Knox trial: Italian prosecutors sum up their case

PERUGIA, Italy (AP) - September 23, 2011

In the first round of closing arguments that took seven hours Friday, the prosecutors summed up circumstantial evidence, testimony and other clues they believe point solely to Knox and Raffaele Sollecito. They sought to move past a recent independent review of genetic evidence, which cast doubt on key traces used to link the defendants to the murder and dealt a significant blow to the prosecution's case.

"All clues converge toward the only possible result of finding the defendants guilty," Prosecutor Giancarlo Costagliola said.

Prosecutors will wrap up their arguments Saturday. They could seek stiffer sentences, including life imprisonment or ask the court to uphold the current jail terms. A verdict is expected at the end of September or early October.

Knox and Sollecito were convicted of sexually assaulting and murdering Knox's British roommate, Meredith Kercher, on the night of Nov. 1, 2007, when they were all students in Perugia. Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison; Sollecito to 25. Both deny wrongdoing and have appealed the lower court's verdict in December 2009.

Speaking in a packed courtroom, the prosecutors sought to focus the jury's attention on Kercher and her family's pain, against a backdrop of what they described as media fascination with the photogenic Knox.

Costagliola urged the jurors to try and "feel a little bit like the parents of Meredith Kercher." Another prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, said he will never forget Kercher's wide open eyes when he inspected the crime scene. He then juxtaposed gruesome photos from the murder with a snapshot of the defendants kissing shortly after Kercher's body was found.

"The victim has sunk into an absolute and shameful oblivion, made more intolerable by the media's morbid exaltation of the two people sitting on the defendant's bench," Mignini said. He urged jurors not to be deceived by the defendants' clean-cut appearances, saying "there's a dark side in all of us."

The prosecutors argue that the 21-year-old Kercher was the victim of a drug-fueled sex assault. In the first trial, the prosecutors had sought life sentences - Italy's stiffest punishment. Like the defendant, they have also appealed the lower court's verdict, as they can in Italy.

On Friday, the prosecutors reviewed their case in great detail: bloody footprints found in the house that are compatible with those of the defendants, cell phone activity and witness testimony that appear to contradict the defendant's alibi that they spent the night at Sollecito's house and stayed there until about 10 a.m. the day after the murder, and a staged burglary at the house of the murder aimed at sidetracking the investigation.

They reminded the court that Knox initially gave contradicting accounts on the night of the murder, at one point accusing a Congolese man who was briefly arrested as a result of that claim, and later cleared. Knox maintains she acted under police pressure when she was questioned in the aftermath of the killing.

The prosecutors also addressed the results of an independent review of DNA evidence, which said much of the genetic evidence used to convict Knox and Sollecito was faulty.

In the first trial, prosecutors maintained that Knox's DNA was found on the handle of a kitchen knife believed to be the murder weapon, and that Kercher's DNA was found on the blade. They said Sollecito's DNA was on the clasp of Kercher's bra as part of a mix of evidence that also included the victim's genetic profile.

The independent review, carried out by two court-appointed experts, challenged both findings. It said police had made glaring errors in evidence-collecting and that below-standard testing and possible contamination raised doubts over the attribution of DNA traces, both on the blade and on the bra clasp, which was collected from the crime scene several weeks after the murder.

The review boosted Knox's chances and gave hope to her family that the 24-year-old might be freed after four years behind bars. Without a clear motive and decisive witnesses, DNA emerged as a crucial element in the case.

But the prosecutors tried to play down the significance of the review, insisting it was sketchy and superficial and telling the court there was more to their case.

"It's not just about the clasp and the knife," Mignini said. Speaking of the risk of contamination, he said the review failed to back up the claim: "Contamination of what? With what? When? How?" he asked.

Mignini, who served as prosecutor in the first trial, resurrected some of the prosecution's case from then, mentioning Kercher's purported promiscuity, the presence of a vibrator in the house, her use of drugs and her supposed tensions with Kercher.

Gesticulating, using sarcastic comments and making citations in Latin and French, Mignini appeared to capture the jurors' attention despite his lengthy exposition. Nearby, a tense, worn-out looking Knox watched attentively.

"I'm sure today it was stressful for her. Listening to people tell a bunch of lies about her is difficult," said Knox's mother, Edda Mellas, who flew to Italy on Thursday for the final stretch of the proceedings. "But we know we have to go through this part to get to the end."

"I don't think they presented anything that contradicts anything," Mellas added.

A lawyer for Sollecito, Giulia Bongiorno, told reporters that, weakened by the results of the review, the prosecution was merely "rehashing old clues, feeble and inconsistent arguments."

Mignini reserved some of his toughest words for Knox's character, which he described as "insensitive and lacking affection" in the aftermath of the murder, and called her a liar. But he also spoke harshly of the supposed role of the media, which he said was intent on discrediting the Italian judicial system.

Mignini said the prosecution was "subjected to systematic denigration of a political and media nature." He denounced the "armchair detectives who give their opinions from remarkable superficiality and approximation from 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles), 10,000 kilometers (more than 6,000 miles) away."

"The trial must be held here, in this courtroom," Mignini told the jurors. "This lobbying, this media and political circus, this heavy interference, forget all of it!"

With young and attractive defendants and tales of sex and drugs, the case has captivated audiences worldwide, drawing international media to Perugia since the beginning. On Friday, as the appeals trial draws to a close, the underground courtroom was packed with cameras, reporters and scores of curious residents.

A third person, Rudy Hermann Guede of the Ivory Coast, also has been convicted of Kercher's murder in a separate proceeding. Italy's highest criminal court has upheld Guede's conviction and his 16-year-prison sentence. Guede denies wrongdoing, though he admits he was in the house.

The prosecutors noted that Guede himself testified months ago that he believes Knox and Sollecito killed Kercher. They pointed out that Italy's highest court said in its ruling that Guede had not acted alone.

However, the court's ruling does not name Knox and Sollecito as Guede's accomplices.

Curiously, the prosecution's call not to forget the victim was similar to what Curt Knox said on the eve of their summations. "What's lost out of this thing is the Kercher family and the loss of their daughter Meredith," Knox told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday.

"We have not personally reached out yet because I would like them to know that Amanda had nothing to do with the loss of their daughter," he said. "And until they know that Amanda had nothing to do with it, I'm not certain how they would accept our heartfelt condolences for the loss of their daughter."

The Kerchers are expected to travel to Perugia for the verdict.

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