Corruption claim stuns Amanda Knox court
Italian lawyer dismisses as ‘blatant lies’ convicts’ story that prisoners were paid to make up evidence
The Seattle student Amanda Knox and her Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito appeared to suffer a major setback today in their hopes of getting their murder convictions overturned by a court in Perugia, Italy.
Ivorian Rudy Guede, the third man convicted like them of stabbing to death the English student Meredith Kercher in November 2007, appeared in court as a witness this morning.
Knox and Sollecito – who are serving 26 and 25 years respectively - had hoped he would confirm a story told to the court earlier this month that he had confided in fellow prisoners in Viterbo jail, including a child-killer called Mario Alessi, that Knox and Solecito had nothing to do with Meredith's death.
Instead, when Guede took the stand he denied telling other inmates any such thing. He had only ever spoken to Alessi about football and cinema, he said, and Knox and Sollecito were responsible for Meredith's murder.
The court hearing took an extraordinary turn when two other convicts claimed they had overheard prison conversations about a plot among inmates to testify in exchange for money and benefits, such as reduced prison time.
Arranging it all, they claimed, was Sollecito's attorney, Giulia Bongiorno, who heads up Italy's parliamentary justice committee. She forcefully denied the corruption accusations in the break afterwards, saying the convicts had told "blatant lies". She vowed to file charges and take legal action against her accusers.
Incredibly, one convict, a Serbian called Alexander Ilicet, claimed that Luciano Aviello (who testified earlier this month that his brother had murdered Kercher) had agreed to pin the murder on his brother in exchange for E158,000 – money Aviello needed to pay for a sex change operation.
By the look on the jurors' faces, all this was just a bizarre sideshow compared to the testimony of Guede, who said that he had written a letter to his lawyers last year, directly naming Knox and Sollecito as Kercher's killers and explaining what happened. He stuck by that story today.
"The truth is what I wrote in that letter," said Guede, who appeared in court wearing a white Armani T-shirt. "But it is not up to me to decide who killed Meredith. I always said who was there that awful night."
Guede's story has always been that he was in the bathroom of Knox and Kercher's shared apartment, listening to his iPod, when he heard a scream, and ran out to find Kercher in her room bleeding. He saw two other people - Knox and Sollecito – flee the scene. He claims he tried to stem Kercher's bleeding wtih bathroom towels, but then panicked and fled. His DNA and shoeprints were found throughout the crime scene.
The courts believed that Knox and Sollecito were at the scene too – but not that Guede took no part in Meredith's killing. They ruled that he participated with Knox and Sollecito in the murder and Italy's high court has upheld his conviction.
At the beginning of today's hearing, presiding Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellman denied Knox the right to confront Guede directly, saying she could make a statement only after the witness had testified. After Guede's testimony, Knox, who turns 25 in July, said she was "shocked and anguished" by what she had heard, adding that she had no idea why Guede would blame her.
"The only time the three of us have ever been together is in this courtroom," she said.
Sollecito, 27, also stood up to remind the jury of other contradicting statements made by Guede in the past, urging them not to listen to "suppositions that have destroyed my life and hers [Knox's]. Guede has never seen me before in his life, even for a moment."
Knox's best hope for winning her appeal now lies in the independent review of two contested pieces of forensic evidence, the results of which are expected later this week.
Her lawyers and family have always maintained that Guede was not a reliable witness, and that the hard evidence – or lack thereof – would be the element that finally sets her free. Whether that is enough, remains to be seen. The forensic results are expected to be debated in July, with a decision coming some time in the autumn. ·
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