By Deepa Babington
PERUGIA, Italy (Reuters) - Murdered Briton Meredith Kercher has been forgotten in the "fog" of a tireless media and public relations campaign to free the American student convicted of killing her, a lawyer for the victim's family told Reuters.
Seattle student Amanda Knox and her Italian ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito are appealing an Italian court verdict that found them guilty of murdering 21-year-old Kercher in 2007 during a drug-fueled erotic game that turned violent.
A verdict is due on Monday in a case that has centered largely on Knox, a 24-year-old alternately depicted as a sex-driven vamp who lived life on the edge or a naive American girl framed by prosecutors on a witch-hunt.
In the breathless Knox-obsessed media coverage, "Mez" -- whose half-naked body bearing more than 40 gashes and bruises was found in her Perugia apartment -- has disappeared from view, said Francesco Maresca, a lawyer for the Kercher family.
"The whole world has forgotten about Meredith and her family," Maresca, a Florence-based lawyer, told Reuters.
"One always thinks of the defendants, their families, the suffering of their families and the victim is forgotten."
Knox, in large part, can thank her family for keeping her at the center of global media attention, Maresca said. "They have done a huge public relations campaign to free her that has created a fog around the trial."
His comments come after prosecutors on Friday urged the jury to ignore a pro-Knox publicity campaign they said cost over a $1 million.
Maresca has also highlighted the contrast between reports of a private jet -- denied by the Knox family -- waiting to whisk away the student if she is freed, with the trouble the Kercher family were having in finding tickets to fly to Perugia from Britain.
"They are a modest, middle-class family without huge amounts of money to spend and so can't afford to stay in Perugia for weeks and weeks in a hotel to follow the trial, which is what the families of the accused have done," he said.
The Kerchers, who are expected in Perugia for the verdict, have kept a low profile -- in stark contrast to the Knox family.
The Knoxes, who have hired Seattle public relations firm Gogerty Marriott, regularly appear on U.S. morning talk shows and news programs, backed up by a supporting cast including Knox's friend Madison Paxton and former FBI agent Steve Moore.
Websites like Friends of Amanda and Amanda Knox Defense Fund have also campaigned to free the Seattle student, who is seen by many in the United States as an innocent victim trapped abroad in the clutches of a medieval justice system.
MEDIA UNDER SCRUTINY
The role of the media has been a recurrent theme in a trial where frantic journalists fighting for scraps of information have become so intertwined in the case that both the prosecution and defense have begged the jury to ignore the coverage.
A small army of reporters and camera crews has descended on the hilltop town of Perugia as the appeals trial ends, packing the center with satellite trucks, chasing Knox's parents and sisters around town and tweeting each minute detail.
Prosecutors have urged jurors to ignore an "obsessive" media campaign they said made everyone feel like Knox's parents, while the defense has blamed the media for "crucifying" Knox and creating a false image of her as a vampish man-eater.
"You've got the court of public opinion that has made its way into the court of law," says Barbie Nadeau, Newsweek's bureau chief in Rome and author of "Angel Face," a book on Knox.
"You've heard both sides talk about the media in the trial, which is an anomaly in a murder trial."
So polarizing is the topic that reporters covering the case have been dubbed as either "innocentisti" or "colpevolisti" based on whether they believe Knox is innocent or guilty.
Nadeau, who argues that the Knox media campaign has meant many Americans have only seen their side of the story, says she gets hate mail from Knox supporters, some of whom have written to say they hope she "faces the same fate as Meredith" and telling her to get God in her life.
Amanda's father Curt Knox told Reuters on Monday that he agreed the jury should ignore the media and focus on the facts at hand to throw out Knox's conviction, but argued prosecutors had used the media to their advantage early in the trial.
"During the first trial the prosecution and the police used the media to leak information and to create a person they needed out of Amanda that she really isn't," he said.
"Whereas now, all the media appear to be changing direction and saying, 'Why are these kids still in prison?'"
(Editing by Alistair Lyon)
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