ROME, June 26, 2009 -- In what defense lawyer Luca Maori said was "the most positive hearing for the defense so far," an important and interesting twist emerged today in U.S. student Amanda Knox's murder trial in Perugia, Italy.
A defense witness testified that just two weeks before British exchange student Meredith Kercher was murdered, his law studio was broken into and a computer and cell phone were stolen. The stolen objects were later found in the possession of Rudy Guede, who has already been convicted for his role in Kercher's murder.
Paolo Brocchi, a lawyer whose office is not far from where Kercher was killed, told the court that the thief had entered his office through a window that had been broken with a large rock.
A similar scenario was found in the cottage where Kercher was killed Nov. 1, 2007.
Knox, 21, and her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, 25, have been on trial since January, accused of sexually assaulting and murdering Kercher, 21. Both deny any involvement.
Guede, 22, who will likely be the focus of the testimony of a number of upcoming defense witnesses, has already been convicted of Kercher's murder and sexual assault and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He admits to being in the house when Kercher died, but says he did not kill her. Prosecutors believe Kercher was killed by Knox, Sollecito and Guede during a sex game that went wrong.
The defense teams for Knox and Sollecito maintain, instead, that one person alone is responsible for the murder -- a thief who broke into the cottage Knox and Kercher shared.
Maori, Sollecito's lawyer, told reporters in Perugia that today "it was shown clearly and unequivocally that Guede had committed a theft that was a photocopy of the one that took place in Meredith's house."
In fact, the story Brocchi and his colleague Alberto Palazzoli told in court today not only bore a close resemblance to what was found in Kercher's house, but it also painted an even more bizarre picture of Guede than has already emerged.
Break-In Linked to Murder?
Palazzoli discovered they had been broken into Sunday, Oct. 14, 2007, and police later determined that the thief or thieves had entered by climbing up to the window, which is above a terrace, about 12 feet high. Police determined a rock was used with some strength to break through the double glass, and the alarm system was disabled. A computer and a printer were missing.
There was a similar broken window at the scene of Kercher's murder, in the house on via della Pergola in Perugia that Knox and Kercher shared with two Italian girls,When Knox returned to the house on Nov. 2, 2007, the morning after the murder, she noticed that the window in her housemate Filomena Romanelli's room was broken, and there was glass on the floor. Nothing of value was missing from any of the rooms, however. Police later found a large rock in the room.
Investigators and the prosecutors in the Kercher case have said the window in Romanelli's room was broken from the inside and accused Knox and Sollecito of simulating a crime. Prosecution witnesses have testified that the window was too high to reach, and that broken glass shards show that the window was broken from within.
The defense contends that the same can be said of the break-in at the law offices.
Brocchi explained in court that about two weeks after the theft, Oct. 27, he received a call from the police saying that they had found the stolen computer and a cell phone belonging to him (which he had not realized had gone missing). The objects were found on a person who was picked up by police in Milan, but they did not specify who that person was.
But two days later, a young black man showed up on the steps to Brocchi's office in gym shorts and a tank top (though it was cold) holding a basketball.
Brocchi said the man spoke perfect Italian with a Perugia accent and told him that he had been caught with some things that Brocchi had reported as stolen, and just wanted to tell Brocchi that he had bought those things and paid for them at the Milan train station.
"I told him, 'look, I have no idea who you are'," said Brocchi in court. "And he answered, 'I don't know who you are, either.'" Brocchi then told the young man he just wanted his things back, and shut the door.
Days later, Brocchi said he recognized Guede as the man who had visited him when Guede's picture appeared in newspapers reporting his arrest.
Guede Recognized From the Papers
In what was a relatively short hearing at the trial, the judge and jurors also heard testimony today from Sollecito's former cleaning lady.
Marina Ciriboga, from Ecuador, answered questions regarding the use of bleach as a detergent at Sollecito's house.
Prosecutors believe Knox and Sollecito used bleach to clean up blood and other evidence on the crime scene after the murder. A number of prosecution witnesses have been questioned regarding purchases of bleach and bottles of bleach found in Sollecito's house.
Ciriboga today said that she usually washed the floors with another detergent, but that she had asked Sollecito to buy bleach. When she stopped working for Sollecito in September one and a half bottles of bleach were still in the house, Ciriboga said.
Ciriboga also works at the small supermarket down the street from Sollecito's house where a witness -- the owner of the store -- has testified he saw Knox early on the morning after the murder, when Knox says she was asleep.
Ciriboga told the court she had never seen Knox or Sollecito at the supermarket.
Both Knox and Sollecito were present in court today. Neither has missed a hearing since the trial began, though they are not obliged to attend.
Knox's mother Edda Mellas was also present at today's hearing. She was not allowed to attend court sessions previous to her own testimony in the trial last week.
Also in court today for the second time was Sollecito's father, Francesco. He, too, was a witness for his son June 19.
The trial continues Saturday with more witnesses for the defense.
Additional reporting from Perugia by Enzo Beretta.