As the Italian police unearth more evidence implicating Amanda Knox in the gruesome murder of British student Meredith Kercher, Knox retaliated claiming she was struck during interrogation. Now she faces an additional charge of slander.
Kercher, who was studying at Leeds University, came to Perugia to learn Italian and to pursue her European Studies degree.
AdvertisementJust two months into the medieval city, on Nov.2, 2007, Kercher was found semi-naked, with her throat slashed in a hillside cottage she shared with Ms Knox and two Italian women. Her body bore more than 40 injuries.
In the days following the murder prosecutors arrested Miss Knox, 21, also a student, her former boyfriend and Italian Raffaele Sollecito, 24, and Rudy Guede, 21, a drifter and immigrant from the Ivory Coast. Sollecito is an IT student from a wealthy southern Italian family.
The prosecution maintains that Kercher died during what began as a sex game, with Sollecito pinning her down while Miss Knox touched her with the point of a knife and Guede sexually assaulted her. Knox then allegedly stabbed the young British woman in the throat.
"When I closed my eyes, I could only see red," Guede wrote in an account for the police after his arrest. "I have never seen so much blood. All of that blood on her beautiful face."
Ms Knox told police that she had covered her ears in the kitchen to block out Ms Kercher's screams.
A year later the African was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 30 years in jail.
But Judge Paolo Micheli ruled that there was enough evidence to send Knox and Sollecito to trial on charges of murder and aggravated sexual assault.
Sollecito and Knox have also been accused of simulating a break-in by smashing a window and theft of cash and credit cards. In addition Patrick Diya Lumumba, a Congolese barman whom Ms Knox at first accused of the murder, is seeking damages.
In another development, Guede began his appeal last week, claiming Ms Knox had killed Ms Kercher in a row over stolen cash.
Meanwhile the police are relentlessly piling up evidence against the US student.
A police officer who investigated the murder said Knox and Sollecito behaved "inappropriately" as they were waiting to be questioned a few days after the killing.
Domenico Giacinto Profazio, the former head of the city's Flying Squad, said other officers had told him that the American undergraduate did cartwheels and the splits in the police station in which she was waiting to be questioned.
"They told me that she did the splits and a cartwheel in one of the rooms at the station - then later, after she had been questioned all night, she burst into tears," he said.
The couple had a "strange attitude", Detective Profazio said, adding that Miss Knox sat on her boyfriend's lap. "I told them it was not appropriate," he told the court.
However Chris Mellas, her stepfather, who is attending the trial, said that his stepdaughter was doing yoga exercises and a police officer had asked her to do gymnastics, remarking "You look rather flexible".
Fabio D'Astolto, an English-speaking police officer who helped to question Ms Knox, told the court that she and Mr Sollecito had behaved strangely, kissing and cuddling and talking together in low voices. A number of other witnesses have given the same testimony.
Aida Colontane, another police interpreter, told the court that she had noticed a red mark on Ms Knox's neck which "leapt out" from her "extraordinary pallor". Laura Mezzetti, one of the Italian flatmates of Ms Knox and Ms Kercher, has also testified that Ms Knox had a red mark on her neck. Curt Knox, Ms Knox's father, has suggested the mark was a love bite.
Daniele Moscatelli, another police officer, said officers had confiscated a long knife from Mr Sollecito, who had explained to them that he collected knives as a hobby. Mr Sollecito appeared confused and nervous during questioning, he said.
Oreste Volturno, the police officer who led a search of Mr Sollecito's flat, said he had been struck by "the powerful smell of bleach". The prosecution says the kitchen knife found at the flat which is presumed to be the murder weapon had been scrubbed with bleach in an attempt to erase blood and DNA traces.
Francesco Maresca, the lawyer for the Kercher family, said that the suspects' alibi that they had spent the night of the murder at Mr Sollecito's flat had collapsed after Marco Trotta, a police computer expert, said that tests on Mr Sollecito's computer showed that nobody had used it on the night that Ms Kercher was stabbed to death. Mr Sollecito claims he was at his flat working on his computer at the time of the murder.
Detective Profazio also revealed that on the night of the murder, the couple's mobile phones were switched off at almost the same time, at around 8.30pm, and not turned on again until the next morning.
In such a damaging situation, Ms Knox claimed that police had put her under psychological and physical pressure to admit that she was present at the murder.
Ms Knox, who has the right to address the court at any time during her trial, was reacting to evidence from Anna Donnino, a police interpreter who claimed that Ms Knox had behaved "as if a weight had been lifted from her" when she admitted that she had been at the scene of the crime and accused Lumumba, the Congolese bar owner for whom she worked part-time, of the killing.
Ms Donnino said that when questioned after Ms Kercher's body was found, Ms Knox walked up and down nervously at the police station, "hitting her head with her hands". She had denied responding to an SMS message from Mr Lumumba telling her there was no need to come to work because there were few customers, leaving her free for the evening. But she broke down when police said phone records showed that she had done so, Ms Donnino said.
"She showed extreme emotional involvement - she was crying and visibly shocked, saying 'It was him, it was him. He's bad'," Ms Donnino added.
Ms Knox, speaking in fluent Italian, said police had called her a "stupid liar" during "hours and hours" of questioning during which she had stuck to her story that she spent the night of the murder at the flat of Sollecito.
She said that Ms Donnino had suggested to her "that probably I didn't remember well because I was traumatised, so I should try to remember something else". There had been an "aggressive insistence" on the text message she had received from Mr Lumumba, Ms Knox said. She insisted she had been slapped on the head by police, adding "I'm sorry, but it's true".
Ms Donnino said that Ms Knox had been "comforted" by police, given food and drink, and had at no stage been hit or threatened.
The newspaper Corriere dell' Umbria said that Giuliano Mignini, the prosecutor, would bring an additional charge of slander against Ms Knox, since all police officers and interpreters who have given evidence at the trial have testified under oath that she was at no stage put under pressure or physically mistreated.
The trial resumes next Friday, when the six jurors are expected to tour the murder scene in an inspection requested by lawyers acting for Mr Sollecito. The prosecution claims Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito broke a window at the cottage to simulate a burglary, but the defence contests this.
The court was shown grainy CCTV images said to be of Ms Kercher returning to the house shortly before her death. The images were taken by a surveillance camera at the car park above the cottage. Defence lawyers said that the footage was of such poor quality that it should not be admitted as evidence.