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Amanda Knox: the appeal begins

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From her small cell in Capanne prison just outside the Italian city of Perugia, Amanda Knox has taken to using just one word to describe her strained circumstances: "limbo."

Only last December, Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison for the brutal murder of her flatmate Meredith Kercher, so “limbo” seems an odd choice of words.

Yet 23-year-old Knox continues to maintain her innocence and her appeal hearing is scheduled to start this week (24 Novemeber 2010), which she fervently hopes will overturn her conviction. Many convicted killers go through these same legal motions, yet in Knox’s case there has recently been a groundswell of support for her cause from both criminologists, forensic experts and politicians – including, latterly, Rocco Girlanda, an Italian MP who has written a book in support of her campaign for freedom.

For him, as with so many others, her case continues to exert a peculiar fascination and remains mired in the same series of claims and counter claims which dogged it from the beginning. As a result, the public facts and speculation have been muddled. Some facts however, have been undisputed from the start and remain no less chilling. On the morning of 2 November, 2007, 22-year-old Meredith, who had travelled to Italy to learn Italian at university, was found lying semi-nude in a pool of blood in her room in the cottage she shared with Knox. She had been sexually assaulted and her throat was slit. The murder had clearly been frenzied.

Four days later police had arrested three suspects: Knox, her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito and Patrick Lumumba, a local bar owner, who was later released and exonerated. The same month, Rudy Guede, a 22-year-old drifter from the Ivory Coast was also arrested and later convicted of the sexual assault and murder of Kercher. His DNA was found in several locations in Meredith’s room, alongside his bloody handprint on her pillow.

The prosecution case quickly came to focus on both Knox’s peculiar behaviour and her ever-changing witness statements

When it came to Knox and Sollecito, however, the case was altogether more complex. While phone records showed that Knox had spoken to Rudy Guede several times before and after the murder there was little forensic evidence directly linking her to the attack aside from one kitchen knife with Knox’s DNA on the handle and Meredith’s on the tip. The prosecution case instead quickly came to focus on both Knox’s peculiar behaviour and her ever-changing witness statements following her arrest: after initially maintaining she was at Sollecito’s flat the night of the murder, she later claimed to have had a vision that she was in the kitchen of the cottage she shared with Kercher on the night of the murder and had heard screams. Her story then changed again, with Knox claiming she had been confused and intimidated when she made her statement.

Her behaviour, meanwhile, also became the focus of worldwide scrutiny, with reports that she had turned cartwheels in the police station while waiting to be questioned. The prosecution case, ultimately, centred on the claim that Knox and Sollecito, high on cannabis, had murdered Meredith together with Rudy Guede after she refused to join in a sex game. Yet while three people ultimately stood trial for Meredith’s murder, it was Knox in the media spotlight. For them she became, simply, ‘Foxy Knoxy’, a soubriquet she had earned due to her footballing skills as a child, but which became bywords for her allegedly aggressive sexuality.

Kercher will remain something of a tragic and unanswered puzzle.

Her trial was less straightforward however. Stretched out over many weeks, with sittings taking place on three days a week at most, it was scene of ever-evolving alibis, new witnesses and disputes over forensic evidence. Accusations of police corruption and bias – not uncommon in the Italian legal system – dogged much of the trial during its duration, while as it unfolded nine forensic experts from the US wrote an open letter maintaining that the DNA evidence that convicted her was so flawed it would never have been put before a British or American court.

Unsurprisingly the idea of the appeal has put Kercher’s family under yet more stress. At the time of the original trial’s conclusion, Kercher’s brother Lyle revealed the family’s feelings over the verdict, saying, "Ultimately we are pleased with the verdict. It’s not a time for celebration. It’s not a moment of triumph." But as another one looms and the horrific details of Kercher’s death are re-lived it’s far from surprising it’s having a detrimental effect on the family with Lyle revealing, “until the appeal is over there’s still that black cloud hanging over everything.”

Nonetheless, on 9 December 2009, both Knox and Sollecito were convicted of murder. Nearly a year on, with her long hair cut short, Knox is said to feel optimistic about her appeal. Only she knows what she was doing on that dreadful night three years ago – and whether or not she is cleared before the year is out, it’s obvious that the murder of Meredith Kercher will remain, for most of us, not least her grieving family, something of a tragic and unanswered puzzle.

Words: Kathryn Knight. Picture credits: Rex Features

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