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Monday, October 3, 2011

'I'm not a promiscuous vamp': Amanda Knox breaks down in court as she makes last plea for freedom

-Verdict on her appeal due today at 7pm
-Knox: 'I'm paying with my own life for something I have not done'
-Former boyfriend Rafaelle Sollecito also makes final plea
-Judge has two votes, jury has six in making final verdict
-Prison chaplain Saulo Scarabattoli hopeful of release

By Nick Pisa

Scroll down for the case for and against Amanda Knox

Strain: Amanda Knox wipes away a tear as she sits in the court room in Perugia, Italy, this morning on the final day of her appeal

Tearful Amanda Knox today made a dramatic plea for her freedom as she addressed the judge and jury in her appeal trial and told them: 'I did not kill, I did not rape, I did not steal.'

Knox, 24, spoke for just over ten minutes and needed to pause frequently for breath, at one point the judge asked her if she wanted to speak sitting down.

But the American, who is fighting to avoid a possible life sentence, turned down his offer and after a gentle encouraging squeeze of her hand from her lawyer Luciano Ghirga she addressed the court.

Speaking in Italian Knox pleaded her innocence for the brutal murder of Meredith Kercher and said: 'Esteemed people of the court, it has been said many times that I am a person different than what I am.

Knox looks around her as she enters the court room

'I am the same person I was four years ago, the same person, the only thing that distinguishes me from four years ago is the four years that I have suffered.

'In four years I have lost a friend in a brutal and unexplained way. My faith in the police has been betrayed. I have had to face accusations, injustice and suggestions without foundation and I am paying for my life for something that I did not do.'

Reading without notes Knox added dramatically: 'I am not what they say I am. I am not perverse, violent, disrespectful towards life, people, these things do not apply to me and I have not done the things that have been suggested.

'I did not kill, I did not rape, I did not steal. I was not there. I was not present at this crime.

'I am not a promiscuous vamp.'

Experienced court watchers who have been covering the trial said it was a powerful delivery and much better than the one she had made at her original trial two years ago when she confused the court by saying she did not want the 'mask of an assassin forced upon me'.

Crucially for her this time she also said that she did not kill Meredith - something she failed to do at her original trial and as she spoke her parents, Curt Knox and Edda Mellas, were in tears.

As she spoke there was complete silence in court and the packed chamber listened intently to Knox who added: 'I had never faced such tragedy, suffering, I didn't know how to tackle it, how to interpret it.

'When we learnt Meredith was dead, we just could not believe it. How was this possible ?

'Then I felt scared. A person who I was sharing my life with, who had the bedroom next to me, she was killed in our house and if I was there that night I could have been killed.

'I wasn't there. I was at Raffaele's.'

She then criticised the police who had questioned her that night. She said: 'I had a sense of duty towards justice, the authorities who I put my trust in.

'They were there to find the guilty and to protect us. I put my faith in them absolutely.

'I made myself available for them in those days but I was betrayed - the night of 5/6 November I was pressured, stressed and manipulated.'

Knox has already told the court how she was questioned for 14 hours without a lawyer or an interpreter and was even cuffed twice around the back of the head by police as they demanded answers from her.

Media attention: Television satellite trucks line up outside the court building this morning. It has garnered massive attention around the world

A military police officer asks the media to leave the court room this morning before the hearing began

Scrum: Hundreds of journalists and members of the public line up outside the court as Knox arrived this morning

Her version of the events that evening is crucial to the appeal as prosecutors say she admitted being on the scene and had also provided - wrongly - the name of bar man Patrick Lumumba who was wrongly arrested and held in jail for two weeks before being freed.

Knox also insisted that despite prosecution claims she did not know Rudy Guede who has already been convicted of the murder and added: 'I have never done what they say I have done, it is not as they say it was.'

She went on to dismiss the prosecution - and claims from Meredith's friends - that the two did not get on and said: 'I had a good relationship with all my flatmates. I was messy, carefree but we had a good relationship we were all ready to help each other.

'I shared my life with Meredith, we had a friendship, she was worried for me when I went to work, she was always gentle with me.

Powerful: Knox makes her final plea in Italian in the court in Perugia and, right, former boyfriend Sollecito addresses the judge and jury

'Meredith was killed and I have always wanted justice for her. I am not fleeing from the truth and have never fled. I insist on the truth. I insist after four desperate years for our innocence because it is true. It deserves to be recognised.

'I want to go home. I want to return to my life, I don't want to be punished and deprived of my life, future for something I have not done because I am innocent, Raffaele is also innocent.

'We deserve our freedom. We have never done anything not to deserve it.'

Earlier in his declaration Sollecito had spoken and had told the court: 'I have so much to say but I don't think I have enough time. I just want to tell the court how much I have been suffering.

'I just want to say i never hurt any one, never in my life,' adding: 'I hoped that this would have all been cleared in a short time - instead it did not happen this way.'

Loss: A candle burns in front of a photograph of Meredith at a vigil in Seattle, U.S., where Knox is from

Vigil: Photos of Knox and Sollecito were also present at the private event

Sollecito paused several times and took several sips of water as he spoke and said: 'Amanda and I have been in jail for 1,400 days. These 1,400 days have been spent 20 hours a day in a space 2.5m by 3m - it's difficult to imagine that situation.'

Then turning to the night of Meredith's murder Sollecito said: 'I was in a beautiful situation. I was about to hand in my dissertation for my final degree.

'During that period I met Amanda Knox, she was beautiful, sunny, lively and sweet and that was supposed to be our first weekend together.'

Painting a romantic picture he said: 'We were free that night. Our only aim that night was to have an evening of tenderness and cuddles. The other descriptions just did not happen. This was our simple desire.'

After Knox and Sollecito had addressed the court judge Hellman also spoke sternly to the packed chamber and said: 'We will now retire but I to ask you to reflect on something. This is a court room and not a football match there is no room for supporting when the verdict is read.

'Lets remember that a beautiful girl was murderered and the lives of two other young people are in the balance. So I say again when the sentence is read, respect and silence. Having said that we will now retire and the verdict will not be before 8pm local.'

The final day of the 10-month appeal trial began with Knox's lawyer, Luciano Ghirga, making his final rebuttal, stressing how the investigation had been carried out in a climate of 'hostility' towards his client.

Knox, 24, is serving 26 years for the brutal murder of British student Meredith Kercher, 21.

Gone but not forgotten: The family of 22-year-old murdered British university student Meredith Kercher await an appeals verdict expected on Monday

Mr Ghirga told the court that rebuttals had included claims from the prosecution that Knox was 'planning to flee abroad'.

He added: 'I am here to help Amanda for the last time.

'Recordings exist of everyone else who was questioned but one was never carried out, a clamorous error, that of a young lady, Amanda.

The Italian appeal system has a total of eight votes - with the judge getting two and the jury six.

If Knox and Sollecito are cleared of the murder they can walk free within two hours once bureaucratic paperwork had been sorted, even if the prosecution launches a final appeal.

Knox is being held at Capanne prison and Sollecito from Terni.

Knox offered a few prayers at Mass on Saturday afternoon - and even her chaplain at Capanne jail near Perugia said he was hopeful she would be cleared.

Father Saulo Scarabattoli said: ’It was just a usual Saturday for us - Amanda played the guitar and joined in the singing of the hymns as she does every Saturday at Mass - she was very hopeful of being freed and at the same time also very anxious.

Waiting game: Deanna Knox, left, and Curt Knox, right, the sister and father of Amanda Knox, are seen at a court in Perugia, Italy, last Tuesday

‘I hope the truth comes out - and I truly believe that she is innocent of this terrible murder. She is suffering physically and mentally and she is also feeling the pain that Meredith's family are feeling for their loss.

‘They were friends, not best friends, and they had a cordial relationship with each other - she really does feel the pain of Meredith's loss.

‘For me there is no proof that she was involved in this terrible murder and if that is the case then she should be freed - I believe she is innocent and she should be cleared.

‘She has changed a lot in prison - she was just a 20-year-old girl when she arrived and in four years she has been through a great deal emotionally, physically and spiritually.

‘When new inmates come in I always say to them not "what have you done?" but "what are you accused of?" and eventually 90 per cent accept the consequences of what they have done.

‘Ten per cent maintain their innocence and in the end the truth prevails and they are freed - Amanda has always maintained her innocence and the truth I think and hope this will prevail.

‘I always say that people are like gold rings, sometimes they drop on the floor and end up covered in mud but they still remain gold rings - they just need to be cleaned.

‘When I left the prison I gave her a few private words of encouragement and now I will not see her until Monday afternoon when she will be brought back to prison to await the verdict.

‘I truly hope that is the last time I see her and that she can return to the comfort of her family.’

Location: A view of the Perugia house where British student Meredith Kercher was found half-naked lying in a pool of blood in November 2007

Meanwhile, it has emerged Knox danced and sang along with a rock band invited to perform a concert at the prison where she is being held.

For a few hours she forgot the impending restart of the appeal trial by singing and dancing with other inmates at the gig by a local Italian band called Hands of Time.

She has also written the screenplay for their new video.

The concert was the third one that Hands of Time have played at Capanne jail near Perugia this year and each performance is warmly greeted by the inmates with Knox, a known music lover, at the front of every audience.

She has been filmed singing and dancing at a previous concert and the band plan to include the images in the new video when their single The Mistral Blows, is released later this month.

In a statement the band confirmed that Knox had written the screen play for the single called The Mistral Blows and stressed that she had not received any payment.

The band added: ’Knox has shown great attachment and admiration for the band and wrote the screenplay for the song which will be released in October.

‘She has respect and admiration towards us as we have towards her and she has clear artistic talent.’

In the previous gigs the band have sung their own songs as well as Beatles tracks which they played specifically for Knox, who is a well-known fan of the Merseyside Fab Four.

Smiles: Raffaele Sollecito, the former boyfriend of Amanda Knox, is pictured arriving in court as her appeal trial resumed in Perugia on Friday

During her trial Knox raised eyebrows when she appeared in court wearing an oversized t-shirt with the title of one of their songs ‘All You Need is Love’ and she also plays their hits on her guitar while in her jail cell.

One of the group, who would only give his name as Leonardo, said: ’Amanda sang and danced just like all the other inmates. She has written the screenplay for the video The Mistral Blows, which is a song about the wind blowing away the clouds and cleaning up the sky.

‘We sing in English so it's easy for Amanda to follow our lyrics and we gave her a CD of our latest album as a present.

‘It was difficult to say whether the appeal was on her mind as we didn't talk about it to me she was just as mad as the other inmates as she danced and sang along.’

The revelation came as her father Curt said she would be ‘fighting for her life’ when she stands up in court on Monday morning to address the judge and jury just hours before they retire to consider whether she should be freed or spent at least the next 26 years of her life in prison.

Curt said: ’This is her last chance to tell the judge and jury that she had nothing to do with this crime.

‘We are just looking forward to her coming out and we are hopeful that she will be able to come home with us.

‘She has been working on what to say for the last three months now. It will be very heartfelt and it will be painful for us to listen to a 24-year-old girl fighting for her life.

Scene: This graphic shows the layout of the student flat shared by Amanda Knox and Meredith Kercher

‘This is an anxious few days for her and the family because the court is deciding what to do with the rest of her life and she is a 24-year-old girl looking at a potential life sentence - she is just doing what she needs to do to survive what is a tough time for her.’

Curt also hit out at suggestions in the Italian media that the family have signed a $1million deal for an exclusive interview with an American TV station - who are said to have a private jet ready to whisk the family back home.

He said: 'That is a total fabrication. It's nonsense. We have one focus and that is for Amanda to come home, private jets and $1million deals is just not in the frame. Talk like this is creating a picture that is untrue about Amanda and our family.’

Knox was jailed in 2009 for Meredith's murder, while the American's former boyfriend computer studies graduate Raffaele Sollecito, 27, was given 25 years although both have denied any involvement in the crime.

Their appeal began ten months ago and has heard from several witnesses but the most damning revelations have come from two court appointed independent experts who have poured scorn on the original police forensic investigation of the crime scene.

Key to the original trial were two bits of evidence - a 30cm kitchen knife found in Sollecito's kitchen on which DNA from Knox was said to be on the handle while that of Meredith's was on the blade and a bloodied clasp from Meredith's bra which was said to have genetic material from Sollecito on it.

However the report concluded that the DNA on the knife from Meredith was so low that it should not be used as evidence while the bra clasp evidence was also dismissed after the experts concluded that it was highly possible it had been contaminated as it had not been bagged for six weeks and was handled by forensic officers using dirty gloves and their hands instead of tweezers.

Meredith, from Coulsdon, Surrey, was in Perugia as part of her Leeds University course and had only been in Italy for two months before she was brutally murdered and Knox and Sollecito were jailed in December 2009.

A third defendant, small-time drug dealer Rudy Guede, an immigrant from the Ivory Coast, was also jailed in connection with the brutal killing.

He was handed a 30-year sentence for murder and sexual violence following a fast-track trial in October 2008 which was later cut to 16 years.

Last night a former cell mate of Knox was interviewed on Italian TV and said: ’Amanda is a very good person. She has a kind soul and is a respectful person.’

The woman, who was not identified and interviewed from behind, was said to be in her twenties and to have been in jail for drug offences and was released last month.

She added: ’She told me that want she wants to do above all is run through a field of flowers with butterflies around here, she wants to be outside the walls of the prison.

‘Amanda was kind to me and smiled and said hello to me when I arrived and told me to have faith. She spends all her days writing letters and studying. She is very studious and is learning Italian.’

Her story would appear to back up reports that Knox is a popular inmate at Capanne prison and local MP Rocco Ghirlanda revealed how when she returned to jail on Friday after her hearing there were ‘loud cheers for her’ as other prisoners shouted: ’Good luck Amanda’.

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