FLORENCE, Italy — U.S. student Amanda Knox's second appeals trial in the murder of her British roommate opened Monday, but the star defendant was absent.
Italy's highest court in March ordered a new trial for Knox and her Italian ex-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, overturning their acquittals in the gruesome 2007 slaying of Meredith Kercher. The Court of Cassation gave a harsh assessment of an appeals court acquittal in 2011, saying it was full of "deficiencies, contradictions and illogical" conclusions.
During opening statements, lawyers for Knox and Sollecito requested an array of new expert opinions and evidence to reach a definitive verdict, including examining the handle of the knife that was the purported murder weapon and the handling of the crime scene.
Knox defense lawyer Carlo Dalla Vedova said there was a risk of an "infinite trial," since the charge of murder has no statute of limitations. Sollecito's lawyer Giulia Bongiorno asked the court to accept only "reliable evidence," saying the intense media attention on the case had affected the three previous trials.
The appellate court in Florence is expected to re-examine forensic evidence to determine whether Knox and her ex-boyfriend helped kill the 21-year-old Kercher while the two women shared an apartment in the Umbrian university town of Perugia. The prosecution advanced the theory that Kercher died during a sex-fueled game gone bad.
Knox, now a 26-year-old University of Washington student in Seattle, has not returned to Italy for the trial, nor is she compelled by law to do so. The appellate court noted the absence both of Knox and Sollecito, but did not declare either in contempt.
"We refute the idea that because Amanda is not coming, that Amanda is guilty, that Amanda is using a strategy. Amanda always said she was a friend of Meredith's. Amanda has always respected the Italian justice system," one of Knox's defense lawyers, Luciano Ghirga, told reporters before the trial opened.
Knox and Sollecito, now 29, were convicted and later acquitted in Kercher's death. Knox served four years of a 26-year sentence, including three years on a slander conviction for falsely accusing a Perugia bar owner in the murder, before leaving Italy a free woman after her 2011 acquittal.
The bar owner, Diya "Patrick" Lumumba, showed up at the trial Monday, saying he did so to underline the damage he suffered from Knox's false accusations. "I say the same thing I said six years ago. I think she is guilty, and that is why she slandered me," Lumumba told reporters.
Knox's conviction for slandering Lumumba has been confirmed by the high court, but it asked the Florence appeals court to examine whether to reinstate an aggravating circumstance that Knox lied to derail the investigation and protect herself from becoming a murder suspect.
In its first move, the Florence court rejected a motion by Knox's lawyers to exclude Lumumba from the new appeals trial as a civil participant, a status that allows him to seek further damages. His lawyer says Lumumba is owed more than 103,000 euros ($139,500) in legal fees.
Knox's protracted legal battle in Italy has made her a cause celebre in the United States and has put the Italian justice system under scrutiny. The Italian system does not include U.S. Fifth Amendment protection against a defendant being put in double jeopardy by government prosecution.
At the same time, the trials have left the Kercher family without clear answers in the death of their daughter.
Kercher's body was found in November 2007 in her bedroom of the house she shared with Knox in Perugia, a central Italian town popular with foreign exchange students. Her throat had been slashed.
A third man, Rudy Guede, was convicted in the slaying and is serving a 16-year term. That court found that Guede had not acted alone.
"We are still convinced of the presence of all three of the defendants at the scene of the crime," Kercher family lawyer Francesco Maresca said. "I think (Knox) is talking too much, sincerely, and this attitude of continuous playing the victim is inappropriate."
In its stunning 2011 acquittal that overturned Knox and Sollecito's convictions, a Perugia appeals court criticized virtually the prosecution's entire case. The appellate court noted that the murder weapon was never found, said that DNA tests were faulty and that prosecutors provided no murder motive.
Yet the Court of Cassation ruling was likewise strident, criticizing the appeals court ruling and saying it "openly collides with objective facts of the case." The high court said the appellate judges had ignored some evidence, considered other evidence insufficiently and undervalued the fact that Knox had initially accused a man of committing the crime who had nothing to do with it.
Patricia Thomas contributed from Florence, Italy.