An American student suspected of being involved in the slaying of her British roommate in Italy last year appeared with one other suspect Tuesday for their first hearing before a judge who is deciding whether they will be charged and stand trial.
Judge Paolo Micheli granted the request of African suspect Rudy Hermann Guede for a fast-track trial even before he was formally charged. A quick trial limits the number of witnesses and kinds of evidence that can be submitted to save time and, if he is convicted, carries a lighter sentence.
The judge made no decision on charging the two other suspects in the case, 21-year-old Amanda Knox of Seattle and her former Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, who did not appear in court.
The case involving young foreign students in the small, normally peaceful university town of Perugia has attracted enormous international attention.
Meredith Kercher, a visiting student from Leeds University in England, was stabbed in the neck Nov. 1 in the apartment she shared with Knox and other university students in Perugia.
No motives have emerged
Prosecutors allege the suspects strangled and stabbed her. They accuse Guede of engaging in sexual violence against Kercher, with the help of Knox and Sollecito.
No motives have emerged and all three suspects deny the allegations.
Prosecutors have asked the court to charge the three with murder as well as counts of sexual violence and stealing $475 in cash, two credit cards and two cell phones from Kercher.
Police escorted Knox into court wearing a white blouse, jeans and no handcuffs. It was the first time she was in the presence of the victim's relatives, who attended the closed-door hearing. Knox's lawyer said there was no interaction with the family, who sat behind Knox out of her sight line
Knox gazed straight ahead and appeared calm as she was escorted past a group of journalists into the courtroom. She looked thinner after 10 months in jail since her Nov. 6 arrest.
Knox's lawyer, Luciano Ghirga, said neither his client nor Guede addressed the court during the 8 1/2-hour session devoted primarily to technical matters.
"Amanda is as calm as she has ever been ever since I've known her," Ghirga said.
Guede has acknowledged being in the victim's room but has denied killing Kercher. He has accused an unidentified Italian of trying to frame him.
Under the fast-track procedure granted to Guede, any conviction would carry a sentence two-thirds of that in a regular trial. Trials in Italy can last months, or even years.
A fast-track proceeding is closed to the public, unlike a full trial. It will be held before the same judge, who is expected to issue the verdict at the time he decides whether to indict Knox and Sollecito. The rulings are expected next month.
Knox, a student at the University of Washington, and Sollecito, 24, have given conflicting statements about what happened 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.
Knox has said she spent the night at Sollecito's house and has changed her story with regard to whether she was in the apartment she shared with Kercher at the time of the killing. But her DNA was found on the handle of a knife that prosecutors say might have been used in the slaying, while Kercher's DNA was found on the blade.
Sollecito's lawyer, Giulia Bongiorno, said her client did not attend the session because it was devoted to technical matters but added that he plans to attend future sessions. Defendants are not required to attend court sessions in Italy.
Kercher's family, who traveled from Britain for the hearing, said they hoped for justice.
"We're pleased that we've reached a new phase in the process, hoping that justice will soon be done for Meredith," the victim's sister, Stephanie Kercher, told reporters Monday with her parents by her side.