasure, according to her former boyfriend. But the American student of Italian, German and creative writing has been adamant throughout her trial that: "I'm no murderer." Her family, who are based in Seattle, believe she is innocent and have set up a defence fund and a website for supporters.

MEREDITH KERCHER

MEREDITH Kercher, who was known to her family as Mez, was a young woman with everything to live for. The 21-year old student at the University of Leeds had come to Perugia under the Erasmus exchange programme to study modern history, politics and cinema. Her parents Arline and John, who lived in Coulsdon, Surrey said: "She was one of the most beautiful, intelligent, witty and caring people you could wish to meet."

RAFFAELE SOLLECITO

RAFFAELE Sollecito, a computer graduate from the Italian town of Giovinazzo, had only known Amanda Knox for two weeks when Meredith Kercher was murdered.

The son of a wealthy doctor, the 24-year-old lived in his own flat in Perugia. Early reports suggested Knox planned to blame her boyfriend for the murder, but they are now expected to plead not guilty together. His family have vowed to prove his innocence.

GIULIANO MIGNINI

PIPE smoking chief prosecutor Giuliano Mignini is a well known figure in Perugia. But controversy still surrounds his role in the search for the 1970s killer the Monster of Florence. Mignini became convinced a satanic sect was behind for the strange deaths of 14 people.

Mignini has been a key exponent of the theory that Kercher's death was the result of a ritualistic sex game inspired by Japanese comics and Halloween movies.

The case for the defence

DEFENCE lawyers for Knox and Sollecito say the prosecution's story of a sex party gone wrong is "a fantasy" and that Meredith Kercher was killed by Rudy Guede who was jailed for 30 years in October 2008 after being convicted in a fast track trial. Sollecito's lawyers say they can prove their client only saw Guede for the first time in court.

Sollecito claims he was in his own flat in Perugia at the time of the murder, while Knox has claimed to be with him. Both suspects say their use of marijuana was partly responsible for the confusion in the accounts given to the police.

The family of Amanda Knox claim she was interrogated for 14 hours at the police station and was given no food, no water and no interpreter. According to Italian reports the lawyers for Knox and Sollecito will argue that Italian police also moved objects at the scene of the murder. They are also expected to argue that the knife on which the DNA of both suspects was found could not have caused the injuries which killed Meredith. The team for Knox will also say traces of her DNA were on the knife because she used it for cooking – but the presence of her DNA did not necessarily prove her blood was also on the knife. The defence lawyers are expected to argue that Meredith Kercher was killed by Rudy Guede alone.

The case for the prosecution

EARLY reports suggested Amanda Knox appeared 'proud' to have discovered her flatmate's body, and gave details only someone who witnessed or committed the crime would have known.

DNA from Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito was also found on a 30cm kitchen knife found at Sollecito's flat that was said to be the murder weapon.

The prosecution argue that Amanda Knox held the knife to her flatmate's throat while the two men held her down.

The DNA of Knox, Rudy Guede and Raffaele Sollecito were all said to have been found on the bloodied bra strap of Meredith Kercher. Forensic experts say it proves that three people were at the scene.

Knox changed her story about where she was on the night of her flatmate's death. Originally she said she had been in the kitchen and too scared to move when an intruder broke into the flat but she later claimed to have been with Sollecito at his flat in Perugia.

Sollecito claimed to have been surfing the internet in his flat on the night of the murder, but police said his computer records do not support this.

Much has been made of the defendants' behaviour after the crime. Knox and Sollecito were spotted kissing outside the police station and were also seen buying sexy underwear together just days after the murder.

 
 
 

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