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The Blotter

The Times' criminal justice team looks behind the scenes and behind the headlines.

October 3, 2011 at 3:55 AM

Amanda Knox acquitted of murder; more local reaction

Posted by Jonathan Martin

Raw Video: Amanda Knox to Be Free

Amanda Knox Delivers Statement in Appeal Trial

Meredith Kercher/Amanda Knox timeline:

Nov. 1, 2007 — 21-year-old British student Meredith Kercher is found dead in the bedroom of the apartment in Perugia, Italy, that she shared with 20-year-old University of Washington student Amanda Knox. The cause of death is a stab wound to the neck. Police allege that Kercher was killed while fending off a sexual assault.

Nov. 6 — Knox, her Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, 23, and nightclub owner Patrick Diya Lumumba, 44, are arrested by Italian police. All three say they are innocent.

Nov. 9 — An Italian court rules that Knox, Sollecito and Lumumba can remain in jail for up to one year during the investigation.

Nov. 20 — A fourth suspect, an Italian citizen originally from the Ivory Coast, Rudy Guede, 21, is apprehended in Germany. Meanwhile, Lumumba is released from custody due to a lack of evidence.

Oct. 28, 2008 — Judge Paolo Micheli convicts Guede of murder and sexual assault, and sentences him to 30 years. Guede appeals. Micheli also orders Knox and Sollecito to stand trial on charges of murder and sexual assault.

Jan. 16, 2009 — Trial of Knox and Sollecito opens in Perugia before presiding Judge Giancarlo Massei.

Dec. 4 —The eight-member jury finds Knox and Sollecito guilty, sentencing them to 26 and 25 years, respectively.

Nov. 24 – Knox and Sollecito’s appeal begins.

May 16 – Knox slander trial opens.

Sept. 7 – Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellman rejects a prosecution request for new DNA testing. Prosecution requests to introduce newly found records about the DNA tests, and to hear a new witness are also dismissed. The hearing is adjourned until September 23.

Sept. 24 – Prosecutors ask court to increase Knox and Sollecito’s sentences to life in prison.

Sept. 27 – Defense lawyer says Knox is less of a “femme fatale” and more like Jessica Rabbit – just drawn that way.

Oct. 3 – Italy appeals court clears Knox of murder.

The Seattle Times news archives

UPDATE 1:35 p.m. Margaret Ralph, the parent of Knox's former Seattle Prep schoolmate and soccer teammate, said Knox will likely need time to rehabilitate. "Imagine being behind cement walls and bars for four years, and knowing you're innocent," said Ralph.

"I'm sure she's wounded, but she has all this support from her family, her friends, her community. And she's going to have to find a way to deal with the people who still think she's guilty."

UPDATE 1:26 p.m. Pamela Van Swearingen, a Seattle attorney, helped research Knox's options to appeal to the European Union human rights court. "This is wonderful, righting a big wrong," she said.

Since the prosecution can still appeal, Van Swearingen said Knox's family should expedite her exit. "I hope they will get Amanda Knox out of Italy very quickly," she said.

Knox was fined more than 22,000 Euros on the slander charge, but Van Swearingen said raising that should not be a problem now. "I think people will be very helpful with the fundraising," she said.

UPDATE 1:23 p.m. Joe Starr said he hopes to get a text message soon from Chris Mellas, his best friend and the father-in-law of Knox, saying they were on their way to the airport.

Unlike the verdict in the 2009 trial, the Knox family did not buy a ticket in advance for Knox, Starr said. And contrary to media reports in London, no one has booked a privated jet to fly Knox home, he said.

Knox's passport expired while she was in prison for four years, according to media reports. But Starr said he expected the state department will help. "Once she gets to customs, I don't think anyone will argue who she is," said Starr.

UPDATE 1:00 p.m. Tom Wright, surrounded by dozens of journalists, expressed sympathy to Kercher's family, saying this is a "solemn occasion." He then congratulated Raffaele Sollecito, and Knox's family.

"To Amanda herself, we say, way to go kid. We will welcome you with open arms and open hearts."

Mark Waterbury, a forensic scientist who aided the Friends of Amanda, said the verdict represented a compromise. "We knew it is a split the difference idea," he said. "This is pure face-saving." Knox was convicted of slandering her former boss, Patrick Lumumba, but acquitted of the murder charge.

He said the campaign to prove Knox's innocence was the work " of four years and thousands of people. We did it."

UPDATE 12:50 p.m. Amanda Knox acquitted in the 2007 murder of her British roommate Meredith Kercher.

In the room at the Fairmont, there were cries of "Yes" and hugs everywhere, as the verdict was read.

Before the translation of the verdict was heard, Tom Wright, one of Knox's staunches supporters, sat stunned. "Everybody is hugging (in court), so that looks good"


UPDATE 12:05 p.m. With a verdict rendered and Knox and Sollecito on their way from prison to hear it, one question arising at the Friends of Amanda gathering in Seattle is whether the verdict will tamp down the blog wars that have waged over the case.

Each side - the "innocentisti" (innocents) and "colpevolisti" (guilties) - have taken their shots. Knox's step-father, Chris Mellas, has done battle on comment threads, and Italian police at one point arrested an innocentisti blogger in Perugia.

Peggy Ganong, a Seattle translator who helps run a "colpevolisti" web forum, complained to Seattle Police about alleged online stalking via comment threads on one website. The investigation is now closed.

On the innocentisi side, Karen Pruett, who runs a Facebook page on Knox, said she's called the FBI three times because photos of Amanda Knox's school-aged step-sisters appeared on a colpevolisti site. Most of the links to the photos disappeared, but Pruett wonders why the photos needed to be posted at all.

"It tells me they (the colpevolisti) are obsessed with Amanda, and not all that interested in the case itself," said Pruett, a hairdresser on Vashon Island. "There is just so much obsession with Amanda's family and Raffaele's family."

UPDATE 11:10 a.m.The court in Perugia hearing the appeal says the verdict is now expected at around 12:30 p.m. PDT.

UPDATE 9:15a.m.If Knox is not acquitted on appeal, she can appeal to Italy's highest court, which is similar to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Italian high court looks at procedures and issues previously argued in the lower courts to come to a decision. The prosecution can also appeal to the high court if Knox is acquitted, according to several news agencies.

UPDATE 7:50 a.m. About a dozen supporters are hunkered down at a suite in the downtown Seattle Fairmont Olympic hotel, watching the news conference held by Meredith Kercher's family.

One of the questions lurking in the background here involves the slander charges against Knox and her parents. Knox was convicted of criminal slander for falsely accusing her former boss, Patrick Lumumba, fined 80,000 Euros and sentenced to a year in prison. A second slander case against Knox, for accusing police detectives of hitting her during an interrogation, is on hold.

Her appeal includes the slander charge against Lumumba. Mike Heavey, a Knox suporter and King County Superior court judge, said the jurors could vacate the conviction and the fine as part of today's decision. Knox was also fined and ordered to pay 4 million Euros to the Kercher family as part of her murder conviction; that fine is also in play with the verdict.

Among the theories being floated here is that Knox could be acquitted of the murder conviction but having her slander charge upheld, and released on time served.

Two other slander charges, against both Knox and her parents, involving their allegation that Italian police hit her during an interrogation, are on hold, pending this appeal.

"Hopefully those wouldn't go forward if this criminal case is dismissed," said Anne Bremner, a spokeswoman for Friends of Amanda.

Speaking of defamation, the Knox family has spoken with a Seattle attorney, Mark Walters about potentially suing over a Lifetime movie based on the case. Walters, who is at the Fairmont Olympic suite are gathered, declined to talk about any conversations with the Knox family.

UPDATE: Both defendants gave emotional closing statements.

A verdict is not expected until around 11 a.m. local time. We'll be updating throughout the morning.

ORIGINAL POST: A homegrown group of Amanda Knox's most dedicated defenders are planning a private gathering at a Seattle hotel very early Monday, hoping for a celebration but bracing for something else.

A verdict in the Italian appeals trial of Knox, the former University of Washington student convicted in the bloody and sensational 2007 murder of her roommate, Meredith Kercher, is expected as early as 3 a.m. Seattle time. Knox is expected to speak about three hours earlier to the Italian court and jurors.

The early-morning gathering is to be held by Friends of Amanda, an ad hoc group of family friends, attorneys, forensic scientists and retired law enforcement. The group formed to battle inflammatory descriptions of Knox, but evolved into an innocence campaign seeking to debunk key forensic evidence.

"I think it's had a hugely positive effect," said Mark Waterbury, a Redmond forensic scientist who did not know Knox before the case, but wrote a book debunking the DNA evidence presented against her.

A cottage industry has grown up around the case, with at least 10 books, a television movie and dozens of websites dedicated to parsing evidence as well as Knox's psyche. Defenders such as Waterbury have been ridiculed and celebrated.

Opinions of the case are hot enough that organizers of Monday's event asked that its location not be disclosed, to prevent anti-Knox protesters from crashing.

Most of Knox's large family -- including her parents, sister and two half-sisters, aunts and several classmates -- were in Perugia on Monday, anticipating a celebration. The Italian court is hearing a "de novo" appeal, allowing it to re-examine all the evidence. The six jurors and two presiding judges could vacate the conviction, or they could reaffirm the 2009 trial verdict and give Knox a life sentence, as prosecutors have asked.

Anne Bremner, a Seattle attorney and spokeswoman for Friends of Amanda, said Knox, now 24, could potentially be held in prison or required to stay in Italy even if her conviction is vacated, should prosecutors appeal.

"Given the history of this case, her attorneys have prepped for any eventuality," Bremner said.

It also is unlikely that Knox would return to Seattle immediately if she is released, to give her time relax and to avoid the sensational international media frenzy in an undisclosed location.

Knox has repeatedly said she hopes to return home, and her family has said she is likely to write a book. In recent weeks, supporters have been asking local business leaders to consider hiring Knox if she returns.

"I think Seattle is about the best place for a person like Amanda Knox," said Bremner. "It is not the type of town that hassles people who are famous," she said, citing Bill Gates and Mary Kay LeTourneau, Bremner's former client.

Knox has done correspondence course work at the University of Washington while in prison, but has not graduated, according to the UW.

Knox grew up in West Seattle with a younger sister. Her parents, Curt and Edda Knox, divorced while she was a toddler. Her parents each remarried, and retained homes within blocks of each other.

Knox, a Seattle Prep graduate, was a dean's list student studying Romance languages when she enrolled in the University for Foreigners in Perugia in October 2007. She had saved $7,000 for her junior year abroad, working at a University District coffee shop and an art gallery and Seattle Mariners games.

She rented a room in a home with three other girls, including Kercher, just outside of Perugia. Just weeks before the murder, she met Raffaele Sollecito, an Italian computer science student, at a classical music recital. "I'm in love," she wrote in a message to friends back in Seattle.

On Nov. 4, 2007, days after Kercher's body was found, Knox wrote a letter to her mother, Edda Mellas, saying she wanted to stay in Perugia.

"I am not afraid of Italy. I am not afraid of anything in particular. I am afraid because I am confused," Knox wrote.

She was arrested the next day, and in a statement that was later thrown out by an Italian court, implicated Patrick Lumumba, her boss at a bar where she had worked. She wrote a new statement on Nov. 6, 2007, saying she'd been at home with Sollecito the night of the murder.

She has steadfastly professed her innocence ever since. She was convicted in 2009 and sentenced to 26 years in prison.

Knox's family remained silent for months after the arrest on the advice of Italian lawyers, declined interview requests from The Seattle Times and other outlets, even as British and Italian tabloids inaccurately sensationalized her as hard partying and sexually voracious.

In response to that coverage and leaks from Italian law enforcement, which also proved inaccurate, the parents of several of Knox's classmates at Seattle Prep formed Friends of Amanda to defend her.

Bremner, who came on later, described the effort as "turning a supertanker of bad information coming from leaks out of a closed proceeding."

Their website has now received nearly 800,000 hits, and the group has raised at least $80,000 to defray her legal bills, well over $1 million.

King County Superior Court Judge Mike Heavey, whose daughter attended Seattle Prep with Knox, wrote a letter on court letterhead to the presiding Italian judge, questioning the conduct of Knox's prosecutor and police and asking the trial to be moved out of Perugia. The Washington State Judicial Conduct Commission admonished him in 2010 for improperly influencing a pending case.
using the prestige of his judicial office to advance the private interests of another (Knox).

Others, however, agreed. An American writer, Douglas Preston, assisted Knox's defenders by telling of his alleged mistreatment by the lead prosecutor on the Knox case. A criminal investigator, several forensic experts and a retired FBI agent also publicly rebutted evidence they said had been manipulated or wrongly analyzed by Italian law enforcement.

Their key forensic rebuttal involved so-called "low copy DNA" samples taken from the alleged murder weapon, a kitchen knife seized at Sollecito's apartment allegedly containing both Knox's and Kercher's DNA. Waterbury, the Redmond biotech entrepreneur, labeled the DNA testing as "pretend science."

During Knox's appeal this summer and fall, an independent review of the knife DNA essentially agreed with Knox's defenders, finding that the sample was too low to be admitted as evidence.

But prosecutors pushed back on that finding during the appeal, and emphasized other evidence, including alleged telltales of a staged break-in at the murder scene.
Knox's defenders, in Seattle and online, have deployed strong rhetoric in her defense.

At a Seattle University symposium in April, Steve Moore, a retired FBI agent who once oversaw Al Queda investigations, compared Knox's prosecution to a "lynching."

"This will be an academy class in most forensic academies, I hope," said Moore. "This is the worst case I have ever seen in a western country."

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hey  Posted on October 5, 2011 at 11:28 AM by SeattleDuck. Jump to comment
NYGIRL, thank you very much, i 've been hoping things would'nt come over as Brits having a pop at Americans because nothing could be...  Posted on October 5, 2011 at 9:02 AM by tharleyify. Jump to comment
tharleyify: I totally agree! Amanda and her boyfriend were definitely at the murder scene when it happened. It is very obvious for anyone...  Posted on October 5, 2011 at 8:23 AM by NYGirl. Jump to comment