Suspect in Perugia Murder Case Seeks Fast-Track Trial

Defense lawyers for Rudy Guede, one of the three suspects in jail for the murder of British exchange student Meredith Kercher, said today that they are convinced their client was not involved in the killing and that they will be able to prove it.

After reading the prosecutor's documents filed in the court this summer, the defense lawyers said during a news conference today that if the judge at a preliminary hearing next week decides that Guede should be indicted, they will ask that he be tried separately in a fast-track procedure based on the evidence presented to date.

Since Kercher was found seminaked with her throat cut at her Perugia home the morning of Nov. 2, 2007, the case has received wide public attention in Britain, Italy and the United States. One of the suspects is a 21-year-old American student Amanda Knox, from Seattle, who shared the apartment with Kercher and two Italian law students.

The judge at the pretrial, closed-door hearing, which is set to start Sept. 16 in the Perugia Courts, will decide whether Guede, Knox and her 24-year-old Italian ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito should be indicted and stand trial for the murder.

If Guede is indicted and the fast-track proposal is accepted, the judge at the pretrial hearing will also decide whether Guede, a 21-year-old Ivory Coast citizen, is guilty of Kercher's murder. A fast-track trial procedure calls for an immediate decision based on the evidence already presented to the court, and allows for a reduction of an eventual guilty sentence by one-third.

A decision on the indictments of all three suspects is not likely to be announced on the first day of the hearing.

Prosecutors also want to charge the three with sexual violence and stealing 300 euros, two credit cards and two mobile phones from Kercher.

All three suspects deny sexually assaulting and murdering the student. Guede has admitted to being in the house with her the night she was killed but says he did not do it.

The prosecutor says he has forensic evidence linking all three to the scene of the crime.

Guede's lawyers told reporters today that they have decided to ask for a fast-track trial for their client because they do not want him to be tried together with Knox and Sollecito.

"We feel the need for a separate trial," they told Italian wire agency Ansa. "We think we need to keep our position separate from the other two suspects."

The lawyers went on to say that "choosing this fast-track trial does not mean we are looking for a reduction of the sentence because our goal is his full absolution as Rudy Guede is totally extraneous to the crime." The lawyers added that they would also ask that their client be released from jail immediately.

Nicodemo Gentile, one of Guede's defense lawyers, said that in the evidence presented by the prosecutor there is "no link between Guede and the murder weapon, nor is he involved in the attempt to fake a theft at the scene of the crime in order to divert investigators."

He added, "We are aware that the accusations against our client are heavy but we are able to prove that there are other equally believable theories."

Should Knox and Sollecito not opt for the fast-track trial like Guede, the judge must decide whether they should be indicted or released.

If indicted, they will go forward with a regular trial, which is not expected to start until sometime early next year.

It is unknown if any of the three suspects will be present at the pretrial hearing next week; they do not have to be present. However, the lawyer for Kercher's family said they will certainly be there.

Both Knox and Sollecito have been in jail awaiting indictment since they were arrested in November.

Guede was arrested in December in Germany. He had left Italy before he was named a suspect and had not been ordered to stay in the country. He maintains he fled the scene of the crime -- and then the country -- because he was afraid he would be accused of murdering Kercher after he found her in a pool of blood and briefly tried to help her.