, PERUGIA, Dec 18 – The appeal of Amanda Knox, the American convicted of murdering a British student in Italy, hit a critical hurdle on Saturday as a court decides whether to order a forensic review of her case.
Knox, 23, was sentenced to 26 years in prison for the 2007 killing but says she is completely innocent and is asking that the verdict be quashed at her appeal hearing in the central town of Perugia where the killing happened.
Her head bowed, she entered the court on Saturday and briefly greeted a small group of supporters including her mother, Edda Mellas, who came from Seattle for the hearing and said she will be staying through Christmas.
Knox broke down in tears in the frescoed courtroom last week as she expressed her condolences to Kercher’s family and re-stated her innocence.
Knox’s lawyer Carlo Dalla Vedova said earlier that the case against her was "full of grey areas" and that it was "a huge miscarriage of justice".
Prosecutors want Knox to be sentenced to life in prison – the term they had requested at the original trial – if her conviction is upheld.
Leeds University student Meredith Kercher was found half-naked in a pool of blood on November 2, 2007 in the cottage that she shared with Knox in the picturesque medieval town, where both girls were studying.
"Meredith is still, and always will be, in our hearts and minds. The difference at Christmas is, for us, that she is not there, seated at the table," Kercher’s father, John, was quoted in Britain’s Daily Mirror as saying.
"We shall toast her with a smile, and remember her voice and laugh. And, usually, on Christmas Eve we shall go to the cemetery and leave cards and small presents for her, as shall her friends," he said.
Lawyers for Knox are requesting in particular an independent analysis of the presumed murder weapon – a kitchen knife found in the house of her boyfriend that had traces of Knox’s DNA on the handle and of the victim’s on the blade.
"The life of Amanda Knox is hanging on a very thin thread – her DNA found on a knife," Dalla Vedova said earlier.
The appeal trial is expected to conclude sometime next year.
Knox’s boyfriend at the time of the killing, Raffaele Sollecito, was given a 25-year sentence and is appealing together with Knox.
A third person, an Ivorian man called Rudy Guede, has also been convicted.
He was tried separately from the other two in a fast-track trial and his sentence of 16 years was upheld by Italy’s highest appeals court on Thursday.
Guede has said he was in the house but did not commit the murder.
Prosecutors say the gruesome killing was the culmination of a drug-fuelled sexual assault on Kercher, who was in Perugia as part of an exchange programme.
Lawyers for Knox also want an independent examination of traces of Knox’s DNA found mixed together with Kercher’s blood in a bathroom in the house.
And they want a new witness – a former mafia member who claims his own brother carried out the killing – to give evidence at the appeal trial.
Luciano Aviello, who is currently in prison, has claimed that Knox, Sollecito and Guede are completely innocent and that in fact his brother and an Albanian man were responsible for the murder during an attempted burglary.
Earlier this month Knox was indicted on additional charges of slander for claiming that police beat her during questioning soon after the murder. She said then that she had been at her house at the time of the killing.
She now says she was at Sollecito’s house when Kercher was murdered.
Knox also told investigators during initial questioning that a local bar owner, Patrick Lumumba, was the likely culprit. Lumumba was arrested but later found to be completely innocent and is a plaintiff in the appeal.
The next appeal hearing is expected to be on January 15.