A fresh-faced young American student accused of stabbing her British roommate to death is just days away from learning whether she will walk free from an Italian court or spend the rest of her life behind bars. Her defense gave its final arguments today and a verdict in the nine-month trial could conclude with a verdict this week.
Seattle-born Amanda Knox is charged with murdering British undergraduate Meredith Kercher at the culmination of a violent sex game. There is, in fact, little evidence to support the sex-game theory, which the defense say is the product of the overactive imagination of chief prosecutor Guiliano Mignini.
With its cast of good-looking protagonists and beguiling setting – the crime took place in the walled medieval town of Perugia – the trial has received blanket coverage in Italy, Britain, and the Pacific Northwest.
A yawning gulf separates the cases put forward by the prosecution and the defense.
Prosecutors claim it is an open and shut case and have asked for life sentences for the University of Washington language student and her Italian ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, who is also accused of murder.
But Ms. Knox's family and supporters insist she is an innocent abroad who had nothing to do with the killing and that she has been subjected to an unwarranted character assassination in the two years since the murder took place.
Just about the only point not in dispute is that Ms. Kercher, a Leeds University student who, like Knox, had just embarked on an exchange study year at Perugia's University for Foreigners, was found dead around midday on Nov. 2, 2007. She had been stabbed in the throat with a knife. Her body was found partially covered by a duvet in her bedroom in the hillside cottage she shared with Knox and two Italian women.
Prosecutors say she was killed by Knox, in league with Mr. Sollecito, and another man, Rudy Guede, a young drifter who was born in the Ivory Coast but came to Italy as a child with his father, a construction worker.
They claim that Knox was tired of being criticized by her British roommate for not pulling her weight with the housecleaning and for bringing male friends back to their shared accommodation.
Under the prosecution scenario, weeks of tension exploded into violence, with Knox allegedly convincing the two men to subject the British woman to a degrading sexual attack and then killing her.
"Probably she would have insulted Meredith," chief prosecutor Mignini told the court.
Knox was summoned for questioning by police four days after the murder. During an all-night interrogation, she went from being a potential witness to a suspect, offering contradictory accounts of where she was that night.
Police say that after hours of questioning she said that she was in the cottage at the time of the killing and that she put her hands over her ears to block out her roommate's screams.
She pinned the killing on a Congolese immigrant, Patrick Lumumba, who ran a bar in Perugia where Knox and Kercher both worked part-time as waitresses.
She later retracted the "confession," saying that she had been coerced into making it after hours of aggressive questioning, during which she had no access to a lawyer or translator, was slapped on the head by a police officer, and repeatedly called "a stupid liar."
But the damage was done. Within days, police had come up with a murder theory that, at that stage, involved Knox, Mr. Sollecito, and Mr. Lumumba. Lumumba was held in prison on suspicion of murder for two weeks until a cast-iron alibi cleared him of any involvement.
Police then focused on another African immigrant – Mr. Guede, who had fled Italy shortly after the murder and was arrested on a train in Germany.
Guede admitted that he had been in the house on the night of the murder, saying that he had met Kercher at a party and that he'd gone home with her.
Traces of his DNA were found on Ms. Kercher's body, in her bedroom, and in the bathroom of the cottage. In a separate trial last year, he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Motive for murder?
Lawyers for Knox and her former boyfriend say that should have been an end to the case – that Guede was the sole killer, entering the house with the intention of robbing it but then subjecting Kercher to a violent attack.
The defense say Knox and Sollecito had no motive for the crime – the American regarded Kercher as "a friend" and if they occasionally had disagreements over cleaning the house, that hardly provided grounds for a brutal murder.
The prosecution's case rests on two pieces of DNA evidence – traces of Knox's DNA on the handle of the presumed murder weapon, a kitchen knife, and a smudge of Sollecito's DNA on the clasp of Ms. Kercher's bra.
Both are far too faint to be reliable, the defense insists. The clasp was found six weeks after the initial crime scene investigation and was kicked around the floor of Kercher's bedroom in the intervening time. Lawyers say Sollecito's DNA could have been inadvertently transferred to it from another object.
It is not even certain that the knife is the murder weapon , with experts casting doubts on whether it could have caused the wounds that Kercher suffered.