FLORENCE, ITALY — A fresh appeal by American Amanda Knox and her Italian ex- boyfriend against their convictions for the 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher started in their absence on Monday with defense lawyers pointing to a lack of DNA evidence.
Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were convicted in 2009 of killing 21-year-old British student Kercher in what was described as a drug-fuelled sexual assault.
After winning an appeal in 2011 quashing the guilty verdict, both were freed from prison. But Italy's supreme court overturned the acquittals in March, citing “contradictions and inconsistencies”, paving the way for the new appeals trial.
Defense lawyer Giulia Bongiorno told the court there was no DNA evidence that Knox had been at the murder scene, while there was plenty of proof that Ivory Coast-born Rudy Guede, the only person still in jail for the murder, had been there.
“How is it possible to find enormous quantities of traces of Guede and not a trace of Amanda,” she asked the court, adding that the only trace of Sollecito was on Kercher's bra clasp, which the defense say was due to contamination.
Kercher was found with more than 40 wounds, including a deep gash in the throat, in the apartment she shared with Knox in Perugia, a picturesque town in central Italy's Umbria region that attracts students from around the world.
Knox, 26, has always denied involvement in the killing. She told U.S. television this month that “common sense” told her not to return to Italy for the new appeal. She is not obliged to attend and can be represented by her lawyers, who said she is watching the retrial closely from home in Seattle.
“I was imprisoned as an innocent person and I just can't re-live that,” she told NBC television.
Sollecito, 29, who has also always protested his innocence, plans to attend some of the hearings, his father Francesco said, adding he was confident his son's innocence would be confirmed.
“Deeper examination can only demonstrate what we already know, that is that Raffaele Sollecito has nothing to do with what that poor girl had to suffer,” he told reporters.
The defense team called for further investigations such as tests of semen stains found on a pillow and an examination of a very low DNA trace found on the alleged murder weapon - a kitchen knife found in Sollecito's house.
Francesco Maresca, a lawyer for the Kercher family, argued there was already sufficient evidence stacked against Knox and Sollecito and the supreme court's decision to throw out their acquittals had reinforced his view.
“We have always maintained that they are guilty and that they were present at the crime scene,” he told reporters.
Knox has said she wants to visit Kercher's grave in England, but the Leeds University student's family said in a statement at the weekend that this was Meredith's “safe place” and that they hoped “that is respected by all”.
Nicknamed “Foxy Knoxy” in many tabloid headlines, Knox was initially portrayed as a sex-obsessed she-devil by prosecutors but a lobbying campaign by her family helped modify perceptions.
In a memoir published this year, she painted herself as a naive young woman and a victim of Italy's snail-paced justice system, which drew heavy criticism for its handling of the case.
If found guilty, she could appeal again to Italy's supreme court. If that failed, Italy could request her extradition.
The supreme court said in June that the appeals court that freed Knox and Sollecito had not taken all the existing evidence into consideration. It said Guede, who is serving a 16-year sentence, was unlikely to have committed the crime alone.
Prosecutors said Kercher was held down and stabbed after she resisted attempts by Knox, Sollecito and Guede to involve her in an orgy. The supreme court said the theory of a sex game that spiraled out of control should be re-examined.
The prosecution's case was weakened in the last trial by forensic experts who undermined the credibility of DNA evidence provided by police and sharply criticized their initial response procedures at the scene of the killing.