At Knox Trial, the Lone Convict

Rudy Guede, the only person yet convicted of murdering Meredith Kercher, holds the key to what happened that night. But he's staying mum—so far.

AP Photo

Rudy Guede, an immigrant from the Ivory Coast, has already been convicted of killing British student Meredith Kercher in Italy in 2007. So one crucial task for the lawyers representing Amanda Knox and Rafaelle Sollecito, who are also charged with her murder, is to prove that Guede acted alone. That phase of the defense began this week in a Perugia courtroom, but like everything else in this baroque case, it’s complicated.

He has never changed his story. He has always maintained that they were all there, but that he is not the one who killed her.

Late on the night of October 13, 2007, a couple of blocks from the house where Kercher was murdered, Guede broke into a law office and stole a Nokia cellphone and Sony Vaio computer. He smashed a window about 10 feet above the ground with a large rock, then scaled the wall, unlatched the window and crawled in. Two weeks later, the computer was in his possession when he was found in a nursery school in Milan. There, Maria Antonietta Salvadori del Prado, the school administrator, discovered him asleep in her office. "He was very serene and explained that he had been told that for €50 he could sleep here for the night," she told the court. She also testified that along with the computer, he had a kitchen knife, a woman’s watch, and a small hammer in his backpack. "I was shocked to find him there. I was more shocked when I discovered he was wanted for Meredith Kercher's murder."

An indentical break-in, with a rock thrown through a window, occurred on the Via della Pergola in Perugia on Nov. 1, 2007, the same night Kercher was sexually assaulted and murdered in a house she shared with Knox and two young Italian women. At first, however, police arrested Congolese bar owner Patrick Lumumba, whom Knox accused during an intense interrogation by local authorities. Then, on November 9, after authorities identified DNA in Kercher’s room as Guede’s, he was arrested on suspicion of murder in Germany, traced there via a Skype call with a friend. He was eventually extradited back to Perugia, and Lumumba was released for lack of evidence.

At the time of his arrest, Guede admitted to being in Kercher’s room the night she died but insisted he did not kill her. He said she had invited him over and the two started making out but that he suffered stomach cramps from a bad kebab and ran to the toilet, where he put on his iPod. He said that when he came out of the bathroom he found an Italian man that he later identified as Sollecito. Guede’s DNA and fingerprints were found in several locations in Kercher’s room and on her body, and his feces were left in a toilet. Guede was convicted of sexually assaulting and murdering Kercher during a closed, fast-track trial in October 2008. He was acquitted of theft charges, even though €250 was missing from Kercher’s purse. Knox and Sollecito are charged with that theft. Guede is serving a 30-year sentence, and his appeal will begin November 19.

“He has never changed his story,” Guede’s lawyer, Valter Biscotti, told The Daily Beast this week. Biscotti would not supply any details about the version of events Guede gave at his own, closed-door trial, but he did say, “He has always maintained that they were all there, but that he is not the one who killed her.”

Because Guede admits to being in the house at the time of Kercher’s murder, he appears to be the only person who definitively knows what happened that night. But because he is appealing his own guilty verdict, the testimony from his earlier trial cannot be used in the case against Knox and Sollecito, and he is not required to testify in the current proceedings, even though he was given the opportunity to do so in April. “I would like to exercise my right not to respond,” he told the court then. Later, he explained through his lawyer that because the prosecution has repeatedly called him a liar, he did not feel like cooperating with them.

The defense teams for both Knox and Sollecito maintain that Guede was Kercher’s lone killer. “We have just demonstrated clearly and unequivocally that Guede had committed a photocopy break-in exactly like what was committed in Meredith’s house,” Sollecito’s lawyer, Luca Maori, said after Friday’s hearing. “When you add all the traces Rudy left in Meredith’s room, that proves he acted alone.”

Last week Francesco Introna, a private coroner hired by Sollecito’s defense team, also testified that he believes only one person killed Kercher, despite the 47 cuts and bruises on her body. He used a mannequin head into which he plunged a real knife to demonstrate that her wound was compatible with the knife found on Guede in Milan days before Kercher was murdered and not the knife found in Sollecito’s apartment with Knox’s DNA on the handle and Kercher’s on the blade. He also showed how one person could have restrained Kercher from behind, suffocating and threatening her with the knife before stabbing her.

Introna’s testimony directly contradicts that of Luca Lalli, the state coroner who performed Kercher’s autopsy. Lalli told the court that the positioning of the bruises on Kercher’s body pointed to multiple killers. Introna, who did not physically examine the body but used photos and forensic reports, explained that the reason there was no biological material in the form of either hair or skin under Kercher’s fingernails meant that the assailant overpowered her and she could not fight back. The prosecution contends the clean fingernails mean someone pinned her arms while another person sexually assaulted and stabbed her.

With the exception of a hickey on Knox's neck, no one documented cuts or bruises on either of the current suspects and police say that Guede did not have cuts or bruises on his body when he was arrested nine days after Kercher’s murder. Kercher’s father testified that his daughter, who had studied karate, would have “fought to the end.”

The father's testimony and the prosecution's theory of a group assault is backed up by the court ruling against Guede. In pronouning a guilty verdict, the presiding judge described the involvement of other suspects and cited forensic and circumstantial evidence against Knox and Sollecito, including conflicting alibis and lies they told in the days after the crime.

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DNA from Guede was found in multiple spots in Kercher’s bedroom, including on a blood-stained pillow and on the victim’s body. Sollecito’s DNA was found on the metal clasp of her bra that was collected from the bedroom six weeks after the murder. Knox’s DNA mixed with Kercher’s blood was found in the bathroom the girls shared and in the bedroom where a rock was thrown through a window. A footprint attributed to Knox was also found outside Kercher’s bedroom door, discovered using Luminol, a substance used to detect blood during crime-scene investigations. But the fact remains that no DNA attributed to Knox has ever been identified in Kercher’s bedroom where the murder took place.

As this trial grinds on and the defense begins to challenge earlier testimony, it is increasingly difficult to understand the actual dynamics involved in Kercher’s brutal murder. Rudy Guede is either the only person—or one of a few— who knows what happened, and he won’t say.

Barbie Nadeau has reported from Italy for Newsweek since 1997. She also writes for CNN Traveller, Budget Travel magazine and Frommer's.