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American student goes on trial for Italy murder

Image: Amanda Knox
American murder suspect Amanda Knox arrives in court in Perugia, Italy, on Friday.Daniele La Monaca / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

An American college student and her Italian former boyfriend went on trial Friday charged with sexually assaulting and murdering her roommate in a slaying that shocked Italy.

Amanda Knox, from Seattle, and her ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito appeared in front of an eight-member jury in the tiny courthouse in Perugia, central Italy, for the first session of what is expected to be a long trial.

The defendants — who both proclaim their innocence — were indicted in October for the slaying of 21-year-old British student Meredith Kercher, who was found stabbed to death in 2007 in the apartment she shared with Knox in Perugia, a picturesque, medieval city 115 miles north of Rome.

Knox, 21, wearing jeans and a gray, hooded sweatshirt, appeared relaxed as she was escorted into the crowded courtroom. She smiled and chatted with an interpreter and guards during breaks in the proceedings. Sollecito, 24, wearing beige trousers and a bright green sweater, looked tense and remained mostly quiet. The two were seated next to their lawyers and guarded by prison officers.

A lawyer for Kercher's family sought to have the proceedings closed to the public and the media to prevent the publication of sensitive evidence. Presiding judge Giancarlo Massei barred cameras from filming the proceedings but ruled the trial would remain open, though some sessions could be held behind closed doors.

Both Knox and Sollecito, who are accused of murder and sexual assault, were denied bail and have been detained for more than a year in Italy.

Among other procedural issues discussed at the hearing, lawyers for Sollecito argued the arrest warrant for their client was invalid because he was not immediately allowed to speak to his attorney. The court dismissed the request.

The jury also heard arguments from the defense teams and the prosecution on what evidence and witnesses should be admitted. Massei adjourned the session, and the court was expected to rule on the issue later Friday.

Among the witnesses proposed by prosecutors is Ivory Coast national Rudy Hermann Guede, who has already been convicted of the same charges and was sentenced to 30 years in prison last year. Guede, who had also denied wrongdoing, underwent a fast-track trial at his request.

Knox's lawyers also asked the court to let the American testify.

"We want to prove that Amanda Knox was not in the house of the murder that night, but that she was with Raffaele Sollecito somewhere else," said lawyer Luciano Ghirga.

Knox, a University of Washington student, was on an exchange program in Italy and sharing a Perugia flat with Kercher, an exchange student from Leeds University in England, when the Briton was found dead in their apartment Nov. 2, 2007.

Prosecutors allege that the woman was killed during what began as a sex game, with Sollecito holding her by the shoulders from behind while Knox touched her with the point of a knife. They say Guede tried to sexually assault Kercher, and then Knox fatally stabbed her in the throat.

Sollecito has maintained he was in his own apartment in Perugia and that he doesn't remember if Knox spent part or all the night of the murder with him. Knox initially told investigators she was in the house when Kercher was killed and covered her ears against the victim's screams. Later, Knox said she wasn't in the house.

'Not afraid'
"Raffaele is absolutely not afraid of what can happen during this trial because he knows he's innocent," Sollecito lawyer Giulia Bongiorno told reporters during a break.

Italy does not have the death penalty and a conviction could bring a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Prosecutors have indicated the court intends to hold a maximum of two sessions of the trial each week. Lawyers say it could last a year.