Shopkeeper Says He Saw Knox After Murder

Witness in U.S. student's Italian murder trial contradicts her account of events

March 21, 2009, 12:05 PM

ROME <br>March 21, 2009 -- American exchange student Amanda Knox visited a grocery store early the morning after her British roommate was murdered, in spite of a statement Knox gave Italian police that she had slept late at her boyfriend's home that day, according to witness testimony in court in Perugia, Italy, today.

Knox, 21 and her former Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, 24, are accused of sexually assaulting and murdering British student Meredith Kercher, 21, who was found in her bedroom in a pool of blood with her throat slit on the morning of Nov. 2, 2007. A third suspect, Ivory Coast citizen Rudy Guede, was earlier sentenced to 30 years in jail for participating in the murder, which he denied.

In the 11th hearing of a trial expected to last through the summer, store owner Marco Quintavalle testified that he saw a young woman he later recognized as Amanda Knox enter his store at about 7:45 a.m. on Nov. 2, 2007. The defense questioned his account, asking why it had taken him a year to come forward with his story, even though police had questioned him in the days after the murder.

Quintavalle told prosecutor Giuliano Mignini that a young woman "with remarkable blue eyes" and a face so pale that he was struck by it entered his store just as he opened it that day.

She was wearing jeans, a grey jacket, and a hat, he said. She went to the upper level of the store, which is just down the road from Sollecito's house, without returning his greeting, Quintavalle said, and left shortly thereafter, heading down the street in the direction of the house where Kercher was killed. Quintavalle said he did not see if she had purchased anything because he was not at the cash register.

When newspapers published photographs of Amanda Knox after she was arrested four days later, Quintavalle said he recognized her as the young woman who had entered his shop.

Knox maintains that she spent the night Kercher was killed with Sollecito at his house, and says that she woke up late and left his house at around 10:30 a.m. to go back to her house to take a shower.

Under cross-examination, Quintavalle said that he had not wanted to get involved in the case but finally did so, in August 2008, at the urging of a journalist friend.

Immediatedly after the murder, Quintavalle said, police had asked him whether he had sold any bleach to Sollecito, who was a regular customer. Investigators believe that Knox and Sollecito used bleach to remove traces of blood after the murder.

Quintavalle said he could not recall if police had asked him about Sollecito and Knox or shown him any photos of the two young people.

At the courthouse at the end of today's hearings, Carlo Dalla Vedova, Knox's lawyer, told ABC News that Quintavalle's testimony was "absolutely unreliable."

The lawyer representing the victim's family, on the other hand, told reporters he was pleased with testimony in the last two hearings. "Statements by witnesses showed that the two defendants had their cell phones off or inactive on the night of the crime," Francesco Maresca told reporters, and "the next morning they were up and about early, when they have always maintained that they got up late."

Also today Sollecito's former housekeeper, Rosa de Calle, testified that she cleaned Sollecito's house for the last time on Nov. 5, 2007, the day before he was arrested. She said she had never used bleach to clean his house and did not know whether he kept any in the house.

A young medical student from Serbia, Jovana Popovitch, testified that she had seen Knox at Sollecito's home the night Kercher was murdered.

She told jurors today that she had asked Sollecito, a good friend, if he could drive her to the station on the night of Nov. 1 to pick up a package that was arriving by bus from Milan. She later found out that the package had not been shipped, so she went by Sollecito's house at 8:40 p.m. to tell him she no longer needed the ride.

"Amanda Knox came to the door," Popovitch testified, "but I did not see Raffaele." She said that Sollecito was always smiling and helpful. Knox she described as "always cheerful, and very open."

Popovitch, who was the first witness of the day, smiled at Knox and Sollecito when she entered the courtroom. Both defendants have attended every hearing in the trial so far. Today, Chris Mellas, Knox's stepfather, also attended proceedings.

In other developments in Perugia today, a local newspaper reported that the mattress of murder victim Meredith Kercher has been stolen from the room in which she died.

The Giornale dell'Umbria, whose editor has written a book about the murder, and which usually has good local sources, reports that the mattress, two pillows and a suitcase containing some knives have disappeared from the scene of the crime.

The prosecutors and police who are in court in Perugia today attending the murder trial would not confirm the newspaper report.

The cottage in Perugia that Kercher shared with Knox and two Italian women is still under police seal. Situated on the edge of the historic district of Perugia, the small house was broken into last week for the second time in a month.

During the first break-in, discovered on Feb. 18, the house had been turned upside down, and four knives had been placed around the house, one of which came from a suitcase of Knox's, Italian news agency ANSA reported. Stubs of candles which the intruders used to light their way were also found.

Both incidents are being investigated by the Perugia police, who believe the break-ins may be a means of intimidation connected to the court proceedings.

Police requests to have bars put on the windows of the house were turned down in court yesterday.

The trial is to continue next week with more witnesses for the prosecution. With a total of over 150 witnesses called, and only a couple of hearings a week, the trial is expected to last into the summer.

Zachary Nowak contributed reporting from Perugia, Italy.

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