American student Amanda Knox exuded confidence Friday as she rejected charges that she helped kill her British housemate after group sex play turned violent in an Italian university town.
Accusing police of hitting and bullying her to force her to make false statements, Knox said she had spent the night of the November 2007 sex-murder at the home of her Italian boyfriend of two weeks, Raffaele Sollicito.
"The declarations were taken against my will," said Knox, 21, taking the stand for the first time since the trial began in January, asserting that her interrogators repeatedly called her a "stupid liar."
"Everything I said was said in confusion and under pressure and because they were suggested by the (investigators)," she added.
Asked whether police had hit her before she stated that the victim, Meredith "Mez" Kercher of Coulsdon, England, had been raped, she replied "yes."
Knox also said harsh questioning had pushed her to state that she was at home at the time of the murder and could hear Kercher scream, and to accuse her part-time boss of the crime.
Instead, Knox said Friday, she spent the night with Sollecito at his flat, where they smoked marijuana, had sex and watched a movie.
The two, who face 30 years in prison if convicted, have been held since a few days after Kercher was found semi-nude with her throat cut in the house in the walled medieval town of Perugia that she shared with Knox.
The lurid headlines in Britain and Knox's hometown of Seattle, Washington, sparked fears that she would not have a fair trial.
Prosecutors allege that the 22-year-old victim was murdered after refusing to join in an orgy on the night of Nov 1, 2007, along with 20-year-old Rudy Guede, from Ivory Coast.
While claiming innocence, Guede, who worked as a casual laborer here, opted for a "fast-track" trial and has already been convicted and sentenced to 30 years for his role in the murder.
In the prosecutors' scenario, Guede held Kercher down while Sollecito and Knox stabbed her.
Guede was quoted in Friday's Italian press as saying from his prison cell: "You were there, Amanda, tell the truth."
Testifying in a clear, confident voice in fluent Italian, sometimes laughing or gesticulating, Knox explained her nickname "Foxy Knoxy" as a reference to her skill at football, which she said she had played since she was a child.
Knox, dressed in white with her hair pulled back in a ponytail, said her relationship with Sollecito was "very special," and that she had fallen in love with him just two weeks before the murder.
Asked about a red area on her neck shown widely in newspaper close-ups after her arrest, she laughed and said it was a "hickey, a love bite from Raffaele."
Knox said her questioners had led her to accuse bar owner and musician Patrick Lumumba, for whom she worked twice a week, of murdering Kercher.
"In my confusion I started to imagine that maybe I was traumatized, like what they said," she told Lumumba's lawyer Carlo Pacelli.
The Congolese Lumumba, who was held for two weeks before being released without charge, is suing Knox for defamation and was present at the hearing.
The defendant said she was "very sorry, gutted, (when she learned) that Patrick was still in jail because of me."
Pacelli later said: "She is a very good actress."
Knox's early statement that she covered her ears so as not to hear Meredith's screams "was true," Pacelli said, insisting that her questioners could not have suggested that scenario.
Also Friday, Knox said that when she heard that Guede was arrested, "I thought they would let me go... I felt great relief, but then they kept me in custody."
Kercher's family are seeking 30 million euros ($40 million) from the alleged killers.
Their lawyer Francesco Maresca dismissed assertions of a bungled investigation, saying: "The probe was perfect, very good work."
He was confident of a conviction in the long-running trial. "All the necessary elements are in place to arrive at a conviction... probably in October."
Both Kercher and Knox had arrived in the normally quiet Umbrian university town in September 2007.© Wire reports