By Deepa Babington
PERUGIA, Italy (Reuters) - Four years after her brutal murder, British student Meredith Kercher has been virtually forgotten as the media spotlight has shifted to the fresh-faced American girl convicted of killing her.
"She was a sunny and joyful girl who came to Perugia to study," the Kercher family lawyer Francesco Maresca told an appeal court last week.
"She had her throat slit like in a Mafia killing when someone has done something wrong."
Meredith, or "Mez" to her friends, was on a year-long Erasmus exchange program in the hilltop university town of Perugia when her half-naked body was found in a pool of blood in the apartment she shared with American Amanda Knox.
The popular Leeds University student was just 21.
Knox and her Italian ex-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were arrested and convicted of murdering Kercher when she resisted their efforts to include her in a sex game. A verdict in their appeal against the conviction is due on Monday.
Since her arrest, Knox has become a household name, with a legion of supporters in the United States lobbying to free her. But Kercher, from Surrey in southeast England, has been pushed into the background.
Maresca tried to correct the balance during the hearing by showing photographs of the young smiling Kercher next to pictures of her brutalized body.
QUIET, MIDDLE CLASS FAMILY FROM SURREY
Meredith's family has said little publicly since the murder. Their few statements have described her as popular, well-liked with a warm and friendly personality.
"Mez liked dancing. She would come downstairs in the morning and start dancing in front of everyone and it made us all laugh," sister Stephanie told the Daily Mirror newspaper in 2009.
"She was so much fun and had a wicked sense of humor."
In an interview with Italian talk show Porta a Porta before the final stage of Knox's appeals trial began last month, Stephanie described her sister as "lovely, an intelligent, kind, caring person."
Giacomo Silenzi, an Italian who was dating Kercher before her death and lived downstairs from her apartment, has described her as "calm, sweet and shy."
Meredith was enjoying Italy, making friends among British women in town and improving her Italian, her mother has said.
In one of the last photos of her, Meredith is seen dressed up for Halloween as a vampire in a collared black cape and bright red lipstick, with her straight black hair falling across her shoulders.
"I want people to remember Meredith for the good times she had in Perugia, not just the horrible ending," Kercher's friend Natalie Hayward told the Sunday Telegraph.
"When I got to Perugia, I was depressed. I'd broken up with the man I thought I would marry. Meredith was the only one who was totally non-judgmental."
Meredith Kercher's Indian-born mother Arline, and her sister Stephanie are expected to attend Monday's court hearing when the verdict is announced. In a statement released through their lawyer, they said they were stunned at the media clamor for the release of Knox and Sollecito.
Arline suffers from health problems, while Meredith's two brothers and sister could not afford to attend the entire trial, their lawyer has said, describing the Kerchers as a middle-class family of modest means.
(Editing by Andrew Heavens)