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Jury starts deliberating in Amanda Knox appeal

FLORENCE, Italy -- Lawyers for American student Amanda Knox warned jurors not to overlook mistakes made by investigators as deliberations began here Thursday in Knox's new appeal of her conviction for the 2007 murder of British student Meredith Kercher.

“We are anxious about your verdict,” lawyer Luciano Ghirga told the judge and jurors moments before they filed out to consider the fate of Knox, 26, and her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, 29.

Prosecutors have called for sentences of 26 and 30 years for Sollecito and Knox, the exchange student from Seattle who shared a house in the Italian town of Perugia with Kercher, then 21, who was found partially naked in a pool of blood with her throat slashed.

In his final summing-up, a second lawyer representing Knox, Carlo dalla Vedova, lambasted what he called "mistakes" made by forensic investigators. Losing his customary cool, he said, "Italian sentences don’t depend on probability, but on certainty." DNA found on a knife in Sollecito’s kitchen and attributed by prosecutors to Kercher could not be verified, Ghirga said.

Initially arrested and convicted of the murder, Knox and Sollecito spent four years in jail before being acquitted on appeal in 2011. However, Italy’s highest court overturned the acquittal and ordered a new appeal, saying the first was riddled with “shortcomings, contradictions and inconsistencies.”

Knox has refused to attend the second appeal, which opened in Florence last year, writing to the court from Seattle that she fears being "wrongly convicted."

“Amanda has been in touch with us daily,” said Dalla Vedova. “She is very nervous and worried since her life is again jeopardized, but we are confident the jury will acquit because she didn’t do it.”

In an interview with Italian television Wednesday, Knox said she would be waiting at home with her family for the verdict with "my heart in my mouth."

"The proof is in the facts. There is no proof I was there when it happened," she said.

Patrick Lumumba, a Congolese barman who was briefly jailed when Knox accused him of the murder, took another view of her absence. "She is guilty and she is running away from Italian justice," he said on the sidelines at the Thursday hearing.

Kercher’s brother Lyle and sister Stephanie, who have always backed the prosecution’s case against Knox and Sollecito, were due in court Thursday. “The Kercher family are preoccupied. An acquittal would be a tough blow for them,” said their lawyer, Francesco Maresca.

The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported that Stephanie had refused to read a letter sent her this week by Knox.

Sollecito has vacationed in the Dominican Republic during the course of the trial, prompting suspicions that he was planning to flee Italy, because the Caribbean island has no extradition treaty with Rome.

But on Thursday morning, he was in court. “He wanted to stay home in southern Italy but we said, 'Everyone thinks you are going to flee,' and he said 'OK, I'm coming,'" said Giulia Bongiorno, a lawyer representing him.

"He has decided to face the situation, he is afraid of nothing and his presence is a silent scream of innocence," said Luca Maori, another attorney for Sollecito.

On Wednesday, before the final hearing, Sollecito’s father, Francesco, denied allegations made by an American woman that his son had tried to marry her to obtain a green card to escape Italian justice. "The woman thought she might have a future with Raffaele, but he said 'arrivederci,'" he said.

Before the jury retired, judge Alessandro Nencini said he did not expect a verdict before 5 p.m. local time (8 a.m. PST) on Thursday. Under the Italian justice system, Nencini and an assistant judge will participate in deliberations with the six jury members.

The verdict will likely go back to the supreme court for a final signoff before it becomes definitive. If a guilty verdict is returned and then upheld by the supreme court, Knox could face extradition proceedings.

But under Italy’s slow-paced justice system, the supreme court is unlikely to hear the case until April or May of 2015, Maresca said.

Kington is a special correspondent.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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