Saturday, December 5, 2009

Final defendants in Meredith Kercher sex slay sentenced to decades behind bars

The case of the murder of Meredith Kercher came to an end, but not the end when the last defendants, Amanda Knox and her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito were convicted of her murder and rape in a Perugia, Italy courtroom yesterday. Perugia, the capital of Italy's Umbria region, is 125 miles north of Rome.

The jury, which consisted of six lay jurors guided by two judges, found Knox and Sollecito guilty of the rape and murder of Kercher, from Coulsdon, Surrey, England just after midnight local time (5 PM Central Standard Time).  They deliberated for 11 hours straight. Knox was sentenced to 26 years and Sollecito was sentenced to 25 years immediately after the verdict was rendered. Knox and Kerchner were students at Perugia's University For Foriegners.

Miss Kercher had spent the evening of November 1 [2007], at the home of her friend Sophie Purton, watching the romantic drama The Notebook before returning home at around 9pm, saying she was tired. Her flatmates were all staying elsewhere that night and she was alone in the house.

Her body was discovered at 1.15pm the next day, by which time Knox and her Italian boyfriend, Sollecito, had arrived at the house. "It is something I never hope to see again," Sollecito told reporters the following day. "There was blood everywhere and I couldn't take it all in. My girlfriend (Knox) was crying and screaming, 'How could anyone do this?'"

Finding the front door open, a window broken and bloodstains in a bathroom, [police] forced open the locked door of Miss Kercher's bedroom to find her body in a pool of blood on the floor, mostly hidden under a duvet and naked except for a T-shirt yanked up around her armpits.

The injuries on her body suggested she had been forced to kneel, with her face pushed into the floor, and raped at knifepoint before being killed by a combination of strangulation and three deep stab wounds to her neck.
Police were under immense pressure to solve the murder, and within three days suspicion had begun to fall on Knox, whose behaviour had struck police as distinctly odd when she was asked to give a witness statement.
While Miss Kercher's other friends had been distraught and tearful, Knox appeared entirely detached and showed no signs of distress, even performing cartwheels and doing the splits while she was waiting to be questioned.

She also changed her mind about where she had been on the night of the murder - at first she said she had been at Sollecito's flat, smoking marijuana and watching a film. Then she said she was confused and might have been at the flat at the same time as Miss Kercher. Put under pressure by police, who had discovered text messages on her phone to bar owner Patrick Lumumba, she eventually said she had been in the flat when Miss Kercher was murdered, and heard her scream after Mr Lumumba went into the bedroom with her.

Mr Lumumba was immediately arrested on suspicion of murder, as was Sollecito, whose shoes appeared to match a bloody footprint found at the scene.

But less than a fortnight later, the investigation took another incredible turn. Police announced that they were looking for a fourth suspect, a local drifter called Rudy Guede, whose DNA had been found all over the murder scene, including in a bloody fingerprint and in samples which showed he had either raped Miss Kercher or had consensual sex with her.

Guede, now 22, was convicted of murder and sexual assault at a fast-track trial last year, while Mr Lumumba, who had a cast-iron alibi, was released after police admitted he was entirely innocent.

Jurors accepted the prosecution's arguments that Knox, who called herself "Foxy Knoxy," recruited her "boyfriend," who she had met only a week prior to Kercher's murder, and 22 year old Guede to take part in a sex game. The "manipulative, narcissistic, sexual thrill-seeker" did this as revenge for criticism that she wasn't pulling her weight doing chores and homework, and was bringing strange men back to the house they all shared. Kercher was held down by Sollecito while Guede tried to rape her. Kercher was killed by Knox with a knife that Knox held to the victim's neck.

The conflicting accounts of the events surrounding the murder, as well as the DNA evidence were enough to bring Meredith's killers to justice. Knox claimed that she had been at Sollecito's house, but cell phone records showed ther were near the murder scene, with their phones turned off around the time of the slaying. Sollecito claimed that he couldn't remember if he was at the crime scene with Knox, but others confirmed that there were in the house at the time of the murder.

In addition, Knox's DNA was found on the alleged murder weapon, a knife which was washed shortly after the murders, Sollecito's DNA was found on Kercher's bra, and Guede's DNA was found all over the crime scene, including inside's Kerchner's vagina. Guede was found guilty of raping and murdering Kercher last year at a fast track trial and sentenced to 30 years. He opted for the fast track to get his maximum sentence slashed by 2/3 over a regular Italian trial. Guede's separate trial also prevented the other defendant's lawyers from trying to get their clients off by accusing him during a joint trial.

Besides murder and rape, Knox and Sollecito were convicted of unlawful possession of a weapon (the knife) and staging a crime scene (the crime scene was staged to look like an intruder had broke in). They were ordered to pay a million euros to Kercher's parents and 800,000 euros to Kerchner's three siblings as compensation. Knox was also ordered to pay 40,000 euros to her boss, the bartender Patrick Lumumba for defamation.

At a conference held earlier this morning, Kercher's family said that they were pleased with the verdict, but it would not bring back their daughter and sister.

Meredith's brother Lyle said at the press conference, "Ultimately we are pleased with the verdict... It's not a time for celebration. It's not a moment of triumph. We are all gathered here because our sister was brutally murdered and taken away from us. Of course, there were two very young people who have been sentenced yesterday to a very long time behind bars."

Her other brother John said "Everyone in this room associates Meredith with a tragic event but we would prefer not to remember her in that way. We would like to concentrate on the 21 years that we had with her."

Meredith's mother Arline thanked the judge, jury, and prosecutors for giving her daughter justice, but said that "At the end of the day you have to go on the evidence because there's nothing else."

Knox's mother, Edda Mellas, said that "Amanda like the rest is extremely disappointed, upset about the decision. We told her that she's gonna get out of here. It's gonna take a little longer." Her father Curt Knox said that "I just looked at them; I looked at the jurors."

He then said he thought to himself: "'How could you even do this with what was presented in the court of law?'"

"She couldn't sleep all night," said lawyer Luciano Ghirga, who spent an hour with Knox at her jail just outside Perugia on Saturday morning. "She's worried for her parents, too, but she is keeping the faith needed for the next steps."

Knox's father said that he would fight for his daughter when asked by a reporter. That fight will come in an appeal, which in Italy, is conducted with the same judge and jury (but different prosecutors) as the original trial. Italian appeals can not start until 90 days after the trial, and can take up to 2 years. Alessandro Canali, a Seattle Lawyer who practices in Rome, said that "She got four years less without the benefit of the short trial. Someone on the jury thought she was not on the same level as Guede."

Italian juries have only to reach majority consensus. Each of the eight jurors imposes a sentence they believe proper, from life down to acquittal, Canali said. The ultimate sentence given is the maximum that at least five of the jurors will support.

Sollecito is also appealing his sentence.

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