By Tom Kington, Los Angeles Times
FLORENCE, Italy — Amanda Knox and her Italian ex-boyfriend are back on trial in the 2007 murder of her British roommate, but neither defendant was in court as the case got underway Monday.
The trial is the latest stage in a drawn-out legal process that saw the pair convicted in 2009 of stabbing to death 21-year-old student Meredith Kercher at the house the two women shared in the Italian city of Perugia. They were freed from prison after winning an appeal in 2011. But the Italian Supreme Court ordered a retrial this year, saying the acquittal was riddled with “shortcomings, contradictions and inconsistencies.”
Neither Knox, 26, who now attends the University of Washington in her hometown of Seattle, nor her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, 29, were required to be present at a Florence appeals court for the new trial. But Knox’s absence was criticized by Patrick Lumumba, a former Perugia barman whom she briefly accused of being at the scene of the killing, before retracting the statement in the days after her arrest.
“Knox is afraid. She knows she has responsibility for the death of poor Meredith,” said Lumumba, who is participating in the case as a civil plaintiff and seeking damages from Knox.
Knox told the Italian newspaper Corriere Fiorentino that she would not return to Italy for the trial, “in part because my presence has always been an element of distraction in court.”
“I’m not coming back to avoid that circus,” she was quoted as saying.
Sollecito’s father has said that his son will attend the trial at a later stage in the proceedings.
Lawyers representing Knox and Sollecito made a series of requests Monday for evidence to be re-examined, including Kercher’s cellphone, a semen stain found on her bed, and a knife that prosecutors allege was used to kill her.
Most of the requests were turned down, but the presiding judge, Alessandro Nencini, agreed that DNA testing should be conducted on a previously unexamined biological trace found on the knife. He also asked to hear testimony Friday from Luciano Aviello, a convicted member of the Naples mafia who previously claimed that his brother killed Kercher.
Hearings in the case are expected to last until December, after which the Supreme Court is expected to weigh in again.
Kercher’s family has welcomed the new trial. In a letter addressed to the court, the family wrote, “Nothing will ever bring our beautiful Meredith back, and we will always hold her in our hearts and memories, but we need to know what happened, and she at least deserves the dignity of truth.”
Kercher, 21, was found with her throat slashed and more than 40 stab wounds. Authorities said there were signs of sexual assault.
Knox and Sollecito, who deny any involvement in Kercher’s death, spent four years in prison before their acquittals. In a separate trial, Ivory Coast-born Rudy Guede was sentenced to 16 years for his role in the slaying.