Amanda Knox not guilty, says Italian mafioso

Amanda Knox is serving a 26-year sentence for murder in Italy. Will new testimony – and forensic evidence – be enough to overturn her conviction?

By , Correspondent

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    Amanda Knox, center, sits between her two lawyers during a preliminary hearing in Perugia, Italy, June 1. Ms. Knox, the American student convicted of killing her British roommate in Italy, is not guilty, according to a jailed Italian mafioso.
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The extraordinary saga of Amanda Knox, the American student convicted of killing her British roommate in Italy, has taken a new, quintessentially Italian twist.

An Italian mafia turncoat claims that his brother killed the 21-year-old British woman, Meredith Kercher, during a bungled robbery and that Ms. Knox, from Seattle, is entirely innocent.

The claim will form part of the appeal that Knox’s Italian lawyers are preparing and which is expected to be heard this fall. There are two levels of appeal in the Italian judicial system. At the first level, analysts say, this new testimony might get Knox's sentence reduced. On the second level, which could be two years or more away, it might overturn her conviction.

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The new claim gives the former University of Washington student fresh hope in the fight to overturn her 26-year jail sentence, handed down by a court in Perugia at the culmination of a year-long trial that received intense media coverage on both sides of the Atlantic.

The mafia turncoat, Luciano Aviello, claims that he and his brother, Antonio, were living in Perugia, the walled medieval town in Umbria where the murder took place in November 2007. He has told Knox’s defense team that one night his brother returned home with an injury to his right arm and his jacket covered in blood.

“He said he had broken into a house, where he had killed a girl, and then had run away,” Mr. Aviello told Knox's lawyers, according to an Italian news magazine, Oggi.

He said his brother and an Albanian man named Florio had broken into the hillside cottage that Ms. Kercher shared with Knox and two Italian women.

The Leeds University student was alone in the house. The men were looking to steal anything of value, but when Kercher saw them, she started screaming.

Antonio Aviello allegedly tried to silence her by putting his hand over her mouth but she resisted and, according to this unsubstantiated version of events, he ended up fatally stabbing her.

Kercher, who like Knox was on a year-long course in Perugia, was found lying dead in her bedroom on the morning of Nov. 2, 2007.

'My brother confessed to me'

Luciano Aviello, who is serving a 17-year sentence for associating with the Naples-based Camorra mafia, insists that the two men convicted alongside Knox of the murder – her Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, and Rudy Guede, a local drifter – are also innocent of the crime. They are serving jail terms of 25 years and 16 years respectively.

"It was my brother who killed Meredith on the night of November 1, 2007. Amanda, Raffaele, and Guede are innocent," Aviello reportedly told Knox’s lawyers. “I know because my brother confessed to me and asked me to hide a blood-stained knife and a bunch of keys. I hid them underneath a wall, behind my house, covering them with soil and rubble.”

Aviello says he can show police exactly where the knife and the keys are hidden.

His claims chime with some realities of the case. The trial heard that the knife, which the prosecution claimed was the murder weapon, did not fit the wounds of Kercher’s neck. Traces of DNA linking it to Knox were weak and highly questionable. Nor have the keys to the cottage ever been found.

The police will take no action on Aviello’s startling claims until an appeals court decides whether to admit them as evidence. No warrant has been issued for Antonio Aviello’s arrest, and his whereabouts are unknown.

Why turn in your brother?

Luciano Aviello’s motives for naming his brother as the murderer may lie in the hope that in return for giving valuable information to the authorities, he might earn a reduction in his sentence.

Whatever the truth of his assertions, Knox’s lawyers, Carlo Dalla Vedova and Luciano Ghirga, want him to be admitted as a witness. They visited him in March at a jail near Turin and made a videotape of his statement.

They have insisted that, although his claims may seem far-fetched, during the 11-month trial the prosecution was allowed to call equally unreliable witnesses, including a homeless man and an Albanian immigrant whose testimony was shown to be full of holes.

“I think it’s a ploy by the defense to show that the trial was unfair and that some of the witnesses that the prosecution was allowed to call were ludicrous,” says Barbie Latza Nadeau, the author of “Angel Face – The True Story of Student Killer Amanda Knox."

“As a mafia turncoat, he was considered credible enough to be used by the state in mafia-related matters, so Knox’s defense are asking why he shouldn’t be heard on this case.”

Ms. Nadeau, who covered the trial for Newsweek and opinion website The Daily Beast, says that Knox may win a reduction of her sentence at the first level of appeal, on the basis of alleged mistakes made by the judge in his sentencing.

But she says that any chance of having the conviction and sentence overturned would only come if, and when, the case is referred to Italy’s highest ‘Cassazione’ court. “That could take another two or three years, if not longer,” she says.

Slander hearing begins this week

In the meantime, Knox faces separate legal proceedings for slander after she claimed during the trial that officers slapped her around the head when they questioned her a few days after the killing.

The slander case, which is ongoing despite the appeal against her murder conviction, will next be heard on Thursday, June 17. If found guilty of slander, Knox could face another six years in jail, on top of the 26 years she is currently serving.

During evidence she gave in court last summer, she demonstrated how a woman police officer had allegedly twice hit her around the head and called her a “stupid liar.”

She was saying ‘Come on, come on, remember’ and then – slap – she hit me. Then ‘come on, come on’ and – slap – another one.”

Italian police have strenuously denied that Knox was subjected to any physical abuse.

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