Page last updated at 23:09 GMT, Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Kercher: Case that shocked Italy

Amanda Knox
Amanda Knox has been in custody for almost a year

A man has been convicted in Italy of the murder of 21-year-old British exchange student Meredith Kercher. Two other suspects are to be tried for the killing.

It is a case that has gripped the Umbrian university town of Perugia since Miss Kercher's partially-clothed body was found - her throat cut - in the bedroom of her shared house on 2 November last year.

When police said they believed Miss Kercher had been killed because she had refused to take part in a violent sex game, the subsequent investigation made headlines across Italy, the US and Europe.

Fuelled by conflicting statements from lawyers, the arrest of an innocent man and the extradition of a suspect from Germany, speculation about what happened has become ever more fevered.

But still many questions remain unanswered.

Miss Kercher's family were in court to hear the judge's verdict in relation to suspect Rudy Hermann Guede.

Less than a year ago, they had been eagerly anticipating the return of Miss Kercher in time for her mother's birthday.

Rudy Guede
Rudy Guede (right) was arrested in Germany and extradited to Italy

The Leeds University student, from Coulsdon, south London, had arrived in Perugia in August 2007 as part of her European Studies degree.

Described as sociable and loving by friends and family, pictures show her smiling broadly.

But within three months she was dead. Police found her body covered by a duvet. Her bedroom door was locked but the window had been broken.

Officers had only entered the flat to return Miss Kercher's mobile phone, which had been found abandoned in a garden by a neighbour.

Miss Kercher's body showed signs of bruising, and tests revealed evidence of sexual activity shortly before her death, but a post mortem examination could not confirm she had been raped.

Among the police's early theories was the possibility that Miss Kercher was attacked by a heroin addict, because the flat was near a car park used by dealers, or that it was a botched burglary.

In the days after the grim discovery her flatmate, American Amanda Knox, was filmed by TV cameras being comforted by her then boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, an Italian.

But within four days, Miss Knox, 21, and Mr Sollecito, 24, were arrested.

A new theory was put forward that, together with another man, they had killed Miss Kercher during a sex game.

A picture emerged in the world's press of a sex-obsessed, drug-taking "Foxy Knoxy", as she was dubbed, which conflicted wildly with the daughter her parents in Seattle recognised.

Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito
Miss Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were arrested within days

Mystery surrounded the identity of the third suspect.

Bar owner Patrick Lumumba was arrested at the same time as the American and Italian, after being implicated by Miss Knox's police statement.

She had told police she had been in the kitchen of the apartment when Mr Lumumba had gone into the Briton's bedroom alone.

Miss Knox said she had then heard screaming from the room, but had covered her ears to block out the noise.

A fortnight after his arrest, Mr Lumumba was released from prison in Rome because no physical evidence had emerged to link him to the crime scene and witnesses placed him at his bar on the night of the murder.

A judge then said Miss Knox had been confused about the events because she had smoked cannabis before the killing.

Mr Lumumba's release came on 20 November, the same day that German police arrested another man.

An international arrest warrant had been issued for Guede, 20, originally from Ivory Coast.

Patrick Lumumba, left, with police
Patrick Lumumba (left) was held for a fortnight and released

He was arrested in Mainz for the mundane offence of boarding a train without a ticket - but was extradited to Italy on 6 December to face murder charges.

Guede's lawyers had said Miss Knox and Mr Sollecito fled after stabbing Miss Kercher while the Ivorian was in the bathroom - after which he tried to save her before fleeing himself.

However, Miss Knox's mother Edda Mellas had told reporters her daughter had not heard any screams and had, in fact, been at her boyfriend's house on the night of the killing.

Police disputed this, according to reports in the UK, saying Miss Knox had been caught on camera going into the house on the night in question and that her bloody fingerprint had been found on a bathroom tap.

Prosecutors maintain Miss Knox stabbed Miss Kercher to death while Mr Sollecito and Guede restrained her. All three denied the allegations.

In the months before the case came to court, Miss Knox repeatedly told Italian media she knew nothing of the murder. Meanwhile, an Albanian witness told police she had threatened him with a knife after he had crashed his car and that she had been with the two other suspects 24 hours before the killing.

Chaotic scenes

Despite this being one of the most high profile trials Perugia has ever seen, Guede's case was been heard behind closed doors.

Dozens of reporters, photographers and cameramen, from Britain, the United States, Italy and elsewhere huddled outside the courtroom during hearings.

Chaotic scenes arose every time a prosecutor or defence lawyer left the building, as hordes of journalists crowded around to find out exactly what had been happening.

Guede was tried in a fast-track process, which he requested because he feared a pact between the former lovers to frame him.

Under Italian law, the fast-track process usually means a shorter trial and allows some leniency if convicted - although the prosecution had sought the maximum punishment of life imprisonment in this case.

At a pre-trial hearing, lawyers for Mr Sollecito said he could not have been involved in the murder because he was downloading a cartoon at home at the time.

They said he was on the internet between 2100 and 2200 local time (2000 and 2100 GMT) on the day, and at about the time, Miss Kercher died.

Meredith Kercher
Meredith Kercher arrived in Perugia in August 2007 for a year's study

Speaking outside court, they also said it could not be proved that DNA found on Miss Kercher's bra strap belonged to Mr Sollecito.

Phone records have shown that the phone at Mr Sollecito's house rang at about midnight that evening, but no-one answered.

His Nike trainers were also examined as police believed they matched the bloody footprint found on the duvet in Miss Kercher's room.

Miss Knox's family has always maintained her innocence and has spoken out in her defence.

Edda Mellas said: "Everything I read or see on TV, I no longer believe because I know what they did to Amanda and what they have said in print.

"What the media - all kinds of media - have said about her is totally false, so you wonder how much out there is really true."

All three suspects have been in custody for almost a year - the maximum under Italian law before charges must be laid.

Now that one suspect has been dealt with, the Kercher family, who have grieved with quiet dignity throughout their ordeal, are a step closer to closure.

They - along with the world's media - await the trial of Miss Knox and Mr Sollecito to finally establish the full truth.


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