Tearful Amanda Knox pleads with court for freedom

Amanda Knox, the U.S. student convicted of murdering her British flatmate Meredith Kercher in Italy in November 2007, arrives in court for her appeal trial session in Perugia.

American student Amanda Knox tearfully begged an Italian court to acquit her of murdering her British roommate during what prosecutors said was an extreme sex game that went wrong, declaring she was paying for a crime she did not commit.

“I did not do the things they say I did. I did not kill, rape or steal. I was not there,” Knox said in Italian.

“I want to go home. I want to go back to my life. I do not want to be punished. I do not want to be deprived of my life for something I did not do, because I am innocent.”

The Seattle native and her Italian boyfriend at the time, Raffaele Sollecito, are fighting a 2009 verdict that found them guilty of murdering Leeds University exchange student Meredith Kercher during a drug-fueled sexual assault.

Kercher’s half-naked body, with more than 40 wounds and a deep gash in the throat, was found in 2007 in the Perugia apartment she shared with the American student.

The panel of two professional and six lay judges retired to consider a verdict immediately after Knox’s final plea. Their decision is expected after 8 p.m (1800 GMT) Monday.

Hopes are high among Knox’s many supporters in the United States that the 24-year-old will walk free from a Perugia prison after a forensic review that cast deep doubt on DNA evidence used to convict her and 27-year-old Sollecito.

Knox was jailed for 26 years and Sollecito was sentenced to 25 years.

In his own final plea Sollecito offered judges a cream-colored plastic bracelet inscribed “Free Amanda and Raffaele” that he said he had worn for years.

“I am a Mr. Nobody but now they want Mr. Nobody to spend the rest of his life in jail,” he said in a halting voice.

FOREGONE CONCLUSION

The appeal trial has gripped attention on both sides of the Atlantic, with an outpouring of sympathy and outrage from many in the United States who see the American as an innocent girl trapped abroad in the clutches of a medieval justice system.

Francesco Maresca, a lawyer for the Kercher family, said the Kerchers — who have backed the prosecution case seeking another guilty verdict for Knox and Sollecito — were stunned at the media clamor for their release.

“We’re just hours away from a sentence in such an important trial and we continue to only hear pleas for acquittal almost as if the decision is a foregone conclusion,” he said.

The Kerchers — mother Arline, sister Stephanie and brother Lyle — missed the hearing because their flight from Britain landed just as the judges retired. But they are expected in court for the verdict.

Knox, who has become thinner and lost her once cheery demeanor since being jailed nearly four years ago, almost broke down at the start of her 10-minute address.

“I am not what they say I am,” she said, seeking to rebut prosecution suggestions that she was a manipulative, sex-obsessed, pot-smoking “she-devil.”

“I am paying with my life for things I did not commit,” she said, shaking and fighting back tears.

She said she had been manipulated, her faith in the police betrayed and had been dragged through unfair and baseless accusations.

“I insist on the truth, I insist after four desperate years on our innocence,” she said after regaining her composure.

Knox barely spoke Italian when she was arrested days after the murder but addressed the court fluently, having learned the language in jail.

“NOT DIABOLICAL”

Kercher, from Coulsdon, Surrey, was on a year-long exchange program in Perugia when she was murdered, bringing unwelcome attention to the hilltop Umbrian town.

Perugia residents resent the frantic media attention and feel the quaint image of their historic town has been sullied by allegations of drugs, booze and orgies among students there.

Knox and Sollecito have steadfastly maintained their innocence throughout. A third man, Ivorian drug dealer Rudy Guede, was imprisoned for 16 years for his role in the murder.

Prosecutors say Kercher was pinned down and stabbed to death when she resisted attempts by the three to involve her in an orgy. They have pointed to Knox as the key figure in the crime — painting her as a cold-blooded, sex-driven girl who led her boyfriend astray and drove the knife into Kercher.

Prosecutors have asked the court to extend Knox’s term to life in jail, saying she killed her roommate for no reason.

But their case was weakened by a review by forensic experts that undermined evidence of traces of DNA belonging to Knox And Kercher on a kitchen knife identified as the murder weapon.

The experts also said alleged traces of Sollecito’s DNA on the Briton’s bra clasp may have been contaminated.

The defense has argued that no clear motive or evidence linking the defendants to the crime has emerged, and say Knox was falsely implicated in the murder by prosecutors determined to convict her regardless of the evidence.

Among the many supporters Knox has won over the years is her prison chaplain, who defended her as she awaits her fate.

“She is certainly not this diabolical creature,” Don Saulo Scarbattoli said. “Even if you were pretending you would never be able to pretend for four years.”



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