Meredith suspect missing from court

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One of the suspects in the murder of Meredith Kercher failed to turn up in court in Italy for a hearing today.

American Amanda Knox, 21, and Rudy Hermann Guede, 21, originally from the Ivory Coast, appeared before a judge at the closed pre-trial hearing in the Italian town of Perugia.

There was no sign of the third suspect, Knox's former Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, 24, as Knox and Guede took their places in the courtroom.

His lawyer Marco Brusco refused to say why his client was not in court when telephoned by the Press Association.

As Knox arrived, she appeared to be handcuffed to police officers.

The 21-year-old American student was frowning as she walked into court, wearing jeans and a white T-shirt.

She ignored a question from a reporter who asked: "Did you do it?"

The Kercher family entered the court without making any comment to the waiting media.

Guede was flanked by officers, dressed casually in a green jumper and cream trousers.

Cleared suspect Diya "Patrick" Lumumba also arrived, smiling to reporters and casually dressed in a cream jacket.

His lawyer said he would be joining the case as a "civil plaintiff".

He is suing Knox for falsely implicating him in Miss Kercher's murder.

Speaking ahead of the hearing, the family of Miss Kercher said yesterday they hoped justice would finally be done.

Her parents, John and Arline, and sister, Stephanie, spoke out as they arrived in the Italian town where Meredith was killed last November.

Miss Kercher was found semi-naked with her throat slit at the home she shared with Knox and others on Via Della Pergola in Perugia on the night of November 1, 2007.

The three suspects have been accused of killing her in a bungled sex game.

In a statement read by Stephanie, the family said: "Each time we arrive in Perugia, we wish we were here for a different reason.

She described her sister as a "a significant part of so many lives due to her caring, loving nature and laughter" and said the family was still struggling to understand why she was "so cruelly taken" from them.

She added: "We are pleased we have reached a new phase in the process, hoping that justice will soon be done for Meredith."

The family refused to be drawn on questions about the way the Italian police had conducted their investigation.

During the inquiry there has been a number of leaks to the Italian press, including a photograph of Miss Kercher as she was found.

Their lawyer, Francesco Maresca, said they would not be commenting further about the trial.

Fearful of a pact between former lovers Knox and Sollecito, Guede plans to ask for a separate trial from them if he is indicted, his lawyer said last week.

Valter Biscotti said last Tuesday that his client would seek a fast-track trial, a process which is shorter and often leads to shorter sentences.

Guede reportedly sent a letter to his lawyers expressing his fear of being made a scapegoat, and taking issue with the way he has been depicted as a drug dealer and addict.

He was quoted in the regional newspaper Corriere dell'Umbria as writing: "It is easier for them to point the finger at me than at each other."

All three suspects deny sexually assaulting and murdering the student from Coulsdon in Surrey.

Mr Maresca said the judge would probably not decide whether the three should be tried for murder until the end of October and that today's hearing would be the first of six or seven between now and then.