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Originally published January 16, 2009 at 11:15 AM | Page modified January 17, 2009 at 1:29 AM

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Trial opens for US suspect in Italy slaying

A judge ruled Friday that the trial of an American student accused of killing her British roommate would remain open to the media despite concerns about the indignity of releasing sensitive details of an alleged sexual attack.

Associated Press Writer

PERUGIA, Italy —

A judge ruled Friday that the trial of an American student accused of killing her British roommate would remain open to the media despite concerns about the indignity of releasing sensitive details of an alleged sexual attack.

On the first day of the trial of Amanda Knox and her former Italian boyfriend, presiding Judge Giancarlo Massei rejected a request by the family of victim Meredith Kercher to have the proceedings closed to the public and the media.

Massei barred cameras from filming, but ruled the trial would remain open to print journalists - although some sessions could be closed. The next session was scheduled for Feb. 6.

The ruling was one of several technical issues ironed out at the start of the trial of Knox, 21, from Seattle, and Raffaele Sollecito, 24.

Both are charged with murder and sexual violence in the slaying of Kercher, who was found stabbed to death Nov. 2, 2007 in the apartment she shared with Knox in Perugia, 115 miles (185 kilometers) north of Rome where both were exchange students.

Both Knox and Sollecito deny any wrongdoing.

Knox appeared relaxed during the hearing, smiling often and chatting with her interpreter and guards during breaks. Wearing jeans and a hooded sweat shirt over a striped shirt, she sat next to her lawyers - not in the cages often used for defendants in Italian trials.

Sollecito, in beige trousers and a bright green sweater, looked tense and remained mostly quiet throughout the hearing. The two did not interact.

A third defendant, Ivory Coast national Rudy Hermann Guede, was convicted last year of the same charges and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Guede, who had also denied wrongdoing, underwent a fast-track trial at his request.

Prosecutors allege that Kercher was killed during what began as a sex game, with Sollecito holding her by the shoulders from behind while Knox touched her with the point of a knife. They say Guede tried to sexually assault Kercher, and then Knox fatally stabbed her in the throat.

"Justice has already been done with the conviction of the one person responsible, to 30-years in jail," Sollecito attorney Luca Maori told the court, referring to Guede.

Sollecito has maintained he was in his own apartment in Perugia and that he doesn't remember if Knox spent part or all the night of the murder with him. Knox initially told investigators she was in the house when Kercher was killed and covered her ears against the victim's screams. Later, Knox said she wasn't in the house.

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Knox's attorney, lawyer Luciano Ghirga, said he wanted to prove that Knox was with Sollecito somewhere else at the time of Kercher's death.

"Amanda is determined and serene but she is facing a very delicate trial," Ghirga said. "It is a mixture of feelings but she is a very good girl, and we hope we can help her."

The court ruled that both Knox and Guede could testify; some 150 witnesses are expected and lawyers say the trial could last at least a year.

Another one of Sollecito's lawyers, Giulia Bongiorno, said her client and Knox were not longtime lovers looking for new sexual experiences, as suggested by prosecutors. She said the two were "little lovebirds" who were only "in the first week of their love story."

Both Knox and Sollecito were denied bail and have been detained for more than a year in Italy. Italy does not have the death penalty and a conviction could bring a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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