ROME, June 27, 2009 — -- The owner of a Milan nursery school took the stand Saturday in the ongoing murder trial of U.S. college student Amanda Knox and former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito in Perugia, Italy, telling the court that Rudy Guede, convicted of sexually assaulting and murdering British student Meredith Kercher Nov. 1, 2007, had broken into her school and stolen a big kitchen knife.
Kercher, 21, was found dead in her bedroom, with a large knife wound to her throat.
Knox, 21, and Sollecito, 25, have been on trial in Perugia since January. Knox, Sollecito and Guede all say they are innocent, and Guede's appeal trial is scheduled to start Nov. 18.
Nursery school owner Maria del Prato testified in court today, with Knox's and Sollecito's parents looking on, that she had stopped by her school Saturday Oct. 27, when it was closed, and came upon Guede in her office.
"I asked him who he was," she told the court, "and he replied perfectly calmly, even though I had caught him red-handed." Del Prato said he told her he was "a kid from Perugia" who had arrived the night before and had nowhere to sleep.
Del Prato doubted his story, as her locker had been opened, and she said she believed Guede was looking for something to steal. Some small change was missing, and Del Prato noticed Guede had a laptop, but he told her it was his.
When police arrived at the school, they searched Guede's backpack and found a large knife with a 16-inch blade that had been taken from the school kitchen.
Guede was later booked at a Milan police station and accused of theft, receiving stolen goods, and in possession of a weapon. He was also fingerprinted and then released.
It was those fingerprint records that eventually nailed Guede to the scene of Meredith Kercher's murder. His bloody palm print was found on a pillow under Kercher's dead body.
Stolen Knife Testimony Comes on Heels of Previous Testimony About Stolen Laptop
The episode that Maria Del Prato recounted in court Friday followed Friday's testimony by Perugia lawyer Paolo Brocchi, who said a computer and cell phone had been stolen from his law offices in October 2007, weeks before Kercher's murder. The computer from Brocchi's office matched the one Guede had brought to Milan.
Luca Maori, the lawyer for Raffaele Sollecito, Knox's former boyfriend also on trial for Kercher's murder, told reporters in Perugia that more evidence had emerged that indicated Kercher might have been killed in the course of a theft gone wrong, a theft he believes Guede committed.
A statement that was admitted as evidence in the trial Friday seemed to offer more proof that Guede was a knife-carrying thief.
Perugia resident Christian Tramontano, who will not be testifying in person, made a statement to Perugia police Jan. 1, 2008, two months after Kercher's murder, saying that he had recognized Guede from newspaper photographs as the person who had broken into his house and threatened him with a knife four months earlier.
In the statement to police, Tramontano said he and his girlfriend were awakened by noises in their apartment early on Sept. 1 or 2, 2007. When Tramontano looked down from his loft bed, he saw a young man going through his belongings. Tramontano chased the man downstairs as he tried to escape, but the front door was locked. The thief -- who Tramontano identified as Guede -- first used a chair to keep Tramontano at a distance, and then pulled out a switchblade knife. Guede, who escaped, had stolen a 5 euro bill and three credit cards.
Two friends of Amanda Knox were the only other witnesses to testify in Perugia Saturday.
Catsius Spyridon, a Greek student studying in Perugia, said he met Knox in October 2007 at the Internet shop where he worked as a supervisor.
Spyridon told the court that he and Amanda had gone out together a number of times; the last time was Oct. 31, 2007 -- Halloween. After hitting a couple of night spots together, Knox asked Spyridon to accompany her to the Fontana Maggiore -- the fountain in the heart of old Perugia -- where she was meeting Raffaele Sollecito, whom she had just started seeing.
Seattle Friend Testifies for Knox
Seattle student Madison Paxton, a close friend of Knox, was the final witness Saturday. Speaking in English with the help of an interpreter, Paxton said she had met Knox in college, and they had become friends in their sophmore year. She described Knox as "very conscientious," and said she did yoga, liked to read and study languages and bicycle, and had come to Perugia to immerse herself in Italian culture.
In response to a question from Knox's lawyer, Paxton said she had never seen Knox carry a knife in her bag. She said that Knox smoked marijuana occasionally, perhaps twice a month, and that she said she got along with her Perugia roommates.
The next hearings in the Knox murder trial will be July 3 and 4.
Additional reporting by Enzo Beretta in Perugia, Italy.