PERUGIA, Italy (Reuters) - Italian prosecutors on Friday made a final plea to keep Amanda Knox in prison for life, urging a court to ignore a “million dollar” public relations campaign as they wrapped up their case, painting her as a senseless killer who murdered her housemate in an erotic game.
Knox and her Italian ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito are fighting their convictions for the murder of Briton Meredith Kercher, whose bruised, half-naked body was found in a pool of blood in the Umbrian university town of Perugia in 2007.
In final rebuttals to closing arguments, prosecutors urged the court to uphold Knox’s sentence for murdering Kercher during a sex game gone wrong and warned the Seattle native would flee Italy if freed. The defense hit back by saying the case was deliberately constructed around Knox rather than the evidence.
A verdict in the case, which has gripped public attention on both sides of the Atlantic, is due on Monday.
“They were young but they killed for no reason,” said prosecutor Manuela Comodi. “They killed for no reason and for this they should be given the maximum sentence, which luckily in Italy is not the death sentence.”
If the guilty verdicts are overturned, both would be freed immediately. Speculation has been rife that Knox would be whisked home to the United States if she is released from the Umbrian prison where she has been held for nearly four years.
Any subsequent appeal by prosecutors or any re-trial might then have to take place in Knox’s absence.
“We know that if the verdict is overturned, there will be an immediate escape overseas,” prosecutor Giuliano Mignini told the court in rebuttals after closing arguments.
“As a result, even if this is the second of a three-step legal process in Italy, it is up to you to ensure justice.”
Rather than a victim of media “crucifixion” as her defense alleges, Knox was backed by a “never before seen public relations campaign that cost over a $1 million,” he said.
Knox’s lawyers later fired back saying the prosecution’s case had been like a movie where the Seattle student had been picked to play the role of a “protagonist,” with her guilt assumed right from the start.
If her conviction is upheld, Knox would have one more chance to appeal. She was sentenced to 26 years in prison after the first trial, while Sollecito was given 25 years.
Rudy Guede, a drifter from the Ivory Coast with a criminal record, is also serving time for taking part in Kercher’s murder. He has also maintained his innocence.
Kercher’s mother and sister are expected to attend Monday’s court session when the verdict is announced. They have kept a low profile since the murder, in stark contrast to the Knox family, which has waged a ceaseless media campaign to free her.
Kercher, who was studying at Leeds University, was on a year-long exchange program in Perugia, a cobble-stoned town popular with foreigners studying Italian, when she was murdered the night after Halloween in 2007.
Her family’s lawyer has described her as sunny young woman “full of life” who was killed in a brutal assault during which the 21-year-old was held down by her assailants. Her body was found with more than 40 wounds and her throat had been slit.
Kercher’s mother could not attend most of the trial for health reasons and the rest of her family could not afford to attend, family lawyer Francesco Maresca said.
“They (the family) will look into your eyes just one time and with one gaze they will ask you to confirm the truth,” Maresca told the jury of two professional and six lay judges.
He contrasted reports that a private jet was waiting to fly Knox home with the trouble Kercher’s family was having in finding tickets to come to the trial.
Knox and Sollecito deny any role in the murder and say they spent the night of the crime in the Italian’s apartment watching the movie “Amelie,” smoking pot and having sex.
Sollecito’s father told Reuters his son, who began dating Knox just over a week before the murder, was “very scared” but “hopeful of the right verdict.”
Knox, who has been described as everything from a diabolical “she-devil” to “Jessica Rabbit” and a “Venus in Furs” during the past week of court hearings, took notes or listened intently as the appeals trial moved to a conclusion.
Her parents, whose hopes of taking their daughter back to Seattle have been boosted by a forensics review that cast major doubt on two key pieces of police evidence, said the stress of the trial had caught up with her.
“She’s extremely tense, she’s losing weight, she can’t eat, she can’t sleep,” Knox’s mother Edda Mellas said on Friday.
“These people hold her life in their hands, it’s hugely stressful, it has been for years now. But you know, she’ll get out of there and be okay.”
Editing by Barry Moody and Karolina Tagaris