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Amanda Knox pleads for her freedom as murder appeal ends

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Mon October 3, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • It isn't just the DNA," Kercher's mother says
  • The Kercher family remains "satisfied" by the conviction, Kercher's sister says
  • Amanda Knox tells the court: "I haven't murdered. I haven't raped. I haven't stolen."
  • She is fighting to be acquitted; prosecutors want her sentence increased

Perugia, Italy (CNN) -- Nearly four years after she was arrested on suspicion of having killed her roommate in this picturesque Italian university town, Amanda Knox pleaded with a jury Monday to overturn her conviction for murder.

"I am not what they say I am. I did not kill. I did not rape. I did not steal," Amanda Knox said, her voice trembling with emotion. She was making perhaps the most important speech of her life, and it showed.

She got out only a few words before her voice choked off, she stopped, and said under her breath: "OK."

Then she launched into the crux of her plea:

"People always ask 'who is Amanda Knox?' I am the same person that I was four years ago, exactly the same person. The only thing that now separates me from four years ago is my suffering.

"In four years, I've lost my friends in the most terrible and unexplainable way. My trust in the authorities and the police has been damaged. I had to face charges that were totally unfair, without any basis. And I am paying with my life for something I haven't done," she said, speaking fluent, flawless Italian.

Knox and co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito are fighting to be acquitted of the murder of British exchange student Meredith Kercher. Prosecutors have called for the pair's sentences -- of 26 and 25 years, respectively -- to be increased to life.

Kercher's family, meanwhile, held out hope that the conviction would remain in place.

"It isn't just the DNA or on one specific thing," Meredith's mother, Arline Kercher, said when the family spoke to members of the media. "It's the overall evidence."

Meredith's sister Stephanie said the family remains "satisfied" with Knox's conviction and believes it was right, short of someone else coming along and saying, "I did it."

"I think Meredith has been hugely forgotten in all of this," Stephanie Kercher said, adding that the family wants "truth" and "justice" for Meredith.

The Kercher family spoke calmly as they -- and millions around the world, gripped by this case -- awaited word from the jury.

Earlier, before Knox spoke in court, Sollecito made a dramatic appeal to the court to free the two of them. He removed a white plastic bracelet from his wrist and fingered it nervously as his closing statement came to an end.

"It says 'Free Amanda and Raffaele,'" he said. "I have never taken it off. ... I think now is the moment to take it off."

His voice fading almost to inaudibility, he concluded, "I hope this is part of history and that Amanda and I have a future."

"I have never hurt anybody," he said.

Knox did not look at Sollecito as he addressed the court, though he detailed for the judges and jurors the night of Kercher's murder. The couple have maintained they were together at Sollecito's residence the night Kercher was killed.

He described the night as a happy, almost idyllic one for him: "I was about to hand in my thesis. I had just met Amanda, a beautiful, sunny girl."

The case is now in the hands of two judges and six jurors, who retired together within minutes of Knox's statement to consider their ruling.

As they deliberated Monday morning, Rocco Girlanda, a member of the Italian Parliament, said Knox was calm.

"She is playing and singing songs in the chapel. ... She is calm, very, very calm. She says, 'Unfortunately I have some terrible hours ahead of me, because I have to wait,' " said Girlanda, who has become an advocate for Knox.

But the lawmaker said Knox was hopeful.

"She is absolutely convinced she will fly home to the U.S. tonight," he said.

Knox and Sollecito were convicted of murder, sexual assault and related crimes in December 2009. Their appeal has focused largely on DNA evidence found on a knife and on a bra clasp belonging to the victim.

Knox's words capped a dramatic week of closing arguments by the host of lawyers battling over the outcome, from the lawyer for a man falsely accused of the crime, who called Knox "Lucifer-like, demonic, Satanic," to the Sollecito defense counsel Giulia Bongiorno, who insisted that like the buxom cartoon temptress Jessica Rabbit in the movie "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" Knox is not bad, just "drawn that way."

Knox told the court she always wanted justice for Kercher, her roommate at the university.

"I am innocent. Raffaele is innocent," she said.

At the conclusion of her statement, Knox put her hands on her face and wept, burying her face in the shoulder of defense lawyer Carlo dalla Vedova, who put a comforting arm around her and offered her a handkerchief.

Knox was 20 and Kercher was 21 years old, studying at Perugia's university for foreign students, when Kercher's semi-naked body was found in the house they shared. Her throat had been slashed.

Sollecito, 23 at the time, was Knox's boyfriend, studying computer science at another university in Perugia.

Prosecutors and police say Kercher's genetic material was on the knife blade and Knox's was on the handle, and that a Kercher bra clasp found at the crime scene had Sollecito's DNA.

Defense lawyers and independent experts argued strenuously during the appeal that the DNA testing process was badly flawed and the results should be inadmissible.

As Knox defense lawyer Luciano Ghirga made his final statements to the court before Knox and Sollecito spoke Monday, he reminded the jury that the standard is "beyond a reasonable doubt."

"We ask you to give complete freedom to Amanda Knox," he said.

Knox has addressed this jury at least twice before, telling them in June she was "shocked" by the testimony of the third person convicted of the crime, Rudy Guede, a drifter originally from the Ivory Coast.

Guede admitted having sexual relations with Kercher but denied killing her.

Guede was sentenced separately to 30 years behind bars for the murder, a sentence that was reduced to 16 on appeal.

In June, he refused to tell the court hearing Knox and Sollecito's appeal that they had not been involved.

A prosecutor then read a letter Guede had written to a newspaper from prison, saying he thought they had killed Kercher.

"The only time Rudy Guede, Raffaele Sollecito and I were in one room together was in a courtroom," Knox told the court in June.

Her defense dismissed Guede's letter as based on "a feeling," not facts or events he witnessed.

Before the hearing began Monday, Knox's stepfather told CNN he was optimistic about the outcome of the appeal. He made his way into the court through a throng of reporters, ignoring shouted questions from journalists.

Either side can appeal this court's ruling to Italy's High Court, but such an appeal would be on narrow technical grounds only.

CNN's Hada Messia, Matthew Chance, Paula Newton and Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report.

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