Sat, Jan 17, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Trial opens for US college student in Italy sex slaying

AP , PERUGIA, ITALY

An US college student and her former Italian boyfriend went on trial yesterday in the picturesque medieval city of Perugia, accused of sexually assaulting and murdering a fellow student from the UK in a slaying that shocked Italy.

Dozens of journalists from the UK, Italy and the US have converged on Perugia, 185km north of Rome, for the start of what is expected to be a lengthy trial.

Amanda Knox, 21, and her ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, 24, are accused of murder and sexual violence in the 2007 slaying of Meredith Kercher, 21.

Lawyers said they expected the two defendants — who both proclaimed their innocence — to appear before the eight-member jury in the tiny courthouse there, although their presence was not required under Italian law.

Kercher’s family was seeking to have the proceedings closed to the public and the media to prevent sensitive evidence from being published, their lawyer Francesco Maresca said.

According to Italian law, trials are normally open but can be held behind closed doors in sexual violence cases.

The presiding judge was expected to make a decision during yesterday’s hearing, Maresca said.

Both Knox and Sollecito were denied bail and have been detained for more than a year in Italy.

They were indicted in October.

Also in October, Ivory Coast national Rudy Hermann Guede was sentenced to 30 years in prison after being convicted on the same charges.

Guede, who had also denied any wrongdoing, underwent a fast-track trial at his request.

Knox, a University of Washington student, was on an exchange program in Italy and sharing a flat with Kercher, an exchange student from Leeds University in England, when the Briton was found dead in their apartment Nov. 2, 2007.

Prosecutors alleged that the woman was killed during what began as a sex game, with Sollecito holding her by the shoulders from behind while Knox touched her with the point of a knife.

They say Guede tried to sexually assault Kercher, and then Knox fatally stabbed her in the throat.

Sollecito has maintained he was in his own apartment in Perugia and that he didn’t remember if Knox spent part or all of the night of the murder with him.

Knox initially told investigators she was in the house when Kercher was killed and covered her ears against the victim’s screams.

Later, Knox said she wasn’t in the house.

Prosecutors said Knox’s DNA was found on the handle of a knife that might have been used in the slaying, while Kercher’s DNA was found on the blade.

They also said they found Sollecito’s DNA on the victim’s bra, although his defense team said the garment bore multiple DNA traces and alleged the evidence might have been inadvertently contaminated during the investigation.

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