Convict Opts for Silence at Knox Trial

Potentially explosive testimony withheld in U.S. student's Italian murder trial.

April 4, 2009, 11:18 AM

Perugia, ITALY<br>April 4, 2009 -- A man serving jail time for his role in the murder of a 21-year-old British student in Perugia, Italy declined today to testify in the trial of American exchange student Amanda Knox, who faces sexual assault and murder charges in the crime.

The testimony of Rudy Guede, 22, an Ivory Coast citizen, was seen as potentially damaging to Knox, 21, and her former Italian boyfriend, Rafaelle Sollecito, 25, who is also on trial. Under earlier police interrogation, Guede said that he had seen a young Italian man in the house where British student Meredith Kercher, then 21, was killed, and that he had recognized Knox's voice.

Kercher was found dead Nov. 2, 2007 with a knife wound to the neck in the home she and Knox shared.

Under interrogation by the prosecutor, Guede told the presiding judge, Giancarlo Massei, that he intended to exercise his right not to reply to questions. Prosecutors then requested that transcripts of the earlier police interrogation be admitted as evidence. The motion was turned down on the objections of defense attorneys.

Guede did not once look at the two defendants in the brief time he was in court. Knox and Sollecito watched Guede sit down without any visible reaction.

Guede's bloody palm print was found on a pillow under the victim, and his DNA was found on her body. He was convicted in a short-track trial in October 2008 for murder and sexual assault and sentenced to 30 years.

He has always said that he was in Kercher's house when she was killed but that he was in the bathroom when she was attacked and did not participate in the crime. He found Kercher in a pool of blood, he said, tried briefly to help her and then fled.

Guede has appealed his conviction and is expected to be tried again in the fall.

Francesco Maresca, the lawyer representing the Kercher family, told reporters today that the fact that defense lawyers objected to having Guede's statements admitted was significant.

"The defense has always said that Guede was unreliable, so why don't they want to hear what he has to say?" asked Maresca.

The testimony of a coroner and a gynecologist relating to the autopsy of the victim was held behind closed doors because of the personal and graphic nature of the evidence.

'More Than Two Hands' on Kercher

Secondhand reports on the confidential testimony, however, indicated a finding of sexual assault in the case.

While the pathologist who did the autopsy on Kercher's body said Friday that there was no proof that Kercher had been raped, Vincenza Liviero, a police coroner from Rome, told reporters today that in court she and the gynecologist had confirmed the report she had given the prosecutor.

"For us, more than one person was involved, and there was sexual assault," said Liviero.

Maresca explained that gynecologist Mauro Marchionni had told the court that he had never seen bruises of the kind that were found on Kercher's body as a result of a normal sexual relationship.

Liviero told the court, according to Maresca, that there were many injuries of a varied nature on the body that could only have been caused at the same time by more than two hands.

"If it was only one person, then that person had more than two hands," said Maresca.

Luciano Ghirga, who is defending Amanda Knox, told reporters as he left the court house that the points made by the witnesses today "had no science behind them" and were easily contested. Sollecito's attorney, Luca Maori, said it "was absolutely not proven that more than one person was involved" in the crime.

"We believe, added Maori, "that it was only one person who committed this crime, and that person has been convicted."

After a break for the Easter holiday, the trial in this picturesque hilltop town will resume on April 18, when members of the court, minus the defendants, are scheduled to visit the crime scene.