British student 'murdered by female housemate'

An American student slit the throat of her British housemate in a Satanic rite, prosecutors have told an Italian court.

They alleged Meredith Kercher, 21, from Coulsdon, Surrey, was forcibly held down as Amanda Knox and two men attacked her.

The court in Perugia was told yesterday Knox’s Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito held Miss Kercher down as Rudy Hermann Guede tried to sexually assault her.

Sollecito’s lawyer, Luca Maori, said prosecutors “laid out a scenario like from some crime novel,” during the seven-hour hearing.

Prosecutors “alleged it was some kind of Satanic rite, with Amanda allegedly first touching Meredith with the point of a knife, then slitting her throat, while Sollecito held her by the shoulders, from behind, Guede held her by an arm” and tried to sexually assault the victim, Maori said.

Earlier Knox, 21, had proclaimed her innocence at the closed-door hearing in the Umbrian university town and wept as she accused police of hitting her on the head and calling her a liar during an interrogation, defence lawyers said.

“It was expected” that prosecutors would seek a harsh penalty, said Valter Biscotti, a lawyer for Guede.

At his lawyers’ request, a fast-track trial is being conducted for Guede. He has acknowledged being in the bedroom where Miss Kercher’s body, lying in a pool of blood, was found in November 2007 in the house she rented with Knox.

Fast-track trials can sometimes result in lighter penalties. But prosecutors asked the court yesterday to convict Guede, from the Ivory Coast, and mete out Italy’s stiffest punishment – life imprisonment. Italy does not have the death penalty.

The court deciding Guede’s fate is also hearing arguments to determine if Knox and Sollecito should stand trial for the murder.

A ruling on prosecutors’ request for their indictment is expected at the end of October.

All three suspects have repeatedly denied any part in Miss Kercher’s death.

One of Knox’s lawyers, Carlo della Vedova, told reporters outside the courtroom that prosecutors had laid out “a presumed scenario” with no hard evidence that would justify a trial for his client.

Another member of Knox’s defence team, Luciano Ghirga, described the American as being “disappointed” when the prosecutors pushed for the stiffest sentence for Guede.

The case has received heavy publicity in Italy, in Britain, and in the US, where Knox is a University of Washington student.

Knox asked permission during the closed-door hearing to make a declaration in English.

“She proclaimed her innocence, and got emotional when she recalled her interrogation by police in Perugia,” Ghirga said in a telephone interview.

The lawyer denied Italian news reports that she wept while addressing the court, but said Knox was upset as she recounted “the pressure, the aggressiveness of the police who called her a liar”.

Maori said Knox also accused the police of hitting her on the head during her questioning.

Italian TV showed a brief, partial view of Knox as she was given a microphone to address the court. Only her hands, busily gesticulating as she addressed the court, could be seen. There was no audio.

Knox and Sollecito have been jailed as suspects since shortly after the killing. Under Italian law, they can be jailed for as long as a year during the investigation.

Knox and Sollecito, 24, have given conflicting statements.

Sollecito has said he was at his own apartment in Perugia. He said he does not remember if Knox spent the whole night with him.

Knox has insisted she was not at home during the slaying. But one point, she also told prosecutors she was in the house the night of the slaying and covered her ears to muffle Miss Kercher’s screams while a Congolese man who owns a pub in the town killed her house mate.

The Congolese man was initially jailed, but authorities released him, saying he was no longer a suspect.

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