ROME, April 18, 2009 -- American college student Amanda Knox took her seat in an Italian court once again today to listen to a coroner explain in detail how her roommate was murdered.
Meredith Kercher was found knifed to death in her room in the quaint university town of Perugia on Nov. 2, 2007, and Knox is accused of wielding the knife that killed her. The knife was part of the discussion in court today.
Because of the explicit and personal nature of the testimony, the court proceedings were held behind closed doors for the third time on the request of the lawyer representing the victim's family.
Medical examiner Mauro Bacci is the last of four medical consultants to testify for the prosecution in the trial of Knox, 21, and her former Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, 25. The two young students are accused, along with Rudy Guede, a 22-year-old Ivory Coast citizen who grew up in Perugia, of murdering Kercher, a young British girl who was also studying in Perugia. Guede was convicted to 30 years in prison for his role in the killing this past October.
With journalists unable to attend the hearing, information on what Dr. Bacci said in court today came from lawyers as they emerged from the courthouse and, as always, interpretations differed.
Francesco Maresca, who represents the family of Meredith Kercher, is a firm believer in the prosecution's theory that the murder was the result of a sex game gone wrong between all three defendants -- Knox, Sollecito and Guede. He told journalists outside the courthouse that Dr. Bacci told the court that whoever attacked Kercher first tried to strangle her, and then stabbed her in the throat, possibly with two different knives.
Bacci said that the knife the prosecutors believe is the murder weapon is compatible with the largest and deepest cut in Kercher's throat but is not compatible with another, smaller wound. This is the first time a witness for the prosecution has mentioned the possibility that more than one knife might have been used.
Tests on a large kitchen knife found in Sollecito's home a few days after the murder revealed traces of Knox's DNA on the handle and traces of Kercher's DNA on the blade. The prosecution believes this is the murder weapon. Since Knox was often at Sollecito's house, her DNA on the handle would not be surprising. Meredith Kercher, however, had never been to that house. Defense lawyers say the traces of DNA are not blood and are too slight to be considered evidence.
Maresca also told reporters that according to Dr. Bacci "injuries suggest" that Kercher had probably participated in a nonconsensual sexual act before she died.
Luca Maori, one of Sollecito's lawyers, told journalists that based on Dr. Bacci's conclusions, the knife prosecutors believe is the murder weapon is "only abstractly compatible" with the wounds found. Defense lawyers for both Sollecito and Knox maintain that the murder was committed by one person, and that the knife the prosecution has submitted as a murder weapon is no such thing. Guede, an Ivory Coast national, was convicted of Kercher's murder in a separate trial and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He has denied murdering Kercher.
A second lawyer for Sollecito, Giulia Bongiorno, came out of the morning hearing asserting that "the seized knife is incompatible with the wounds" on the victim. She also said that the "injuries from a group sexual assault are normally glaring, but not in this case."
The afternoon was the occasion for the court in its entirety -- minus the two defendants, who chose not to attend -- to visit the scene of the crime. A small crowd, comprised of the two judges, six jurors and their substitutes, the prosecutors and a bevy of lawyers, gathered outside the charming cottage-with-a-view on the edge of old-town Perugia. On the road just above, another crowd of journalists and photographers and some hangers-on watched as policemen activated a generator (the electricity in the house has been cut off) and opened the door to the house.
Among those watching was Curt Knox, Amanda Knox's father. He has been following the trial closely, often in person, as has Knox's mother, Edda Mellas, who was in Perugia just before Easter. The family makes an effort to have at least one member in Perugia at all times to visit Amanda in prison the two days a week this is allowed.
Curt Knox told ABC News that he had seen Amanda in court in the morning, and had been allowed to hug her.
"Amanda said she understood the testimony in Italian, and she thought it went really well this morning," he said. When asked how Amanda had spent Easter in jail, Knox said she told him she had gone to Mass in the prison chapel and that the young daughter of a fellow inmate sat on her lap the whole time chatting with her and playing with her bracelet.
Knox found the visit to the house sad.
"Irrelevant of whether Amanda lived in that house or not," he said, "it is always sad when you are faced with such a tragic circumstance, such as the loss of Meredith's life." He added that he was glad that the jury and judges had come to look at the crime scene so "they could see the place in person and understand the spaces when they hear testimony about them."
That same sentiment was echoed both by defense lawyers -- Bongiorno felt it was important that the court "have exact knowledge of the house and see the little room where it is very difficult to imagine an erotic party" -- and by one of the prosecutors, Manuela Comodi, who said she thought it was "fundamental" that the judges and jury see the layout of the house.
"The court looked closely at the inside and the outside of the house," Comodi said. The court spent a good amount of time in the room where the murder took place and discussed the position of the corpse. Carlo Dalla Vedova, a lawyer for Amanda Knox, told reporters the house "was a mess, and it was important that the jurors see this. Amanda's clothes were thrown all over the place."
There have been many press reports of bad forensic work and bad handling of the scene of the crime on the part of investigators, and this is expected to be an important part of the case the defense will make. The house where the crime took place has also been subjected to two break-ins in recent months, adding to the sorry state of the premises. The house is in "terrible condition," Bongiorno said. "The mess made by the searches was compounded by the two beak-ins."
During the most recent break-in, in March, Kercher's mattress was apparently removed from the house through a window. These break-ins are being investigated by police.
Zachary Nowak contributed to reporting from Perugia, Italy.