Suspects remain in custody as evidence against them grows

Peter Popham
Saturday 10 November 2007 01:00 GMT

The three people suspected of killing a British exchange student in a fit of sexual violence were ordered to remain behind bars last night as the judge in the murder case said there was a distinct possibility they could flee the region – and possibly even strike again – if allowed out.

Refusing their lawyers' request for bail, Judge Claudia Matteini cited police evidence that Amanda Knox, 20, Raffaele Sollecito, 24, and Patrick Lumumba, 37, might have been planning their escape when they were arrested on Tuesday morning on suspicion of murdering Meredith Kercher, a 21-year-old student from Surrey who was studying for a year at the University of Perugia.

Judge Matteini ordered Ms Knox, the American flatmate of Ms Kercher, and Mr Sollecito, the Seattle student's Italian boyfriend, to be held in custody for up to one year, pointing out that Mr Sollecito had unsuccessfully tried to fool investigators by buying a new mobile phone the day after the murder. Mr Lumumba, a Congolese musician and bar owner, was also ordered to remain behind bars.

All three have denied involvement in the killing. But fresh details emerging yesterday from the official report by Ms Matteini, the preliminary judge in the case, revealed detectives believe they have solid evidence to back up their suspicions. There was no doubt, Ms Matteini wrote, that the murder weapon was a pocket knife owned by Mr Sollecito, which he told police he always carried with him. He is said to have collected knives and to be fascinated by them.

His girlfriend of two weeks, Ms Knox, the expensively-educated American known as "Foxy Knoxy" on her MySpace profile who lived with Miss Kercher, was also implicated by fresh forensic evidence that showed she may have held her "friend" still while her throat was slit.

The three wounds to Ms Kercher's throat were probably the result of threats intended to make her comply with the wishes of her assailants, said Judge Matteini, revealing she had been injured on the neck twice before the fatal cut, when "the blade penetrated deeply, causing the fatal wound". She said evidence presented by police convinced her Ms Kercher had suffered sexual violence before she died and that her resistance to the attack "is obvious from objective data".

The third suspect, Mr Lumumba, told the judge during Thursday's closed hearing that he was working normally in his bar throughout the evening of1 November. He admitted exchanging text messages with Ms Knox, who worked casually in the bar, Le Chic, but claimed they were innocuous.

If the judge largely confirmed the boast of police chief Arturo de Felice that "the case is closed", there remains the spectre of a fourth person who may have been involved in the crime, if only helping to clean up. Unidentified prints have been found in the murder room, and police are following up reports of a suspicious person who was seen washing clothes and Nike trainers in a launderette used by students.

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