'They Had No Reason Not to Get Along'

Knox murder trial witness describes bond between U.S. exchange student, victim.

February 7, 2009, 11:49 AM

Feb. 7, 2009 -- "Luca kicked down the door and went white, and Marco yelled 'sangue, sangue -- blood!'" said a key witness today in the trial of American student Amanda Knox, who is accused in the murder of her former housemate, British exchange student Meredith Kercher.

One of four residents of the house in Perugia, Italy, where Kercher was slain, Filomena Romanelli recalled watching her boyfriend, Marco Zaroli, and a friend, Luca Altieri, breaking into the locked bedroom where Kercher lay dead.

"I recall seeing a blurry image of a comforter and a foot," Romanelli told the court in Perugia. "And then Marco grabbed me and said 'via, via!' and we were ushered out of the house by the police."

Knox, 21, a student from Seattle, and Rafaelle Sollecito, 24, her Italian boyfriend at the time, are accused of sexual violence and murder in the death of Kercher, 21, who was found stabbed to death in a pool of blood on the morning of Nov. 2, 2007. A third person, Rudy Guede, was convicted last October to 30 years in prison for his part in Kercher's murder.

Romanelli shared the little cottage in the picturesque hills town of Perugia with Knox, Kercher and another young Italian woman, Laura Mezzetti.

Knox watched and listened to her former roommate and friend -- Knox has written that she looked up to Romanelli -- without any visible emotion. Dressed in a purple sweater and jeans, she leaned toward her English interpreter and listened carefully, her demeanor serious. Curt Knox, Amanda's father, was also in court today, as was Sollecito.

In a cross-examination that lasted almost five hours, Romanelli, 29, a law student who works as an apprentice in a Perugia law firm, told the court how she and her good friend Laura had rented a four-bedroom cottage on the edge of the old town of Perugia in August 2007.

After posting ads around town, they quickly rented out the two vacant rooms in the house to Knox, who was in Perugia for a year abroad from the University of Washington at Seattle, and to Kercher, an exchange student from the University of Leeds, England. The two students moved in around the middle of September.

The two "girls," as Romanelli called Knox and Kercher, bonded immediately, she said. "They were of the same age, they had interests in common, and both spoke English," she explained.

But that did not last. "They had no reason not to get along, but it seemed that as time went on they drifted apart," said Romanelli.

The women had not had a falling out beyond some "normal" disputes over house cleaning, Romanelli said. The prosecution has argued that bad feelings between Knox and Kercher could have been part of a motive in the slaying.

Investigators in the case say that Knox, Sollecito and Guede killed Kercher in the course of some kind of sexual encounter or game. Lacking an obvious motive, the prosecution contends the trio killed Kercher for "futile" reasons.

Filomena Romanelli described the brief time – just over a month – that the four women lived together, and their relationships.

She said that Kercher was involved with a "very kind" young man, Giacomo Silenzi, who lived in an apartment downstairs and who "courted her very sweetly." Silenzi will be testifying in one of the next hearings in the trial, although he was out of town the weekend Kercher was killed.

Romanelli said she saw Sollecito, Knox's boyfriend, "once or twice." She said that Sollecito was "very sweet" to Knox and was always physically close to her. Knox told her that she really liked Sollecito, but felt guilty toward her American boyfriend and did not know what to do, Romanelli said. She said she had seen Sollecito and Knox smoke hashish but that she did not consider them drug addicts.

In a marathon cross-examination by teams of lawyers including the prosecution and representatives of the victim and both defendants, Romanelli reconstructed the events of the November morning when Kercher's body was found.

She first received a phone call from Knox as she, Romanelli, was driving to a fair with a friend, she said. Knox said she had come home and found the front door wide open, Romanelli recalled. "There is something strange," Romanelli quoted Knox as telling her in English. "I took a shower and I am going to get Raffaele. And there is some blood."

Romanelli said she asked Knox if she knew where Kercher was and if she knew what the blood could be. Knox said no.

"I urged Amanda to take a better look around the house and get back to me," Romanelli said. She said she could not understand how Amanda could have taken a shower under such circumstances.

"Yes, she told me she had taken a shower," Romanelli said, "and I found it hard to understand this."

Romanelli said that later she again spoke with Knox, who told her to come home because the window in her room had been broken and her room was a mess.

Romanelli also testified that when she went into her bedroom, before the body had been discovered, she found the room turned upside down, her closet open, her clothes scattered around the room, the window broken. "I noticed that my computer was on the floor, on a pile of clothes, and covered with pieces of glass," she said.

Investigators contend that Sollecito and Knox staged a theft after the murder, breaking the window with a rock from the inside. The glass lying atop the clothes and the computer indicates that the room was already messy before the window was broken, they said.

The next hearing in the trial is scheduled for Feb. 13, when Meredith Kercher's English classmates in Perugia are expected to testify.