Amanda Knox, the American exchange student on trial for the murder of her roommate, told an Italian court today that she spent the night of the murder at her boyfriend's home, smoking marijuana and having sex.
Knox, a 21-year-old student from Seattle, said that because she was stoned on the night her roommate died she was confused about what happened that night, a confusion that muddled her original statements to Italian detectives.
Knox took the stand in Perugia, Italy, today for the first time in the case. Both she and former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, 25, are accused of murder and sexual violence in the death of British student Meredith Kercher, who was 21 when she died Nov. 1, 2007.
A third person, Rudy Guede, has already been convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison for his role in the murder. An appeal of that conviction is scheduled for November.
"On Nov. 1, I told Raffaele that I wanted to watch a movie, so we went to his place," Knox told the court, speaking alternately in Italian and English. The two had dinner and then went upstairs to Sollecito's bedroom, she said.
"I sat on the bed, he sat at his desk. He prepared the joint and then we smoked it together," she said. "First we made love, then we fell asleep."
Knox testified today for about seven hours. Her testimony was to continue Saturday.
Knox's appearance on the stand marked a dramatic twist in the long case, which began in January, more than a year after the murder.
For the first time in public, Knox spoke about her relationship with Kercher and about her behavior after the murder, which had been characterized as strange and showing no remorse. Previous testimony included an account of Knox turning cartwheels at the police station after the killing, and acting amorous with Sollecito.
"In general, I'm someone who tends to act a little silly when I feel I'm in difficulty or not at ease," said Knox, speaking in Italian.
"I cried, but I was always hugged by Raffaele," she said of her reaction to the discovery of Kercher's body. "First, he gave me his jacket, then he was cuddling with me because I was shaking. I didn't know what to think. I was shocked."
Knox disputed earlier suggestions that she didn't get along with Kercher, saying their relationship was friendly and open.
"I confided in her. I would often ask for her advice," testified Knox, speaking in Italian. "When Meredith had a problem over my behavior, she would tell me. That was it. There was nothing she would keep hidden or that we couldn't find agreement on."
Knox, who has been held in an Italian prison for 18 months, told the court that she had last seen Kercher on the afternoon of the murder, in the home they shared. Halloween was the night before, and Kercher still had vampire makeup on her face, Knox testified.
"She left her room, said 'bye,' walked out the door," Knox said. "That was the last time I saw her."
Knox and Kercher, both exchange students, were sharing the flat in Perugia for the semester.
On Nov. 2, 2007, Kercher was found stabbed and strangled to death in her room in the house she shared with Knox and two other women.
Knox's explanation of where she was during the murder has changed at least twice over the course of the case. Originally, she said she was not in the house. Later, Knox told police that she was in the house when Kercher was murdered and heard the victim scream.
On the stand she explained that, under intense police interrogation, she had "imagined" hearing the scream.
Wearing white and sporting a ponytail, Knox explained to the jury in a confident voice why she signed a statement at a Perugia police station implicating herself, a statement she now says was false.
"They got tough with me, called me a liar and said I was trying to protect someone," Knox said in English with an Italian translator standing by her side. She spoke in a confident voice and used her hands freely to emphasize her points.
She later switched to Italian, expressing frustration with the translation.
"I wasn't trying to protect anyone, so I didn't know how to respond," Knox said. She added, "I couldn't understand why they were so sure I was the one who knew everything."
She said police posed the same questions over and over again, repeatedly asking her who she thought had killed her roommate and asking her to go over exactly what she did the night Kercher died.
At one point, Knox told the jury, police hit her on the head.
"I was hit in the back of the head by one of the police officers who said she was trying to make me -- help me remember the truth," Knox said.
The Perugia police have repeatedly denied any misconduct on the night of the interrogation or at any other point.
The prosecution maintains that the confused testimony Knox gave to the police is a sign of her culpability.
Knox arrived at the courthouse to a crush of photographers and reporters from around the world.
She smiled briefly at her family, but otherwise looked serious and tense.
When describing the day the murder was discovered, her voice cracked with emotion, as if she were going to cry. She said police were in the house that day, and she was cold, so she went to a car. Sollecito came out to tell her that Kercher had been knifed. Knox recalled thinking it was "too much," and crying.
Ted Simon, a prominent criminal defense lawyer, told ABC's "Good Morning America" that the pressure was on Knox to explain herself to the jury and present herself as a believable witness. That was key to the decision over which language to speak in.
Although Knox was supposed to be a defense witness, the judge allowed lawyers representing a civil case filed against Knox to question her first.
"In effect, she started with hostile questioning and she turned to English," Simon said about Knox, who is fluent in Italian and had originally planned to testify in Italian.
"She has to clearly communicate her explanation, and she also has to communicate her very being, that she herself is inconsistent with the heinous crime that's being charged," Simon told "GMA."
Her switch to English showed the danger she faces in testifying, Simon said.
"This is the risk of taking the stand, especially in a foreign venue," he said. "She had to switch from one language to another. She didn't like the interpreter. She thought this is getting lost in translation. And she starts off with all guns on her. A lot of pressure."
Amanda's father, Curt Knox, who was in the courtroom, said Knox's testimony would vindicate her.
"People are going to get a different picture of who Amanda really is," he told reporters. "She is just a regular kid, not a dark angel or whatever they want to call her."
Before Knox took the stand today, her father spoke with reporters about the pressure she faced in testifying.
"It's going to be probably a very long day, but based on the conversation we just had with her, I think she's feeling confident and relaxed, so that's good," Curt Knox said.
The decision to take the stand was Knox's and that of her lawyers. Sollecito did not plan to testify.
Xavier Amador, a Columbia University clinical psychology professor who frequently consults on criminal trials, suggested that Knox faces a unique problem with the jury in Perugia.
He noted that the Italian media have written luridly about Knox's behavior after her arrest and during the trial, and that Italian jurors are not screened for biases or preconceived notions, and are not told to avoid reading about the case as they are in the United States.
"I would have a difficult time trusting that jurors with long breaks between hearings and, and evidentiary hearings where they have access to the media, especially in a high-profile case, are not reading news accounts," Amador told ABC News.
Amanda Knox's family members say they worry about media portrayal of their daughter as a calculating and conniving killer, dubbed the "angel face with icy blue eyes." For a year and a half, the international press has painted Knox as a person her father says is "180 degrees from who she really is."
He says that with his daughter on the stand, speaking in her own words, "I think people are going to see that she's a real human being, not the monster she has been pictured and painted as."