Amanda Knox's thinning locks show toll taken by prison life as she senses freedom at appeal hearing

Saturday, September 24, 2011

By Nick Pisa In Perugia

Feeling the strain: Amanda Knox showed clear signs of hair loss as she attended a court hearing in Perugia today, which could see her conviction for the murder of Meredith Kercher overturned

With the prospect of freedom only days away, the pressure has clearly taken its toll on Amanda Knox as she entered the appeal court in Perugia today.

Showing visible signs of hair loss, the 24-year-old looked pale and apprehensive as she attended the closing statements which could see her conviction for the murder of roommate Meredith Kercher overturned.

Knox wore her hair in a centre parting - her scalp betraying signs of the strain she is under - and managed a weak smile to her father, Curt Knox, and mother, Edda Mellas, who had flown in from Seattle and was at the back of the court.

She has good reason to be optimistic, though, as a damning new court report has condemned the original forensic investigation - increasing the chances of her 26-year sentence being quashed.

Pressure: Amanda Knox leaves the courtroom at the end of her appeal trial session

Knox's father has urged the heartbroken parents of Meredith Kercher to see that his daughter had nothing to do with the brutal murder.

Mr Knox spoke as his daughter's appeal resumed today and after Meredith's heartbroken family had described how she had been 'completely forgotten' as emphasis on the case had shifted to Knox and her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito.

They were convicted of murdering Meredith, 21, who was found semi naked and with her throat cut in her bedroom of the house she shared with Knox and two Italian women almost four years ago.

Dejected: U.S. student Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison in 2009 but has always protested her innocence

Hearing: The father of Amanda Knox has urged the family of murdered Meredith Kercher to accept his daughter had nothing to do with her death

They have insisted they are innocent of the murder and are appealing against the conviction which saw Knox jailed for 26 years and Sollecito for 25 and their families are more hopeful than ever that they will be released .

Mr Knox, who is in Perugia to be with his daughter spoke of the Kercher's agony and said: 'We have not reached out to them but we have always expressed our sincere condolences to them for their loss.

'They are going through a living hell, they have lost their daughter, it's the worst thing that can happen to a parent but understanding the truth will allow them closure. To have two kids in jail for something they did not do, will not do honour to their daughter.

'I want the Kercher family to know that Amanda had nothing to do with the death of their daughter. They have the impression that Amanda had something to do with this and until they know that she didn't we cannot reach out to them - I cannot imagine the pain the Kercher's feel.

'I am very hopefully - the report that was presented has given us hope but until the court announces that she can go free we have to wait - they are deciding on Amanda's life.'

Plea: Curt Knox, who is in Perugia to be with his daughter, said that he is hopeful her conviction will be overturned

Knox and her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were jailed for 26 and 25 years respectively after being convicted of Meredith's murder

He added: 'She is feeling very jittery. All this stop starting is very hard for her but now we are finally underway we are hopeful that the court will make the right decision and clear her of this and we can take her home. The court has her life in their hands.'

In an Italian TV interview Meredith's mother Arline and sister Stephanie, had spoken of how they feared Meredith's death had been overshadowed especially in the light of the new court report which slammed the police investigation as poorly handled with the real possibility that evidence had been contaminated and the verdict was unsafe.

Stephanie said: 'In this whole case over the last four years Meredith has been completely forgotten but we need to find justice for her, the truth.

'There are no photos of Meredith in the papers or on the TV it is all on Amanda and Raffaele - the focus has shifted on them.

'Meredith was a lovely, intelligent person, loving and we lost her in tragic circumstances.'

Arline said: 'Meredith was a volcano. She was always running late and on the run.

She was full of life. She liked music and dancing. She was such a sweet girl.

'She would always be asking after me, hugging me and helping me. I will never ever forget her.'

She added: 'My daughter was killed in her home. Not in a park or on the road, her body wasn't found dumped somewhere.

'I spoke with her the day before she was killed. She was happy. She said she would be coming back to celebrate my birthday and had bought me chocolates as a gift.

'In these four years we have never stopped thinking about her. It's as if she was here with me still.'

The original trial heard how a 30cm kitchen knife found at Sollecito's house had DNA from Meredith on the blade and that of Knox on the handle but the report said the amount from the victim was so small it could not be retested and should be considered unreliable - crucially they said there was no trace of blood on the knife but food starches were present.

Knox could soon be free if her appeal against her conviction is successful

Stress: Knox, 24, looked pale and apprehensive in court but managing a weak smile to her father who had flown in from Seattle

Also key to the first hearing was a bloodied clasp from Meredith's bra found at the scene six weeks after the original investigation by forensic teams and on which was said to be Sollecito's DNA however the experts said the time gap gives rise to the real possibility of contamination.

Today the hearing began with Perugia's chief prosecutor Giovanni Galati making a statement to the court in which he backed his team and the original investigators saying he had his 'full faith' in the original findings and added: 'The conclusions of the report are unfounded and are full of holes.'

He was then followed by appeal prosecutor Giancarlo Costagliola and his colleagues Giuliano Mignini and Manuela Comodi were due to speak later and wrap up their summing up on Saturday by calling for life sentences to be given to Knox and Sollecito.

This morning before the hearing started prosecutors said they had ''an ace up their sleeve'' but refused to reveal any details although their claims were dismissed by defence lawyers.

The trial will continue into next week with defence lawyers and final submissions with the judge and jury retiring to consider their verdict the first week of October.

They could decide to uphold the sentence, clear them completely or rule that they were ''in someway involved'' but that it cannot be proved and reduce the sentence considerably possibly freeing them immediately as they have served four years already.

Knox's father Curt has already said the 'prosecution case is falling apart' and he is 'hopeful of taking Amanda home' with her mother and family also due to arrive later this week for the closing stages of the appeal.

Meredith, from Coulsdon, Surrey, was in Perugia as part of her Leeds University and had only been in Italy for two months before she was brutally murdered and Knox and Sollecito were jailed in December 2009.

A third defendant, small-time drug dealer Rudy Guede, an immigrant from the Ivory Coast, was also jailed in connection with the brutal killing.

He was handed a 30-year sentence for murder and sexual violence following a fast-track trial in October 2008 which was later cut to 16 years.


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