The long awaited trial of American student Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito begins in Perugia, Italy. This is the second phase of the trial of the accused in the murder of British student Meredith Kercher.
The story is riveting for both the British and Italian media. 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, 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."
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.
And it is that trial that commenced in Perugia Friday.
Knox looked relaxed as she arrived in the well of the court flanked by two prison guards.
Casually dressed, wearing jeans, a striped t-shirt and a grey hooded top, she smiled broadly at her lawyer Luciano Ghirga.
Less than six foot away sat Sollecito, dressed in white poloneck, green jumper and brown trousers.
He seemed slightly more overwhelmed by all the attention.
Neither was hand-cuffed and did not have to sit in the imposing steel bar cages at one side of the court.
Guede did not attend the opening of the trial but is expected to testify.
The charges against the pair were read out: murder, sexual violence, simulation of 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 a forceful speech, counsel Carlo della Vedova told the court that Ms Knox's "confession" wherein she had accused barman Lumumba and also admitted being present at the scene of the crime was inadmissible because it was made at night without a lawyer present, violating her rights.
The most eloquent performance, however, came from Mr Sollecito's barrister, Giulia Bongiorno, a prominent lawyer who is also a parliamentary deputy. Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito had been "lovebirds" who had no need of "kinky sex" with others, she said - to repeated interruptions from the prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, who protested that the trial proper had not begun and that speeches should wait.
Undeterred, Ms Bongiorno declared there had been no sex and drugs party at the cottage the night Ms Kercher died - "no glasses, no bottles, no drugs". The DNA evidence against Mr Sollecito was flawed and the defence would prove that he had never even met Guede, she said.
The Kercher family, through their lawyer, requested that the trial be held behind closed doors because of the disturbing sexual nature of some of the evidence.
Mr Ghirga and Giulia Buongiorno, the high profile lawyer representing Mr Sollecito, both argued that justice needed to be seen to be done in open court.
They also said it was important for the press to hear the witnesses and evidence first hand to avoid inaccurate reporting.
After an hour's deliberation, Judge Massei ruled that the trial should be open to the media but would not allow the proceedings to be filmed.
He said there may be days when the press might be barred form court due to sensitive evidence.
Throughout the hearing, two prison guards stood behind each defendant, despite protests from Mr Ghirga.
The judge set the next hearing for February 6, with a timetable of hearings on Fridays and Saturdays.
While Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito did not sit in the cages normally used for defendants accused of serious crimes, 15 journalists occupied the cages because of the shortage of seats. The judge later ordered them to be moved.
Judge Giancarlo Massei opened the case, which is due to last several months, by ruling that all cameramen must leave court.
Six popular judges, who play the role of jury, were sworn in.
Neither Miss Kercher's parents John and Arline, or Miss Knox's father Curt and mother Edda Mellas were in court.