Amanda Knox makes final plea before Italian appeal decision (video)

'I did not kill, I did not rape, I did not steal. I was not there,' Amanda Knox told the Italian court set to rule later today on the appeal of her 26-year prison sentence for Meredith Kercher's murder.

Antonio Calanni/AP
Amanda Knox, center, is escorted as she arrives for an appeal hearing at the Perugia court, central Italy, Monday, Oct. 3. The 24-year-old Knox looked tense as she entered a packed courthouse. She is expected to address the court in a final plea of her innocence. A verdict is expected later Monday.

Amanda Knox gave the speech of her life today, tearfully appealing to an Italian court to quash the 26-year prison sentence she received after being found guilty of murdering her British flatmate.

In an emotional 10-minute address, the American told the six jurors and two judges who now hold her fate in their hands that she was innocent of the crime.

“I did not kill, I did not rape, I did not steal. I was not there,” she said, her words ringing out around the medieval, frescoed courtroom where her appeal has been heard over the last 11 months.

At their original trial in 2009, Ms. Knox and her former boyfriend, an Italian computer studies graduate named Raffaele Sollecito, were found guilty of sexually assaulting and murdering Meredith Kercher in her bedroom in Perugia, an historic hill town in Umbria, central Italy.

They were also convicted of stealing two mobile phones belonging to the British student, as well as around 300 euros in cash.

They have both steadfastly protested their innocence and were allowed to address the court shortly before the jurors were led into chambers to begin their deliberations.

[ Video is no longer available. ]

Her voice shook and she choked back tears as she pleaded with the court to overturn her guilty verdict and allow her to be reunited with her friends and family in Seattle.

At times she struggled to compose herself, and the judge suggested that she might like to sit down.

But she persevered, standing up to tell the court that there was “friendship,” not hatred, between her and Ms. Kercher before the Briton was killed in early November 2007.

“I am paying with my life for a crime I didn’t commit. I want to go home. I want to go back to my life,” she said.

She speculated that had she been in the house she shared with Kercher on the night of the murder, instead of at her boyfriend’s apartment nearby, she too might have been killed.

“She had her bedroom next to mine, she was killed in our own apartment. If I had been there that night, I would be dead,” Knox said.

She spoke in the fluent Italian that she has learned in the four years that she has been incarcerated in Capanne prison, outside Perugia.

Kercher, who like Knox was at the beginning of a year of study in the walled hill town, had been murdered “in the most brutal, inexplicable way,” the American said.

In summing up last week, prosecutors described Knox as a “she-devil” and a “diabolical witch,” but she insisted: “I am not who they say I am.”

The mystery surrounding the murder, and the highly contradictory and complicated evidence, turned it into a true-life crime story for millions of armchair detectives around the world.

A media caravan is camped outside Perugia’s courthouse, with the satellite trucks of CNN, the BBC, and the other big networks crammed into a picturesque piazza bathed in fall sunshine.

Mr. Sollecito, who is appealing against his 25-year jail term, addressed the packed courtroom just before Knox.

His 17-minute speech was rambling and hesitant, but he insisted that he had “never hurt anyone in my life.” Unlike Knox, he did not mention Kercher by name at any time in his speech.

He showed the court a white rubber wristband inscribed with the words “Free Amanda and Raffaele” and said he had worn it for four years. He said he hoped that the moment was approaching when he could take it off.

He said he had never even met the third person accused of the murder and sexual assault, Rudy Guede. The Ivory Coast-born drifter, who grew up in Perugia, was sentenced to 30 years in jail but it was reduced to 16 years on appeal.

Kercher's mother, Arline, and her sister, Stephanie, flew into Perugia airport from the UK on Monday morning and were joined by one of two brothers, Lyle, at a hotel in the city.

They believe that Knox and Sollecito are guilty of the murder and have said they would be dismayed if the appeal court overturns the original verdicts.

“The Kercher family accepted the lower court's decision that they were guilty and so they are now interested in seeing that sentence confirmed,” Francesco Maresco, the Kerchers' lawyer, said outside the court.

The jury are not expected to hand down their jury before 8 p.m. Italian time.

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