Knox lawyers to have last word before verdict

AP News
Posted: Jan 20, 2014 2:31 PM

FLORENCE, Italy (AP) — A prosecutor urged a court on Monday to take steps to make sure that American Amanda Knox and her former Italian boyfriend would serve their sentences, if they are convicted of murdering British student Meredith Kercher.

Prosecutor Alessandro Crini preceded his request by noting that Knox has remained in the United States for this trial, while co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito has at times traveled abroad.

"The situation is unusual," Crini told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the court session. "Usually if someone is convicted of murder, they are already in custody."

But in the long legal saga, both defendants were released by an appeals court that overturned their lower court guilty verdicts, and both were legitimately free when Italy's highest court ordered the case back to another appeals court after blasting the acquittal.

Sollecito has attended key court dates, making a statement in one, while Knox has stayed at home, acknowledging in an email to the court her fear of being "wrongly convicted" a second time.

On Monday, the defense and prosecution both made rebuttals to the lengthy closing argument, the closing section of the defendants' third trial before the court begins deliberations on Jan. 30. Knox's two defense attorneys will have the final word before the panel of two professional judges and eight jurors begins deliberations. A verdict is expected that day.

Crini has demanded guilty verdicts and jail sentences of 26 years for both defendants, and that the court increase to four years Knox's three-year sentence for a slander conviction, which has been upheld. Knox was sentenced to 26 years in the original trial, and Sollecito to 25 years.

In the case of 29-year-old Sollecito, who told reporters Monday that he intends to remain in Italy for the verdict, the precautionary measures could include immediate arrest, house arrest or the confiscation of his passport.

The court's reach in Knox's case is limited by her presence in the United States, Crini acknowledged.

Knox's lawyer, Carlo Dalla Vedova, said during a break that any request for extradition could be made only after a possible guilty verdict is confirmed by Italy's highest court — a process that can a year or more.

Knox, 26, has been tried in absentia, a status that formally is not prejudicial in her regard since defendants in Italy are not required to appear in court. However, the judge showed some discomfort when her lawyers entered into court record an email statement she sent via her counsel and noted it lacked the legal standing of a personal declaration defendants are allowed to make when they personally appear in court.

If a guilty verdict in this trial is upheld by Italy's top criminal court, Knox would become a fugitive if she failed to return to serve a sentence.

Sollecito's father, Francesco Sollecito, said his son has no intention of fleeing justice, a sentiment echoed by his lawyer Giulia Bongiorno.

"The fact that Raffaele has no intention of escaping the trial is evident by his presence" in the courtroom, Francesco Sollecito said. He said his son has been legitimately looking for jobs abroad, having explained in court that prospective employers in Italy are put off by the notoriety surrounding the case. "He is looking around, because he hopes this story will end soon" the father said.

The sensational legal case has fueled headlines since the gruesome discovery of Kercher's half-naked body beneath a blanket in her locked bedroom on Nov. 2, 2007, with suspicion falling quickly on her photogenic American roommate and her quiet Italian boyfriend of just over a week. Kercher, 21, had been sexually assaulted and stabbed multiple times.

A third person, Ivory Coast-born Rudy Hermann Guede, is serving a 16-year sentence for the murder. His conviction specified that he did not carrying out the murder alone — a position that the prosecution as well as lawyers representing Kercher's family have stuck to.

After concluding arguments in the third trial, the Kercher family lawyer Francesco Maresca told the court that the family has trust that the court would reach a fair decision.

"I am sure whatever the decision of the court, there will be justice because all of the elements have been profoundly evaluated," Maresca said. "It will be a decision that we will accept with absolute serenity."