Court that freed Knox attacks glaring errors in prosecution

Review criticises lack of DNA evidence and police treatment of American and Italian co-defendant

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The Perugia appeals court that two months ago dramatically cleared Amanda Knox and her Italian boyfriend of murdering the British student Meredith Kercher has lambasted the weakness of the prosecution's original case and its treatment of the accused.

In its eagerly awaited reasoning, senior appeal Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellman said yesterday that prosecutors had failed to provide the court with a murder weapon, a precise time for the killing, reliable DNA evidence or even sufficient proof that Ms Knox, 24, and Raffaele Sollecito, 26, were at the location where the crime occurred.

Ms Kercher was found dead in a pool of blood on her bedroom floor in Perugia, Italy, on 2 November 2007. Her American flatmate, Ms Knox, and Mr Sollecito, a student, had met just weeks earlier and were arrested several days later. They were subsequently convicted for what prosecutors portrayed as a drug-fuelled group sexual attack. They were sentenced to 26 years and 25 years, respectively.

The appeal court noted the evidence was largely circumstantial and prosecutors had been unable to show a credible motive. The judges said they could not say how the murder took place, whether "one or more" persons had killed Ms Kercher, or whether other leads had been "neglected".

An evidence review ordered by the appeal court in the summer had discredited crucial DNA evidence, saying there were glaring errors in evidence-collecting and that the amounts of DNA said to incriminate Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito fell below internationally accepted thresholds. The only elements of the prosecutors' case that were proven were the charge of slander against Ms Knox, who was convicted of falsely accusing a bar owner of killing Ms Kercher, and the fact that the alibis of Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito did not match, the appeals court said.

But Judge Hellman also criticised investigators' treatment of Ms Knox before she made her false claims. "The obsessive interrogation by police went on for hours, both day and night, and was carried out by several people on a young girl who at the time did not speak or understand Italian," he said.

"Her rights were ignored and she was not even appointed a lawyer, a right which she had seeing as she was being accused of a serious crime."

Ms Knox has since claimed that the brow-beating and even physical violence she suffered at the hands of the police led her to make the spurious claim.

Ms Knox, 24, is back home in Seattle and Mr Sollecito in Puglia, leaving Rudy Guede, 24, an Italian-Ivorian drifter, as the only person to have been definitively convicted of the murder. Guede, whose DNA was found all over the house and the crime scene, is serving a 16-year jail sentence.

Perugia prosecutors have appealed to Italy's last court of appeal, the Cassation Court, to try to get the acquittals reversed. Ms Knox is unlikely to return to Italy to attend the sessions. But Mr Sollecito's father has said his son has no reason to flee the country.