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

The college lovers on trial for murder

By Julian Joyce
BBC News

Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito
Amanda and Raffaele had known each other for 2 weeks before the murder

It was one of the most incongruous images in a sordid and disturbing murder case.

Two young students - Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito - kiss and embrace outside an Italian police station, seemingly oblivious to the investigation about to engulf them.

Now, 14 months later, both are standing trial for the killing of British woman Meredith Kercher.

The body of Meredith, an exchange student at the University of Perugia, was discovered half-naked in the bedroom of her shared house. Her throat had been cut.

An acquaintance - Rudy Hermann Guede, originally from the Ivory Coast - has already been convicted of murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Seattle-born Amanda, 21, and Raffaele, 24, from the southern Italian city of Giovinazzo, have both denied involvement in Meredith's death.


But how did these bright, middle-class young people with their lives ahead of them end up being charged with such a grim murder and, after more than a year in custody, what is likely to be their defence?

According to Raffaele's letter to an Italian magazine, the pair met at a concert just two weeks before the murder.

They became an item. Both have admitted a fondness for marijuana - a drug they blamed for their inability to recall their movements on the night Meredith died.

Although from different countries, Amanda and Raffaele appear to come from similar comfortable, middle-class backgrounds.

Amanda's family - who term themselves "typically American" - helped fund their daughter's year in Italy in order to further her Italian, German and creative writing studies.

Even the thought that she (Amanda) could be a killer is impossible for me
Raffaele Sollecito

Their savings have now largely gone, according to Amanda's father Curt Knox.

He has said the family will have "literally nothing" after paying for a team of lawyers, forensic experts, investigators and a media advisor in a bid to prove their daughter's innocence.

Raffaele's family - his father is a urologist - was wealthy enough to buy their student son a flat in Perugia.

It is the same flat that Amanda now claims she spent the night in when Meredith was murdered - reports of her initial statement to police originally placed her at the scene of the crime.

Details began emerging of Amanda's private life - her "Foxy Knoxy" nickname, the drug taking and claims she slept with several men after she arrived in Italy.

In letters from his jail cell, her boyfriend wrote: "The Amanda I know...lives a carefree life."

"Her only thought is the pursuit of pleasure," wrote Raffaele to his father.

"But," he adds, "even the thought that she could be a killer is impossible for me."

Amanda Knox
Amanda excelled at school studies and sports, according to friends

Reporters descended on Amanda's home city of Seattle in search of more details of her private life.

They discovered that the University of Washington student had been arrested and fined in 2007 for her role in a drunken party that police were called to.

A picture began to be painted of a "party girl" who abused drink and drugs and had an active sex life.

Tabloid interest intensified after it emerged that Amanda had written a short story on a social networking site about a young man who drugs and rapes a young girl.

In it, one character remarks: "A thing you have to know about chicks is that they don't know what they want."

What also makes it interesting is there is a genuine mystery about what happened, and the sex

Frank Sfarzo, Italian journalist

Apart from that story, her page on the networking site portrays a very different Amanda.

On it, she describes herself as a non-drinker and non-smoker. Her favourite pursuits include yoga and "backpacking long distances with people I know".

Among her favourite films are Shrek and The Full Monty and she likes listening to the Beatles and reading Harry Potter books.

It was partly a desire to emphasise this aspect of their daughter's character, and counter what they term her "misrepresentation", that led Amanda's supporters in Seattle to set up a tribute website.

On it, family and friends write about the "joiner" who excelled at sports and school plays; a "smart, fun, affectionate and loyal" girl who bought sandwiches for homeless people and nursed sick friends.

They are optimistic that she will be freed by the Italian courts.

Her father told the Seattle Times: "We will take this as far as we have to take this, because she's walking out of there totally free of anything related to this."

According to alleged leaks of her prison diary, Amanda is similarly determined to maintain her innocence - and may be preparing to blame her ex-boyfriend.

She is reported to have written: "I think it is possible Raffaele went to Meredith's house, raped her, then killed her and then when when he got home, while I was sleeping, he pressed my fingerprints on the knife."

Raffaele Sollecito
Raffaele said the thought of Amanda as a killer was "impossible"

Neither of their cases were helped by CCTV evidence that found its way into the Italian press, reportedly showing the pair buying sexy underwear together two days after Meredith's death.

Raffaele has blamed himself for making a "trap" with his own hands.

So far, his defence has been that he was at home surfing the internet on the night of the murder - although police say his computer records do not support this.

He has also admitted smoking marijuana at the time.

In a letter to an Italian magazine he wrote: "One morning you return to her house and find a big mess.

"The problems begin: the police arrive, break down the locked door to a bedroom and discover the lifeless body of one of her (Amanda's) friends.

"From then on they suspect everyone and everything."

To his father he promises: "Dad, I will never smoke another joint in my life."

For Perugia journalist Frank Sfarzo, who is writing a detailed blog on the trial, the involvement of drugs is just one factor in what he describes as a fascinating case.

"What also makes it interesting is there is a genuine mystery about what happened, and, of course, the sex.

"It's also because these are two young people with supporters and enemies all over the world, and the fact that it all happened in this beautiful town."

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