POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Oct 03, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 03:59 a.m. HST, Oct 03, 2011
PERUGIA, Italy >> Amanda Knox tearfully told an Italian appeals court today that she did not kill her British roommate, pleading for the court to free her so she can return to the United States after four years behind bars. The court began deliberations moments later.
Knox frequently paused for breath and fought back tears as she spoke in Italian to the eight members of the jury in a packed courtroom, but managed to maintain her composure during the 10-minute address.
"I've lost a friend in the worst, most brutal, most inexplicable way possible," she said of the 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher, a 21-year-old Briton who shared an apartment with Knox when they were both students in Perugia. "I'm paying with my life for things that I didn't do."
Presiding Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellmann said the jury would not emerge before 6 p.m. GMT (2 p.m. EDT) at the earliest.
Knox and co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito were convicted in 2009 of sexually assaulting and murdering Kercher, who was stabbed to death in her bedroom. She was found in a pool of blood and covered by a duvet the following day.
Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison, Sollecito to 25. Also convicted in separate proceedings was Rudy Hermann Guede, an Ivorian man. They all deny wrongdoing.
The highly-anticipated verdict will be broadcast live. Monday morning, hundreds of reporters and cameras filled the underground, frescoed courtroom before Knox's address. Outside, police cordoned off the entrance to the tribunal.
"She had her bedroom next to mine, she was killed in our own apartment. If I had been there that night, I would be dead," Knox said. "But I was not there."
"I want to strongly maintained that she had nothing to do with the murder, which prosecutors say began as a sex assault.
"I did not kill. I did not rape. I did not steal. I wasn't there. I wasn't there at the crime," Knox said.
Minutes before, an anxious Sollecito also addressed the court to proclaim his innocence and plead for his release from prison.
"I never hurt anyone, never in my life," Sollecito said, shifting as he spoke and stopping to sip water. He said at the time of the murder he was in a great period of his life, close to defending his thesis to graduate from university and having just met Knox.
The weekend Kercher was murdered was the first the pair planned to spend together "in tenderness and cuddles," he said.
At the end of his 17-minute address, Sollecito took off a white rubber bracelet emblazoned with "Free Amanda and Raffaele" that he said he was been wearing for four years.
"I have never taken it off. Many emotions are concentrated in this bracelet," he said. "Now I want to pay homage to the court. The moment to take it off has arrived."
The Kerchers have arrived in a Perugia hotel and are expected to be in court for the verdict.