Page last updated at 23:15 GMT, Friday, 4 December 2009

Why did Amanda Knox murder Meredith Kercher?

By Duncan Kennedy
BBC News, Perugia

Meredith Kercher file
Meredith Kercher was in Italy on a student exchange programme

Two people have been convicted of the murder of British student Meredith Kercher, who was found with her throat cut in Perugia, Italy, after what prosecutors said had been a sexual assault that ended in her death.

Twenty-one years old, from a loving family of six, Meredith Kercher had gone to Italy as part of the Erasmus student exchange programme, to study and immerse herself in the language and culture.

It was a story that had everything and with someone like Amanda Knox at its centre, the world stood up and took notice
Barbie Nardeau, journalist

She chose the city of Perugia. Set high up in the hills of Umbria, this ancient setting, with its cobble-stone back alleys, gave her the chance to embrace new opportunities.

It would also be the place she would meet what her mother, Arline, later called "such a violent death".

The world was alerted to the name of Meredith Kercher early in November 2007.

Her partially clothed body was found in her bedroom at the house she shared with other students. Her throat had been cut.

Several suspects

The precise cause and time of her death has never been fully established.

In every murder, investigators look for a motive.

Just look at TV series like CSI and you are given the impression that behind each crime of violence there is a clear, verifiable, intent - a reason to kill.

But television crime shows have inoculated us against the reality that, actually, motives can be the most elusive element of all.

Amanda Knox (r) led into court
The murder trial began in January in Perugia

Why was Miss Kercher killed? The brief answer is that no-one, apart from the murderer, or murderers, knows.

In the days after the crime, it did not take police long to find suspects.

One, a bar owner named Patrick Lumumba, was soon released, after he provided an airtight alibi. He had been implicated by another suspect, Amanda Knox, Miss Kercher's housemate.

Two others were arrested - Raffaele Sollecito, Knox's boyfriend and Rudy Guede.

Guede was from Perugia and had attached himself to its lively student scene.

By the end of 2008, he had been convicted of the murder, after choosing a fast-track trial. The judge gave him 30 years in jail. He is in the process of appealing.

'Foxy Knoxy'

The trial of Knox and Sollecito began in January of this year.

During the months they were held in custody, the press dug up lurid accounts of their private lives, fuelled by leaks from the inquiry, interviews with their friends and searches on Google and YouTube.

"Foxy Knoxy," as she had styled herself many years previously, became the subject of most interest.

Raffaele Sollecito in court
Raffaele Sollecito had been Amanda Knox's boyfriend

The face of this student from Seattle went from appearing on the front pages of newspapers to the inside pages of style and gossip magazines.

Knox, the accused, started to eclipse Miss Kercher, the victim.

"It became a reality TV show," says Barbie Nardeau, who has covered every twist in this case for Newsweek magazine.

"Attractive young co-eds, sexual violence and premature death. It was a story that had everything and with someone like Amanda Knox at its centre, the world stood up and took notice."

Over time, the prosecution laid out its evidence. Knox's DNA, they said, had been found on the handle of a possible murder weapon, a knife.

Miss Kercher's DNA, they said, had been found on the blade.

The prosecutors also said Knox had confessed during police questioning - but she later said she had been struck by officers during her interrogation.

They said she had falsely accused Mr Lumumba to hide her guilt.

Knox's alibi was also challenged. She said she had been at Sollecito's house on the night of the murder, they had smoked cannabis, had sex and fallen asleep.

Prosecutors said none of it could be proved.

Flat in Perugia where the body of Merdith Kercher was found
Miss Kercher was found at her flat with her throat cut

And then there was Knox's behaviour at the police station while waiting to talk to investigators.

Police and friends testified that Knox had performed cartwheels, done the splits and giggled with Sollecito.

Knox would later say it was her way of dealing with the stress and grief of the situation.

The prosecution also said Sollecito's DNA had been found at the murder scene, on the clasp of the bra worn by Miss Kercher.

Sollecito's defence team said the evidence was contaminated and did not stand up.

Prosecutors also questioned Sollecito's claims he had been at home downloading Japanese cartoons on the internet at the time of the killing. They said records from his internet service provider did not support that.

They also said a footprint, found in Miss Kercher's blood in her bedroom, could be Sollecito's. But his team said it was impossible to conclude there was a positive match.

The prosecution offered a number of possible motives.

They believed that Knox, Sollecito and Guede had taunted Miss Kercher in a sexual assault that had quickly escalated out of control.

However, forensic experts have concluded that, as they did not find any hair or skin under her fingernails, it seems Miss Kercher did not fight back.

Does that mean she was held down and/or attacked from behind?

Rudy Guede in court
Rudy Guede was convicted of Kercher's murder in 2008

Prosecutors also said Knox had wanted revenge for Miss Kercher saying she was not clean and was promiscuous.

There have also been suggestions the two women had argued over money. It is conjecture.

All the defendants either disputed the prosecutors' versions, or said they had not even been there.

It has left Meredith Kercher's family bereft of answers. To them, Meredith was known simply as Mez - a loving daughter and sister who drew more than 300 people to her funeral service in Croydon and was posthumously awarded her degree by Leeds University.

Had she lived, Meredith would now be 23, her life in front of her.

Instead, it was a life taken early, brutally and unnecessarily, during what should have been a safe, enriching, experience in a foreign country.

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