By Philip Pullella
ROME (Reuters) - The appeals trial of Amanda Knox, the American college student convicted of murdering her British housemate in a frenzied sex game, enters the closing stretch on Friday when the defense and prosecution begin final arguments.
Knox, 24, who was convicted in 2009 of the murder of Meredith Kercher, 21, of Surrey, England, has always maintained her innocence.
Kercher was found half naked in November 2007 with her throat cut in the house she shared with Knox in the university city of Perugia where both were studying.
"I and Raffaele are paying with our lives for a crime we did not commit," Knox said when the appeals trial started last year, referring to her sometime Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, who was also convicted.
The two trials have mesmerized Italians and have been splashed in the tabloid media, which has alternately portrayed Knox, sometimes dubbed "Foxy Knoxy," as a marijuana-smoking party girl or an innocent abroad who fell into something bigger than herself.
The first trial, where the prosecution said Kercher was killed in a sex game that spiraled out of control, sentenced Knox, from Seattle, Washington, and Sollecito to 26 and 25 years, respectively.
The defense received a major boost in July when independent forensic experts appointed by the court said in a report that DNA evidence was unreliable and numerous errors had been made by police scientists.
Significantly, they said no evidence supported the original police conclusion that Kercher's blood was found on a knife which they identified as the murder weapon and which had been handled by Knox.
The independent experts concluded that the collection and testing of DNA had been below international standards and that evidence might have been contaminated.
Lawyers for the defense said the 145-page report significantly improved their chances of having the original verdict overturned.
A new verdict is expected next week, and Knox could be freed even if the prosecution decides to seek a re-trial on technical grounds.
The defense had insisted from the start of the first trial that forensic procedures had been flawed, leading to errors and contamination of evidence.
An acquittal of Knox and Sollecito would be a major blow to the image of Italian police procedures and the Italian judicial system, both of which have come under harsh criticism in the British and American media.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella, editing by Paul Casciato)