FEW international criminal cases have stirred international passions as strongly as that of American student Amanda Knox, who waits half a world away for her third Italian court verdict in the 2007 slaying of her British roommate, 21-year-old Meredith Kercher.
Whatever is decided this week, the protracted legal battle that has grabbed global headlines and polarised trial-watchers in three nations probably won't end in Florence.
The first two trials produced flip-flop verdicts of guilty then innocent for Knox and her former Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, and the case has produced harshly clashing versions of events.
A FLORENCE APPEALS PANEL DESIGNATED BY ITALY'S SUPREME COURT TO ADDRESS ISSUES IT RAISED ABOUT THE ACQUITTAL IS SET TO DELIBERATE TODAY, WITH A VERDICT ALSO EXPECTED TODAY.
Much of the attention has focused on Knox (26), who has remained in Seattle during this trial, citing her fear of "the universal problem of wrongful conviction," according to her statement emailed. Her representatives say she is concentrating on her studies at the University of Washington.
"We wait for the verdict, and remain hopeful," Knox's American lawyer, Theodore Simon, said by telephone from Philadelphia. "But history being our guide, we know Amanda can be convicted and it is very disconcerting to her and her family. The logical position is that there is no evidence."
Knox was arrested on November 2, 2007, four days after Kercher's half-naked body was discovered in her bedroom in the university town of Perugia.
Knox has been portrayed both as a she-devil bent on sexual adventure and as a naive girl caught up in Italy's Byzantine justice system.
US commentators have accused the Italian judicial system of a case of misapplied justice and double jeopardy, while Italians and British observers jumped on the US defendant's pre-trial nickname, "Foxy Knoxy."
The courts have cast wildly different versions of events. Knox and Sollecito were convicted of murder and sexual assault in the first trial based on DNA evidence, confused alibis and Knox's false accusation against a bar owner, for which she was convicted of slander.
Then an appeals court in Perugia dismantled the murder verdicts, criticising the "building blocks" of the conviction, including DNA evidence deemed unreliable by new experts, and the lack of a motive.
THAT ACQUITTAL WAS SCATHINGLY VACATED LAST SPRING BY ITALY'S HIGHEST COURT, WHICH ORDERED A NEW APPEALS TRIAL TO EXAMINE EVIDENCE AND HEAR TESTIMONY IT SAID HAD BEEN OMITTED BY THE PERUGIA APPEALS COURT, AND TO REDRESS WHAT IT IDENTIFIED AS LAPSES IN LOGIC.
In this trial, Judge Alessandro Nencini ordered an analysis of a tiny trace of DNA on the presumed murder weapon, a knife found in Sollecito's kitchen.
In the first trial, DNA traces on the blade were linked to Kercher. Another one on the handle was linked to Knox and was key to the conviction. But the appeals court trial placed the DNA findings in doubt.
The new trace tested in Florence belonged to Knox and not to the victim. The defence argued that this was further proof that Knox had merely used the kitchen knife for domestic chores in Sollecito's apartment. The prosecution, which has continued to argue the validity of Kercher's DNA trace on the blade from the original trial, said the additional trace once again put the knife in Knox's hands.
The real novelty of the Florence hearings was that the new prosecutor, Alessandro Crini, redefined the motive, moving away from the drug-fuelled erotic game described by his colleagues in Perugia. He contended that the outburst of violence was rooted in arguments between roommates Knox and Kercher about cleanliness and triggered by a toilet left unflushed by Rudy Hermann Guede. Guede is a Ivory Coast native and drug dealer, who is serving a 16-year sentence – the only person now in jail for the murder.
Crini has demanded sentences of 26 years on the murder charge for Knox and Sollecito.
A guilty verdict would need to be confirmed by Italy's supreme court, which could take a year or more and, in theory, result in yet another appeals court trial. Kercher's family remain convinced that Knox and Sollecito were responsible for their daughter's death, along with Guede.