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Trial begins in the case that shocked Italy

AN American college student and her Italian former boyfriend went on trial yesterday accused of sexually assaulting and murdering her roommate in a slaying that shocked Italy.

Amanda Knox from Seattle and Raffaele Sollecito appeared in front of an eight-member jury in the tiny courthouse in Perugia, central Italy.

The defendants -- who both proclaim their innocence -- were indicted in October for the slaying of 21-year-old British student Meredith Kercher, who was found stabbed to death in 2007 in an apartment in Perugia, 185 kilometers north of Rome.

Knox, 21, wearing jeans and a gray, hooded sweat shirt, smiled and chatted with an interpreter, while Sollecito, 24, wearing beige trousers and a bright green sweater, looked tense. The two were seated next to their lawyers and guarded by prison officers.

A lawyer for Kercher's family sought to have the proceedings closed to the public and the media to prevent the publication of sensitive evidence. Presiding judge Giancarlo Massei barred cameras from filming the proceedings but ruled the trial would remain open, though some sessions could be held behind closed doors.

Among other procedural issues discussed, lawyers for Sollecito argued the arrest warrant for their client was invalid. Massei adjourned the proceedings to consider the issue. Later in the afternoon the court was also expected to discuss the witness list.

Knox and Sollecito have been detained for more than a year in Italy. A third suspect, Ivory Coast national Rudy Hermann Guede, was sentenced to 30 years in prison last year after being convicted on the same charges. Guede had also denied wrongdoing.

Knox, a University of Washington student, was sharing a Perugia flat with Kercher, an exchange student from Leeds University in England, when the Briton was found dead in the apartment on November 2, 2007.

Prosecutors allege that the woman was killed during what began as a sex game, with Sollecito holding her by the shoulders from behind while Knox touched her with the point of a knife. They say Guede tried to sexually assault Kercher, and then Knox stabbed her in the throat.


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