Amid the madness of what will always be known as the Knox trial in Perugia, with its slow-motion melodramas, its posturings and the evidence that grew ever more contested and grotesque, there was always one thing that remained unchanged.
That face. Meredith's – the joyful student captured in a split second on Facebook, her happiness one moment in October 2007 made all the more horribly innocent because we know what was to happen to her just a few days later.
For us, those features will eventually fade from memory. But, for her family, that face – and the spirit and life of the girl who inhabited it – will never grow old as it should have done. And yesterday, as her family gave a press conference in the basement of a city hotel, that pain was brought sickeningly home. Father John, mother Arline, brothers John Jr and Lyle, and sister Stephanie sat in a line at a table and spoke, as they have always done – with restraint and a gracious dignity – of the loss they will ever bear.
There was no triumph in their reaction to the conviction late Friday night of Amanda Knox, 22, and Raffaele Sollecito, 25, for the murder of their daughter and sister. As Lyle said, it was not a time for a celebration. Instead they showed a magnanimous sense of sadness that two young people would now be spending a quarter of a century or more behind bars.
Mrs Kercher quietly reminded her family that a third young person had also met the same fate – 22-year-old Rudy Guede, who was convicted of the murder and sexual violence last October and jailed for 30 years. Lyle even referred to his sister's killer using the word "gentleman". Meredith's brother John said: "Mez still leaves a big hole in our lives. Her presence is missed every time we meet up as a family. She is very much still a part our lives. People often associated Mez with a tragic event, but we would prefer not to remember her that way. We would like to concentrate on the 21 good years we had with her."
And they were good years. Brought up in Coulsdon, Surrey, on the edge of the North Downs, she was a bright, conscientious child who later attended the prestigious Old Palace School for Girls in Croydon. Shahleena Raza, 25, a homeopathy student who went to school with Meredith and Stephanie, remembers the special bond the sisters had. "I used to ring Steph and they sounded identical," she said. "Mez would answer and she was always really sweet and chatty. I remember going to their house and her older brothers cooked us all lunch. They made a big deal out of it and it was really special. Mez and Steph shared everything – there was such warmth between them, no bickering like you usually get between sisters."
She read, wrote poetry and stories, took ballet, gymnastics and karate classes, worked at Gatwick airport to save for her studies, ran the Race for Life to raise money for cancer research. She was "always laughing", and, according to her brother's eulogy at her funeral, always 20 minutes late. "You could set your watch by her," he said. And friends could rely on her. One, identified only as "Yondie" from south London, thanked Meredith in an online tribute to her for letting her stay at her house when times were "difficult".
She went to Leeds University, and, from there, in her third year, to Perugia for a year's study, arriving in the autumn of 2007.
That late October, she went to a Halloween party, and one of her closest friends, Helen Power, 22, was with her. She said: "You only had to meet her once to be struck by her beauty, quick wit and her infectious smile." It was a time of year Meredith had always loved. Her father said: "As a youngster she would make a costume from bin liners, put candles in the pumpkins with faces, tie them to sticks and then we would visit neighbours."
Close to both parents, Meredith called the day after the Halloween party to tell him she loved him. "I was in the bank and we spoke for two minutes," he said. It was the last time they would. Not long afterwards, he heard a British student had been murdered in Perugia. He rang Meredith a dozen or more times. There was no reply. After an hour, he called a newspaper. Two hours later, they called him back with the name of the victim. It was Meredith. That was how he found out.
In June, her mother told the court: "Her death was unbelievable, unreal. In many ways it still is. I still look for her. It's not just her death but it's the nature of it, the brutality of it, the violence of it and the great sorrow it's brought everyone. We will never, never get over it."