PERUGIA, Italy – American college student Amanda Knox was found guilty of murdering her British roommate and sentenced to 26 years in prison early Saturday after a year-long trial that gripped Italy and drew intense media attention.
Her Italian ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito was also convicted and sentenced to 25 years. They were also found guilty of sexual assault in the 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher, a 21-year-old student from England.
Knox burst into tears and murmured, « No, no, » after the judge read the verdict shortly after midnight following some 13 hours of deliberations. She then hugged one of her lawyers.
Minutes later, the 22-year-old Knox, who is from Seattle, and the 25-year-old Sollecito were put in police vans with sirens blaring and driven back to jail.
Prosecutors had sought life imprisonment, Italy’s stiffest sentence. Courts can give less severe punishment than what prosecutors demand.
The American’s father, Curt Knox, asked if he would fight on for his daughter, replied, with tears in his eyes: « Hell, yes. »
« This is just wrong, » her stepmother, Cassandra Knox, said, turning around immediately after hearing the verdict. Her family had insisted she was innocent and a victim of character assassination.
One of Knox’s attorneys, Luciano Ghirga, was asked if she was distraught. « Yes, I challenge anyone not to be, » he replied.
Kercher family lawyer Francesco Maresca called the verdict and sentence « satisfactory, » but he acknowledged: « There is deep suffering on all sides. »
A group of local youths who gathered outside the courthouse shouted insults and « assassin! » at the Knox family as they walked in to hear the verdict.
Throughout the trial, prosecutors depicted Knox as a promiscuous and manipulative she-devil whose personality clashed with her roommate’s. They say Knox had grown to hate Kercher.
The most intimate details of Knox’s life were examined, from her lax hygiene — allegedly a point of contention with Kercher — to her sex life, even including a sex toy.
Kercher’s body was found in a pool of blood with her throat slit on Nov. 2, 2007, in the bedroom of the house she shared with Knox while the two were studying in the medieval town of Perugia in Italy’s central Umbria region. Prosecutors said the Leeds University student was murdered the previous night.
In Seattle, relatives and friends clasped hands as they watched the verdict on TV. « Oh God, no, » her uncle, Mick Huff, cried when it was announced.
Other friends buried their faces in their hands and shook their heads.
« They didn’t listen to the facts of the case, » said Elisabeth Huff, Knox’ grandmother. « All they did was listen to the media’s lies. »
Madison Paxton, Knox’s friend from the University of Washington, said: « They’re convicting a made-up person … « They they’re convicting ‘foxy Knoxy.’ That’s not Amanda. »
Prosecutors argued that on the night of the murder, Knox and Sollecito met at the apartment where Kercher and Knox lived. They say a fourth person was there, Rudy Hermann Guede, an Ivory Coast citizen who has been convicted in the murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Guede, who is appealing his conviction, says he was in the house the night of the murder but did not kill Kercher.
The prosecution says Knox and Kercher started arguing, and that Knox joined the two men in brutally attacking and sexually assaulting the Briton under « the fumes of drugs and possibly alcohol. »
Knox said Kercher was a friend whose slaying shocked and saddened her.
Defense lawyers described the American, who made the dean’s list at the University of Washington, as a smart and cheerful woman, at one point even comparing her to film character Amelie, the innocent and dreamy girl in the 2001 French movie of the same title.
That is the film Knox and Sollecito said they were watching at his home on the night of the murder, where they say they smoked marijuana and had sex. Knox said she went home the next morning to find the door to the house open and Kercher dead.
The prosecution said a 6 1/2-inch knife authorities found at Sollecito’s house had Kercher’s DNA on the blade and Knox’s on the handle. Defense lawyers said the knife was too big to match Kercher’s wounds and the amount of DNA collected was too small to determine with certainty whose it was.
The defense maintained there was not enough evidence for a conviction and no clear motive.
However, prosecutor Manuela Comodi said violent crimes can lack a motive. « We live at a time where violence is purposeless, » she told the jury.
Knox gave contradictory versions of the night of the slaying, saying at one point she was home and had to cover her ears to block out Kercher’s screams and accusing a Congolese man of the killing. The man, Patrick Diya Lumumba, owns a pub in Perugia where Knox worked. He was jailed briefly but was later cleared and is seeking defamation damages from Knox.
Knox later contended that police pressure led her to initially accuse an innocent man.