The family of Amanda Knox, sentenced to 26 years in an Italian prison, sees glimmers of hope as small victories in her appeal seem to cast doubt on the guilty verdict against her.
After nearly four years, three birthdays, four Christmases and one college graduation have passed with Knox, now 23, living in a grim Italian prison cell. Her family now is cautiously optimistic that the appeal of her murder conviction will go her way.
Knox, who was a 20-year-old student from Seattle, and her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were convicted of the brutal November 2007 murder of Knox's roommate Meredith Kercher. Knox was sentenced to 26 years and Sollecito was given 25 years following their conviction in 2009.
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In recent weeks, the Knox defense team has notched some small victories. It was delighted when the appeals panel cast doubt on the testimony of Antonio Curatolo, a 53-year-old drug addict who lived in a park near the murder scene. During the trial he testified that he saw Knox and Sollecito together on the night of the murder near the cottage where Kercher was killed.
Amanda Knox Defense Team Cautiously Optimistic
But when he spoke with the appeals panel, Curatolo said he was sure of the moment because he remembered also seeing the buses that were used to take Halloween partiers to area bars that night. The murder, however, happened the night after Halloween and no party buses were running on the night of the murder.
The Knox team was also encouraged last week when 11 Italian legislators signed a petition calling for a review into whether the Knox criminal investigation was conducted properly.
The defense is most hopeful over signs that the appeals panel -- two judges and six jurors -- may be casting doubt on the crucial DNA evidence that was used to convict Knox and played an even more significant role in the conviction of Sollecito.
During the trial Knox suffered a blow when her defense team's request for an independent review of the DNA evidence was denied. But when Knox's appeal began late last year, a new judge granted the request and assigned two renowned Italian independent experts to review the forensics.
For Knox and her family, there was finally a small win after years of legal setbacks.
Amanda's father, Curt Knox, told ABC News, "It really appears [the judge] wants to get to the truth. And the truth is really going to set her free."
The case has hinged on two crucial pieces of DNA evidence: a kitchen knife found in Sollecito's apartment and the victim's bra clasp.
During Knox's trial, her lawyers argued that the victim's DNA -- which was not blood -- found on the dull side of the knife's blade was too weak to be tested.
A piece of Kercher's bra clasp was found in her bedroom, the room where she was murdered. Sollecito's DNA was found on the tip of the hook on a piece of the clasp, which had been torn or cut from the rest of Kercher's bloody bra.
Police crime scene video shows the bra clasp was collected six weeks after the murder. The defense argued that the bra clasp was contaminated because the crime scene video shows the clasp had been moved from one part of the room to another. They also pointed out that Sollecito's DNA was not found on the rest of the bra, collected the day after the murder.
On Feb. 9, in Rome, the two Italian independent experts began poring over the DNA evidence.
In another indication that the appeals may be looking favorably on some of Knox's claims, it granted a request by the independent experts to consult documents relating to the identification of the alleged murder weapon and the testimony of the police who searched Sollecito's house that day.
"Truth comes from science. I think the story of how this evidence was collected doesn't fit the evidence collected," said Greg Hampikian, an American DNA expert and director of the Idaho Innocence Project. Hampikian, who gave ABC News access to his lab, independently reviewed the procedures for collecting and testing critical DNA evidence in the Knox case.
Hampikian said the knife had such a minute amount of DNA, it could not be tested a second time. He added, "[The Italian crime lab] didn't have enough of a [DNA] sample. It was certainly well below what the FBI uses, or any American crime lab that I know." He is confident the knife is not the murder weapon.
Hampikian, who reviewed hours of crime scene video, concluded that the Knox case is "a glaring example of bad evidence handling." According to Hampikian, the clasp could have been contaminated during the six weeks between the murder and when it was bagged as evidence. During those six weeks, numerous items in the room had been moved by police who were not changing their gloves during evidence collection.