U.S. Student Convicted Of Murder In Italy Appeals
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
It's been nearly a year since an American exchange student in Italy was convicted along with her former boyfriend of murdering her British roommate. Amanda Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison. She was back in court yesterday for the opening of an appeals trial in the university town of Perugia, in a case that continues to capture world attention. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli was there.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI: When the American exchange student was arrested in November 2007, the Amanda Knox case turned into an international media sensation. Today was no different.
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POGGIOLI: The courtroom deep in the bowels of this medieval building was packed with photographers, cameramen and reporters eager to get a glimpse of the star defendant. As she entered the courtroom, escorted by police, Amanda Knox was pale and gaunt.
Ms. BARBIE NADEAU (Reporter): She was a shadow of her former self.
POGGIOLI: Reporter Barbie Nadeau closely followed the first trial for Newsweek and has written a book about the case. She says the new Amanda did not smile at the cameras, as she did last year.
Ms. NADEAU: She seemed very uncomfortable, she seemed very worried. I think that she really does now understand the gravity of the situation. Now I think she gets the fact that she's facing a long time in prison.
POGGIOLI: In the first trial, Knox and her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were found guilty of murdering Knox's British roommate. Meredith Kercher's body was found half-naked in a pool of blood with stab wounds to the neck in the cottage she shared with Knox.
In their ruling, the judges said the killing was not premeditated but was the result of a brutal sexual assault. Another person, Ivorian Rudy Guede, was convicted of taking part in the murder in a separate trial and sentenced to 30 years, reduced to 16 on appeal.
Knox has repeatedly protested her innocence, saying she was not present in the house at the time of the murder. Throughout the first trial, the media focused on Knox's smiling girl-next-door image. But now, her lawyer, Luciano Ghirga, says three years in prison have taken their toll.
Mr. LUCIANO GHIRGA (Attorney): (Through translator) Amanda is a changed person, she's dispirited and stressed. But I hope the appeals trial will provide a positive stimulus.
POGGIOLI: The defense is seeking a full review of the case, including disputed DNA evidence, and wants to call new witnesses. The prosecution is also appealing, seeking a longer sentence of up to 30 years in prison for the defendants.
The first trial was marked by divisive media coverage; much of the Italian and British media were skeptical about Knox, often described as manipulative and promiscuous, while many American TV networks embraced the Seattle native as an innocent abroad, entangled in a byzantine and unfair judicial system. Journalist Nadeau says this was very harmful.
Ms. NADEAU: There was a lot of anti-Italian, anti-American sentiment. There was a lot of misunderstanding. There's many elements of this case that have been lost in translation. In the United States, if Amanda Knox had been convicted of the murder of Meredith Kercher, she could have faced the death penalty.
POGGIOLI: The defendant's stepfather, Chris Mellas, was in court today. Like others in the Knox family, he believes the media is less aggressive this time around and he hopes this will help lead to an acquittal.
Mr. CHRIS MELLAS: With reference to the press, certainly the coverage at the beginning was abysmal, but I think that, you know, the press seems to have turned around quite a bit. People are starting to learn exactly what this case really is about, which is an issue of wrong conviction.
POGGIOLI: The case was adjourned to December 11th. A verdict is expected by next June.
Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Perugia.
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