ROME, Italy — The two-year-long murder trial of American exchange student Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito has transformed the once-sleepy Umbrian university town of Perugia.
The trial is finally drawing to an end, but many doubt whether the picturesque hill town — formerly best known for the Perugina chocolate company, the Umbria Jazz Festival and as a destination for religious pilgrims to nearby Assisi — will ever recover.
“I think that in terms of the way people see Perugia, and the way the city’s residents see themselves, Perugia will probably never return to the way it was before Nov. 1, 2007,” said Renato Locchi, referring to the date a grisly murder left the bloody body of British student Meredith Kercher with her throat cut amid evidence of a sexual attack. Locchi was mayor of Perugia when the murder took place.
“The city we knew is gone forever,” he said in an interview.
The prosecution charges that Knox, Sollecito and a third party — Ivory Coast native Rudy Hermann Guede, who was already found guilty in a fast-track trial and sentenced to 30 years in prison — abused and then murdered Kercher, then 21, in a bizarre night of extreme sexual games that left DNA evidence from all three parties in the apartment Knox and Kercher shared.
Prosecutors made their final arguments last week (they requested life sentences for both Knox and Sollecito), and this week were followed by defense attorneys who blasted the DNA and forensic evidence and defended their clients' characters. Knox and Sollecito have mounted separate defenses, raising the possibility that the verdict could differ between them.
The verdict could be handed down as soon as Friday, as Perugia’s residents look on. Dozens of reporters and photographers are expected to be on hand to record the finale to the marathon trial.
There are several factors to pay attention to when the verdict is handed down. It is possible that Knox and Sollecito will be found not guilty on the murder charges but still face jail time on other counts.
Kercher’s family, for example, is seeking compensation of 22 million British pounds ($36.3 million) from Knox, Sollecito and Guede. It is possible (though unlikely) that Knox and Sollecito could be found innocent of the murder charges for technical reasons, but still found responsible for Kercher’s death, according to Francesco Maresa, the Kercher family lawyer.
Additionally, Diya “Patrick” Lumumba, a Congolese national who owns a bar the defendants frequented in Perugia, is seeking unspecified damages from Knox, after her early testimony implicated him in the murder. Police investigators later cleared him of the charges but he claims his reputation was irrevocably damaged when he was jailed and investigated based on Knox’s claims.
The Perugia police have also filed a defamation suit against Knox, her father Curt Knox and his ex-wife, Edda Mellas, who told London's Sunday Times that the younger Knox was verbally and physically abused while in police custody.
“She said she was hit hard in the back of the head with an open hand,” the newspaper quoted Curt Knox as saying. Police claim the charges are groundless.
Lastly, Knox’s parents could file extradition papers if Knox is held guilty, on grounds that she should be jailed closer to her family in Seattle. The request is unlikely to be granted if she is found guilty of murder, since Italian law prohibits extradition for capital crimes to countries where the death penalty is in force. But the request could be granted if she is charged with a lesser crime as part of a plea bargain, lawyers said.
“The Italian penal code is very technical, very specific,” said Giancarlo Costa, who worked as Knox’s attorney early in the trial but has since stepped down. He said he could not comment on specific aspects of the case because of attorney-client privilege, though he did acknowledge that a great many outcomes were possible and that he had no doubt that Knox and Sollecito were receiving a fair trial.
“The legal protections for the rights of the accused and the penal procedures are very modern and very well thought out,” he said. “I don’t know what will happen, but I think most experts following the case believe justice will be done.”