Perugia Murder: What Defense Lawyers Are Planning

The nine-bloom yellow bouquet for Amanda Knox included a simple note. "Happy Birthday," it said. "I hope that justice prevails soon." The circumstances surrounding the gift, though, were anything but. Knox, a Seattle native who turned 21 on July 8, has spent the last nine months in Italy's Capanne prison. The flowers came from her former boyfriend Raffaelle Sollecito. Knox and Sollecito enjoyed a passionate relationship before they were arrested in connection with the Perugia murder of British student Meredith Kercher. Just days after Kercher's body was found last November in the villa Knox shared with the victim, security camera footage showed the couple buying lingerie in a local store, with Knox giggling and telling Sollecito, "Afterwards I'm going to take you home so we can have wild sex together." But once the two were arrested, lawyers for both sides said they had broken up and each hinted the other was to blame for slitting Kercher's throat—reportedly during a session of extreme sex.

Sollecito's birthday note to Knox suggests that they may not be as antagonistic toward each other as their lawyers suggest. It also underscores the complexities of the case against Knox who, together with Sollecito and 20-year-old Ivory Coast national Rudy Guede, were finally charged last week with Kercher's murder. The charges against the trio arise from a 10,469-page dossier compiled by lead investigator Guiliani Mignini. Mignini's dossier, of which NEWSWEEK has seen segments, sticks by the original hypothesis that the three suspects murdered Kercher after she refused to take part in a sex game. He believes that Knox and Sollecito helped Guede sexually assault the 21 year old. Investigators have told NEWSWEEK that there is evidence that Kercher had sex before she died, but the autopsy was inconclusive whether she was sexually assaulted. Mignini also implies that Knox made the fatal cut with a knife from her then boyfriend's knife collection, and that the three then stole Kercher's money and cell phones while she lay dying. Guede, whose sperm was found on and in her body, fled to Germany, where he was later arrested.

If convicted, the three face severe sentences. The main charge, "voluntary murder with the aggravating circumstance of cruelty," carries a life sentence under Italian law. They were also charged with sexual assault, which carries a sentence of 6 to 12 years, and with theft—punishable by a prison sentence of 1 to 6 years. In addition, Knox and Sollecito face charges for the "simulation of a crime", for which they face one to three years incarceration, and for the "detention and transportation of a weapon" which carries a sentence of 1 to 12 months. Additionally, Knox has been charged with slander for her allegedly false accusation against a nightclub owner called Patrick Lumumba—a crime that carries a sentence of 6 to 20 years.

As the defense lawyers prepare to make their clients' cases, Knox remains a contradictory and enigmatic figure. Mignini's dossier presents her as a cold-blooded killer. Her lawyers have leaked prison diaries that portray her as a romantic who writes poetry and love stories and who learned to play guitar ballads during her incarceration. Many who know Knox believe she's incapable of committing such a crime. Her parents have lately said that her much-publicized nickname of Foxy Knoxy was given to her for her soccer moves in high school, not her sexual prowess. Her sister Deanna recently said that Amanda only lost her virginity at the age of 19 and Knox's mother says she had no boyfriend in Italy before Sollecito. But her family may not have known the real Amanda. Investigators say that at least two men they interviewed testified to having had sex with Knox the month she arrived in Italy. And by her own account in a prison diary leaked to the media, she details her sexual escapades with at least seven men she'd been with in her three months in Italy before her arrest. She even wrote that she might have HIV and then she uses a process of elimination to narrow down who might have given it to her. The diary is part of the collection of evidence and could be damaging to Knox in a court trial. Recently leaked segments of her continuing tome paint a disturbing picture of her state of mind. In one entry, she writes: "I think it's possible that Raffaelle went to Meredith's house, raped her, then killed her and then when he got home, while I was sleeping, he pressed my fingerprints n the knife." In another entry, she wonders if she would be getting so many letters from men if she weren't so pretty. "If I were ugly, would they be writing me wishing me encouragement? I don't think so," Knox writes. "Jeez, I'm not even that good looking. People are acting like I'm the prettiest thing since Helen of Troy."

Shortly after her arrest, Knox admitted to being at the Perugian villa when Kercher was murdered. The confession was later thrown out of the body of evidence because of allegations of police brutality and coercion, but much of what she said in that original statement coincides with known elements of the case, including evidence gathered by CCTV footage from a nearby parking garage. Since recanting that statement, though, she has testified only that she was "very confused" about what happened. And in the days after the murder, numerous press accounts portrayed her as detached and uninterested in her roommate's brutal death, telling one reporter that she had been the one who found the body. Francesco Bruno, a criminologist who is studying this case and acts as an unpaid consultant for the Sollecito defense team, believes that the perception of Knox's role is complicated by her behavior both before and after the crime. On her Facebook and MySpace pages she wrote about rape and fantasy and posted pictures of herself in compromising positions, including one video where she appears drunk. "This is a murder committed out of fear," Bruno says. "Amanda is depicted as a black widow, she is seen as a dangerous and murderous woman who has caught all the members of the crime scene in her erotic coil."

What's likely to happen next? Guede's attorney Walter Biscotti has indicated that his client will seek to separate himself from his co-defendants. Guede is the only suspect who has admitted to being in Kercher's bedroom the night she died. He also admits having consensual sex with her, but denies murdering her. His DNA is in her room, but not on the alleged murder weapon. Knox's DNA is on the weapon, but her attorneys will argue that other DNA on the blade is less than a 100 percent match to Kercher's—which Knox's attorney says it is not enough to convict his client. Because Knox lived in the house, her DNA in the dwelling will not prove guilt and because Sollecito was her boyfriend and spent time there, his DNA in the house proves nothing, says her lawyer. But Sollecito owns the knife in question and, in fact, it was confiscated from his apartment nearby. His DNA has also been found—on the back of the bloodied bra that was cut off Kercher's body. Sollecito's father offered the defense that perhaps the girls had traded bras, but investigators believe that it proves Sollecito's involvement. His defense team has asked for CCTV camera footage of the morning of November 2, presumably to prove their client's whereabouts.

Now that charges are filed, Paolo Micheli, the judge for preliminary investigations in Perugia, will set the date of the first hearing. He will then have three months to order the criminal trial, which could take a year or more. Authorities in Perugia say that a preliminary hearing will likely be held in late September and a criminal trial could begin as early as October. Much of the crime scene has been compromised, but the defense still has a tough job ahead. To complicate things further, Sollecito and Knox's reported break up prompted speculation that they would testify against each other. But Sollecito's flowers may be a signal that their defense teams may actually work together to pin the blame on Guede. If that strategy succeeds, the cipher of Amanda Knox may never truly be decoded.