PERUGIA, Italy (AP) — Amanda Knox returned to court Wednesday for a brief hearing that marked the opening of an appeals trial for the American student convicted last year of murdering her British roommate.
The hearing lasted only 15 minutes, as the presiding judge agreed to adjourn the case until Dec. 11, when the jury will hear a summary of the first trial and the requests for appeal.
The 23-year-old Knox returned to the same frescoed courtroom where in December she burst into tears as she was handed the conviction for sexually assaulting and murdering Meredith Kercher, and a 26-year prison term.
Escorted by a policewoman, a crowd of cameramen and photographers awaiting her, Knox walked across the courtroom and took her usual seat at a desk between her two lawyers. A policeman stood guard behind her.
Also attending was her co-defendant and former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, who has been convicted of the same charges and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Both have maintained their innocence.
It was the first time since the two former lovers had seen each other since the December verdict. Lawyers said they exchanged a brief greeting and few words.
They were arrested on Nov. 6, 2007, a few days after Kercher's body was found, stab wounds to her neck and a pool of blood around it, in the apartment she and Knox shared as exchange students in Perugia. Forensic evidence said Kercher was killed the night of Nov. 1.
Knox appeared thinner and gaunt during the brief hearing, in stark contrast to the confident, often smiling image she had projected during most of the first trial. Lawyers say she's worn out by three years in prison.
"She is tense, exhausted, and has lost weight," Luciano Ghirga, one of her attorneys, said after the hearing. However, Ghirga has also said that she has been eager to get another chance at freedom with the appeal.
"People are starting to learn exactly what this case is really about – which is an issue of wrong conviction," Knox's stepfather, Chris Mellas, told reporters. "She is innocent, as is Raffaele, and people are starting to figure that out."
The defense is seeking a full review of the case, including on disputed DNA evidence that was found on a knife allegedly used in the murder and on the clasp of Kercher's bra. The defense maintains that DNA traces were inconclusive, and also contended they may have been contaminated when analyzed.
The prosecutors have also appealed, as they can Italy, as the ruling fell short of their demand for life in prison.
"We want an acquittal, the prosecution demands a life sentence: It's an intense, harsh and violent legal clash," Ghirga told The Associated Press in an interview on the eve of the hearing.
According to the court's reconstruction of the night of the murder, Knox and Sollecito were at the house along with a fourth person, Rudy Hermann Guede, an Ivory Coast citizen who has also been convicted of murder in separate proceedings.
The court found that Knox and Sollecito helped out in Guede's sexual quest for Kercher, before assaulting her brutally together with Guede and ultimately killing her when she resisted. The pair might have found Guede's sexual drive toward Kercher "exciting" or might have been under the influence of drugs, the court said in a document that summed up its reasoning behind the verdict.
Guede has also denied killing Kercher. His sentence to 30 years in prison was cut to 16 years on appeal.
Knox's defense argued that she spent the night at Sollecito's house, watching a movie, smoking pot and having sex.
The case has drawn large media attention, and the courtroom Wednesday was packed with journalists, cameramen and photographers. As was the case in the previous trial, Presiding Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellman ruled that cameras would only be allowed to film the defendants' entrances.
The Kercher family did not attend the hearing, but sent a letter to the mayor of Perugia, who has decided to create a scholarship in Kercher's name.
"Meredith loved Perugia and had made many friends here," the victim's father, John Kercher, said in the letter. "She would be proud and happy of what you are doing in her name."