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Florence - Patrick Lumumba, the Congolese pub owner who spent two weeks in prison in 2007 after being wrongly implicated in the murder of British student Meredith Kercher, wants the real culprit to finally be nabbed.
“Poor Meredith deserves justice,” he said as the fourth trial in six years on the Kercher case opened in Florence, Italy.
The country's Byzantine legal system has struggled to find a definitive answer to the question of who killed the 21-year-old, who was found in her bedroom on November 2, 2007, half naked, her body covered with multiple stab wounds.
Judges in Perugia, the medieval university town where Kercher had gone to study abroad for a year, first blamed her former flatmate Amanda Knox and her then-lover, Italian Raffaele Sollecito. They were eventually sentenced to long prison sentences in 2009.
But two years later, in 2011, an appeals court overturned the ruling and set Knox and Sollecito free, finding that incriminating DNA evidence from the murder scene was unreliable.
The wheel turned again in March this year, when a top appeals body invalidated that verdict and ordered a retrial to take place in Florence.
Carlo Della Vedova, a member of Knox's defence panel, argued that the Kercher case risked going back and forth between Italian courts “ad infinitum,” as the highest appeal body, the Court of Cassation, can always invalidate the verdicts issued by lower tribunals.
Paradoxically, he argued in favour of adding another hurdle to the saga: stopping proceedings in Florence to ask Italy's Constitutional Court whether Knox's right to be judged in a reasonable amount of time was being breached.
Prosecutor Alessandro Crini dismissed the request as “irrelevant” and “manifestly unfounded.” He noted that appeals have to be properly motivated and stressed the overarching aim of “getting closer and closer to the (judicial) truth.”
Giulia Bongiorno, a high-profile lawyer and a one-time lawmaker who was once allied with former premier Silvio Berlusconi, was in court representing Sollecito. She warned that proceedings risked dragging on “for the next five or six years.”
To stave off that risk, she urged presiding judge Alessandro Nencini to turn down prosecutors' requests to listen to “unreliable” witnesses, such as a woman who says she heard a scream coming from Kercher's apartment the night she is believed to have been killed.
At the same time, she called for more “scientific” tests on contentious issues, such as whether Sollecito and Knox could really have erased their traces from Kercher's bedroom while leaving those of Rudy Guede, their alleged accomplice.
The Ivory Coast-born Guede is serving a 16-year jail term after being found guilty in separate fast-track proceedings that ended three years ago. Judges concluded that he did not act alone and suggested that Kercher may have been killed after group sex.
Meanwhile, Crini agreed to more DNA testing on the presumed murder weapon - a knife - and for the court to hear again Sollecito's ex prison cellmate Luciano Aviello, a witness of suspect reliability.
Both moves were suggested by the Cassation Court when it invalidated Knox and Sollecito's acquittal.
Nencini, the man who was going to decide what the retrial was going to focus on, signaled that he did not want to steamroll ahead. “This is is not a Taliban court, we will give everybody time to make their arguments,” he said.
In a letter presented by their lawyer, Francesco Maresca, Kercher's parents and her sister Stephanie said they would follow proceedings from their home in Britain, hoping for closure.
“It has been the most difficult six years of our lives,” they wrote. “We desperately want to find the truth and justice for Meredith, who was so brutally and unnecessarily taken from us.”
Lumumba, who was dragged into the affair after Knox lied to police that she saw him entering Kercher's bedroom, had more clear-cut expectations. He told reporters that all he wanted was “that Amanda goes back to prison.”