12.18.10

Early Christmas for Amanda Knox

The court has decided to review key forensic evidence used to convict the student killer. Barbie Latza Nadeau on the jubilant news for the Knox family—and the judge's shocking curve ball.

The court has decided to review key forensic evidence used to convict the student killer. Barbie Latza Nadeau, author of Angel Face: The True Story of Student Killer Amanda Knox, on the jubilant news for the Knox family—and the judge's shocking curve ball.

Dressed in the subtle hues of Christmas, Amanda Knox, in a rose-colored sweater, and Raffaele Sollecito, in green, entered the Perugia courtroom Saturday for the last time in 2010 fearing the worst. They were dealt a blow on Thursday when Italy’s supreme court confirmed the conviction of Rudy Guede, a third man convicted of the murder of Meredith Kercher, Knox’s British roommate. Thursday’s decision amounted to confirmation of the prosecution’s theory that all three acted together to kill Kercher.

Guede is one year ahead of Knox and Sollecito because he opted for a fast-track trial, admitting some guilt in exchange for fewer witnesses and less evidence. His 30-year sentence was reduced to 16 years in his first level of appeal last December. Now Knox and Sollecito are in their first level of appeal, hoping to overturn their December 2009 murder conviction for their role in Kercher’s brutal murder and sexual assault in November 2007. Last week, their lawyers asked the appellate court in Perugia to overturn their murder convictions, requesting new witnesses and a complete review of the forensic evidence used against them in the original criminal trial. Saturday morning, the prosecution and lawyers for Kercher’s family insisted that there is no need to review the forensics. “We have heard this all before,” Kercher attorney Francesco Maresca told the court. “If we don’t trust the state’s analysis of forensic evidence, we’ll have to reconsider every trial.”

The judge did not agree and handed over what amounted to an early Christmas present for Knox and Sollecito. After just over an hour in his chambers, he, a second judge, and the six-person jury told the court that, in the interest of justice, they do need an independent review of at least some of the key forensic evidence—a bra clasp with Sollecito’s DNA and a kitchen knife with Knox’s DNA on the handle, and what the prosecution contends is Kercher’s on the blade. “If possible, the tests must be redone,” Judge Claudio Pratillo Helmen told the court. “If they can’t be re-tested, then the procedures must be closely examined.”

Knox and Sollecito were jubilant at the news. Their families hugged and cried with joy. Sollecito’s father gave their lawyer Luca Maori a long embrace, thanking him. “This is a good day for us,” said Knox’s mother Edda Mellas. “Finally.”

The judge also asked to hear several witnesses from the criminal trial including homeless man Antonio Curatolo, who testified that he saw Knox and Sollecito gazing over the house where Kercher was killed late the night of the murder. During the criminal trial, Curatolo testified that he also saw other students on a bus that night coming from a disco in town. Lawyers for Sollecito maintain that there was no disco that night, and that Curatolo was confused. Helmen wants to hear from the manager of the disco and the bus driver.

The news is ultimately good for Knox and Sollecito because it means this judge is willing to take a second look at the most contentious aspects of the case.

Helmen denied a request to examine a pillowcase found under Kercher’s body that had the footprint in blood that the prosecution attributed to Knox. That pillowcase also had a spot of semen that had never been tested. The defense wants the spot tested to see whose it is, but the prosecution maintains that it likely belonged to Kercher’s boyfriend Giacomo Silenzi. The judge decided that it was not relevant in this murder. The judge also denied the reexamination of the time of Kercher’s death. He reserved the right to call two witnesses the defense insists will set their clients free. The first is Mario Alessi, a convicted child killer who says Guede told him that Knox and Sollecito had nothing to do with the murder. The second is Luciano Aviello, a Camorra mobster who says his brother is the real assassin. The judge may or may not call these two witnesses.

The news is ultimately good for Knox and Sollecito because it means this judge is willing to take a second look at the most contentious aspects of the case. But the judge also threw a curve ball. Earlier in the day he ruled that all the evidence and documents in Guede’s appeal could be considered in Knox’s appeal, and that Guede can be called as a witness. Guede’s lawyers say that he is willing to testify that Knox and Sollecito were both at the scene of the crime the night Kercher was killed. Only one thing is certain, it is highly unlikely that this appeal will straighten out the twists and turns of this long and complicated case. The next hearing is set for January 15.

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.