MAR
26
Knox verdict pushed to Friday as top Italian court mulls Kercher case
Rome (dpa) - The fifth - and perhaps last - verdict in the seven-year legal saga that sees US citizen Amanda Knox accused of the murder of Briton Meredith Kercher did not come as anticipated Wednesday, after Italy's top court said more time was needed for the proceedings. Knox and her Italian ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito are the defendants in a case that has attracted worldwide media attention and polarized public opinion in Italy, Britain and the United States. "The day for wrapping up could be Friday," presiding judge Gennaro Marasca said as he called a lunch break and interrupted the prosecution's closing arguments, which came after a reporting judge gave a lengthy introduction to the case. When Wednesday's hearing resumed, it was announced that the last defence lawyer, Sollecito's counsel Giulia Bongiorno, would deliver her closing arguments at 9 am (0800 GMT) Friday, after which the Rome-based Court of Cassation would retire to deliberate. Knox and Sollecito are appealing jail sentences of 28 and a half years and 25 years respectively. Those are the most recent rulings handed down, in 2014, on the charges of murder, the theft of Kercher's belongings, and the illegal carrying of the presumed murder weapon, a 30-centimeter kitchen knife. Knox's sentence was longer because she was also found guilty of slandering Patrick Lumumba, a Congolese pub owner who spent two weeks in prison immediately after the murder because Knox falsely implicated him. On Wednesday, prosecutor Mario Pinelli called for convictions to be upheld, with a three-month reduction in sentencing because the statute of limitations had expired on one of the minor charges against the defendants. Carlo Della Vedova, counsel for Knox, called for a full acquittal, and said proceedings had been marred by "great uncertainties, many imprecise elements and very serious violations of the right of defence," such as Knox's initial questioning by police without a lawyer. Italy's highest court could either put an end to the saga by confirming last year's convictions or invalidating them without ordering a retrial, thus clearing the defendants. Or it could order a lower court to reexamine the case a sixth time. Sollecito, who turns 26 on Thursday, appeared in court with his family and girlfriend. Wearing a navy jacket and a blue suit, he kept his composure throughout the proceedings, at times biting his nails and twitching his right leg. If the case is closed with convictions, he is the only one who would face immediate arrest, since Knox lives in her hometown of Seattle and has ruled out the possibility of turning herself in to Italian authorities. An extradition battle between Rome and Washington would loom if Cassation judges were to rule against her. Della Vedova described Knox's state as "worried, very worried." Kercher, 21, was found dead on November 2, 2007, in the central Italian university town of Perugia. She was lying half-naked, her throat slit, inside her locked bedroom in the flat she shared with Knox and two other Italian women. Only one person has conclusively been found guilty: Ivory Coast-born small-time drug dealer Rudy Guede, who was handed a 16-year jail term in 2010. But courts concluded he did not act alone, leaving the search open for more culprits. Arguments on the reliability of DNA evidence and of several witnesses have led courts to issue conflicting verdicts for Knox and Sollecito, who were arrested four days after Kercher's body was found and immediately singled out as prime suspects. In 2009, they were judged guilty by a court that suggested that they attacked Kercher with Guede after she resisted an invitation to partake in group sex. They were cleared on appeal in 2011 and freed after spending four years in prison. In 2013, the Cassation found the acquittals legally flawed, prompting a retrial that ended with fresh convictions last year. The ruling stated that an argument about 300 euros (330 dollars) missing from Kercher's room might have degenerated into her murder. In the Italian legal system, it is rare, but not unheard of, for difficult cases to go back and forth between different appeals courts. Last week, the Cassation issued a final guilty ruling against a school janitor accused of child abuse, ending a 13-year-old case.