Courtroom Drama in Perugia Verdict Due in Meredith Kercher Murder Trial

A verdict is expected this week in the trial involving the murder of Meredith Kercher, a British exchange student who was stabbed to death in Italy in 2007. The main defendants, Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, could be facing life in prison if found guilty.

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Criminal trials would be easier if a crime left some sort of clue in the face of the perpetrator. But the face of Amanda Knox, a young American, bears no traces of the brutal murder she is accused of committing. Is it because she is innocent?

The body of Meredith Kercher, a 21-year-old student from Coulsdon, Surrey who was studying in Italy as part of the European Union's Erasmus exchange program, was found on Nov. 2, 2007 in a shared apartment on Via della Pergola on the outskirts of Perugia. She had been stabbed to death. For the past two years, a court in Perugia, Italy, has been trying to match a perpetrator to the few pieces of evidence found in the apartment.

The Kercher murder would not have attracted worldwide attention if it did not involve another, existential question: Is it possible for two basically likeable, young, attractive and promising people to rape and brutally murder one of their friends -- with no apparent motive, no justification and no compassion?

'Innocent Angel'

"Yes," says Giuliano Mignini, the lead prosecutor in the case, who has already been talking for six hours. He recounts the details of the crime before reaching his climax: Yes, he says, Amanda Knox committed murder, driven by her narcissism and "coldness," acting out of "negligible motives," because she was filled with hate for "this innocent angel." The two co-defendants, Raffaele Sollecito and Rudy Guede, allowed themselves to be influenced by Knox, says Mignini.

Mignini is demanding a life sentence for Knox, including nine months in solitary confinement -- the kind of sentence normally used with Mafia bosses.

Knox, who is sitting only two meters from Mignini is only about 5 foot 3 inches (1.60 meters) tall. She has her hair loose and is wearing a hooded jacket. A broad-shouldered guard stands behind her.

For hours, Knox has been listening to the prosecutors as if she were attending a lecture: attentive, her eyebrows pulled together slightly, occasionally making notes. After a while, she becomes less attentive, drawing flowers and patterns on her notepad instead.

To visualize his theory for the lay judges, Mignini has had an elaborate 23-minute animated film made of the alleged progression of events, like something out of Second Life. It shows the avatars, who bear a striking resemblance to their real-life models, committing a murder.

Brutal Murder

According to Mignini's version of events, Knox and her boyfriend Sollecito, a young Italian from a wealthy family, had spent the evening together in Perugia's old quarter, where they met Rudy Guede, an immigrant from the Ivory Coast who eked out a living as a small-scale drug dealer.

Shortly after 11 p.m., the three defendants apparently decided to have one last drink at the apartment on Via della Pergola, where Mercher Kercher had already gone to bed. Kercher, according to the prosecutor, was upset because Knox had brought home two men, something she had apparently done before. According to Mignini, an argument erupted between the two women, over their widely differing lifestyles and over the unpaid rent. Then, says Mignini, Knox slammed Kercher's head against a cabinet.

This is how the prosecutor's animated film depicts the murder: Kercher falls to the floor and the three others begin to undress her. Kercher struggles, Sollecito pulls out his pocketknife and Knox gets a knife from the kitchen. Guede tries to rape Kercher, Sollecito injures her and Knox finally kills her by slitting her throat. The three flee the apartment. Later, Knox and Sollecito return to clumsily stage a burglary and wipe away their fingerprints.

The indictment is based on circumstantial evidence and very little witness testimony. The witnesses include an Albanian who claims to have seen the couple that night. Investigators found mixed traces of Knox's and Kercher's DNA in five locations. Knox's DNA was found on the handle of the kitchen knife, and a tiny trace of Kercher's blood was found on the blade, which had been carefully cleaned, almost too carefully. However, there was too little blood to allow for sufficient testing of the sample.

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