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Student’s trial hears cause of death

PERUGIA, Italy — A British student killed in Italy in 2007 died from suffocation caused by her murderers, showing a clear intent to kill, as well as from the stab wounds inflicted to her neck, a forensic expert told a court Friday.

As the expert took the stand, the family of victim Meredith Kercher arrived in this central Italian town to testify at the trial of an American student from Seattle and her ex-boyfriend who are charged with murder and sexual violence.

Kercher, a 21-year-old student at Leeds University in England, was found stabbed to death on Nov. 2, 2007 in the house she rented in Perugia, where she was an exchange student.

Her roommate, Amanda Knox, 21, and 25-year-old Raffaele Sollecito of Italy are standing trial. They deny wrongdoing.

Prosecutors allege the defendants strangled and stabbed Kercher in her neck. They say the woman was killed during what began as a sex game.

Forensic expert Gianaristide Norelli, a witness called by the Kercher family, said the main cause of Kercher’s death was suffocation.

Court documents have said suffocation was caused by the hemorrhage following the neck wounds. But Norelli said suffocation was also aided “manually” by forcing the victim’s mouth and nose shut and by strangling her.

This, Norelli argued, showed a clear intent to kill, while the neck wounds might have been inflicted with the intent to scare or threaten the victim.

He said that Kercher’s own movement might have inadvertently contributed to making the stab wounds deeper.

The wounds were compatible with a kitchen knife the prosecution said might have been the murder weapon, Norelli said. The knife, which was found at Sollecito’s house, has a 6.69-inch blade.

Knox and Sollecito, jailed since shortly after the slaying, have given conflicting statements over their whereabouts the night of the murder.

Sollecito has said he was at his own apartment in Perugia, working at his computer. He said he doesn’t remember if Knox spent the whole night with him or just part of it.

Knox initially said she was in the house during the slaying, then insisted she was not home.

The two risk Italy’s stiffest punishment, life imprisonment, if convicted of murder.

Prosecutors said Knox’s DNA was found on the handle of the kitchen knife, and Kercher’s DNA was found on the blade. Francesca Torricelli, a DNA expert also called by the Kercher family, confirmed the findings of the prosecutors.

“I have no doubt” the traces are compatible, she told the court Friday.

Torricelli also confirmed the prosecutors’ finding that DNA compatible with Sollecito’s had been found on the clasp of Kercher’s bra.

Sollecito’s defense has challenged this, contending that the clasp was contaminated because it was not collected by forensic experts until several weeks after the slaying.

The Kercher family arrived in Perugia at midday and went straight to the courtroom.

Kercher’s mother and father filed past reporters without comment. The victim’s sister, Stephanie Kercher, only said she felt “anxious” going inside, where the family listened to some witnesses.