x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Wrangles set to continue over who killed Meredith Kercher

The acquittal of Amanda Knox and her ex-boyfriend in the murder of her British roommate left open the core mystery of whether anyone, other than the lone man still behind bars, Rudy Hermann Guede, took part in the brutal killing.

Amanda Knox, centre, holds hands with her mother Edda Mellas, left, and hugs her younger sister Deanna Knox, right at a news conference at Sea-Tac International Airport, Washington after a flight from Italy. Anthony Bolante / Reuters
Amanda Knox, centre, holds hands with her mother Edda Mellas, left, and hugs her younger sister Deanna Knox, right at a news conference at Sea-Tac International Airport, Washington after a flight from Italy. Anthony Bolante / Reuters

PERUGIA // From the beginning, it was a case of contradictions, and the questions did not end with the verdict that freed Amanda Knox.

The acquittal of the American and her ex-boyfriend in the murder of her British roommate left open the core mystery of whether anyone, other than the lone man still behind bars, took part in the brutal killing.

But it also invited questions that stretch back to the early days of the investigation into the 2007 death of Meredith Kercher.

Why did Ms Knox initially tell prosecutors she was in the apartment that night and had to cover her ears to drown out her friend's screams as she was brutally attacked by a man Ms Knox falsely accused?

There was also a purported burglary at the apartment that night - staged, prosecutors alleged, by the killers to derail the investigation. Who staged it and why?

And then there was the alibi of Ms Knox's ex-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, whose conviction was also overturned on Monday. He claimed he was at home working on his computer the night of November 1, 2007, yet police testified there was no sign he had used it that evening.

Monday's verdict, reversing Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito's 2009 murder convictions, did not answer any of those questions. And it's unlikely the appeals court's written explanation of its decision, due within 90 days, will shed much light, probably rendering the sensational case a mystery for years to come.

On the core question of who killed Kercher, there may yet be further legal wrangling.

A third defendant, Rudy Hermann Guede of the Ivory Coast, was convicted in a separate trial of sexually assaulting and stabbing Kercher, and his 16-year prison sentence - reduced on appeal from an initial 30 years - was upheld by Italy's highest court in 2010.

Guede acknowledged he was in Kercher's room the night she died but said he did not kill her. Guede said he believed Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito did, but offered no evidence to back up his claim.

The high court ruling upholding his sentence said Guede did not act alone, though it did not name Ms Knox or Mr Sollecito as his accomplices.

The victim's brother, Lyle Kercher, told a news conference on Tuesday: "The courts agree he wasn't acting alone. If those two are not the guilty parties, then who are the guilty people?"

During his appeals trial, Guede claimed he heard Kercher and Ms Knox argue minutes before the Briton was slain in the apartment they shared.

He said he was at the house with Kercher when he fell ill and went to the bathroom with his iPod. He heard Ms Knox and Kercher argue over money, then heard a "very loud scream" coming from Kercher's bedroom, and rushed to it. There, he said, he saw an unidentified man who tried to attack him.

Ms Knox initially told prosecutors that she was home the night of the murder and had to cover her ears against Kercher's screams while she was attacked by Diya "Patrick" Lumumba, a Congolese man who owned a bar where Ms Knox often worked.

Mr Lumumba was freed after two weeks in prison for lack of evidence, and has sued Ms Knox for defamation. Separately, prosecutors charged Ms Knox with slander for falsely accusing him - and that was the sole charge on which her conviction was upheld on Monday.

Giuliano Mignini, the prosecutor, said: "There is a heavy conviction for slander. Why did she accuse him? We don't know."

In her final appeal to the court, Ms Knox said she had been "manipulated" during her police interrogation.

The DNA evidence used to place Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito at the scene of the crime during the first trial was determined to be unreliable by a court-ordered independent review during the appeal. But that wasn't the only testimony purportedly placing them at the scene.

In addition to Guede's testimony and Ms Knox's own initial statement, a homeless man testified for the prosecution that he had seen Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito near the apartment the night Kercher was killed.

Ms Knox changed her account of her whereabouts. She and Mr Sollecito concurred they were at his apartment the night of the murder, though Mr Sollecito said he wasn't sure if she spent the whole night with him. Ms Knox maintained they had smoked hashish, watched the French film Amelie and made love.

Prosecutors also claimed the apartment was unnaturally cleaned of any traces of Ms Knox's presence. Mr Mignini theorised that Ms Knox "herself felt the need to eliminate the traces of her presence" at her home, and accused her and Mr Sollecito of going so far as to stage a break-in at the apartment to make the murder look like a burglary gone bad.

There remains no motive for the killing and questions even swirl about the murder weapon.

Ms Knox's behavior in the hours after the killing raised eyebrows and continues to raise questions about why she would display such apparent disregard after her friend had been brutally murdered.

Of all the questions the case presented, Ms Knox's true character remained key. On Monday, speaking fluent Italian, she left the jury that would acquit her with her own assessment: "I did not kill. I did not rape. I did not steal. I wasn't there," she said.