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Jittery Amanda Knox awaits verdict in murder trial

Oct 2, 2011, 11:40 p.m.
Amanda Knox, the U.S. student convicted of murdering her British flatmate Meredith Kercher in Italy in November 2007, arrives in court after a break during her appeal trial session in Perugia September 30, 2011. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

By Deepa Babington

PERUGIA, Italy (Reuters) - American Amanda Knox will tell an Italian court she did not murder her British roommate during a frenzied sex game that turned violent when she makes her final plea to judges on Monday to overturn her 26-year jail sentence.

Nearly four years after 21-year-old Meredith Kercher's half-naked body was found in a pool of blood in Perugia, Knox's closely-watched appeals trial is reaching its climax.

The Seattle native and her Italian boyfriend at the time, Raffaele Sollecito, are fighting a 2009 verdict that found them guilty of stabbing the Leeds University exchange student to death during a drug-fueled sexual assault.

Kercher's mother and sister -- who have kept a low profile through the case -- are flying in from Britain for the verdict.

Expectations are high among many in the United States that 24-year-old Knox will walk free from the Italian prison she has been held in for nearly four years after a forensics review cast doubt on DNA evidence used to convict her.

"She is confident, she is jittery, she is waiting and a little bit frightened by the wait," Knox's lawyer Maria Del Grosso told reporters after visiting her in prison on Saturday.

"She is not scared of the truth. She worries for a decision over her life. But she is positive."

A lawyer for Knox will make a statement to court on Monday before the student herself addresses a panel of two professional and six lay judges in a final plea to acquit her of a crime she has always denied being involved in.

Her lawyer said Knox, who attended mass in prison on Saturday, was hoping to make a heartfelt, impromptu statement to sway the panel. The American, who barely spoke the language when she was first arrested, is expected to speak in Italian.

"She has some thoughts but she hasn't really written or prepared anything," Del Grosso said.

Her ex-boyfriend Sollecito, 27, will also make a similar plea for innocence before the jury breaks for deliberations.

VERDICT

A decision could take several hours -- jurors are not allowed to leave the deliberation room until they agree on a verdict.

Kercher, from Coulsdon, Surrey, was on a year-long exchange program in Perugia when she was murdered. Her body was found with more than 40 wounds and her throat had been slashed.

Knox and Sollecito were arrested days after the murder, but have steadfastly maintained their innocence throughout. A third man, Ivorian drug dealer Rudy Guede, was also imprisoned for his role in the murder.

Prosecutors say Kercher was pinned down and stabbed to death when she resisted attempts by the three to involve her in an orgy. They say Knox was a cold-blooded, sex-obsessed girl who led her boyfriend astray to pull off the murder.

They have also pointed to a fraught relationship between the two women, saying the British exchange student resented her American roommate's promiscuity and dirty habits.

But the prosecution's case was weakened by a review by forensic experts that found traces of DNA belonging to Knox and Kercher on a kitchen knife identified as the murder weapon were unreliable and that Sollecito's DNA traces found on the Briton's bra clasp could have been contaminated.

The defense has also argued that no clear motive or evidence linking the defendants to the crime has emerged, and say Knox is an innocent young girl falsely implicated in the murder by prosecutors on a witch-hunt.

The prosecution says plenty of other evidence links Knox to the crime, including her false accusation against a Congolese barman and a theft she and Sollecito are alleged to have staged in the apartment to throw police off track.

(Editing by Sophie Hares)

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