Italian Murder Trial of Amanda Knox Begins

On Friday, Amanda Knox walked into a frescoed Perugia courtroom with the poise and self-possession of a beauty-pageant contestant. Wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt over a black, gray and white striped top and jeans, the 21-year-old Seattle native sat beside a court-appointed interpreter and her two Italian lawyers. During the proceedings, she was largely solemn, staring intently at each of the six jury members as they were sworn in, and occasionally smiling and talking with her lawyers, who often put their arms around her shoulders. She was more animated in the breaks, at one time showing the blue-beret-wearing guards who stood behind her with her hands where Washington state is located in North America. She sipped an orange drink, tied her hair back in a clip and for a brief moment rested her head on the courtroom table. But she did not cry, she did not write and she did not look at or speak to her co-defendant and former boyfriend, Raffaelle Sollecito, who sat a few meters to her left. Sollecito arrived in court in a bright green sweater and beige pants and appeared nervous and agitated. Unlike Knox, who at times seemed to revel in the attention, Sollecito looked to be more affected by the gravity of the situation.

The two stand accused of sexually assaulting and murdering British student Meredith Kercher in November 2007. Kercher's battered and bloodied body was discovered on Nov. 2, 2007, in a student rental Kercher shared with Knox. Both Knox and Sollecito were on the scene when the body was discovered. Both deny involvement in the murder. The two face possible life sentences if convicted.

More than 140 journalists attended the opening of the trial, which was delayed by nearly half an hour when a handful of reporters entered the courtroom jail cell, which is where most violent offenders must stay during trials. Neither Knox nor Sollecito were made to stay in the cell despite the seriousness of the charges against them, nor were they made to wear handcuffs, as other violent criminals in Italy usually are (despite repeated questions, no explanation was offered by court officials for the different procedure). After ordering the journalists from the cell, Judge Giancarlo Massei heard arguments about whether to close the trial to the public. Kercher's family members, who did not attend today's hearing, had expressed their wish that the trial be closed. Their attorney, Francesco Maresca, argued that closing the trial would "protect the memory and dignity of the departed daughter."

Attorneys for Knox and Sollecito were adamant that the trial be kept open to the public. Sollecito's attorneys said their client "has nothing to fear from the news coming out." Knox's attorneys also argued that an open trial would allow for greater transparency "without preconditions." Massei eventually ruled that the trial would be open to the public and print media. He banned cameras from the proceedings, but not before giving them a three-minute opportunity to stand in front of the courtroom and shoot the defendants, attorneys and jury. One of the prosecutors had to physically push photographers from the courtroom to get them to stop shooting. Knox's parents did not attend the trial, but her maternal aunt and uncle from Seattle sat in the back row and told many journalists of their belief in her innocence. Christina Hagge told journalists she was "encouraged to see Amanda in such good spirits."

The opening day was to be nothing more than an opportunity to set dates and clear up details, including whether Knox's original confession on Nov. 6, 2007, should be admissible. During that interrogation, which resulted in what Knox's attorneys call her "false confession," she accused her then-boss, Congolese pub owner Patrick Lumumba, of the murder. The confession led to the arrest of Knox, Sollecito and Lumumba, though the latter was later released for lack of evidence. Lumumba, who was also in court today, is suing Knox for damages in a civil case that is running in tandem with the criminal trial. Knox is also formally charged with criminal false accusation for the claims she made against Lumumba. The judge did not make a definitive ruling on the admissibility of the confession, which was made without the presence of an attorney or interpreter, and which Knox later retracted. If the confession is thrown out entirely, it will be difficult to prove Lumumba's civil claims and the charges of criminal false accusation.

Attorneys for Rudy Guede, a 21-year-old Ivory Coast native who has already been convicted and is serving a 30-year sentence for his part in Kercher's sexual assault and murder, promised that he would deliver crucial testimony. More specifically, his attorneys say he will testify about whether or not he knew Knox and Sollecito prior to the murder. The prosecution contends that the three acted together, either in an attempt to entice Kercher into an extreme sex act or as part of a satanic ritual. Two of the 250 witnesses who will testify at the trial say they saw the three together in the days before Kercher's murder.

Tempers flared only once, when Sollecito's attorney, Giulia Bongiorno, made impassioned pleas for her client's innocence, angering prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, who had to be quieted by the judge. Mignini objected to her discussion of evidence that had not yet been introduced. Later, Bongiorno argued that the two defendants could not have committed the sex crime because they were "new lovebirds" in the early days of their relationship, which began Oct. 25, just seven days before Kercher was murdered. They were not in an "old relationship" yet, and therefore were not looking for new sexual adventures, as the prosecution has claimed. "Where were the wine glasses," Bongiorno argued. "Where was the music?"

The next hearing will take place Feb. 6. The judge said he hopes to wrap up the trial by late April, though even the prosecutor predicts it will run at least a year, in which he will present a 10,000-page dossier of evidence against the two.

"I'm not afraid of the truth, and I hope finally it comes out. I was Meredith's friend and I didn't kill her," Knox said through her lawyers before the hearing started. "I have nothing to fear. I am innocent and the trial will prove it."