Amanda Knox in court to launch Kercher appeal

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The Independent Online

Amanda Knox returned to court today for the start of her appeal against her conviction for the brutal murder of British student Meredith Kercher.

The American student, known as Foxy Knoxy, was found guilty of killing the 21-year-old after what prosecutors claimed was a sex game taken to the extreme.



Her Italian former lover, Raffaele Sollecito, who was also jailed last December for the murder in the Italian city of Perugia, attended court too.



The hearing dealt chiefly with technical matters and lasted only 15 minutes. It was adjourned to December 11.



Knox, dressed in a blue hooded sweater, looked solemn but exchanged faint smiles with her lawyers.



One of them, Maria del Grosso, stroked her comfortingly before she was escorted out of the medieval courtroom.



But her stepfather and friends, in court for the hearing, sounded a positive note afterwards, insisting that 23-year-old Knox's case was strong and that she was holding up very well.



Chris Mellas, 36, who has moved to Italy to be close to his stepdaughter, said that now the appeal had started, "Amanda's doing wonderful" and she expected to be released.



He said: "We have an amazingly strong appeal. I've been told that by I don't know how many people here today.



"Amanda thinks it's amazing. Since she read it, it's been like waiting for Christmas trying to get this appeal going because she feels it's so strong that she will get out.



"We're requesting that the evidence be reviewed by third party people who are not biased - people not from the prosecution or defence, people who do not have any real interest in the matter other than the interest of science."



Amanda is happy that things are "finally starting to go again", he added.



"Her strength always amazes me", he said. "I would not have fared as well as she has fared. She's amazing."











Madison Paxton, 23, a friend of Knox from the University of Washington, said Knox had changed during the three years she had spent behind bars.

"It's been three years so everyone changes in three years no matter what, and then add to that that you're a 20-year-old convicted of murder," she said.



"Yeah, she's changed. She's been able to hold on to the essence of herself, which has been really comforting to see when we visit her.



"She sometimes still is very Amanda, very trusting and innocent. But then at other times we've seen that she has had to grow up a lot, she's had to realise that maybe the world isn't quite as 'la-di-da' as she thought it was. But I guess that had to happen."



Often it was Knox comforting her friends and family from jail, rather than the other way round, she said.



"We visit her jail and most of the time she is holding us. We try and be really strong for her but most of the time she ends up telling us, 'It's okay, it will be okay. Have you tried meditating? Have you tried yoga?'.



"For one of her friends it was her first time in court and after, Amanda was able to give her a hug and say, 'Why are you shaking? It's okay, it will be okay'."



Like Mr Mellas, she told of Knox's strength, which she derived from her knowledge that "she's innocent".



"There's a lot of emotions going on," she said. "She's hopeful, she's scared. Just like any other human being, she's feeling a lot.



"But overall she's very confident in her case, she knows she's innocent so that's what keeps all of this going because we know the truth and hopefully soon everyone else will."



A school friend of Knox, Brett Lither, 23, who has known her since they were children, said it was "nice to have something happening".



She said: "(Amanda) maintains a good, positive outlook and she believes in the justice system."



Knox and Sollecito remained in touch, she said, writing letters to each other from their prison cells.



"I think they have a good understanding of each other right now," she said. "They're going through the same thing."



Sollecito, 26, dressed in a cream polo neck jumper and chinos, appeared more relaxed in court than Knox, shaking hands warmly with his lawyers and smiling.



One of his lawyers, Luca Maori, said afterwards that his client hoped to demonstrate during the appeal that he had absolutely nothing to do with Miss Kercher's murder.



The University of Leeds student from Coulsdon, Surrey, was found dead on November 2, 2007 in her bedroom at the house in the Umbrian hilltop town that she shared with Knox and others during her year abroad.



Her throat had been slit and her semi-naked body was partially covered by a duvet.



Prosecutors said the two lovers killed her in what began as a sex game and ended with Sollecito holding her down while Knox cut her throat with a six-inch kitchen knife.



Knox and Sollecito were given prison sentences of 26 years and 25 years respectively last December.



Miss Kercher's family were not in court for the start of the appeal process today.



Their lawyer, Francesco Maresca, said: "The Kercher family would like to devote themselves exclusively to the memory of Meredith."



And he remained confident that the guilty verdicts would be upheld.



"Following the appeal we believe in the continuation of the sentence and we have been working for that," he said.



"But the appeal opens up a new phase, which could be more or less complex according to the decisions taken by the judge."





Knox's lawyers hope they can use new evidence to clear her of the murder and will try to introduce new witnesses during the appeal.



Along with Sollecito's legal team, they are also seeking a full review of the forensic evidence, including disputed traces of DNA found on a knife allegedly used in the killing, and on the clasp of Miss Kercher's bra.



The defence maintains that the DNA evidence was inconclusive and has also argued it may have been contaminated when analysed.



In their appeal motion, defence lawyers were sharply critical of the verdict, maintaining it was based on hypotheses and pointing out that the motive was absent.



But the appeal process carries a risk for Knox: if her conviction is upheld, she could face a longer sentence.



Prosecutors, who had sought a life sentence in the original trial, have also appealed, as they are entitled to do in Italy.



As in the original trial, the verdict will be decided by the judge, a fellow magistrate and six jurors. The result of the appeal will not come until next year.



Meanwhile Knox, from Seattle, is continuing to pursue her studies in jail. A lover of foreign languages, she is thought to be learning French behind bars as she "does not want to sit around moping", her friends said.



Small-time drug dealer Rudy Guede, an immigrant from the Ivory Coast, was also jailed for the murder and sexual violence at an earlier, fast-track trial in October 2008.



His 30-year jail sentence was cut to 16 years when he appealed against his conviction.



In separate proceedings, Knox faces charges that she slandered police while giving evidence in court last year.



If she is convicted in her trial for slander, which begins in May, any prison sentence she receives would be added to her current sentence.

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