The family of a British student slain in Italy last year said Monday they hoped justice would soon be done, as the proceedings move into a critical phase.
The parents and sister of Meredith Kercher appeared before the media in Perugia a day before the opening of a preliminary hearing that will decide whether three suspects should be indicted.
The three — U.S. student Amanda Knox, her former Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito and Ivory Coast citizen Rudy Hermann Guede — deny wrongdoing. The judge is expected to issue his decision on the possible indictments in a few weeks.
"We've pleased that we've reached a new phase in the process, hoping that justice will soon be done for Meredith," said the victim's sister, Stephanie Kercher, her parents by her side.
Meredith Kercher, a 21-year-old student from Leeds University in England, was found dead in November from a stab wound to the neck in the house she shared with Knox in Perugia.
Allegations of sexual violence
Prosecutors say the three suspects strangled and stabbed Kercher. They also say Guede engaged in sexual violence against her, with the help of Knox and Sollecito.
The prosecutors also requested the three be tried on charges of sexual violence and stealing $475, two credit cards and two cell phones from Kercher.
Knox and Sollecito have been jailed since November; Guede was arrested in Germany and extradited to Italy in December.
In their brief statement, the Kercher family described the victim as a caring woman who "loved everything about Italy." Affectionately calling her "Mez," Stephanie Kercher said her sister would never be forgotten.
"We're all struggling to understand why she was so cruelly taken from us and imagine how things would be if she were still here," she said.
No motives have emerged for the slaying in this university town in central Italy.
Knox, a 21-year-old student at the University of Washington, and Sollecito, 24, have given conflicting statements, saying they smoked hashish the night of the slaying. Sollecito has said he was at his own apartment in Perugia, working at his computer. He said he does not remember if Knox spent the whole night with him.
Not at home
Knox has insisted she was not home during the slaying. Her DNA was found on the handle of a knife that prosecutors say might have been used in the killing; Kercher's DNA was found on the blade.
Guede, 21, has acknowledged being in the woman's room that night. But he denied having killed her and accused an unidentified Italian of trying to frame him.
Knox's father, Curt Knox, told Britain's ITV1 channel that his daughter had nothing to do with Kercher's death.
"To tell you the truth, I want her cleared of everything," Curt Knox said in the interview aired Monday. "She hasn't been a part of this at all."
He said he felt sympathy for the Kercher family.
"They get a telephone call that's the worse one you could ever have. We got a different one," he said.