Knox awaits her fate after final plea

American student charged with murder tells court her conscience is clear

An emotional Amanda Knox made a last-ditch plea to jurors not to convict her on murder charges yesterday, saying she feared she was having, "the mask of a killer forced on to my skin".

"Everybody asks me, how do you stay so tranquil?" the American student, aged 22, told the court in Perugia at the close of her murder trial. "Well I am not calm. I am afraid of losing myself. I am afraid of being defined as someone I am not and for something I did not do."

The jury of two magistrates, and six lay people, is expected to decide her fate late today. Jurors must decide whether she and Raffaele Sollecito, her former boyfriend, are guilty of murdering Ms Knox's British flatmate, Meredith Kercher. Prosecutors allege that Ms Knox stabbed Ms Kercher, 21, during a drug-fuelled sex game while Mr Sollecito held the victim down.

Ms Knox was clearly nervous as she began to speak, her voice and hands trembling. She said she was disillusioned, sad, frustrated and vulnerable, but still trying to "see the positive in moments like this". She has already spent two years in jail but said her friends and family "saved her life every day".

Occasionally glancing at her notes, she thanked her lawyers and even the prosecutors who had demanded she be imprisoned for life, with nine months' solitary confinement thrown in. "They are just trying to do their jobs, even if they don't understand," she said. "They are trying to find justice for someone whose life was taken." But she stressed dramatically to the jury in conclusion: "My conscience is clean. Now it is up to you."

Earlier, Mr Sollecito, a computer engineering graduate from a small town near Bari, southern Italy, also made a final plea to be acquitted. "Why would I commit something so horrible as murder?" he asked rhetorically. "I have been dragged into an absurd situation that I don't know anything about. I have heard that Meredith was murdered because she didn't get on with Amanda... this is all difficult to imagine. I fail to understand why I would have participated in this murder with no motive." He went on: "You are deciding my life. I am not living a nightmare anymore, but something far more dramatic."

Mr Sollecito, 25, and Ms Knox were arrested in connection with the stabbing to death of Ms Kercher, a student from the University of Leeds, soon after she was killed in Perugia on 1 November 2007.

The lawyer representing the family of the victim, Francesco Maresca, insisted that Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito were responsible. "Meredith died because she knew her attackers," he told the court in his summing up. "After being attacked and sexually assaulted she was threatened and she resisted. They had to silence her in some way, and you get that silence with death."

A member of her defence team said two years in prison had not had a damaging impact on Ms Knox. "She has not changed," Maria Del Grosso said. "I have got to know her during this trial. She is intelligent, sweet and a bit naïve. She doesn't cry out for attention. She's genuine and I think she has shown great dignity through all of this."

But the student has evidently developed during her time behind bars. Her Italian has gone from heavily accented and barely comprehensible to completely fluent – evident in her speech yesterday and by the animated, friendly conversations she has with her lawyers and prison guards during the courtroom breaks. Mr Sollecito's stature and confidence have also grown. Yesterday he told jurors that he wasn't just "an attachment" to Ms Knox as the prosecution had suggested. "I am not a dog on a leash and I am not Amanda-dependent as the prosecution has argued," he said, adding that he thought it was "difficult to imagine" her as the man-eater depicted by the prosecution.

Prosecutors have charged that Ms Knox, Mr Sollecito and a third suspect, Ivory Coast immigrant Rudy Guede, who has already been convicted, sexually molested then murdered Ms Kercher after a fight spiralled out of control. Lawyers representing the Ms Kercher family, from Coulsdon, Surrey, have asked jurors to convict them today, and to sentence them to life.

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