12.11.10

Amanda Knox's Tearful Appeal

The convicted murderess began her appeal today with an emotional speech, at times breaking down in tears. Barbie Latza Nadeau on her chances for going free.

“I am innocent. Raffaele is innocent,” declared a tearful and sometimes angry Amanda Knox during the first full-length session of her appellate trial. “We did not kill Meredith.”

Lawyers for Knox and her former lover Raffaele Sollecito are appealing the sexual assault and murder conviction handed down last December (Knox is serving a 26 year sentence and Sollecito is serving 25 years.) If the convicted murderers’ lawyers are not successful with their appeal, the two will have to wait several years for another chance at freedom, and today was a tense and emotional first full day of testimony in an appeal trial that will likely last for several months.

Reading from prepared notes, the 23-year-old Seattle native pleaded to the court that she and Sollecito “did not merit the three years we have been in prison,” then paused to add, “And we certainly don’t deserve more. We have paid with our lives for a crime we did not commit.” She raised her voice when she described the “incomprehensible injustice” she believes she and Sollecito had “suffered.”

“I want justice for Meredith,” Knox said. “But this injustice to me is unacceptable… I am also asking for justice.”

Then she turned to face Patrick Lumumba, the man she accused of Kercher’s murder during a fateful interrogation in November 2007 when she admitted to being in the house where Kercher was killed. “Patrick," she said, "I’m sorry.”

At one point, Knox broke down in tears, unable to contain herself. She addressed the Kercher family, who were not present, and said, “I’m sorry Meredith isn’t here any more."

"I have little sisters,” she continued, breaking into tears as her lawyers touched her arm. “The idea of losing them terrifies me.” At this, Francesco Maresca, lawyer for the Kercher family, stormed out of the courtroom in protest. Earlier this month Meredith’s father John wrote a scathing piece in the Daily Mail, condemning Knox’s parents and lamenting her star status, asking that he and his family be allowed a chance to grieve without the glorification of the woman who was convicted of her murder. “I switched on my television to see the parents of the young woman convicted of taking my daughter’s life proclaiming her innocence,” he wrote. “And, once again, I felt the pain and the anger and the raw grief resurface.”

Today’s trial will not likely give the Kercher family any overdue peace. Knox’s speech was just the sort of event that this headline-grabbing case perpetuates. She held the floor for nearly twenty minutes, ending on a plea to the jury to give her a new chance. “I still believe in justice,” she said, before going on to explain that she was nothing like the person convicted of the murder. “I am not the person my accusers say I am. If you ask the people who know me, the real me is nothing like the person described in the tabloids. I am not that person.”

Sollecito, for his part, stared at her in obvious admiration as she spoke, pausing only briefly to take sips of water. Her best friend Madison Paxton, who is spending a year in Perugia doing a photography internship for a local newspaper, wiped tears from her eyes. “She wanted to speak,” Paxton said outside the courtroom. “I’ve never been so proud of anyone in my life.”

“I want justice for Meredith,” Knox said. “But this injustice to me is unacceptable… I am also asking for justice.”

Half of all appeals launched in Italy result in a change of some sort from the original verdict or sentence. Even in this case, Rudy Guede, convicted in a fast-track trial for his role in Kercher’s murder, successfully appealed his 30-year sentence, which was cut to 16 years last December. His high court appeal will be heard in Rome on December 16.

Knox and Sollecito’s appeal is expected to be a suspense-filled process. Her lawyers are asking for a complete review of the forensic evidence and for two new witnesses to be heard. The first witness they hope to call is Mario Alessi, a convicted baby killer who says Guede told him in the prison yard that Knox and Sollecito were not involved in the killing. The other is Luciano Aviello, a convicted mobster currently serving time for association with the Camorra crime syndicate, who says his brother is the real assassin. Aviello maintains that his brother killed Kercher during a botched break-in and hid the murder weapon and keys from Kercher’s room in a garden in Perugia. There is no word on whether that garden has ever been dug up.

Next week Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellmann is expected to rule on the new requests set forth by the lawyers for Knox and Sollecito today. His decision on the witnesses will not be as telling as his decision on whether to allow an independent review of all the forensic evidence. It is common for appellate judges to allow new witnesses and new evidence in appeal trials, though so far the defense has not indicated that they will offer any new hard evidence in defense of their clients. (They are, however, asking that what appears to be a sperm stain on Kercher’s pillowcase be tested.) Because of the suspect nature of both witnesses — both are in prison — it is unlikely that either would have a major impact on the outcome of this appeal. But a forensics review could. If a new expert is able to point to contamination or shoddy lab work, that might be enough for this jury and these judges to overturn the conviction.

But if the same forensic expert confirms that the forensics were above board, then the convictions will surely stand. Either way, if the first full day of this appellate trial is any indication, the next few months will likely be full of as many twists and turns as the criminal trial last year.

Barbie Latza Nadeau, author of the Beast Book Angel Face, about Amanda Knox, has reported from Italy for Newsweek Magazine since 1997. She also writes for CNN Traveller, Budget Travel Magazine and Frommer's.