A homeless man testifying in the Italian murder trial of American exchange student Amanda Knox today said that he had seen Knox and then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito talking animatedly in an outdoor plaza on the night Knox's former roommate, English student Meredith Kercher, was killed.
Antonion Curatolo, 53, who testified that he spends most of his time in a Perugia, Italy square near the cottage where Knox and Kercher lived, placed the young couple near the murder scene on Nov. 1, 2007. Kercher was found dead in the cottage with knife wounds to the throat the next day. Curatolo's testimony contradicted Knox and Sollecito's contention that they were at Sollecito's home that night.
Knox, 21, and Sollecito, 25, are charged with sexually assaulting and murdering Kercher. A third person, Rudy Guede, 22, was convicted in October for participation in the crime, although he denied involvement.
Both defendants, who maintain their innocence, were in court for the day's proceedings. The two appeared relaxed and attentive.
Wheeled to the witness stand in an office chair, Curatolo, who has a long, gray beard and wore a coat, hat and scarf in court, said that he had been sleeping on a park bench in Perugia's Piazza Grimana for eight or nine years.
He was testifying "because it is a question of conscience," he said, adding that he did not wish to harm anyone.
On the night before Kercher's body was discovered, he said, he was sitting on a bench in Piazza Grimana, reading a news magazine and smoking cigarettes. The plaza was busy with young people, he said, but he noticed one couple, whom he identified in court as Knox and Sollecito, talking animatedly. At one point Sollecito went to a railing at the edge of the square and looked down in the direction of the house where Kercher was killed, Curatolo said.
The couple was in the square from about 9:30 p.m. until just before midnight, he said. Based on an autopsy, investigators believe that Kercher died in the same time period.
Two women testified Friday that they heard a scream coming from the direction of the house where Kercher was murdered Nov. 1. between 11:00 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.
Knox lawyer Luciano Ghirga challenged Curatolo's testimony in a statement to reporters after the hearing. "Amanda was not happy with what Curatolo had to say, because she was not there that night," Ghirga said.
Kokomani, who was escorted into court by prison guards, recounted in broken Italian a bizarre nighttime encounter with the young couple and the convicted perpetrator, Guede. At several points he seemed to reverse himself or to contradict prior statements he had given police, however, and his testimony was difficult to follow.
Kokomani had already testified, in October of last year, at a preliminary hearing in the murder case. The presiding judge wrote at the time that Kokomani was unreliable.