Italian Murder Suspect Draws American Support

While Italian prosecutors gather evidence and run forensic tests that they insist will lead to the conviction of Amanda Knox on charges of murdering British student Meredith Kercher in November 2007, supporters of the Seattle native are fighting back. They've begun an awareness campaign, complete with "Free Amanda" T shirts, baseball caps and coffee mugs, to exonerate Knox in the court of public opinion—and hopefully win her freedom later this month.

In Knox's hometown of Seattle, high-powered defense analyst Anne Bremner, who is not paid by the Knox family, is using her status as a nationally televised legal analyst to wage a public-relations war against what she and Knox's defense claim is an unfair case against the former student. Bremner is spreading the word about Knox's "victimization" at the hands of the Italian legal system and blasts the method of Italian investigators as "Fellini forensics." "If this was in the United States, you would never have a charge on this evidence against Amanda Knox," she says. "Once you put aside the wild theories the authorities have spun for the media, this case isn't mysterious at all." Bremner maintains that the evidence does not point to a conspiracy among Knox, her Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, and local drifter Rudy Guede to murder Kercher, as the Italian prosecutors are expected to argue when the trial starts in a few months. Instead, Bremner says it's a case of sexual homicide involving Guede. "There's enough evidence against Rudy Guede to convict him in any courtroom in the world," says Bremner.

Authorities in Perugia, the Italian town where Kercher was killed, don't agree. Last Saturday criminal scientist Patrizia Stefanoni spent eight hours inside the medieval Perugia courthouse defending her team's collection and analysis of three important items prosecutors need to pin Kercher's murder on the trio, who have been incarcerated without charges for nearly a year. Investigators found Guede's fingerprints and DNA on Kercher's body, under it and on her pillow; Sollecito's DNA is on the clasp of the bloodied bra that was cut from her body that night; and Knox's DNA is on the handle of a knife with what looks to be Kercher's DNA on the blade. Forensic evidence from the knife, which was found in Sollecito's apartment, is being retested by order of the presiding judge. Although we may never know for sure what happened the night of the murder, said Stefanoni as she was leaving the grueling hearing, "Amanda and Raffaele were there. These three elements prove it."

Defense attorneys for Knox and Sollecito have argued that these traces are due to cross-contamination during a sloppy investigation. Bremner, who studied the police video of the evidence-collection process, says she saw some investigators "scrubbing" blood off the floor and others tossing critical evidence like hair and clothing aside. Guede's attorneys aren't bothered by any of their client's DNA evidence since he has never denied he was with Kercher the night she died and even admits to having sexual relations with her. They point out that his DNA was not found on any murder weapon and that he denies killing her. That, he now says, was the act of Sollecito, with whom he claims to have fought before fleeing to Germany where he was later arrested. Guede opted for a fast-track trial, which guarantees a lighter sentence on conviction and restricts evidence and witnesses. His trial, which is underway, will be decided Oct. 25. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. The week before, on Oct. 18, the same judge presiding over his trial will determine if Knox and Sollecito will be formally charged and sent to their own trial, or, as their defense teams hope, set free.

Meanwhile, the publicity blitz proceeds apace. Popular social-networking sites like Facebook and MySpace have dozens of pages in support of Knox and Sollecito, calling for Italian investigators to drop the case against them. Café, a Web-based sales point for newsmaker kitsch, is offering long and short sleeve T shirts, messenger bags and coffee mugs sporting an angelic looking Knox above the block letters FREE AMANDA. Another site is selling similar gear with a color photo of a smiling Amanda behind computer-generated prison bars. Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell has sent letters to both the American ambassador to Italy and the Italian ambassador to the United States urging them to ensure that Knox get a "fair trial by an impartial tribunal" and Seattle's King County Superior Court Judge Mike Heavey has even accused the Perugia prosecutors and judge presiding over this case of malpractice. In a letter to Italy's high court, reprinted in a Seattle newspaper, he wrote: "Amanda Knox is in grave danger of being convicted of the murder because of illegal and improper poisoning of public opinion and judicial opinion."

But no matter what Knox's supporters may believe at home, there is little chance those efforts will have any impact in Perugia. In this complex "whodunit" case, freeing Amanda Knox seems an unlikely outcome.

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