Sollecito was a 23-year-old computer science student when Meredith Kercher was killed
He and Amanda Knox were tried together and convicted of murder and other crimes
They both protest their innocence and are appealing the conviction
Sollecito misses the smell of the sea, and just wants a normal life back, he says
Editor’s Note: Amanda Knox and her co-defendant, Raffaele Sollecito, were cleared Monday of involvement in the death of British college student Meredith Kercher. This profile of Sollecito was written before his acquittal.
Raffaele Sollecito was a 23-year-old computer science student when his girlfriend’s roommate, Meredith Kercher, was found dead in the house she shared with Amanda Knox in Perugia, Italy, four years ago.
The discovery proved to be the beginning of what he calls “a nightmare.”
He and Knox were detained for questioning days later, and charged with murder the following summer. In December 2009, they were convicted, though lawyers for both suggested the crime was carried out solely by a third man, Rudy Guede, who was convicted in a separate trial.
There’s dispute about the evidence linking him to the murder. Prosecutors say his DNA was found on a bra clasp belonging to Kercher, while the defense says there is too little genetic material for a positive ID and that the clasp could have been contaminated by police handling.
His alibi proved impossible to verify – he says he was at home on the night of the killing, but his computer showed no activity during the time Kercher was killed.
In the end, the jury sided with the prosecutors, sentencing him to 25 years in prison for the murder and related crimes. (Knox got an extra year because she was also found guilty of defaming bar owner Patrick Lumumba by accusing him of the killing.)
It was not the result Sollecito was expecting.
“When the sentencing was read, I didn’t understand what was happening and even now it seems impossible and still I don’t understand why I was convicted,” he said in a prison interview through his lawyer the week after the sentencing.
He continues to believe he has a future outside prison, he said.
“Otherwise, I would go insane. I think especially about studying and obtaining a post-graduate degree,” he said.
He has finished his computer science degree in prison, according to press reports. Sollecito was not studying at the same university as Knox, and is not being held in the same prison.
He said it is difficult to remain hopeful.
“The world has collapsed on top of me with this verdict. It collapsed on me and Amanda,” he said.
He denied that he is still in love with her.
“But I feel close to her because I consider her my companion in misadventure,” he said.
He rejected the idea that Knox is capable of murder.
“I don’t even dare think a thing like that. It is absurd and inadmissible. She is a very sweet girl,” he insisted.
As their joint appeal came to a close this month, his lawyer, Giulia Bongiorno, rejected media portrayals of Sollecito as a patsy who fell into the clutches of a femme fatale, Knox.
“The lives of this kid and his parents have been destroyed. You must today evaluate if – if – if these kids committed the crime,” Bongiorno told jurors.
Sollecito may well head for home if the jury decides in his favor.
Sollecito is from Bari, on the Adriatic coast, far south of the central Italian university town where he was studying, and in his prison interview he said he misses the smell of the sea.
“Above all my family,” he said in the interview conducted via attorney Luca Maori. “I also miss my friends, the everyday life, the walks in my town’s square. And I very much miss the smell of the sea.”
If he does go home to Bari, he hopes simply to blend in, he said.
–CNN’s Hada Messia contributed to this report.