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'Knox is innocent,' says child-killer at appeal

Prisoner claims Guede said a friend of his killed Meredith Kercher

A convicted child-killer told an Italian courtroom yesterday that he had evidence that could clear Amanda Knox of killing British student Meredith Kercher.

Mario Alessi said he had listened to a prison statement from an inmate with whom he shared a cell that made clear Knox, 23, had not been involved in Ms Kercher's killing at their flat in Perugia in November 2007. He also claimed Knox's former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, 25, had been wrongly convicted. Alessi was speaking at Knox's appeal hearing in Perugia against her conviction for murder. She was sentenced to 26 years in prison in 2009.

Alessi told the court that the inmate, Rudy Guede – the third person jailed for Ms Kercher's killing – had confided in him that Knox and Sollecito were innocent. That confession, he said, came when they were locked up together in Viterbo prison just before Knox's trial. "I tried to convince Rudy to tell the truth," said Alessi. "Rudy links arms with me, inviting me to take a walk with him, he has something important to tell me." He told the court Guede then said: "I don't know whether to tell the truth or not. The truth is altogether different from what you hear on TV."

Alessi claimed Guede told him that one of his friends had killed Ms Kercher, 21, after she refused to have threesome sex with them. Guede was in the bathroom when his friend injured Ms Kercher with a knife that "almost appeared out of nowhere", Alessi said. Guede then said that as he tried to save the struggling student, his unnamed friend told him they had to "finish" Ms Kercher, otherwise they would "rot in jail".

Guede, 24, was jailed for 30 years for killing and sexually assaulting Ms Kercher in 2008. He has denied talking to Alessi about the case.

Alessi, a bricklayer, is serving a life sentence for the murder of Tommaso Onofri, an 18-month-old boy who was killed after being abducted during a break-in at his parents' home in Parma five years ago. As Alessi gave evidence yesterday, Francesco Maresca, a lawyer for the Kercher family, showed him a picture of the toddler. Alessi said he did not recognise the boy in the photograph, to which the lawyer said: "We do."

Alessi is among five prisoners giving evidence during the American's appeal. Another, Luciano Aviello, serving a 10-year jail sentence for mafia-related crimes, claims his brother was responsible. In letters written from a Turin jail, he said he was asked to hide the knife used in the murder. He added that Antonio Aviello was living close by at the time of the murder and attacked Ms Kercher after she disturbed him breaking into the flat. Luciano Aviello gave further evidence in court yesterday, again claiming that his brother was to blame.

Another witness is Marco Castelluccio, a police informant. He said most of what he knew about the case came from Alessi, but that he too had once heard Guede say while in prison that Knox and Sollecito had not been involved.

Ms Kercher, from Coulsdon, Surrey, was studying at Perugia University and living with Knox in an upstairs flat when she was murdered.

Knox and Sollecito have consistently protested their innocence. Carlo Dalla Vedova, Knox's lawyer, said: "All five have very important evidence to give and we have taken statements from them and videotaped their interviews. They all say that Amanda and Raffaele are innocent. Aviello insists that his brother carried out the murder and he was given the keys [to Ms Kercher's flat] and knife to hide."

Curt Knox, Amanda Knox's father, told reporters yesterday: "It's interesting these inmates are coming forward at the risk of additional jail time if they're slandering somebody per se, but my belief is that the accuracy of the first DNA tests that were done by the forensic police are going to come back as not being reliable by independent expert, and that's what we are looking forward to."

The appeal hearing continues.