Amanda Knox trial closes, but doubt over Italian prosecution, media's role remain

Amanda Knox trial: Jailed since 2007 for the murder of British student, Ms. Knox awaits decision of court on whether her 2009 conviction will be upheld. Defense lawyers say prosecution's evidence is shaky.

Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters
Amanda Knox, the US student convicted of murdering her British flatmate Meredith Kercher in Italy in November 2007, arrives in court after a break during her appeal trial session in Perugia on Friday.

Four years after she was first accused of stabbing to death her British housemate, it is crunch time for Amanda Knox.

An appeals court in the Italian hill town of Perugia is expected to rule on Monday on whether to uphold the American’s 26-year sentence for murdering Meredith Kercher or to acquit her and let her go home to Seattle.

But the case has raised questions over the efficacy and fairness of the Italian judicial system, with Knox’s family and other critics saying prosecutors in Perugia were under so much international pressure to solve the crime that they shoehorned evidence to fit their theory that Ms. Knox and her boyfriend, an Italian computer studies graduate named Raffaele Sollecito, were the killers. There also has been profound disquiet over the degree to which Knox, in particular, was subjected to trial by media in the year after she was arrested and before her trial began.

Trial by media

Ms. Knox has been in prison ever since she was arrested in November 2007. She and Mr. Sollecito, were found guilty of murder and sexual assault at the end of a year-long trial in 2009. As the case draws to a dramatic end, nearly 400 Italian, American, and British journalists have been accredited to cover Knox’s trial, filling Perugia’s sunlit streets with a horde of satellite vans, television crews, and reporters. And the coverage has been devastating to Knox, say her attorneys.

Tabloid journalists plundered photos and messages from her MySpace page, picking up on her nickname, “Foxy Knoxy,” to depict her as a promiscuous vamp with a penchant for living life on the edge and a fascination for the macabre.

The defense said Knox had been “crucified” by lurid coverage in the tabloid press and scurrilous reports of her sex life and supposed promiscuity.

“[She] has been run over by a media tsunami. She is a girl who is very different from how she has been depicted,” Carlo Dalla Vedova, one of Knox’s attorneys, said.

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A rush to judgment?

Defense lawyers launched a strong rebuttal this week of the prosecution’s case, saying that there was no convincing motive for murder, no proven murder weapon, and no genetic trace of Knox or her boyfriend in the bedroom in which Ms. Kercher’s body was found.

Prosecutors had said that Knox’s DNA was on the handle of the alleged murder weapon, a kitchen knife, and Kercher’s genetic material on the blade, linking the American to the killing.

But over the summer two independent forensic experts from La Sapienza University in Rome said that the DNA traces were too low to be reliable and that they could have ended up on the items as a result of contamination during the initial crime scene investigation.

Mr. Dalla Vedova also criticized the fact that she was interrogated without a lawyer being present at a time when she knew only basic Italian, and argued that the kitchen knife purported to be the weapon was not compatible with Kercher’s wounds.

He said the prosecution case was riven with procedural errors and a lack of reliable evidence.

But prosecutors insist on her guilt, using language verging on the misogynistic – describing Knox as a “a she-devil” and a “witch” – in their portrayal of the American as a dissolute manipulator who harbored a deep antipathy toward Kercher. They have asked that Knox’s sentence not only be upheld, but increased to life.

But Dalla Vedova appealed to the jurors not to be afraid of overturning the guilty verdict handed down by the lower court two years ago, telling jurors that “no one is infallible.”

“In the light of the very grave errors in the conviction, the only possible decision that you can take is the acquittal of Amanda Knox,” he said.

Awaiting the ruling

Meanwhile, family and friends of both Knox and Kercher are anxiously awaiting the court's decision. Kercher’s parents and sister are expected to travel to Perugia from the UK in time for the verdict.

One of Kercher’s British friends, who saw her every day when they were studying together in Perugia, believes the original sentences should be upheld. The prospect of an acquittal fills her with dread.

“I can’t believe that will happen. From all that we know it would be crazy, insane. I just hope it won’t happen,” said Natalie Hayward, who left Perugia within days of the murder and now studies psychotherapy in London.

But the Knox family are holding out strong hope that their daughter’s conviction will be quashed and she will be back home in Seattle by early next week.

They can hardly bear to think of the possibility of her remaining in her cramped cell in Capanne prison, outside Perugia.

“I don’t even want to go there,” said her father, Curt Knox, who works as a financial controller for Seattle Opera.

“Obviously it is one of the outcomes that could take place. It’s not one that I think would be just, but I’m not the one who will make that decision – it’s the people sitting on those benches in there, judging the evidence.”

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