Italian murder trial of US student nears end

Lawyers for American student Amanda Knox had their last chance on Thursday to convince a jury she is innocent of the murder of her British roommate.

Perugia: Lawyers for American student Amanda Knox had their last chance on Thursday to convince a jury she is innocent of the murder of her British roommate.

The session in the courtroom in Perugia was set aside for rebuttals by prosecutors as well as by lawyers for Knox and her Italian former boyfriend, who is also accused of murdering Meredith Kercher.

Knox and co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito insist they are innocent.

Kercher was found fatally stabbed in the neck in November 2007 in her bedroom at the rented home she shared with Knox in Perugia. Kercher, Knox and Sollecito were all students in the Umbrian university town.

A verdict by the eight-member jury, which includes two judges, in the nearly yearlong trial could come as soon as Friday.

Escorted by prison guards, Knox looked tense as she came to the courtroom, where one of the prosecutors, Manuela Comodi was opening the day`s proceedings with another appeal to the court to convict the two defendants.

Defence lawyers have a chance to counter the prosecutors` arguments when they address the court on Thursday afternoon.

While often smiling during much of the trial, the weight of two years in jail and the possibility of a conviction and a life sentence appeared to have taken their toll on Knox. She recently wept as she proclaimed her innocence before the court.

Prosecutors have requested a life sentence for Knox and Sollecito on charges they sexually assaulted and murdered Kercher, who shared a rented house with the American and other students in Perugia.

Both Knox, a 22-year-old student from Seattle, and Sollecito, an Italian who was her boyfriend at the time, have pleaded innocent.

Knox`s eyes swelled with tears and her voice was broken when she stood up in front of the jury last month to say that accusations that she murdered Kercher were "pure fantasy."

She insists Kercher was a friend whose death shocked her.

The prosecutors have told the court a different story, depicting Knox and Kercher as two people who had grown apart. Prosecutor Giuliano Mignini said Knox was harbouring hatred toward Kercher, whom Knox saw as a "smug girl”. He said Knox wanted to get back at Kercher for saying she was not clean and calling her promiscuous.

The murder, with its brutality and sordid details of sex and drugs among university students, have made headlines worldwide, bringing TV cameras to this usually quiet town.

The prosecutors contend that on the night of the murder, November 1, 2007, Knox and Sollecito met at the apartment where Kercher and Knox lived. They say a fourth person was there, Ivory Coast citizen Rudy Hermann Guede.

Guede has already been convicted of murder and sexual assault in separate proceedings, receiving a 30-year sentence. He is appealing his conviction, acknowledging he was in the house the night of the murder but insisting he did not kill Kercher.

According to the prosecution, Kercher and Knox started arguing and then the three brutally attacked the Briton and sexually assaulted her. They were acting, Mignini said, under "the fumes of drugs and possibly alcohol”.

Kercher`s body, her throat slit, was found in a pool of blood the next day at the apartment. Prosecutors say Knox and Sollecito broke a window in a bedroom to fake a burglary and sidetrack the investigation.

Prosecutors have failed to produce conclusive forensic evidence.

They have said that a knife with a 6 1/2-inch (16.5-centimeter) blade they found at Sollecito`s house could be the weapon. The knife has Kercher`s DNA on the blade and Knox`s on the handle, they say.

But defence lawyers argue that the knife is too big to match Kercher`s wounds and that the amount of what prosecutors say is Kercher`s DNA is too low to be attributed with certainty.

Prosecutors also maintain Sollecito`s DNA was found on the clasp of Kercher`s bra, although his defence team contends that the evidence might have been inadvertently contaminated during the investigation.

A bloody footprint found on a bathroom rug in the house was also attributed to Sollecito by the prosecutors, but forensic experts testifying for his defence have argued it doesn`t match the size and shape of Sollecito`s foot.

Knox and Sollecito were arrested shortly after the slaying.

The defence has largely focused on the lack of evidence and what they say is the absence of a clear motive.

Knox`s lawyer, Carlo Dalla Vedova, said in his closing arguments that "there are still many doubts in this trial." He said that the DNA evidence cannot be attributed "beyond any doubt."

Bureau Report