Page last updated at 05:08 GMT, Friday, 16 January 2009

Italy focuses on 'Foxy Knoxy' as trial opens

By Duncan Kennedy
BBC News in Perugia

Amanda Knox
Amanda Knox was voted a personality of the year in Italy
As the Meredith Kercher murder trial starts, much of the attention will be on just one of those accused of her death - her friend Amanda Knox.

Perugia is set to become gridlocked with television satellite trucks.

Around 150 journalists are expected to descend on the central Italian town to cover the murder trial of 21-year-old British student Meredith Kercher.

And they are prepared for the long haul. The trial could last until July.

The prosecution alone has filed a list of 90 witnesses and the court will sit only two or three times a week.

The raw facts surrounding the death of Meredith Kercher - she died on 1 November 2007 between 2030 and 2300 in Perugia - are not in dispute.

Pretty much everything else is.

Which is how we've arrived at this point of two people on trial for killing her.

Throat cut

Meredith Susanna Cara Kercher was from Coulsdon, South London, and was a student at Leeds University.

She was part of the Erasmus student exchange programme and it took her to Perugia.

She became a friend of, and shared a house with, Amanda Knox, an American student from Seattle in Washington State.

Amanda Knox had a boyfriend called Raffaele Sollecito, another student at the University of Perugia.

Police say Meredith's body was found under a blood-soaked duvet in an upstairs bedroom of the house she lived in with Amanda Knox. Her throat had been cut.

Initially, detectives believed she may have been attacked by a burglar, as the door to her room was locked and one of her windows broken.

Meredith Kercher
Meredith Kercher was a British student in Italy

But they now suspect the break-in was staged.

They believe that Miss Knox stabbed Miss Kercher while Mr Sollecito held her down and a third man tried to rape her during a sex game that went badly wrong.

That third man is Rudy Guede, who has already been convicted of killing Meredith after a separate trial last year. He was given a 30-year life sentence.

Miss Knox and Mr Sollecito claim to have been together at Mr Sollecito's apartment at the time of the murder and therefore could not have done it.

That apparently contradicts earlier statements to the police in which Miss Knox stated she had heard Meredith's screams and that she had put her fingers in her ears as she was so frightened.

Her defence team say that her memory was clouded because she had been smoking hashish that evening.

But police say they have more evidence.

They say they found Miss Knox's DNA and Meredith's DNA on a knife in Mr Sollecito's kitchen which investigators believe is the murder weapon.

They also claim there were traces of Miss Knox's blood mixed with Meredith Kercher's in their bathroom.

And they say there were traces of Mr Sollecito's DNA on a clasp from Miss Kercher's bra.

Lady Macbeth figure

As they have done at previous hearings, defence lawyers are likely to argue that the DNA evidence was contaminated and is therefore unreliable.

However, while there are two people on trial, Amanda Knox has in many ways become the public face of this case.

It's perhaps not surprising. Just look at the alleged ingredients of the case: sex, murder and outsiders in a foreign land.

Amanda Knox was portrayed as a Lady Macbeth figure before she was even put on trial.

Raffaele Sollecito gets no such coverage.

You can see the difference in Italian and other newspapers.

Hardly any report is complete without reference to what they say are Amanda Knox's "angel-faced" good looks.

Some have found it hard to resist using the rhythmic concoction of "Foxy Knoxy" .

They relish any news that comes out of the jail she is being held in.

Take, for instance, the role she had in a movie filmed inside the prison.

Called The Last City, Miss Knox plays an inmate dreaming of escape.

Not only did news of her participation fill pages of newspapers and online sites, but the outraged reaction to it generated yet more coverage.

And all this despite it being an approved prison project partly-funded by a local authority.

Italian celebrity

Then there was the pre-Christmas "personality of the year" poll that put her in fourth position, ahead of other candidates like France's first lady Carla Bruni and former French-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt.

The poll, for an Italian TV news channel, gave her 8% of the vote, the highest-ranked woman in the survey.

More headlines followed.

Amanda Knox's quasi-celebrity status has also been fuelled by a website in her name established by her family.

Primarily a platform for generating money to fund her legal case, it also provides a catalogue of photographs from her childhood to the present day thereby partially fuelling, still further, curiosity in her.

Family members and friends are quoted on the site saying Amanda Knox is "misunderstood" and speak of the "ugly lies" about her.

Her parents, Curt and Edda, say the site is a way of redressing the imbalance they see in the reporting.

They seem genuinely astounded at the level of interest in Amanda and deeply disillusioned by what they see as the distorted coverage of the case.

There is much at stake. Their daughter's liberty for one thing.

The trial opening in Perugia is about Amanda Knox, but it is also about Raffaele Sollecito.

And it is about Meredith Kercher and her family. They are civil plaintiffs in the case and could be called as witnesses.

It can sometimes be easy to lose track of that.

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