- Associated Press - Monday, September 5, 2011

PERUGIA, Italy (AP) — The police official who conducted the original investigation in the Amanda Knox case defended her standards Monday after an independent review harshly criticized the evidence used to convict the American student of murdering her British roommate.

Police officer Patrizia Stefanoni took the stand as Knox’s appeals trial resumed after the summer recess. A verdict is expected by the end of the month.

Knox and her co-defendant and one-time boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were convicted of sexually assaulting and killing Meredith Kercher in the apartment that Knox and Kercher, 21, shared while studying in Perugia. Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison; Sollecito, to 25. Both deny wrongdoing and have appealed the Dec. 29 verdict.

An independent review of DNA traces in the case found that much of the evidence collected in the original investigation fell below international standards and may have led to contamination of the samples. The review especially focused on some traces of DNA linking the defendants to the crime and concluded that because of the risk of contamination and the low amounts of DNA used for the testing, it was impossible to extract a genetic profile with any certainty.

In the first trial, prosecutors maintained that Knox’s DNA was found on the knife’s handle and Kercher’s DNA was found on the blade. They also say Sollecito’s DNA was found on the clasp of Kercher’s bra, mixed with the victim’s.

Carla Vecchiotti, one expert questioned Monday over the extraction of DNA profiles from the bra clasp, said the data was so mixed that a very high number of genetic profiles could be extracted, depending how one combined the data.

“I could find yours, too,” Ms. Vecchiotti told the presiding judge. “I’m there, too,” she said, adding that some data was compatible with her own DNA. She said Kercher’s profile was the only certain one.

The findings have boosted the defendants’ efforts to be cleared and gain freedom after almost four years in prison.

Curt Knox, the defendant’s father, said he was hopeful that the case was turning in his daughter’s direction.

“The independent experts have done a very good job evaluating the information,” he said. “I don’t see it breaking down at this point. I see it’s been good for Amanda and Raffaele.”

Giulia Bongiorno, a lawyer for Sollecito, said DNA can be “formidable evidence” but not with such a mixed, confusing trace.

“Poorly collected DNA can lead to an error of justice,” she told reporters during a break in the proceedings.

The two independent experts were appointed by the appeals court at the defense’s request. Over two sessions of fierce cross-examination, both the prosecutors and a lawyer representing the Kercher family sought to undermine the experts’ testimony and insisted that the evidence could stand.

Ms. Stefanoni, the forensic police officer, countered some of the points made in the review, saying that DNA analyses were carried out from behind a glass wall to avoid the risk of contamination. She also said some of the standard protocols cited by the experts were published after she finished her report in May 2008.

Using some of the 119 slides she said she had prepared, she challenged the experts’ finding over DNA quantity, analysis and evidence-collection techniques. Her testimony will continue Tuesday.

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