ROME — New, bloody fingerprints have been found on the pillow of a British student found slain in her bedroom in the Italian university town of Perugia earlier this month, a lawyer for the victim’s family said Saturday.
The same person’s prints were also found on toilet paper in the house where the body of Meredith Kercher, 21, was discovered by police on Nov. 2, said the lawyer, Francesco Maresca, in a telephone interview from Florence. He did not know whether the prints belonged to a potential new suspect in the case, but said they did not belong to any of the three suspects now jailed in the probe.
Milan daily Corriere della Sera reported that one of the prints, on Kercher’s pillow, was that of a man’s thumb, but Maresca said he had no details about the prints, including whether they were believed to be those of a man.
“One step away from (finding) a fourth” suspect, headlined Turin daily La Stampa about the fingerprint development.
Kercher’s 20-year-old American flatmate, Amanda Marie Knox, and Knox’s 23-year-old Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, are being held in a Perugia jail as suspects in the woman’s sexual assault and fatal stabbing. Also jailed in the case is a 38-year-old Congolese man, Diya “Patrick” Lumumba, who runs a pub that was frequented by the American.
No charges have been filed. But the Italian judge who upheld the suspects’ detentions said last week that there were “serious indications of guilt” — enough to keep them behind bars for up to a year.
All three suspects have denied involvement in the killing.
Knox has told investigators that Lumumba was infatuated with Kercher and was in the British woman’s bedroom in the hours before the victim was killed, but Lumumba has denied being in the house.
One of Lumumba’s lawyers, Carlo Pacelli, told reporters Saturday that the defense is seeking further scientific analysis to better establish how and precisely when Kercher was killed, including a possible new autopsy on the body, which was flown to Britain on Nov. 11.
The body has not yet been buried, Maresca said.
“In a word, they are seeking to know … the exact hour, the moment of death,” as well as more details on the cause, Maresca said.
Based on the autopsy by the Perugia coroner and accounts by Kerchers’ friends of when she ate dinner with them on Nov. 1, the woman is believed to have died between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Nov. 1, according to court papers filed by the judge who ordered the three suspects held.
But, said Maresca, it is now believed that Kercher “might have eaten something in the house” after she returned from dinner, thus pushing the time of death later. The state of digestion of a victim’s last meal is commonly used in helping to determine time of death.
A later time of death could help Lumumba, since he has claimed he was in the pub later in the evening. Investigators have found cash register receipts to confirm the night spot was operating in late evening.
Maresca said a court order was issued on Saturday authorizing two outside experts to be engaged to study remains of fingernails, tissue and other biological traces of the crime scene that have been preserved on slides.
The experts were scheduled to be formally given the task on Nov. 26, but Maresca said he would press to have their work start earlier. The Kerchers did not have any outside consultant attend the autopsy but could have an expert of their choice observe the court-appointed experts in their review of the evidence, Maresca said.
Earlier in the week, lawyers for Sollecito said that police examining a kitchen knife from Sollecito’s rented apartment in Perugia found DNA traces of Kercher and of Knox on it.
Francesco Sollecito told reporters after visiting his jailed son, Raffaele, that: “I gave him the latest news: It seems that investigators are on the trail of this fourth” suspect who “supposedly, left very obvious traces in the room of poor Meredith,” the Italian news agency quoted the father as saying.
Visiting Lumumba, a longtime resident in Perugia, for the first time since he was jailed was his Polish-born wife, and their toddler son.
Congolese residents in Perugia, which attracts thousands from abroad with its renowned university for foreigners, held a peacefully rally to press for Lumumba’s release from jail.
Lumumba lawyer Pacelli told reporters his client “still has faith in justice. Patrick is innocent and completely extraneous to this ferocious murder. The heart of the accusations” are assertions by Knox, “whom the prosecutor has already branded as a person who has repeatedly lied,” Pacelli said.
Knox has changed her account several times, according to her own lawyer and court documents. At one point she accused the Congolese suspect and said she had to cover her ears to drown out Kercher’s screams from the bedroom.