Suspects in Meredith murder case confront dead student’s family

Amanda Knox and Rudy Guede came face to face yesterday with the family of Meredith Kercher, the British student they are accused of murdering in Italy last year.

Mr Guede, 21, originally from Ivory Coast, appeared alongside the American suspect Miss Knox, 21, at a pre-trial hearing in the town of Perugia, where Miss Kercher, 22, was found dead on 1 November. The third suspect accused of killing her in a bungled sex game – Miss Knox's ex-boyfriend Rafaelle Sollecito, 24 – did not attend court. His lawyer, Luca Maori, said his client wished to avoid the media.

All three suspects deny sexually assaulting and murdering Miss Kercher, a student from Leeds University who had moved to the Umbrian hill town for a year to learn Italian.

Judge Paolo Micheli granted a request for a fast-track trial for Mr Guede, who is fearful of a pact between Miss Knox and Mr Sollecito to frame him for the killing. Yesterday was the first time he and Miss Knox had been in the same room as Miss Kercher's parents, from Coulsdon, Surrey. The family were admitted to the court as civil plaintiffs, as was a Congolese former suspect, Diya "Patrick" Lumumba, 38, who was cleared of any involvement in the crime. He plans to claim damages from Miss Knox for falsely implicating him in the case, said his lawyer, Giuseppe Sereni.

The owner of the house Miss Kercher shared with Miss Knox and others, and where her semi-naked body was found, has also been admitted as a civil plaintiff, and can therefore claim damages if someone is convicted of murder.

A large crowd gathered outside the courthouse for the next episode in the case that has gripped the town and grabbed headlines on both sides of the Atlantic for nearly a year.

It was the first time that Miss Knox, from Seattle, had been seen in public since she was imprisoned last November. Dressed in blue jeans and a white embroidered top, her hair scraped back neatly in a half-ponytail, she was escorted by two female jail guards. She looked impassive, and ignored a journalist who shouted, "Did you do it, Amanda?"

Outside the court, her lawyer, Luciano Ghirga, said: "Amanda was as calm as she has always been since I have known her." He said she had no interaction with the Kercher family or with Mr Guede, who was brought into the room in handcuffs. Mr Lumumba was also in court and walked in smiling.

Giulia Bongiorno, a lawyer for Mr Sollecito, said she was glad Mr Guede had been granted a fast-track trial as it would give her the opportunity to cross-examine his witnesses.

Mr Guede's lawyer, Valter Biscotti, said three witnesses would be admitted to the fast-track trial: a childhood friend and a teacher of Mr Guede's and an Albanian man who claims he saw all three suspects near the scene. The next hearing is scheduled for 26 September.