PERUGIA, Italy — Convicted murderer Amanda Knox broke into tears as she made an emotional address to an appeals court in Italy, saying Saturday she is the innocent victim of an "enormous mistake" and that her life had been "broken" by three years in jail.
In a powerful 20-minute address to the court, the 23-year-old American reached out to the family of Meredith Kercher, the British girl she was convicted of killing and sexually assaulting in 2007 when they were roommates on a student exchange program in Perugia.
Knox denied being the "dangerous, diabolical, uncaring, violent" person described by the prosecution.
Last year, Knox was convicted and sentenced to 26 years in prison. Also convicted of the same charges was Raffaele Sollecito, an Italian who is Knox's ex-boyfriend. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Both deny wrongdoing, and have appealed the verdict.
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The appeals trial formally opened last month but that hearing was immediately adjourned. With Saturday's hearing, the new proceedings got into full swing.
"I am innocent. Raffaele is innocent. We did not kill Meredith," said Knox, speaking Italian, and her voice breaking. "It doesn't' do justice to Meredith and her loved ones to take our lives from us."
Silence fell on the courtroom as Knox started speaking, with her step-father Chris Mellas and her university friend Madison Paxton in attendance. Paxton, who was crying during her friend's speech, said later she had never been "so proud of anybody in my life."
Knox has addressed the court in the previous trial but never for as long or as passionately. She said she regretted not being able to fully speak her mind before, saying that words don't come easily to her and that she has a difficult time standing up for herself.
In the United States, the coverage of the case has been largely favorable to the American and critical of the Italian handling of the case. Some raised doubts over the investigation and the collecting of forensic evidence allegedly linking Knox and Sollecito to the crime.
"I stand here more scared than ever, not because I am or I have ever been afraid of the truth," she said, "but because the truth has not been recognized."
She was in tears as she said she thinks of Kercher as a dear friend she is "grateful and honored" to have met.
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In the previous trial, Knox had described Kercher as a friend whose death had shocked her. On Saturday, she also turned her thoughts to the victim's family.
"I'm very sorry Meredith is no longer living," a tearful Knox said. "I too have little sisters and the idea of their suffering, their loss, terrifies me."
"What you are going through, and what Meredith was subjected to, is incomprehensible and unacceptable," she said.
The victim's father, John Kercher, wrote a piece in Britain's Daily Mail lamenting the fact that "since that act of horrific violence, Knox, it seems, has been accorded the status of a minor celebrity."
Kercher wrote that Knox's parents "have never expressed their condolences to our family for our grievous loss."
"There has been no letter of sympathy; no word of regret," he wrote. "Instead, I have watched them repeatedly reiterate the mantra of their daughter's innocence."
Knox said it took her time to come to terms with her new life, saying "I was in prison, my photo was everywhere." She lamented what she said were "insidious, unjust, mean" reports of her private life. While the American press has largely been sympathetic to Knox, reports in Britain and Italy have often described her as a devious, manipulative woman.
"I can never get used to this broken life," she said. "I still don't know how to face all this, except than to be myself."
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In their December ruling, the court said that on the night of the murder, Knox and Sollecito were at the house with a fourth person, Rudy Hermann Guede, an Ivory Coast citizen who has also been convicted of murder in separate proceedings. Knox and Sollecito assisted Guede's sexual desire for Kercher, becoming her brutal assailants together with the Ivorian man and ultimately killing the 21-year-old when she resisted the sexual approach.
"How is it possible that I should have jumped at the opportunity to hurt my friend, be violent as if it were the natural thing to do?" Knox asked the court.
At the appeals trial, the defense lawyers for Knox and Sollecito are seeking a full review on the forensic evidence, including on disputed DNA evidence that was found on a knife allegedly used in the murder, and on the clasp of Kercher's bra.
The defense maintains that DNA traces were inconclusive, and also challenged that they may have been contaminated when they were analyzed. They also want new testimony to be heard.
The court is expected to rule on these requests at the next hearing, Dec. 18.
The prosecutors, who had sought life sentences, are also appealing the ruling, as they can in Italy.
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