It was quiet and somber in the Perugia court today as the parents and sister of murder victim Meredith Kercher took the stand to speak of the "conscientious and intelligent" girl they had sent off to Italy to study but who never came back.
Meredith Kercher, 21, an exchange student from Leeds University in England, was found dead -- strangled and with her throat slit -- in the Perugia apartment she shared with American student Amanda Knox and two Italian women. Meredith died Nov. 1, 2007, exactly two months after she arrived in this picturesque university town.
Her roommate, Knox, 21, and Knox's former Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, 25, are on the stand in Italy accused of her murder, along with a third person, Rudy Guede, 22, who was convicted to 30 years in prison for his role in her murder last October.
In a courtroom with relatively little press or public, and with U.S. media noticeably absent, the Kerchers were straightforward and dignified when quietly giving their testimony -- even in the face of the two young people, who were their daughter's age, who they believe killed her.
But the pain of their loss is still strong.
"Her death was unreal in many ways," said Arline Kercher, Meredith's mother, "and still is. I still look for her."
She said the brutal and violent nature of her death made it even worse. It had brought everyone "great sorrow," she said. "We will never, never get over this. It's such a shock to send your child to school and not have her come back."
Meredith's sister, Stephanie, spoke about their relationship, which she said was very close, and about Meredith's excitement about going to study in Italy.
"She was really looking forward to coming," said Stephanie Kercher. "She wanted to make the most of her year in Italy, she wanted to pick up the language and learn about the culture."
And Meredith Kercher was excited about the chocolate.
Both her parents and her sister recalled her enthusiasm for the chocolate with smiles.
Meredith "chose Perugia because it was small, it had good airport connections -- and it had a chocolate festival," said Arline Kercher.
"She was always on about the chocolate festival," said Meredith Kercher's father, John, and her sister said that in their few phone calls, "We talked a lot about the chocolate festival here because I always had chocolate in my room."
Meredith Kercher was due to go back to England for her mother's birthday, just days after she was killed, and she was going to bring "a suitcase of chocolate" for her sister, her mother said today with a laugh.
Meredith Kercher and her accused killer Amanda Knox shared a determination to go to Italy, and both worked hard get there.
Knox worked a series of jobs in Seattle to put the money together for her Italian experience. And Meredith also worked two jobs that summer, said her sister, to save money to come to Italy.
But their approach to life in Italy was different, it seemed to emerge again today.
According to Arline Kercher, the relationship between Meredith and Amanda "was all right," but Meredith had told her that Amanda, after being invited to lunch by Meredith to meet her English friends, told her that "she didn't want to socialize with English people, she wanted to socialize with Italians" to better learn the language.