New DNA experts in Knox murder appeal in Italy

PERUGIA (AFP) – Amanda Knox appears before an Italian court Saturday in her bid to overturn a conviction for the murder of British student Meredith Kercher with new experts reviewing key forensic evidence.

The American was sentenced to 26 years in prison last year for the 2007 killing of Leeds University student Meredith, 21, with whom she shared a house in the town of Perugia in central Italy where both were studying.

AFP file - US student Amanda Knox sits in court before the start of a hearing of her appeal trial in Perugia's courthouse on December 18, 2010.

Raffaele Sollecito, Knox's boyfriend at the time, was sentenced to 25 years for his part in the murder and is also appealing his conviction.

The first hearing this year is scheduled to start at 9am (0800 GMT) and will see two experts from Rome?s Sapienza University -- Stefano Conti and Carla Vecchiotti -- formally appointed to review the evidence.

Conti and Vecchiotti, called in after the court ordered fresh tests on the presumed murder weapon, are expected to ask for 60 days to re-examine the DNA evidence used to convict the pair.

"This is a key moment. Today, for the first time, independent experts will be asked to examine the evidence," Knox's lawyer Carlo Dalla Vedova said ahead of the hearing.

Knox's defence say the kitchen knife -- found in Sollecito's house and said to have Knox's DNA on the handle and Kercher's on the blade -- does not fit the wounds.

The absence of blood and low level of Kercher's DNA on the knife mean it was probably contaminated in the lab and should be excluded, they say.

They also want a bra clip with traces of Sollecito's DNA disregarded because it was collected days after the murder, had been moved, and is also likely to be contaminated.

Kercher's body was found semi-naked in her room on November 2, 2007. A third person, an Ivorian man called Rudy Guede, was sentenced for his part in the murder in a fast-track trial in 2008.

Knox, Sollecito and Guede were charged with sexually assaulting and killing Meredith in a drug-fuelled attack.

But the Seattle native's lawyers have also questioned the reliability of the prosecution's key witness, a homeless man Antonio Curatolo, who lives on a bench and who testified to seeing Knox and Sollecito the night of the murder.

Curatolo also claimed that he saw students on a bus that night coming from a discotheque in town, a detail challenged by the defence who say there was no disco open that night.

The court is likely to call on the manager of the disco and the bus driver to testify in later hearings. The outcome of the trial is expected some time later this year.

Knox has repeatedly protested her innocence. Her step-father, Chris Mellas, who has been living in Perugia since September to help prepare for the appeal, is expected to attend Saturday's hearing.

Other news