Meredith Kercher verdict: Amanda Knox found guilty of murder

AMANDA Knox was found guilty last night of the brutal sex murder of British student Meredith Kercher and sentenced to 26 years in prison by an Italian court.

• British student Meredith Kercher

Knox, 22, burst in to tears and screamed "No, No" as she was led away by prison guards after the judge had finished reading out the verdict. Her lawyer, Carlo Della Vedova, put his arm around her and two female jurors were also in tears.

The American student's family, who had sat in the back of the Perugia court holding hands and asking onlookers to "keep their fingers crossed", broke down sobbing uncontrollably.

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Her father, Curt, held back tears when he was asked if he would fight on and said: "Hell, yes. This is wrong. We know she is innocent." Her mother Edda

said: "We will never get justice in this city, as the appeal will be held here."

Knox's ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, who was also convicted of murder and sentenced to 25 years, remained impassive. But his stepmother screamed out "Raffaele, no'' as he was led away.

Ms Kercher's family's lawyer, Francesco Maresca, said: "They got the justice they were expecting. We got what we were hoping for."

Judge Giancarlo Massei and the six-strong jury had taken more than 13 hours to reach their verdict, which was announced just after midnight local time.

Knox and Sollecito, 25, were both found jointly guilty of murder, sexual assault and staging a crime but they were cleared of theft. Knox was also found guilty of defaming bar owner Patrick Lumumba after she tried to frame him by naming him as the killer.

The former lovers were also ordered to pay 5 million (4.5m) damages to Meredith's family, while Knox was told to pay Mr Lumumba 40,000.

Ms Kercher, 21, was found semi-naked and with her throat cut in the bedroom of the house she shared with Knox. She had been killed for refusing to take part in a drug fuelled sex game.

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The court had heard how Knox, described by one lawyer as a "she-devil", had dealt the fatal blow to Ms Kercher's throat, which caused her to die a slow and painful death lasting ten minutes.

Immediately after the verdict, Knox and Sollecito were ushered away by guards and then driven to Perugia's Capanne jail, where they have spent the past two years.

Crucial to the case was a 30cm kitchen knife found at Sollecito's flat. Ms Kercher's DNA was found on the blade and Knox's DNA was near the handle.

There was also a clasp from Ms Kercher's blood-soaked bra found at the scene which contained the DNA of Sollecito and that of a third suspect, Ivory Coast drifter Rudy Guede, 22. He was found guilty in October 2008 of murdering and sexually assaulting Ms Kercher and he is appealing his conviction – he has always admitted being at the scene but insists he did not kill her.

Knox had first attracted police attention after being seen kissing and cuddling Sollecito outside the house where Ms Kercher's lifeless body had been found. They claimed they had spent the night together, smoking cannabis, watching the film Amlie and then going to bed after making love.

Then, during breaks in questioning, she was seen cartwheeling and doing the splits at Perugia's central police station and complaining of feeling "tired".

She had appeared cold and unemotional while waiting with Ms Kercher's friends to be questioned in a police waiting room – after one friend said "I hope Meredith didn't suffer too much", she replied, "What do you think? She f****** bled to death".

She then tried to frame Mr Lumumba, 38, the owner of a bar where she worked, telling police that she "remembered covering her ears" as he murdered Ms Kercher in the bedroom, while she was in the kitchen.

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As a result of what she said, Mr Lumumba was held in jail for two weeks before being freed without charge after customers came forward to say they had seen him working at his bar, Le Chic, on the night of the murder.

In the closing stages of the trial, the prosecution played an animated film to the jury which showed step by step how the murder had been committed. Prosecutor Giuliano Mignini explained how there had been more than 40 wounds on Ms Kercher's body, including cuts on her hand as she had frantically fought to live.

Knox, Sollecito and Guede were seen as Second Life avatars and at key moments of the film, photographs of Ms Kercher's autopsy were superimposed to show her injuries in real life. It showed how Knox had dealt the fatal blow to her throat while Sollecito held her down and Guede sexually assaulted her.

Ms Kercher, from Coulsdon, Surrey, was a Leeds University student and was in Perugia as part of her European Studies degree. She had been in Italy for only two months when she was killed in November 2007.