Knox prosecution witness now has second thoughts

American student's appeal against conviction for killing Meredith Kercher gets unexpected boost

A key prosecution witness testifying in Amanda Knox's appeals trial gave conflicting reports yesterday about whether he saw the American near the crime scene the night her British roommate, Meredith Kercher, was murdered in 2007.

The contradictory testimony and confused dates offered by Antonio Curatolo, a self-described drug addict and homeless man now in prison for an unrelated conviction, cast doubt on his credibility. The defence termed him clearly unreliable, while the prosecution maintained that, despite some lack of precision, the witness was lucid and clear in what he remembered.

Knox was convicted in 2009 of the sexual assault and murder of Kercher, a student from Surrey, in the house they shared in Perugia. She is currently serving a 26-year prison sentence.

In the first trial, Curatolo placed Knox and her co-defendant and ex-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, in a square near the house on the night of the murder. He said the two were chatting and added that he remembered seeing buses in the square. Yesterday he repeated that he saw the two "talking excitedly" in the square and said he thought it was Halloween night. That would have been the night before the 1 November murder, but he was unclear when Halloween night actually is. Despite the date confusion, he repeatedly said that he saw young people dressed up in costumes.

But, at another point, he also said he clearly remembers seeing police at the house the morning after he saw Knox and Sollecito in the square. Police went to the crime scene on 2 November, when Kercher's body was found, stabbed to death and lying in a pool of blood.

"Police and Carabinieri were coming and going, and I also saw the 'extraterrestrials' – that would be the men in white overalls," Curatolo told the court with a smile, referring to forensic experts gathering evidence. The 54-year-old also confessed to a long-standing drug habit.

Giulia Bongiorno, a lawyer for Sollecito, said the hearing "marked an important step forward for the defence's arguments." Chris Mellas, Knox's stepfather, said that "it couldn't have gone any better today."