A smile for ex-lover as Knox trial begins

Media frenzy greets the arrival of American student accused of murdering Briton
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The Independent Online

The trial in Italy of Amanda Knox, the US exchange student accused with her ex-boyfriend of murdering her English flatmate, Meredith Kercher, will be held in open court, the trial judge decided yesterday.

Ms Kercher's family had appealed to the judge for the trial to be held in camera out of sensitivity to her but the request was denied. Television cameras will be banned from the courtroom but photographers and reporters will be allowed in to cover every twist and turn in the case of how a quiet, studious girl from Coulsdon, Surrey, was butchered in her own bedroom.

Judge Giancarlo Massei did, however, reserve the right to hold some sessions behind closed doors when evidence of particular sensitivity is being heard.

The scene outside the Romanesque court house in Perugia's Piazza Matteotti yesterday lived up to the event's billing as Italy's trial of the year. The piazza was crammed with television transmission vans while the back of the courtroom was lined with cameramen.

In the absence of sufficient seating for reporters, the steel cage in which defendants are normally penned during trials was packed with foreign journalists. Judge Massei smartly evicted them, however, huffing "this is highly improper", before Ms Knox, 21, and her former lover, Raffaele Sollecito, came in.

Mr Sollecito, 24, an information technology graduate who is studying for a second degree in his cell, entered first, wearing a lime green jumper and looking wary as he seated himself beside Giulia Buongiorno, the high-profile lawyer his wealthy family has hired to defend him.

Ms Knox, who has transfixed the Italian media, then sauntered in, flashing her ex-boyfriend a smile, looking relaxed and even a little plumper than when last seen before Christmas. Ms Knox's hair was tied in a pony tail and she wore a grey, hooded sweatshirt over a striped T-shirt and blue jeans.

The judge who had committed Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito for trial on murder charges refused bail on the ground they might kill again, but Judge Massei saw no need to pen them in the cage vacated by Fleet Street's finest. Instead, a pair of armed Carabinieri stood guard behind each of them.

The trial, which will occupy one or two days per week for months to come, has to decide what actually happened in the flat shared by Ms Kercher, Ms Knox and two Italian girls on the night of 1 November 2007, and whether Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito participated in their friend's murder. Both deny the charges.

On the night she died, Ms Kercher, a student from Leeds University, had decided to have an early night. She watched a romantic film on video at the home of an English friend who lived nearby, had supper with her – drinking no alcohol – and then walked home alone at about 9pm.

Within two hours she was lying dead on her bedroom floor, semi-naked and with four stab wounds in her neck. She had been sexually assaulted beforehand. At a so-called "fast track" trial last year, Rudy Guede, now 22, was jailed for 30 years for his part in the murder.

The Perugia resident, originally from Ivory Coast, admitted having been in Ms Kercher's flat that evening – he claimed she invited him in – but denied any involvement in the murder. The prosecutors at that trial maintained that Guede committed the murder with Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito, at the culmination of a Halloween sex orgy which Ms Kercher had resisted. They cited the pair's suspicious behaviour, conflicting statements in subsequent days and controversial DNA evidence. But yesterday lawyers for Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito flatly rejected these claims.