My daughter, Amanda Knox

The stepfather of the American student on trial for Meredith Kercher's murder accuses the Italian police of beating her during questioning

Amanda Knox, the American student on trial in Italy for the murder of her British flatmate Meredith Kercher, was repeatedly beaten during the all-night interrogations that led to her being named as a suspect in the brutal killing, her stepfather has claimed.

In an extended interview with The Independent on Sunday, Chris Mellas, 36, an IT professional, said that Ms Knox's confession that she had been in the flat when Ms Kercher died had been forced out of her. "It was coercion," he said. "They did what they needed to do to get her to say what they wanted her to say." He claimed that one of the policewomen, who allegedly hit her on the head, faces six charges of beating other suspects during interrogation in earlier cases.

Mr Mellas also alleges that the interpreters made available to his stepdaughter were not neutral, but police officers with a little English, who participated actively in the interrogations. The police, he says, admitted that they had no intention of letting her see a lawyer during questioning. "In Italy you have a right to a lawyer as you do in the United States," he said. "But they told her that if she had one it would make it bad for her. Even if she had insisted, they would not have allowed it. One of the police witnesses admitted as much on the stand."

Ms Knox's family and others, including a lawyer, have formed a support group which maintains a constant presence at the twice-weekly hearings and keeps the public at home aware of her situation. Mr Mellas is nearing the end of his latest stint in Perugia, sitting a few rows behind his stepdaughter in court. "The stress on my family is excessive," he said. As we spoke, his phone rang constantly with calls from American TV networks and other journalists. "The trial dominates your life completely. You wake up and it's the first thing on your brain, and it's the last thing when you go to sleep, and frequently it also bothers you while you're sleeping."

Ms Knox and her co-accused, her Italian ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, have been in jail for more than 16 months now, and their trial is still in the early stages. And although neither has yet been found guilty of anything, Mr Mellas maintains they are treated like criminals. "I look at the overall process and I wonder, where is the presumption of innocence?" he said. "She's in jail because they are afraid of her leaving the country. Well OK, so detain her. But on top of this they apply all the rules of the convicted to her. So when I go in I can't take her a pair of socks. Why not?"

The third suspect in the case, Rudy Guede, a Perugia resident originally from the Ivory Coast, was jailed for 30 years at the end of a "fast-track" trial before Christmas, after the prosecution produced an overwhelming amount of forensic evidence of his presence at the crime scene.

The prosecution maintains that Guede was just one player in the sex orgy that they say culminated in Ms Kercher's death. Yet two months into the new trial, no evidence comparable to that which damned Guede has emerged: no forensic trace at all of Ms Knox at the scene, and of Mr Sollecito only traces of his DNA, hotly disputed, on the clasp of Meredith's bra, found six weeks after the crime.

If all three accused were involved, why such abundant evidence of Guede at the scene and such paltry evidence of Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito? Chris Mellas says the explanation is simple: his stepdaughter had nothing whatever to do with the crime. She spent the night with her boyfriend at his flat.

He says that the reason another version emerged – in Ms Knox's confession, that she had been in the kitchen of her flat when Ms Kercher died, closing her ears to her flatmate's screams – was because she was bullied and beaten until she said what the police wanted to hear. "They screwed with Amanda's head so bad that night she didn't know what was right and wrong," he said. "In a statement she wrote the next day she says, 'I don't know much any more, I'm so confused. But I know that I did not kill Meredith.'"

In the absence of hard evidence, witness after witness has testified to the strangeness of Ms Knox's behaviour after the murder: her apparent lack of emotion, how she did yoga exercises and even turned cartwheels in the police station. How does Mr Mellas account for all that?

"She was trying to be this strong person," he replied, "trying to pick herself up and help the police and get on with life. Unfortunately it didn't work out because it took a toll on her: you suppress your grief and shock long enough and you kind of crumble."

As the marathon trial meanders on, Ms Knox's behaviour has intrigued onlookers. On Valentine's Day she came into court wearing a T-shirt with "All you need is love" in huge letters. In her first "spontaneous declaration" before the court, she explained that the vibrator in her bathroom, spoken of in shocked tones by English friends of Ms Kercher, was a gift. Mr Mellas called the T-shirt "the Valentine's Day debacle", adding: "In reality did it hurt anybody? No. But there is a certain level of decorum for certain situations which is required to be maintained. And she's completely missing the boat on that one. But that's Amanda!" And the vibrator? "It's two inches long," he said. "It's a little toy on a keychain. One of her friends bought it as a gag."

What makes Amanda Knox tick? "I'll give you an example," her stepfather said. "When she was about 14, we were at a soccer tournament and there was this enormous puddle of chocolate-brown muddy water. And her coach looked at Amanda and said, 'I bet you wouldn't jump into that mud puddle. I'd give you five bucks if you did.' And he hadn't even finished the sentence and she went and bellyflopped into it and splashed everybody. These are the things that are just her; she has a unique quality to her."

The essence of his case is that Amanda Knox may be extremely scatty, woefully insensitive even, but no murderer. And so far no one has proved otherwise.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
news
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower