A momentarily startled Amanda Knox, a 21-year-old college student from Seattle, stepped into an Italian courtroom this morning for the first day of what could be a months-long murder trial in the medieval town of Perugia.
Knox has spent more than a year in an Italian prison without bail, accused, along with two men, of killing her roommate Meredith Kercher, 21.
Kercher, a British exchange student from the University of Leeds, was found half-naked with her throat slashed on Nov. 2, 2007, in her bedroom in the apartment she shared with Knox and two Italian women.
After the initial moment of trepidation entering the Perugia court, Knox, dressed in jeans and a gray sweat shirt, smiled widely and took a seat next to her lawyer, Luciano Ghirga. Afterward she appeared to be happily chatting with Ghirga and the prison guards.
Also taking the defendant's stand today in the 15th century Hall of the Frescoes is her former lover Raffaele Sollecito, 24, an Italian computer science graduate student. Sollecito, dressed in tan pants and a bright green sweater over a white turtleneck, entered the courtroom first.
Neither defendant was handcuffed, but police stood behind them. After the initial swearing in of the jurors, it was decided that the trial would be open to the public and journalists but that no cameras would be allowed in the courtroom.
The young couple is accused of murdering and sexually assaulting Kercher, in what prosecutors on the case have called a "perverse group sex game," which they reportedly played with a third person, Rudy Guede, 22, an Ivory Coast national who was raised in Perugia.
According to the prosecution's reconstruction, Kercher was on her knees, restrained by Sollecito, as Guede sexually assaulted her and Knox held a knife to her throat and stabbed her.
Ghirga said this morning that Knox will testify and plans to argue that Knox could not have committed the crime because she was not in the home the night Kercher died.
"The facts that we want to prove are that Knox had absolutely nothing to do with the crime, that she was not on the scene of the crime that evening. She was with Raffaele Sollecito at his house," Ghirga said in court this morning.
Today's proceedings ended with the judge deciding that Sollecito will also speak at some point during the trial, and then the hearing was adjourned until Friday, Feb. 6, when witnesses will begin testifying.
In the days before the start of the trial, Knox and Sollecito expressed confidence in the outcome.
Speaking to reporters through Ghirga, Knox said, "I am not afraid of the truth and I hope it will finally come out. I was Meredith's friend and I didn't kill her."
In court this morning, Knox and Sollecito made little eye contact. Knox appeared for the most part upbeat, while Sollecito was more reserved, looking tense during the proceedings.
The courtroom has cages sometimes used to hold prisoners on trial for violent crimes, but both Knox and Sollecito were allowed to sit with their lawyers. The cages were instead occupied by journalists on had to cover the trial.
On "Good Morning America" today, Knox's family voiced support for her and remained hopeful that she'd be released.
"She's glad it's finally getting under way," said her mother, Edda Mellas. "She's also nervous. They say horrible things about her and there's lots of press there, and she's in another country."