Amanda Knox sounded casual, surprised even, by the simple question as it came through the door of her prison cell in English on Sunday: "How are you?"
"OK, thanks. How are you guys?" said the American student, who had been sentenced eight days earlier to 26 years in prison for the murder of her British roommate. But minutes later, Knox confided, in answer to a question from an Associated Press reporter in her cell: "I am scared because I don't know what is going on."
The 22-year-old, who is a cause celebre in the United States among those who contend she was wrongly convicted by the Perugia court, received a 10-minute visit inside the cell by two Italian lawmakers, prison officials and a pair of reporters in Capanne prison on the outskirts of Perugia.
Knox has been jailed for two years since she was arrested a few days after the slaying of Meredith Kercher in the house the two students shared in this medieval town.
Kercher's body was found in a pool of blood with her throat slit on Nov. 2, 2007, in the bedroom of the house in Perugia, a university town in Umbria, central Italy. Prosecutors said the Leeds University student was slain the previous night.
Three people, including Knox's Italian former boyfriend, have been convicted of sexual assault and murder.
"I am waiting and always hoping," Knox said, switching from English into Italian for the delegation. "I don't understand many things, but I have to accept them, things that for me don't always seem very fair."
Knox immediately came to the door of the 9-square-meter (nearly 100-sq.foot) two-bed cell when she heard the first words in English.
Toward the end of the visit, the woman from Washington state recalled her emotions on Dec. 5, when shortly after midnight the judge read out the verdict after a nearly yearlong trial: "I was feeling horrendous" upon being convicted.
"The guards helped me out. They held me all night," she said.
Knox's ex-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, who was given a 25-year-sentence, is now in another prison. Both insist they are innocent, as does a third defendant, Ivory Coast national Rudy Guede, who was convicted in a separate trial.
Defendants in Italian trials can pursue appeals, and Knox's lawyers have expressed hope she will be acquitted in an appeals trial.
Knox looked relieved when Italian parliamentary deputy Rocco Girlanda, in the delegation, recounted the unrelated case of a young man also convicted of murder at the first trial but exonerated during the appeal.
In Italian jails, inmates can wear their own clothing, and Knox wore a gray-and-white-flecked turtleneck sweater, black legging trousers, white socks and black slippers. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail.
The visitors, who included a reporter from the Italian news agency ANSA, were not allowed to ask Knox questions about the trial itself. No cameras or tape recorders were permitted.
Knox spoke about her affection for her family and her determination to continue her university studies, the reason she came to Perugia a few months before Kercher's slaying.
"I believe in my family. They are telling me to stay calm," Knox said. Her family, as well as a senator from her home state, Maria Cantwell, have spearheaded a vigorous campaign to convince Italian authorities she is innocent.
The visit was arranged by Fondazione Italia USA, which promotes close relations between the two countries, in an effort to heal any rift over accusations that Italy's justice system is unfair.
"My family is the most important thing for me. I also miss going to classes," she said. "I miss stimulating conversations."
She said she is in contact with her professors. "We are trying to work out how I can talk to them," she added, noting that while she can write letters from prison, e-mail access is forbidden.
Knox's cell mate, who has been identified by other lawmakers in previous visits as a 53-year-old American woman from New Orleans serving a four-year sentence for a drug conviction, wasn't present during the visit.
The cell includes a private bathroom with shower, toilet and bidet.
Shortly after her visitors left the cell, just before lunch time, Knox sat on her bed and was reading some handwritten papers. When she heard the delegation leaving the corridor, she looked up, waved and said, "Ciao."
TVs and newspapers are available, although Knox said she doesn't watch television or read the newspapers.
The prison was decked out for the holidays, with Christmas trees. During a short tour, the delegation saw a hairdresser, whose services inmates can use once a week.
A pingpong table is among the recreation facilities.
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