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Amanda Knox appeals trial resumes in Italy

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Amanda Knox arrives in court in Perugia, central Italy, Saturday, March 12, 2011, as her appeals murder trial resumes in Italy after a two-month break. (AP Photo/Stefano Medici) Amanda Knox arrives in court in Perugia, central Italy, Saturday, March 12, 2011, as her appeals murder trial resumes in Italy after a two-month break. (AP Photo/Stefano Medici)

PERUGIA, Italy (AP) — An Italian appeals court on Saturday heard witnesses brought in by the defense of Amanda Knox to refute testimony that placed the American student near the crime scene the night her British roommate was killed.

Knox was convicted of murdering Meredith Kercher in the apartment they shared as exchange students in Perugia, and sentenced to 26 years in prison. Her co-defendant and ex-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito of Italy, also was convicted and sentenced to 25 years.

They both deny wrongdoing and have appealed the 2009 verdict.

During the first trial, a homeless man, Antonio Curatolo, testified that he had seen Knox and Sollecito in a piazza near the house from about 9:30 p.m. to shortly before midnight on the night Kercher was killed, Nov. 1, 2007. Curatolo said at the time that he was certain because he also remembered seeing buses and other students in the piazza waiting to board buses to go to discos around town.

The defense wants to show that Curatolo, a key witness for the prosecution, is unreliable because he was wrong on the activity in the piazza that night.

Saturday's six witnesses included some operators of shuttle bus services that run from the piazza in question to discos on Perugia's outskirts, as well as people doing work for two discos.

The witnesses said shuttle bus services were not operating that night.

A woman working for one of the discos that normally uses the shuttle bus said her nightclub was closed the night of Nov. 1.

"I'm certain because discos focus on Halloween, which is a big draw. It's like New Year's Eve," said Rita Pucciarini, who at the time of the murder worked for the Red Zone disco. "There were no buses."

Nov. 1 is also a public holiday in Italy.

Luciano Ghirga, a lawyer for Knox, said the testimony "removes the two from the scene of the crime."

Dorothee Nair, a cousin of Knox's mother, said of Saturday's hearing, that "what came out, it was really good for Amanda."

But the prosecution maintained the testimony was inconclusive because it didn't take into account other shuttle bus services, or other discos whose operators have not been heard.

"If ever there is testimony that is completely useless — I don't want to say counterproductive — this is it," prosecutor Manuela Comodi said.

A lawyer for the Kercher family, Francesco Maresca, also noted the testimony said nothing of the public buses that pass through the piazza. "I remain convinced of the reliability of this witness," he told reporters during a break in the session.

Curatolo is expected to take the witness stand again in the next hearing, on March 26. In a blow to the prosecution, Curatolo was recently convicted and arrested on an unrelated drug charge, news reports and officials said.

Knox has said she spent the night at Sollecito's house, watching a movie, smoking pot and having sex.

The trial resumed after a break of almost two months.

Relatives and friends in court described the 23-year-old Knox, who has been looking pale and appears to have lost weight, as strong and hopeful during the appeals trial, which also includes a review of DNA evidence used to link the defendants to the crime.

"She's strong, she's doing OK," said university friend Madison Paxton, who has been attending hearings in Perugia.

Knox and Sollecito have been behind bars since Nov. 6, 2007. Four days earlier, Kercher's body had been found, stab wounds to her neck and a pool of blood around it.

Prosecutors say the 21-year-old Briton was murdered in what had begun as a sexual assault.

A third person, Rudy Hermann Guede of the Ivory Coast, also has been convicted of murder in a separate proceeding. Italy's highest criminal court has upheld Guede's conviction and his 16-year-prison sentence. Guede denies any wrongdoing.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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