The Knox Case 'Angel-Faced Killer'?

UPDATED 06/29/2009 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 06/29/2009 at 01:00 AM EDT

On the day that her class at the University of Washington was holding its graduation, Amanda Knox found herself on a very different stage. In a courtroom in Perugia, Italy, the American exchange student, on trial for allegedly murdering her British roommate Meredith Kercher in 2007, took the stand for a second day of testimony. By turns feisty—at one point she snapped "Can I finish!" when the prosecutor interrupted her—and composed, Knox, 21, speaking fluent Italian, accused the police of slapping her and bullying her into making incriminating statements, which she later recanted. "They were putting me under extreme amounts of pressure," she said. "I was confused."

Confusion has been at the heart of the trial since it started in January. Accused with then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, 25, of killing Kercher, 21, in a sadistic sex game gone awry, Knox has been portrayed in the Italian and British press as an amoral, pot-smoking party girl—an "angel-faced killer," in one headline. Or is she, as her parents and friends contend, an uncommonly sweet and generous girl being railroaded by a rabid prosecutor?

In earlier testimony, several of Kercher's friends described what they considered Knox's bizarre behavior when she was brought into the police station for questioning the day after the murder. Knox blithely began doing cartwheels and handstands and snuggling with Sollecito. "We were all crying, and I didn't see Amanda crying," said Robyn Butterworth. "She and Raffaele were kissing and joking." On the stand, Knox explained: "When I feel uneasy or nervous, I act a bit foolish."

According to authorities, Knox gave conflicting statements about her whereabouts on the night of the murder. So far, however, the prosecution has not been able to link her conclusively to the killing through DNA. (In October a petty criminal named Rudy Guede, 21, who prosecutors say was an accomplice of Knox and Sollecito, was convicted of the crime and sentenced to 30 years, which he is appealing.) A knife that may or may not have been the murder weapon had a trace of Kercher's DNA on the blade and a bit of Knox's on the handle—but as the defense points out, Knox could have used it innocently. And where, asks her father, Curt Knox, is the evidence that his daughter was at the gruesome, blood-spattered crime scene? "To have Amanda leave absolutely no physical trace—no hair, no DNA, no blood—nothing in that room," he says, "is physically impossible." Unless, of course, the two judges and six jurors find otherwise.

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