POSTED: 4:01 a.m. HST, Sep 7, 2011
PERUGIA, Italy » An Italian court rejected a prosecutor's request Wednesday for new testing of crucial DNA evidence in the appeals trial of Amanda Knox — a positive development for the American student who is seeking to overturn her murder conviction.
The decision to deny more DNA testing was a blow to the prosecution, which had sought to counter the results of a court-ordered independent review that harshly criticized how genetic evidence was used in the case.
Without a clear motive or convincing witnesses, the DNA evidence is crucial, and much of the appeals outcome hinges on it.
The court presided over by Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellmann also set closing arguments to begin Sept. 23, with the prosecution going first, followed by civil plaintiffs and the defense. A verdict is expected by the end of September.
Knox was convicted in December 2009 of sexually assaulting and murdering her British roommate Meredith Kercher while they were studying in Perugia and sentenced to 26 years; Raffaele Sollecito, an Italian who was Knox's boyfriend at the time, also was convicted and sentenced to 25 years.
Both deny wrongdoing and are appealing the lower court's verdict.
In the first trial, prosecutors maintained that Knox's DNA was found on the handle of a kitchen knife believed to be the murder weapon, and that Kercher's DNA was found on the blade. They said Sollecito's DNA was on the clasp of Kercher's bra as part of a mixed trace that also included the victim's genetic profile.
The appeals court ordered an independent review — as sought by the defense — which found that much of that evidence was unreliable and possibly contaminated. The review was at the center of several fiercely debated hearings in the Perugia courtroom, with police defending their investigation.
Pratillo Hellmann said the discussion had been thorough enough for the court to form an opinion. New testing would be "superfluous," he said, rejecting the request made earlier in the day by Prosecutor Manuela Comodi.
The court also rejected another prosecution request to put back on the stand a witness who had previously testified that his brother, a fugitive, had killed Kercher during a botched burglary. The witness, a jailed Naples mobster called Luciano Aviello, announced he wanted to retract and was questioned by Comodi in prison in July. The court ruled that transcriptions of that questioning would suffice.
Curt Knox, the defendant's father, said he was pleased with the court's decision.
"It shows the judge and the jury believed in what the independent experts have brought back to them," he told reporters. "It's really kind of a desperation move on the prosecution to ask for another independent review that they originally were totally against."
Knox has said his 24-year-old daughter is anxious as the trial draws to a close, but also that she's seeing "the light at the end of the tunnel."
"Hopefully we'll get to take Amanda home," he said. Curt Knox is expected to be joined by Knox's mother, Edda Mellas, for the last stage of the trial.
Francesco Maresca, a lawyer for the Kerchers, said the family would come to Perugia for the verdict, as they did in the first trial.
Just days ago, the family released a letter to express "great concern" over recent DNA evidence findings, asking the court to assess "every single (piece) of evidence, both scientific and circumstantial, as well as any witnesses who have taken the stand independently of any other information or media."
Kercher was found stabbed to death on Nov. 2, 2007 in the apartment she shared with Knox. She had been murdered the night before, according to forensic police.
A third person, Rudy Hermann Guede of the Ivory Coast, also has been convicted of Kercher's murder in a separate proceeding. Italy's highest criminal court has upheld Guede's conviction and his 16-year-prison sentence. Guede denies wrongdoing.