New tests for 'murder weapon' in Amanda Knox case

Amanda Knox arrives at court for her latest murder appeal hearing

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An Italian court has appointed two independent experts to review crucial DNA evidence found on the knife allegedly used to murder British student Meredith Kercher.

Amanda Knox was in court for the latest hearing in her appeal against her conviction for murdering her housemate.

The experts were formally sworn in on Saturday to re-examine the disputed DNA traces.

The American, 23, was jailed for 26 years in 2009 for the 2007 killing.

As the appeal resumed for its first court session of 2011, Stefano Conti and Carla Vecchiotti, from Rome's Sapienza University, were given 90 days to conduct their review of crucial evidence, which includes disputed DNA traces found on the clasp of Miss Kercher's bra.

Mr Conti asked the judge for permission to remove the knife handle to test for DNA traces on the blade. He was told he would have to make a formal request.

The pair are due to report their findings to the court on 21 May. Knox will remain in prison.

"This is a key moment," Knox's lawyer Carlo Dalla Vedova said before the hearing started. "Today, for the first time, independent experts will be asked to examine the evidence."

Knox's stepfather, Chris Mellas, who was in the court in Perugia, said: "We support anything they want to do in order to reach the truth."

'She is apprehensive'

Knox's ex-boyfriend is also appealing against his murder conviction. Raffaele Sollecito, 26, was found guilty at the end of the same trial and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Legal teams for the two defendants maintain the evidence now under review - which was used to secure their convictions - was inconclusive and may have been contaminated when analysed.

Knox hopes the review will help her overturn her conviction for the killing, in the Italian town of Perugia in 2007.

Mr Mellas added that Saturday's hearing was a "step in the right direction" for his stepdaughter.

"She is doing OK; she is apprehensive though," he added. "We have had things go well in the past and still she is in prison. Still they found her guilty at the first hearing."

Miss Kercher, 21, from Coulsdon, south London, was found with her throat cut on November 2, 2007, in her bedroom at the house she shared with Knox and others during her year abroad.

The original trial heard that Knox and Sollecito had cornered Miss Kercher after starting a sex game with Ivorian drug dealer Rudy Guede - who was jailed for 30 years for the killing after a separate hearing, although that was reduced to 16 years on appeal.

Guede failed to get his conviction overturned by Italy's highest court last December.

Leeds University student Miss Kercher's body was found partially covered by a duvet in her bedroom in the house she shared with Knox in Perugia.

Knox, from Seattle, has continued to protest her innocence from behind bars and her family insists there is no proof that their daughter killed Miss Kercher.

They hope this appeal, which could last several months, will clear her of all charges. However, if her conviction is upheld, her sentence could be increased.

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