US Suspect, Amanda Knox, Goes On Trial For Murder Friday In Italy

02/15/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

PERUGIA, Italy — The slaying of a 21-year-old British woman allegedly while fighting off a sexual attack shocked Italy and cast a dark cloud over the privileged world of young people studying abroad.

More than a year after the death of Meredith Kercher, her American roommate Amanda Knox and Knox's former Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito go on trial Friday on charges of murder and sexual violence.

Knox, 21, from Seattle, and Sollecito, 24, will face an eight-member jury in a tiny courthouse in the picturesque medieval city of Perugia, 115 miles (185 kilometers) north of Rome.

Lawyers say they expect the two defendants _ who both proclaim their innocence _ to be in court, although their presence is not required under Italian law.

Kercher's family is seeking to have the proceedings closed to the public and the media to prevent sensitive evidence from being published, said their lawyer Francesco Maresca. According to Italian law, trials are normally open but can be held behind closed doors in sexual violence cases.

The presiding judge is expected to make a decision during Friday's hearing, Maresca said.

Both Knox and Sollecito were denied bail and have been detained for more than a year in Italy. They were indicted in October.

Also in October, Ivory Coast national Rudy Hermann Guede was sentenced to 30 years in prison after being convicted on the same charges. Guede, who had also denied any wrongdoing, underwent a fast-track trial at his request.

Knox, a University of Washington student, was on an exchange program in Italy and sharing a flat with Kercher, an exchange student from Leeds University in England, when the Briton was found dead in their apartment Nov. 2, 2007.

Prosecutors allege that the woman was killed during what began as a sex game, with Sollecito holding her by the shoulders from behind while Knox touched her with the point of a knife. They say Guede tried to sexually assault Kercher, and then Knox fatally stabbed her in the throat.

Sollecito has maintained he was in his own apartment in Perugia and that he doesn't remember if Knox spent part or all of the night of the murder with him. Knox initially told investigators she was in the house when Kercher was killed and covered her ears against the victim's screams. Later, Knox said she wasn't in the house.

Prosecutors say Knox's DNA was found on the handle of a knife that might have been used in the slaying, while Kercher's DNA was found on the blade.

They also say they found Sollecito's DNA on the victim's bra, although his defense team says the garment bore multiple DNA traces and alleges the evidence might have been inadvertently contaminated during the investigation.

Italy does not have the death penalty and a conviction could bring a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Prosecutors have indicated the court intends to hold a maximum of two sessions of the trial each week. Lawyers say it could last a year.