Meredith Kercher family asks Amanda Knox to stay away from grave
Italian court to hear fresh appeal against American's murder conviction for 2007 killing of British exchange student in Perugia
The family of murdered British exchange student Meredith Kercher has issued a veiled plea to Amanda Knox to stay away from her grave, as the American prepares to face a fresh trial alongside her Italian ex-boyfriend.
Almost six years after the 21-year-old from Surrey was brutally killed in the university town of Perugia, an Italian court will on Monday start hearing a fresh appeal against Knox and Raffaele Sollecito's first-grade convictions for her murder.
Neither defendant will be at Florence's appeal court for the hearing but will be represented by their lawyers. Both have always protested their innocence.
In a string of recent interviews, Knox has defended her decision not to return to Italy and expressed a desire to visit Kercher's grave.
But, in a carefully worded statement issued through their Italian lawyer, the British family made it clear Knox's presence would not be welcome. "It took us as a family nearly five years to even begin to feel ready to lay Mez to rest and it is still extremely painful now," said her elder sister Stephanie.
"However, she now has a place near to us that we and her friends can visit to take flowers and spend time … Her grave is now her safe place to sleep in peace and be with us and we hope that is respected by all."
Kercher added: "For me, I hope that despite the fact that the case continues, she is resting in peace but, knowing Mez, she will be fighting until the end."
A Leeds University student in Perugia on a year abroad, Kercher was found dead in November 2007 in the flat she shared with Seattle-born Knox and two Italian women. Her body was covered with stab wounds and her throat had been slit.
Days after the murder, Knox, now 26, and Sollecito, 29, were placed in preventative detention in jail and, more than two years later, were convicted of the murder. Those convictions were quashed on appeal in 2011 after a court in Perugia found fault with the way the original investigation – particularly its forensic evidence – had been handled.
To the joy of their families and the jeers of many Italians outside the court, the defendants were released from prison, with Knox flying immediately to Seattle. But in March, Italy's supreme court overturned their acquittals and ordered a fresh appeal to be heard.
Another man, Rudy Guede, from Ivory Coast, is serving a reduced sentence of 16 years in an Italian prison after opting for a fast-track trial and being convicted of the murder in 2008.
In its explanation of why a fresh appeal was necessary, the supreme court criticised what it said were the "numerous deficiencies, contradictions and manifest lack of logic" in the first appeal trial. It said the Florence court, which is to be presided over by judge Alessandro Nencini, would have to make "a uniform and global analysis of the evidence" rather than, as it said the appeal trial had done, taking each piece individually and undervaluing some of it.
Among other suggestions, it re-floated an original theory of the prosecution that Kercher had been killed as part of a group sex game that spun out of control.
In a series of interviews in the buildup to the new trial, Knox, who is now studying at the University of Washington, has said she is scared of returning to Italy in case the verdict goes against her. "I have plenty to fear because I was already imprisoned wrongfully," she told ITV's Daybreak. "This, as an innocent person, is the ultimate nightmare."
If the new appeal – which is expected to last months – confirms her conviction and if that were then upheld by the supreme court, Italy could request her extradition from the US. However, observers say that even then it would be unlikely to succeed.
Knox's co-defendant, Sollecito, will not be in court on Monday either, but his father, Francesco Sollecito, said he would attend later hearings.
On Friday, Francesco Maresca, the Kercher family lawyer, said of the fresh appeal: "The hopes are to have a complete, total, neutral and balanced trial which can then lead to a sentence which, whatever it is, is properly developed and well-reasoned."