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Court explains acquittal of Knox December 16, 2011

Amanda Knox was cleared of the murder of British student Meredith Kercher in Perugia

Lack of motive and faulty evidence led to the acquittal of Amanda Knox, an Italian court has said.

Knox, 24, saw her conviction for the murder of UK student Meredith Kercher overturned on appeal in October.

The court said in a 144-page document that forensic evidence used to support the original verdicts was unreliable.

Miss Kercher, 21, from south London, was murdered in 2007 in the house she shared with American student Miss Knox in the Italian city of Perugia.

Also acquitted of the murder on appeal was Miss Knox’s former boyfriend, the Italian Raffaele Sollecito.

Case ‘gave way’

The court said the forensic evidence could not ultimately prove the couple were at the scene of the crime on the night of the murder.

It pointed to what it said were flaws in collecting forensic evidence and testing DNA traces originally linked to the defendants.

The prosecutors’ case could not stand, the court added.

The document said: “The bricks of that building just gave way. It’s not just a case of reassembling the bricks… but rather a lack of the necessary material for the construction.”

Referring to a motive, it said: “The sudden choice of two young people, good and helpful to others, to commit evil for evil’s sake, without any further reason, seems even more incomprehensible (if it is) to support the criminal act of a young man they had no relation to.”

In Italy, courts have to publish a document to explain the reasoning for reaching a verdict.

Book deal

Miss Knox was originally sentenced to 26 years in prison and Mr Sollecito to 25 years. The pair have always denied being at the Italian home of Leeds University student Miss Kercher at the time of the murder.

The judge upheld Miss Knox’s conviction for slander after she accused bar owner Patrick Diya Lumumba of carrying out the killing.

The sentence for that was set at three years, time that Miss Knox had already served.

Miss Knox has returned to her hometown of Seattle in the US, and is looking to sign a deal to write a book about her experiences.

Rudy Guede, an Ivorian, was found guilty and sentenced to 16 years’ jail in a separate trial.

He is now the only person serving time for the murder although prosecutors said he could not have killed Miss Kercher by himself.

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Meredith Kercher family press conference October 4, 2011

8.45am: The family of Meredith Kercher are due imminently to hold a press conference, giving their reaction to last night’s acquittal on appeal of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, two of the three people convicted of murdering the 21-year-old Leeds University student in November 2007.

This is an enormously difficult time for the Kerchers. While the focus, understandably, has been on the high drama surrounding whether Knox and her former boyfriend would resume their young lives again or spend a further two decades in prison, the British family remain in deep mourning. It can only add to their anguish to see the narrative of the night their daughter died – killed during a violent sex game by Knox and Sollecito, along with a third person, Rudy Guede – which they have been told by prosecutors and police for the past four years, officially decreed false.

The family arrived in Italy saying they would respect the appeal court’s decision, but their anguish and disappointment is clear. Kercher’s father, John, who remained in the UK, told the Daily Mirror that the acquittal was “ludicrous”:

How can they ignore all the other evidence? I thought the judge might play it safe and uphold the conviction but reduce the sentence. But this result is crazy.

There were 47 wounds on Meredith and two knives used. One person couldn’t possibly have done that. What happens now? Does that mean the police need to look for more killers? It makes a mockery of the original trial. We are all shocked, we could understand them reducing the sentence but completely freeing them, wow.

The press conference is due to start around 10am Italian time, or 9am BST.

8.51am: The prime minister, David Cameron, has also urged people to consider the feelings of the Kercher family amid the media frenzy surrounding Knox. He told ITV1’s Daybreak programme:

I haven’t followed every part of this case but what I would say is that we should be thinking of the family of Meredith Kercher because those parents … they had an explanation of what happened to their wonderful daughter and that explanation is not there any more.

Of course, there is still someone there in prison for her murder but I think everyone today should be thinking about them and how they feel.

8.58am: The Kercher family message thus far has been two-fold – firstly that they are upset by the acquittals, but more so that they are worried the huge fuss about Knox means people are forgetting their daughter and her terrible death. Stephanie Kercher, Meredith’s sister, said yesterday:

Meredith has been almost forgotten in all this. It’s very difficult to keep her memory alive in all this.

Stephanie, her brother Lyle and their mother, Arline, are due to speak in Perugia very soon.

9.03am: A brief aside: BBC News is reporting that the Knox family have been seen at Rome’s Fiumicino airport, checking in for a commercial flight back to the US which is due to leave at midday local time.

9.14am: The family are sitting down at the packed press conference, where they are currently being mobbed by photographers.

9.16am: Along with Arline, Lyle and Stephanie Kercher, their family’s lawyer, Francesco Maresca, is also at the press conference. An introduction from an official says the family will return to the UK later today.

9.18am: Lyle Kercher is speaking. he says the family “accept the decision and respect the court” but are “left wondering” who did kill Meredith along with Rudy Guede. He adds:

For us it feels like we are back to square one

9.20am: The family is asked whether they want the prosecution to appeal again. Arline Kercher says the family is still considering this. Lyle Kercher says it is ultimately up to the Italian state, though he believes an appeal is being considered.

9.22am: Stephanie Kercher is asked about the crucial DNA evidence. She says the family is waiting to hear more details about this, and to learn the full reasons why the acquittal happened. She adds that she hopes DNA evidence could point towards the killers:

That’s the biggest disappointment, not knowing still.

9.24am: Stephanie and Lyle are asked about forgiveness and reiterate their point from yesterday – it’s impossible to talk about this when no one has admitted the crime. This could change if there is another stage in the legal process regarding Knox and Sollecito, they add. The family is “hopeful” about the process of the Italian legal system, Stephanie adds.

9.26am: Stephanie is asked again about the judicial system, responding:

We said all along we don’t want the wrong people put way for a crime they didn’t commit.

But, she adds, legal processes regarding Knox and Sollecito are still taking place.

9.28am: Arline Kercher is answering a question from, I believe, my colleague John Hooper, which I couldn’t hear properly and her answer makes little sense out of context.

9.29am: Lyle Kercher says the family has received backing from around the world, including the US, and that seeing the case in terms of an Italy-US-UK divide is “nonsense”. He says:

We are really grateful for the support we’ve had, not just from Italians but people around the world.

9.31am: Losing her daughter is “every parents’ nightmare”, Arline Kercher says. She adds:

She was in the safest place, her bedroom.

9.32am: Interestingly, during his previous answer, Lyle Kercher referred in passing to Knox and Sollecito being released on “a technicality”. It wasn’t clear whether this was what the family really thinks about the acquittals.

9.34am: Stephanie Kercher says the family was disappointed by the acquittals, but then again had not celebrated when Knox and Sollecito were convicted. She says:

It’s still difficult. We still have no answers.

9.36am: The family is asked if they had ever considered contacting Rudy Guede, to hear his side of things. Arline Kercher says not:

With a legal case you can’t interfere with the process. Otherwise you might take away other people’s rights.

9.37am: The press conference is over and the family are led away by their lawyers.

9.38am: This was a less trenchant message than that delivered last night by Kercher’s father, John (see 8.45am).

They are disappointed at the acquittals, but say this is principally because the verdict leaves the family with a host of unanswered questions about how Meredith died; it’s clear they believe that Rudy Guede, currently the only person in prison for the crime, did not act alone. But they still trust the Italian justice system and await either a fresh investigation or new action against Knox and Sollecito.

This is a family whose grief and mourning has been perpetuated by an agonisingly slow process of discovery, the apparent answers of which have now been turned upside down. Understandably, they sound more weary and confused than angry. But it’s clear that they are by no means convinced by Knox’s and Sollecito’s innocence.

9.44am: The key message, perhaps, was Lyle Kercher’s resigned-sounding admission that the family was now “back to square one”. He said:

While we accept the decision that was handed down yesterday and respect the court and the Italian justice system, we do find that we are now left obviously looking at this again and thinking how a decision that was so certain two years ago has been so emphatically over turned now.

9.48am: With the press conference over we’ll now end this set of live updates.

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Amanda Knox appeal hearing October 3, 2011

8.10am: After a tortuous, four-year legal process, we are finally here: today we should learn whether Amanda Knox might be freed following an appeal against her conviction for killing the British student Meredith Kercher.

An eight-member panel of judges in Perugia, Italy, will decide whether Knox, now 24, and her 27-year-old former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, 27, will be acquitted of the gruesome 2007 crime or whether they should serve their sentences, 26 years and 25 years respectively. There is a third option, that the judges could decide to reduce their sentences.

John Hooper has provided all the background in this story. He and my other colleague in Italy, Tom Kington, are both in Perugia, and will be sending me updates.

What is set to be a dramatic day will open with Knox and Sollecito making their final appeals for freedom. A verdict from the panel, comprising six lay judges and two professional judges, should come some time this evening.

This is one of the more sensational court cases of recent years, taking in as it does a photogenic main defendant variously portrayed as a temptress witch or an innocent, faithful woman in love, and a shocking crime incorporating allegations of sex games gone wrong.

But whatever today’s drama, and the eventual verdict, it’s worth remembering throughout that at the centre of events remains a 21-year-old Leeds University student, the youngest of four children, who went to Perugia at the start of September 2007, full of excitement at what lay ahead, and was dead just eight weeks later. As Kercher’s mother, Arline, told the original trial: “It’s such a shock to send your child to school and for them to not come back.”

8.17am: You can follow John’s Twitter updates from today’s events here. He’s also just tweeted a small list of other useful people to follow for the day.

8.39am: Knox and Sollecito have now arrived in the courtroom. TV coverage shows Knox in close consultation with her lawyers. Knox, as you would expect, looks nervous.

8.45am: John Hooper has just filed an updated story which further explains what will be happening today:

Both appellants are expected to plead in person for their appeals to be upheld and their sentences to be overturned. The frescoed and vaulted 14th century courtroom was packed with jostling camera crews and reporters as proceedings began more than a half an hour behind schedule.
Today’s proceedings were to due to open with a final rebuttal from Knox’s lawyer, Luciano Ghirga. After the personal statements by the American student and her ex-lover, the two professional judges will retire together with six lay judges who are to help them reach a decision.

He also has this, on Italian opinion about the case:

Local auguries for their appeal were inconclusive, but showed up a division that did not bode well for the appellants. A survey among Italian university students, carried out by the web site, found that the 6,130 respondents split almost evenly between those who thought the couple were innocent (44 per cent), and those who thought they were guilty (48 per cent), with the remainder uncertain.
But the balance of opinion was starkly different according to gender. Only 21 per cent of men thought Knox and Sollecito should continue to serve their sentences. Among women, the proportion rose to 68 per cent.
The poll, reported by the Italian news agency Ansa, is particularly relevant in the light of the predominantly female panel that will reach a decision. Both the professional judges, who will cast three votes between them, are men. But the lay judges, who have six ballots, include five women.

8.54am: The BBC website has a live stream of the hearing here.

8.56am: Luciano Ghirga, Knox’s lawyer, is now addressing the panel of judges in a courtroom so packed that some members of the media are standing. He is discussing the knife used as evidence by prosecutors, and saying Knox faced significant hostility from police. Her eventual statement suggested “intense suggestion”, he says.

9.03am: John Hooper has tweeted this initial thought on the lawyer’s address:

#amandaknox lawyer Ghirga less impressive, more strident than in his moving address on her behalf last week.

9.06am: The BBC’s Daniel Sandford, also in court, meanwhile tweets this:

Raffaele is quietly reading his personal address to the court, rehearsing it while #amandaknox lawyer adresses judges and jury

9.07am: Back with the lawyer’s address, he has been telling the judges that the knife identified as the weapon which killed Kercher is not compatible with the wounds which killed the British student. He is now winding up his address.

Amanda Knox enters court. Photograph: Filippo Monteforte/AP

9.12am: Here’s a picture of Knox entering court before.

9.14am: Ghirga has finished, and Raffaele Sollecito, the co-defendant and Knox’s former boyfriend, is addressing the judges. He is clearly nervous, and much more halting than the lawyer. He explains that the case feels like a nightmare from which he cannot wake. He tells them:

I have never harmed anyone, never, ever in my life.

9.17am: Sollecito is now describing life in prison:

Every day, in prison, by the end of the day, you feel dead, Every day is like that.

He is dismissing as “totally untrue” reports that he has tried to implicate Knox in the crime. So far his statement is quite fractured, and very emotional.

9.20am: Interesting point in a tweet from the BBC’s Daniel Sandford:

No mention of the victim Meredith Kercher yet from Raffaele. #amandaknox

9.22am: Sollecito says he “and Amanda” – he is very much tying together their fates – have spent 20 hours a day for the past 1,400 days in cells measuring around 2.5m by 3.5m. Both their families have made “huge sacrifices” to assist them, he adds. This is a very emotional appeal so far, with little mention of the evidence.

9.28am: After reminiscing about first meeting Knox, who he describes as “sunny and sweet”, Sollecito begins summing up with a dramatic flourish. He points to a bracelet he wears, saying it bears the message, “Amanda and Raffaele free”, saying he had never taken it off in prison. He then removes it.

It;’s now Knox’s turn to speak.

9.31am: Speaking in Italian, in a halting voice, Knox almost immediately breaks down in tears and is told by the judges that she can take a break. She instead take a deep breath and continues, still sounding shaky. She immediately mentions Kercher:

Over the past four years I have lost a friend in the most brutal way, in an unexplained manner. Also, my trust in the police has been betrayed.

9.33am: Four years ago, Knox said, she had never personally known tragedy or suffering, and she did not know how to deal with it. Again, she recalls the events of Kercher’s death, mentioning her by name this time:

How did we feel when we learned that Meredith had been killed? I did not believe it. How was it possible? And then fear – this was someone whose life I was sharing, whose bedroom was next door to mine.

9.37am: This seems to be the key part of Knox’s speech:

I am not who they say I am – the perversion, the violence, the lack of respect for life. I did not do the things they said I did. I did not kill, I did not sexually assault, I did not steal.

She is breaking down in tears again.

9.39am: The BBC’s Daniel Sandford, in court, tweets this:

Lots of tears among #amandaknox family. Sister Deanna and step-mother holding hands

9.40am: This is a hugely dramatic and emotional speech by Knox, who is consistently on the verge of sobbing.

Merdith was killed and I have always wanted justice for her…. I want truth…

I want to go back home. I want to go back to my life. I don’t want to be punished. I don’t want my life and my future taken away for something I didn’t do, because I am innocent and Raffaele is innocent, too.

She ends by expressing her respect for the court, then says:

This is what I am asking for: justice.

9.43am: The lead judge then speaks briefly to say he and the rest of the panel will retire to consider their verdicts. There will be no ruling before 8pm Italian time (7pm BST). The hearing is over.

9.46am: Both the defendants’ addresses were, in their varying ways, extremely emotional. However, it’s worth immediately stressing that they will be but a small part of what the judges will consider. This is a four-year case with a mass of evidence.

Raffaele Sollecito’s statement was the more low-key, somewhat rambling and unfocused. He also did not mention Meredith Kercher once.

Knox, in contrast, while more emotional – she was on the verge of tears throughout and had to stop briefly several times – had a more direct message. Kercher, or Meredith, as she called her again and again, was her friend and she would never hurt her. She was not the devil portrayed by the court and media but an innocent young woman who wanted to begin her life again.

9.54am: Raffaele Sollecito’s lawyer, Giulia Bongiornio, is addressing the media outside the courtroom in Perugia. She has been dismissing the DNA evidence against her client – his DNA was allegedly found on the clasp of Kercher’s bra – saying this was only discovered 46 days after the crime. Her client had now been returned to prison, but she hoped this was for the last time, Bongiornio added. She also showed the media the bracelet bearing his and Knox’s names that Sollecito wore in prison to protest his innocence (see 9.28am)

10.00am: No further comment yet from Knox’s family. This tweet is from CNN’s Matthew Chance, who was in the courtroom:

#AmandaKnox dad refuses to comment on his daughters emotional courtroom plea

10.08am: Francesco Maresca, the lawyer for the Kercher family – who were not in court to hear the statements – has been addressing the media. The Kerchers “accepted” the initial verdicts against Knox and Sollecito, and it would be in their interests to have this reconfirmed, he said.

However, the lawyer added, the Kercher family believed the appeal hearing had been fair, and accepted that if Knox was acquitted she would be perfectly within her rights to return to the US. He said:

If she is acquitted she has the right to live where she wants.

Kercher’s mother, father and brother would be in court this evening to hear the verdict, he added.

10.13am: If you were watching to live TV coverage of the lawyers’ statements to the media outside court, you would have heard a brief flurry of police sirens. That was the court vehicles returning Knox and Sollecito to prison ahead of this evening’s decision.

10.25am: This from Keme Nzerem of Channel 4 News, part of their team covering the trial:

The #kerchers have just landed at #perugia airport for #Amandaknox appeal. Sister Stephanie says ‘we’ll talk later’

10.57am: I’ve been speaking with the Guardian’s Tom Kington, who was in the packed courtroom in Perugia. He had this to say of Raffaele Sollecito’s final address to the judges:

His speech was rather rambling. he was reading from notes, he’s clearly not very well versed as a public speaker.

In contrast, he said, Knox delivered a “very powerful, very cogent, very well-delivered speech” in near-perfect Italian.

But would these addresses sway the six lay judges?

I doubt it. I think they will have all the elements at hand. They’ll now go into chambers with the two (professional) judges and go through, for the last time, a lot of the forensic and other evidence. They may not even discuss these last-minute speeches we’ve heard.

11.21am: Given the long delay between the end of the hearing and the verdict, we’ll be bringing this live coverage to a close. Here is a round-up of this morning’s events by John Hooper and Tom Kington.

We will be returning this evening for live coverage of the ruling. It will come at some point after 8pm Italian time (7pm BST), although some lawyers said this could mean beyond 10pm.

It will be a hugely important and emotional moment for Knox, Sollecito and their families. But it’s again worth considering that it will also be an incredibly difficult event for Meredith Kercher’s father, mother and sister, who will be in court, and who say they will respect whatever the court decides.

The main judge, Claudio Pratillo Hellmann, had their feelings partly in mind when he urged those in court to be respectful and quiet when the verdict is read out later. As he said:

This is not a football match.

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