FLORENCE, Italy: An appeals court in Florence began deliberations Thursday in the third murder trial of U.S. student Amanda Knox and her former Italian boyfriend as the star defendant waited far away on a separate continent.
Knox's defense team gave their last round of rebuttals, ending four months of arguments in Knox's and Raffaele Sollecito's third trial for the 2007 murder of her British roommate in the Italian university town of Perugia.
Knox's lawyer Carlo Dalla Vedova told the court he was "serene" about the verdict because he believes the only conclusion from the files is "the innocence of Amanda Knox."
"It is not possible to convict a person because it is probably that she is guilty," Dalla Vedova said. "The penal code does not foresee probability. It foresees certainty."
Dalla Vedova evoked Dante, noting that the Florentine writer reserved the lower circle of hell for those who betrayed trust, as he asserted that police had done in Knox's case when they held her overnight for questioning without representation and without advising her that she was a suspect in Meredith Kercher's murder.
Presiding Judge Alessandro Nencini said the court would deliberate Thursday for at least seven hours.
Knox, 26, is awaiting the verdict half a world away in Seattle, where she returned after spending several years in jail before being acquitted in 2011 in Kercher's murder. In an email to this court, Knox wrote that she feared a wrongful conviction.
Knox's absence does not formally hurt her case since she was freed by a court and defendants in Italy are not required to appear at their trials. However, Nencini reacted sternly to her emailed statement, noting that defendants have a right to be heard if they appear physically before the panel.
Sollecito, on the other hand, has made frequent court appearances, always in a purple sweater, the color of the local Florentine football club. He was in court again Thursday, accompanied by his father and other relatives.
If convicted, Sollecito, who like Knox spent four years in jail, risks immediate arrest. The situation for Knox remains complicated by her absence. In the case of a guilty verdict, experts have said it is unlikely Italy would seek her extradition until a verdict is finalized, a process that can take a year.
Members of Kercher's family are expected to appear later at court.
Italy's highest court ordered the third trial in a scathing dismissal of the appeals court acquittal, ordering the examination of evidence and testimony it said had been improperly omitted by the Perugia appeals court as well as to redress what it called as lapses in logic.
"Most of all, the court was instructed to evaluate all of the evidence in their complexity," said Vieri Fabiani, one of the lawyers for the Kercher family.
The first trial court found Knox and Sollecito guilty of murder and sexual assault based on DNA evidence, confused alibis and Knox's false accusation against a Congolese bar owner, which resulted in a slander verdict that has been upheld on final appeal. A Perugia appeals court dismantled the guilty verdict two years later, criticizing the "building blocks" of the conviction, including DNA evidence now deemed unreliable by new experts, and the lack of motive.
However, with the dismissal of the acquittal, the Florence deliberations will either confirm or overturn the initial guilty verdict, "as if the acquittal never happened," Fabiani said.
Suspicion fell on Knox and Sollecito within days of the discovery of Kercher's half-naked body on Nov. 2, 2007 in her bedroom in Perugia.
One man has been convicted, Rudy Hermann Guede, a small-time drug dealer originally from Ivory Coast who had been convicted previously of break-ins. He is serving a 16-year sentence for murder that courts have said he did not commit alone.
In the case of Knox and Sollecito, the defense teams are certain to appeal any guilty verdict to Italy's supreme court, which can take a year or more and could, in theory, result in yet another appeals court trial if errors in the Florence trial are found. The prosecutor general, on the other hand, could decide to let an acquittal stand after studying the court's reasoning.
Prosecutor Alessandro Crini, who has demanded 26 years on the murder charge for each of the defendants, has asked the court to take measures to ensure any verdict could be enforced. He also asked the court to raise Knox's sentence on the slander conviction, which has been finalized, from three to four years because he alleges she accused the wrong man to remove suspicion from herself.