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Who killed Meredith Kercher?

Who killed Meredith Kercher?

Amanda Knox

Four years after she was jailed for the murder of Meredith Kercher, Amanda Knox returned to America a free woman. But what really happened on that fateful night? Amanda Bower investigates.

Devoted murder mystery readers know that a satisfying story has a tragic beginning and a tidy end. In the middle is the investigation, during which the authorities use a canny combination of forensics, interrogation, and intuition to catch the bad guys.

This is not that kind of story.

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The beginning is indeed tragic: Meredith Kercher, a hard-working, fun-loving 21-year-old was found dead, locked inside her own bedroom. She was covered by a beige duvet and naked from the waist down.

She had died a heartbreakingly slow and lonely death, choking on her own blood as her lungs filled from three stab wounds in her neck.

Meredith had travelled from her home in England to Perugia, Italy, a medieval town known for its chocolate, charming hillsides dotted with stone houses and olive groves and cobblestone streets.

Studying on an exchange program, she had arrived in August 2007 and taken a room in the upstairs flat of a green-shuttered house with stunning views over the town.

She shared with three other young women: two Italians and a fellow foreign student who moved in a month later, 20-year-old American Amanda Knox.

After years of investigations and three separate court trials, these simple facts are still the only ones that all the players in this multinational melodrama can agree on.

There’s no meticulous middle of the story, in which the police neatly crack the case. And there is certainly no satisfying end.

Three people have spent almost four years in jail for Meredith’s sexual assault and murder, in what prosecutors described as a drug-fuelled sex game gone wrong.

The mastermind, they said, was Meredith’s flatmate Amanda, a photogenic dean’s list student and star soccer player back in Seattle.

She was tried and convicted with her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, an Italian computer science student who was 23 at the time of the murder, and had met Amanda only six days earlier.

The third defendant was Rudy Guede, then 20, an African-born drifter and petty criminal, whose bloody handprint and DNA were found at the crime scene.

Guede was the last to be arrested and the first to be convicted in a fast track trial. Branded by Judge Paolo Micheli as “an absolute liar,” he has already exhausted all avenues of appeal and is serving 16 years.

Amanda and Raffaele were sentenced to 26 and 25 years respectively, but were exonerated and freed from jail this October, after a long and emotionally exhausting appeal.

Their lawyers had focused on major flaws in the forensic evidence, while the prosecutors, who were allowed under Italian law to lodge a simultaneous appeal, had argued for life sentences — with six months’ solitary confinement, no less.

After the court sided with Amanda and Raffaele, prosecutor Giuliano Mignini vowed to appeal to Italy’s highest court.

In the meantime, however, nothing in Italian law prevented Amanda from departing Italy, and she flew home to Seattle less than 24 hours after she was freed. “

There’s no winner here,” Carlo dalla Vedova, Amanda’s lawyer, told a horde of reporters on the night of the appeal verdict. “Justice has superseded and has rectified a mistake. Meredith was a friend of Amanda, so we should never forget this. We have to respect the sorrow of the family.”

And that sorrow is immense. Meredith, known as “Mez”, had worked at Gatwick Airport to raise money for her trip of a lifetime, and had promised to bring her family a suitcase full of Perugian chocolate when she returned to Coulsdon, south of London.

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Her funeral was overflowing with mourners who remembered the brunette’s big smile and generous nature. During the appeal, her family told Italian television that they were upset that all the kerfuffle around Amanda and Raffaele was rendering Meredith a faceless, forgotten victim.

“I am scared that I will forget her. I am scared that I will forget the feelings I had when we hugged each other,” her older sister Stephanie said, wiping away tears. “We really miss her when it’s her birthday and Christmas.”

It’s impossible to cover, in a space like this, all the nuances of this sorry tale. More than a dozen books have already been written about the case, and even the judges who initially convicted Amanda and Raffaele filled 427 pages with their findings.

There are websites, blogs and Facebook pages that scrutinise every tiny detail. Depending on which one you read, you could be convinced that Amanda is either a sweet, slightly spacy free spirit who became entangled in the nightmarish web of a foreign legal system; or someone who’s gotten away with murder.

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From the moment police arrived at the hillside cottage on November 2, 2007, there were no straight answers, no easy solutions. First on the scene was the Italian postal police, intending to return two mobile phones — both Meredith’s — found in a neighbour’s garden.

The officers arrived to find Amanda and Raffaele standing outside the cottage. Amanda told them that she had come to the house earlier that day, and found the door open and drops of blood in the bathroom.

Amanda’s claim that she had entered the open house, and stayed to take a shower, would later arouse suspicion. (It was never resolved whether she and Raffaele had even called the regular police until after the postal carabineri had arrived.)

Her assertion that Meredith regularly locked her bedroom door would later be contradicted by the other housemates.

Amanda and Raffaele’s alibi — that on the night of the murder, they had smoked hash and watched a movie together at his apartment — didn’t initially ring alarm bells, but police became increasingly bothered by the couple’s behaviour in the days following the crime.

Amanda and Raffaele were photographed kissing and hugging tenderly outside the house as crime scene investigators worked inside.

The public display of affection continued when Meredith’s housemates and friends were taken to the police station for routine questioning.

While the others sat quietly, talked softly and wept, Amanda sat on Raffaele’s lap, kissed, giggled, and rubbed noses with him.

“The behavior of the Italian girls and of Meredith’s British friends, one could see they were very sorry,” said prosecutor Mignini, in an interview with American television after Amanda’s conviction. “Amanda gave an impression like she was trying to play down what was happening.”

It didn’t stop there. The day after the murder, she shopped for racy underwear with Raffaele, security video showing them hugging and kissing over the thongs on display.

The store owner claimed they talked about the “wild sex” they would have later. Police officers reported that Amanda did athletic stretches and turned a cartwheel inside the police station. The tabloids had a field day.

Was Amanda simply a free spirit, out of touch with her emotions and oblivious to the gravity of the situation? Or was she a remorseless killer?

Mignini thought it was the latter, and had police intensify their questioning of Amanda and Raffaele. (One month after Amanda and Raffaele’s convictions, Mignini would be convicted of abuse of his office, related to a separate murder case.)

Four days after Meredith died, Raffaele buckled. He said it was possible that Amanda had left the house the night of the murder while he was sleeping. He had smoked and drunk so much, he couldn’t be sure.

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Police quizzed Amanda for 53 hours over four days, including a final session of 15 hours without food, sleep, a lawyer, or any audio or video recording.

Some time after midnight on November 6, Amanda cracked. She falsely accused her boss at a local bar, Patrick Lumumba, saying he had raped and murdered Meredith while Amanda had covered her ears in an attempt to block the screams.

“These things are unreal to me, like a dream and I am not sure they are real things that happened or are just dreams my mind has made to try to answer the questions in my head and the questions I am being asked,” Amanda wrote later that night, in a four page statement to investigators that would be admitted as evidence, even though the interview could not be.

She, Raffaele and Patrick were arrested on suspicion of murder, and taken to jail.

Was Amanda’s accusation of Patrick an attempt to deflect blame from herself, the true killer? Or was it an exhausted, confused and desperate attempt to make the investigation go away?

For two long weeks, Patrick sat in jail, until a string of witnesses testified that he had been working in his bar that night (Amanda’s conviction for defamation of Patrick was upheld).

Around the same time as his release, the forensic evidence came back. Another person had been in the house, his DNA all over the crime scene: Rudy Guede.

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Rudy admitted as much, but claimed he was with Meredith on a date. When he returned from a trip to the bathroom, he said, he caught a glimpse of a man fleeing, and saw Meredith, dying, on the floor. He decided he could not help her, feared he would be blamed, and fled.

Months later, Rudy changed his tune. The man he’d seen was Raffaele, and he’d heard Amanda in the house as well, squabbling with Meredith about money.

This fit with what investigators had heard from Meredith’s friends: that Meredith had been irritated by Amanda’s numerous male visitors and sloppy housekeeping. Some suggested that Amanda was jealous of Meredith’s relationship with an Italian musician in the downstairs flat.

Ultimately, this would form the backbone of the prosecutors’ theory: Amanda had “coveted hatred” for Meredith and had decided to take revenge with a forced sex game.

“Meredith was far too serious a girl for her,” Mignini said during the first trial. “Amanda didn’t like her, she didn’t like her friends because they were critical of her hygiene and habits.”

“I am not who they say I am — the perversion, the violence, the lack of respect for life,” Amanda said on the last day of the appeal, fighting to maintain her composure as she addressed the jury in fluent Italian. “I did not do the things they said I did. I did not kill, I did not sexually assault, I did not steal.”

Investigators never found any evidence of Amanda, Raffaele and Rudy having made plans for that dreadful night: there were no emails, texts or phone calls.

A witness for the prosecution said that he had seen Amanda and Rafffaele out together on the night of the murder — but he contradicted himself during the appeal about dates, times and details, and admitted that he was a heroin addict.

Forensic investigators had reported finding Meredith’s DNA on the tip of a black-handled, 8-inch kitchen knife confiscated from Raffaele’s apartment, and Amanda’s DNA on the handle.

Raffaele’s DNA was also found on a severed piece of Meredith’s bra. But this was all discredited in the appeal process by a damning forensic expert report which found that the police had mishandled evidence or failed to follow internationally accepted forensic procedures a shocking 54 times.

Essentially, there was no forensic evidence whatsoever that Amanda and Raffaele were at the scene of the crime, whereas Rudy’s DNA was all over it.

Unwavering and adamant, prosecutors countered that the court-appointed experts were inexperienced, and that there was a “gigantic, unfaltering case against [Amanda and Raffaele] that can’t be bypassed”.

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On October 3, the eight-member appeals jury made it clear that they disagreed, and ordered Amanda and Raffaele’s immediate release.

The grieving Kerchers, who were present in the courtroom, appeared dazed, and issued a statement soon after. “We respect the decision of the judges but we do not understand how the decision of the first trial could be so radically overturned. We still trust the Italian justice system and hope that the truth will eventually emerge.”

Sadly, the truth is that no one is ever likely to know what happened that dreadful night. The only reliable witness, Meredith Kercher, has been silenced forever.

Video: Amanda Knox thanks her supporters

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