PERUGIA: American student Amanda Knox broke down in court and pleaded for mercy on Monday as an Italian jury retired to consider its verdict in her appeal against convictions for murder and sexual assault.
“I did not kill, I did not rape, I did not steal. I wasn’t there,” she told jurors, adding: “I am paying with my life for a crime I did not commit.”
“I want to go home. I want to return to my life,” she said in a statement that she had to interrupt frequently as she struggled to contain her emotion.
The 24-year-old also said that her faith in Italian police had been “betrayed” and that she had been “manipulated” during her four-year legal saga.
Her sister Deanna cried as Knox spoke and the judge said she could sit down if she wanted to but Knox gathered her strength and stayed standing.
She entered the courtroom with her head bowed as dozens of photographers, cameramen and Knox supporters crowded in for the final day of her appeal.
Knox’s co-appellant Raffaele Sollecito, her boyfriend at the time of the killing, also made a statement ahead of the verdict saying: “I have never hurt anyone in my life. The accusations are completely deranged.”
Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison for the gruesome killing of her British housemate Meredith Kercher, 21, in November 2007 in the hilltop university town of Perugia in central Italy where both girls were studying.
Prosecutors have asked for her sentence and that of Sollecito to be increased to life in prison because of the absence of any motive.
Kercher was found almost completely naked on the floor of her bedroom in the house she shared with Knox. Her body had dozens of knife wounds and bruises and there was evidence of a sexual assault.
Local small-time drug dealer and petty thief Rudy Guede has been convicted on the same charges as Knox and Sollecito but was tried separately and is serving a 16-year sentence after exhausting his appeals.
All three convicted for the murder have protested their innocence, although Guede claims he was in the house that night but did not wield the knife.
Whatever the outcome, it seems likely that the details of what exactly happened in the cottage that Knox and Kercher shared will never be clear.
In her first interrogation in November 2007, Knox said she was in the house at the time of the murder and she falsely identified the owner of a bar where she worked as a waitress as the killer. He was arrested but quickly exonerated.
Sollecito also told police that Knox had been missing for several hours that evening and that she only came to his place at around one in the morning.
Knox now says that she was with Sollecito at his house all night and that her initial comments were misunderstood and only given after heavy questioning.
The key to the appeal has been the analysis of two pieces of evidence that helped convict Knox and Sollecito — a kitchen knife and Kercher’s bra clasp.
Police said they had found Knox’s DNA on the handle and Kercher’s on the knife, the presumed murder weapon, which was found in Sollecito’s kitchen.
The bra clasp was picked up by investigators at the scene of the murder several weeks after the killing and was believed to have Sollecito’s DNA on it.
But independent experts commissioned by the appeal court said the DNA work in the investigation had been shoddy and that the DNA traces were too low.
As a result, defence lawyers say there is now no physical evidence placing either Sollecito or Knox at the scene of the murder.