Knox's fate at the mercy of superstition and resentment of 'Godless foreigners'

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They have already spent nearly four years in jail, but in the next few days Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, will learn whether they can go free or must serve out their sentences – 26 and 25 years respectively – for the murder of Meredith Kercher, inset, who was stabbed at the flat the two women shared in Perugia.

Today, prosecutors begin summing up in the couple's appeal and a verdict is expected within 10 days.

Everything seems to be going Knox and Sollecito's way. Earlier this month, after two court-appointed forensic experts discredited evidence which led to their conviction, Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellmann refused the prosecution's request to appoint new experts. It was a dramatic turning point; even one of the prosecutors admitted the wind had changed. Knox, from Seattle, told friends she hoped to be home for Thanksgiving in November.

But the outcome of the appeal is still far from certain. It is being held in the city where they were found guilty; where chief prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, continues to wield great moral and judicial power.

The fate of Knox and Sollecito rests in the hands of jurors in a profoundly conservative town, whose dubious view of the foreigners flocking to what the Italian press called "the Ibiza of foreign studies" seemed embodied in the cattolicissimo (very devout) Mr Mignini. And his nightmarish description of what happened the night after Halloween in Via della Pergola remains welded to the case, for all the defence's efforts to dispel it. In the first trial, Mr Mignini told the court that Ms Kercher was killed at the culmination of a satanic rite; "celebrated on the occasion of the night of Halloween, a sexual and sacrificial rite", newspaper Il Tempo reported him as saying. Ms Kercher, he explained, was on her knees in front of a wardrobe, Rudy Guede (the third person blamed for the murder and convicted at an earlier trial) held her immobile and Sollecito grasped one of her arms while Knox wielded the knife. Yet Mr Mignini presented no evidence to support this macabre vision: no confessions, no witness accounts, no personal history of the involvement of any of the accused in such activities, above all no trace of the presence of Knox or Sollecito.

All Mr Mignini possessed were the ravings of a person called Gabriella Carlizzi, a spiritualist blogger in Rome whose messages from "the other side" had decisively influenced a previous investigation of his. Ms Carlizzi alone claimed that both Knox and Ms Kercher, from Coulsdon, Surrey, may have belonged to a deviant Masonic sect, the Order of the Red Rose, the rites of which involved human sacrifice.

Again, there was no evidence of any sort for the outlandish claim. The only forensic evidence against Knox was a knife the prosecution claimed was the murder weapon, but it is this, along with the clasp of Ms Kercher's bra on which, it is alleged, there were traces of Sollecito's DNA, that has been the prosecution's undoing in the appeal.

This alleged murder weapon was found not at the crime scene but in the kitchen of Sollecito's flat, two weeks later. Knox's fingerprints were on the handle – not surprising, as she had used it to prepare food – while Ms Kercher's DNA had been extracted, it was claimed, from the blade. But the court-appointed forensic expert told the appeal that the trace of DNA was so weak that it could belong to anyone.

Equal doubt surrounds the DNA alleged to be Sollecito's, found on Ms Kercher's bra clasp, which was not retrieved from the crime scene until 47 days after the murder.

The immediate risk for Knox and Sollecito is that the jury will discount the baffling scientific arguments and take refuge in the horrible, yet somehow persuasive visions Mr Mignini evoked during the first trial, with his depiction of decadent, atheistic foreigners getting up to sinful madness under the influence of drugs. On the other hand, the jury may resist that temptation and set Knox and Sollecito free.