PERUGIA, Italy, June 6, 2009 -- 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.
Kercher-Knox Relationship 'All Right'
"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.
Stephanie said Meredith had told her that only now that she had a roommate, Amanda, who had a habit of singing loudly all the time, did she realize how annoying it could be. And she apologized for having done so when they were younger.
Meredith had also told her parents that she was surprised to see Amanda take up a boyfriend the first week she was in Perugia.
Family Says Kercher Could Defend Herself
John Kercher said that Meredith mentioned Amanda to him only twice.
"She spoke to me about her, about the fact that she was surprised how soon Amanda had gotten a boyfriend" when she arrived in Perugia, and "she told me a couple of weeks before she died that she was upset that Amanda never seemed to flush the toilet."
Stephanie Kercher described her sister as strong and passionate, a fighter. Would she have defended herself, she was asked?
"Absolutely, 110 percent," Stephanie said with no hesitation. "Mez had a strong personality, and physically she was very strong. She was very passionate about things that were important to her -- family, friends, coming to Italy," continued Stephanie. "She fought for her place here, and she would have fought to the end."
Murder Victim Was 'Fighter'
John Kercher also confirmed she was a fighter. "She was a very strong person, and when she was about 17, she studied karate for a year. I think she would have put up quite a fight," he said.
The Kerchers' lawyer said that John Kercher had been surprised that Meredith had not resisted her killer, given her strength.
"This confirms that the attack [on Kercher] was strong, and repeated, and carried out by more than one person," said Francesco Maresca, the Kercher family lawyer.
One of the sadder moments came with John Kercher's description of how he found out about his daughter's death -- every parent's hidden nightmare and a moment etched in his mind forever.
It started with a phone call from Meredith's mother.
"It was about 5 p.m. on the second of November, and Meredith's mother, Arline, called me to say he had seen on the news that a British student in Perugia had been found murdered.
"So I tried ringing Meredith on her mobile at about 5 o'clock, and I must have tried about 12 times, but it was on the automated message," he said. "At 5:30 the phone started ringing, but there was still no answer."
At 6 p.m., John Kercher, who works for a number of English newspapers, decided to call the foreign desk of one paper to see if they had any news, but they didn't.
"But about two hours later they called me and said they had the name of the student, and the name was Meredith," John Kercher said. "And that is how I found out."
Meredith's body was discovered at about 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 2, 2007.
Amanda Knox More Solemn in Court
Amanda Knox, in court again today as she has always been, was particularly somber. There were few smiles all around, as she glanced briefly back at where the Kerchers were sitting behind her. She left the courtroom at the end of the hearing with her eyes to the ground and her features solemn.
Knox's lawyer, Luciano Ghirga, told journalists after the hearing that Amanda was "very moved" because she saw the parents of Meredith, who was her friend.
"She thought of her own parents as she looked at Meredith's, and was moved," said Ghirga.
Raffaele Sollecito, in an unusual move, turned to journalists as he was leaving the courtroom. "I await justice, just like they do," he said as prison guards pulled him away.
His lawyer, Luca Maori, explained that he meant that he, too, is a victim of a judicial injustice, "but certainly not in the same way as them," said Maori.
Maori also said that defense lawyers did not question the Kerchers out of respect for them.
The trial was adjourned until next Friday, June 12, when Amanda Knox will take the stand to be questioned.
According to Ghirga, she plans to answer all questions put to her by her lawyers and by the prosecution. She can refuse to answer, but Ghirga said she will not.
"She really wants to tell her point of view," he said, "and if the interrogation takes place with all the guarantees, as we believe it will, it will be complete."
He added, "Amanda is innocent, because on that evening she was not on the scene of the crime."