Meredith 'Forgotten' As Knox Verdict Nears

Meredith Kercher's family have said she has been "forgotten" - as an Italian court decides whether or not to quash the convictions of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito for her murder.

"I think Meredith has been hugely forgotten in all of this. It has been nearly four years now," her sister Stephanie said at a news conference in Perugia.

"It is very difficult to keep her memory alive, so we can find the truth and justice."

American student Knox and her then boyfriend Sollecito were convicted over the sexual assault and murder of Miss Kercher in the university town in 2007.

The duo's appeal rests in part on DNA evidence that their legal teams have questioned.

Miss Kercher's mother Arline told Sky News: "It isn't just on the DNA or one specific thing. It is on the overall evidence.

"This is about getting some justice for Meredith."

The Kercher family said everyone was entitled to a fair trial but refused to answer questions directly on the sentencing - saying they would speak about it on Tuesday.

On Monday morning Knox, who shared a house with Miss Kercher in Perugia, and Sollecito made pleas to a judge and jury over their lengthy sentences.

"I insist after four years I am innocent," an emotional Knox told the packed courtroom in Perugia on Monday morning.

"I want to go home. I want to go back to my life and I do not want to be punished and have my life taken away for something I did not do."

Knox spoke for just over 10 minutes and needed to pause frequently for breath, at one point appeal judge Claudio Pratillo Hellman asked her if she wanted to speak sitting down.

The student from Seattle , who was accused last week of being a "she-devil" and like cartoon character Jessica Rabbit , said: ''I am not what they say I am. I am not perverse, violent, disrespectful towards life.

"I did not do what they said I've done. I did not kill, I did not rape, I did not steal. I was not there. I was not present at this crime."

Knox and Sollecito were arrested in 2007 and sentenced in 2009 to 26 and 25 years in prison respectively.

Drifter Rudy Guede was convicted in a separate 2008 trial of the sexual assault and murder of the Briton.

Experienced court watchers said Knox gave a powerful delivery and much better than at her original, when she confused the court by saying she did not want the "mask of an assassin forced upon me".

Crucially for her this time she also said that she did not kill Miss Kercher - something she failed to say explicitly at her original trial.

As Knox spoke her divorced parents, Curt Knox and Edda Mellas, sat in the court in tears.

Speaking in fluent Italian, Knox told the court she had been "betrayed" by investigators after helping them in the murder inquiry.

Describing how she was questioned by the police, she attacked their behaviour and said: "I had a sense of duty towards justice, the authorities who I put my trust in.

"They were there to find the guilty and to protect us. I put my faith in them absolutely. I made myself available for them in those days but I was betrayed - the night of November 5-6 (2007) I was pressured, stressed and manipulated."

Knox, 24, earlier told the court how she was questioned for 14 hours without a lawyer or an interpreter and said she was cuffed twice around the back of her head by police.

Events during her police questioning are crucial to the appeal as prosecutors said she admitted being on the scene and falsely accused bar owner Patrick Lumumba of the murder.

He was arrested and held in jail for two weeks before being freed without charge.

Knox went on to dismiss the prosecution argument - and claims from Miss Kercher's friends - that the two did not get on.

She said: "I had a good relationship with all my flatmates. I was messy, carefree but we had a good relationship we were all ready to help each other."

But the Kercher family later insisted Meredith had not got to know Knox that well before her death.

Knox also insisted her co-defendant Sollecito was innocent of the crime.

Sollecito, 27, had earlier told the court that the pair had no involvement in the sexual assault or murder of Miss Kercher.

"I just want to say I never hurt any one, never in my life," he said.

He added: "I hoped that this would have all been cleared in a short time - instead it did not happen this way."

Sollecito paused several times and took several sips of water as he spoke and said: "Amanda and I have been in jail for 1,400 days. These 1,400 days have been spent 20 hours a day in a space 2.5m by 3m - it's difficult to imagine that situation."

Then, turning to the night of Miss Kercher's murder, Sollecito said: "I was in a beautiful situation. I was about to hand in my dissertation for my final degree.

"During that period I met Amanda Knox, she was beautiful, sunny, lively and sweet and that was supposed to be our first weekend together.

"We were free that night. Our only aim that night was to have an evening of tenderness and cuddles. The other descriptions just did not happen. This was our simple desire."

Court watchers noted how he failed to say directly he had not killed Miss Kercher, instead insisting on his innocence. The general consensus was that his declaration had been weaker than Knox's.

Sollecito added: "There will be hope for me and Amanda, a new future for us which I think we deserve."

After Knox and Sollecito addressed the court, judge Hellman spoke sternly to the packed chamber. He said: "We will now retire but I to ask you to reflect on something.

"This is a courtroom and not a football match - there is no room for supporting when the verdict is read."

He added: "Let's remember that a beautiful girl was murdered and the lives of two other young people are in the balance. So I say again when the sentence is read, respect and silence."

After the court rose, Knox's family returned to their rented accommodation on the outskirts of Perugia without making any direct comment on what had been said.

After the appeal hearing Knox was taken back to Capanne prison and Sollecito was driven to nearby Perugia jail to await the court's decision.

Sollecito is usually held in a cell in Terni jail, 29 miles away.

Sources told Sky News that Knox chose to visit the prison chapel in Perugia with a jail chaplain. A local MP who has visited Knox said she was playing her guitar and singing in chapel.

Meanwhile in Seattle, campaigners for Knox - who was nicknamed Foxy Knoxy at school for her sporting prowess - gathered at a hotel early on Monday morning hoping for a celebration after the verdict.

The pressure group Friends of Amanda was formed to counter what they saw as inflammatory descriptions of Knox presented by Italian authorities and in the media.

Its website encouraged supporters to write campaign letters to US President Barack Obama , local politicians and Italian diplomats, as well as sending encouragement to Knox in jail.

If cleared by the court, Knox and Sollecito could be entitled to up to 500,000 euros (£430,000) in compensation from the Italian government.

The pair could be freed from custody within two hours of a successful appeal, after finalising official paperwork.

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