American student Amanda Knox was a naive young woman publicly "crucified" and "impaled" to justify wrongly imprisoning her for murder, her lawyer told an Italian court on Thursday.
Knox is appealing a 2009 verdict that found her guilty of murdering her British roommate Meredith Kercher during a drug-fuelled sex game that went wrong. Kercher's half-naked body was found in 2007 in a bloody pool in the apartment the two shared.
Knox was arrested on Nov. 6, 2007 — four days after Kercher's body was found in their apartment in Perugia. Knox was sentenced to 26 years behind bars, and prosecutors want the term increased to life.
Her Italian boyfriend at the time, Raffaele Sollecito, and an Ivorian drifter were also jailed over the murder. But much of the focus in the case has been on Knox, who prosecutors allege led the sexual assault and held the knife that slit Kercher's throat.
Wrapping up the defense case, Knox's lawyer Carlo Dalla Vedova pointed to errors in the police investigation and urged a panel of lay and professional judges to look beyond the image of a sex-crazed wild girl created by the media and prosecutors.
"She was crucified, impaled in a public square," Dalla Vedova told the court. "Who, if not her, has been run over by a media tsunami?"
Being respectful of the pain caused by Kercher's death did not mean wrongly jailing two innocent youths, he argued.
"She was a girl who was quite different from how she has been depicted," he told the court. "How many times have we heard Amanda Knox saying 'Why don't they believe me?'"
The 24-year-old study abroad student from Seattle, wearing a silver-gray top on Thursday, has visibly lost weight since her last trial and has appeared frail in her latest appearances in court.
Dalla Vedova told the court that she has spent about 1,000 days behind bars.
Verdict could come in days
A verdict in the trial is expected by Monday, with the Knox family optimistic their daughter will walk free from an Italian prison that has been her home for nearly four years.
Their hopes have been boosted by a forensics review that cast doubt on traces of DNA found on a kitchen knife and Kercher's bra clasp -- evidence that was used to convict Knox -- and attacked police for sloppy handling of crime scene material.
But prosecutors have since tried to wrest back momentum in the case by focusing on other evidence pointing to Knox and targeting her personality, painting her as a man-eater who resented her roommate and enjoyed flirting with danger.
They allege Knox and Sollecito staged a theft in the Perugia apartment to throw police off track and have attacked Knox's credibility by pointing to her false accusation blaming a Congolese barman for the murder.
Knox's family has flown in for the last stretch of the trial, attending hearings and visiting her in prison. Members of the Kercher family, which has kept a lower profile, are also expected to come to Perugia for the verdict.
"We visited her yesterday and she was rather anxious. But it was also the first time all my four daughters have been together for two years," a teary-eyed Curt Knox, the defendant's father, said.
In an on Thursday, Knox's two younger half-sisters said they were optimistic.
“She is not the witch that everybody says she is,’’ Ashley Knox, 16, told Lauer. “She is a very loyal and down-to-earth person."
Ashley said Knox is nervous about the verdict, which is expected by Monday, but also "very hopeful."
Added Delaney, 13, "I have my hopes pretty high."
The sisters had not seen Amanda face-to-face in nearly two years until this week, relying on phone calls and letters to contact her.
“She’s become a stronger person, and she is smarter,’’ Delaney said. “She’s learned more.’’
Knox says she falsely accused barman due to stress
Knox says she wrongly accused the barman because she broke down under stressful police questioning. In one particularly sharp attack earlier in the trial, the lawyer for the barman called Knox Satanic, diabolic, a witch and a she-devil.
Defense lawyers have hit back, saying such extreme characterizations are part of a campaign by the prosecution and media to justify a lack of motive in the case by creating a false image of Knox.
Many supporters in the United States see Knox as an innocent student abroad, trapped by an unfair justice system. Her family regularly appear on U.S. talk shows and she is backed by a dogged Internet campaign.
Soon after her arrest on Nov. 6, 2007, Knox became a media sensation, depicted either as a manipulative girl-gone-wild or as a naive young woman caught up in a judicial nightmare. The media remained hooked on the case, and hundreds of reporters, cameramen and photographers have descended on the central Italian town in anticipation of the verdict.
The trial is expected to wrap up by Saturday or Monday at the latest, with Knox expected to address the jury before they decide her fate.
Her sisters revealed some of Knox's hopes, should she be freed.
“Amanda in all of her letters, she tells me that she wants to feel grass,’’ her third sister, Deana, told reporters. “She wants to lay down and put grass in between her toes and in her fingers and feel sunlight. It’s the little things that she misses the most.”