Italian Coroner Unsure If Slain British Student Meredith Kercher Was Raped

A coroner's report on the slaying of a British student in Italy, in which her American roommate is among three suspects, says it cannot be determined if the victim was raped before she was killed.

The report, made available to The Associated Press on Thursday, is one factor that judges must consider as they rule on whether the suspects should continue to be held in the case.

Italy's highest court is expected to decide April 1 whether to keep Universityof Washington student Amanda Knox, of Seattle, her former Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito and Ivory Coast national Rudy Hermann Guede in jail while the probe of the Nov. 1 slaying continues.

The victim was Meredith Kercher, a 21-year-old from Leeds University in England, who was enrolled for a year of study in Perugia, a picturesque university town in central Italy.

She was found dead from a stab wound to the neck, lying half-naked in a pool of blood in the apartment she shared with Knox.

Prosecutors have said she was killed resisting sexual assault. They are investigating the three people in jail on suspicion of murder and sexual violence.

But the new report, issued last month by coroner and prosecution consultant Luca Lalli, said it could not be determined if Kercher was raped. "It cannot be said with certainty if there has been sexual violence or attempted sexual violence," Lalli said in the report.

Though bruises found on Kercher suggest she had at least hurried intercourse, possibly against her will, the evidence was not enough "to remove all doubt," the report said.

Hair and other organic material were found under Kercher's nails, it said.

DNA testing earlier determined that Guede, whose fingerprint was found in bloodstains on Kercher's pillow, had sex with Kercher the night she died. Guede, 21, acknowledged being in the woman's room that night, but said he did not kill her — accusing an Italian who he claimed was trying to frame him. It was not clear whom Guede accused.

The coroner's report, sent to prosecutors Feb. 13, said the murder weapon was only "generically compatible" with a knife found in Sollecito's apartment, which had Knox's DNA on the handle and Kercher's on the blade.

Knox, 20, and Sollecito, 23, have been jailed in Perugia since Nov. 6. Guede was arrested in Germany and later extradited to Italy. He is believed to have fled Perugia shortly after the slaying.

All three suspects deny wrongdoing.

Guede's defense lawyer, Nicodemo Gentile, said Thursday that the coroner's report was "important, but partial" and that further tests were being carried out. He said he expected the court to rule in favor of his client's release.

Lawyers for Knox and Sollecito declined comment.

Requests to have the three suspects released have already been rejected by judges in Perugia. Those judges have said the three could be held for up to a year while the case is investigated. The suspects have not been formally charged.

Prosecutors declined comment on the report's findings, saying only that the charge of sexual assault still stands.

They said they expect to wrap up the investigation — and possibly seek indictments — before this summer. By law, they have up to two years to investigate.

A fourth suspect, Congolese pub owner Diya "Patrick" Lumumba, was arrested but then quickly released for lack of evidence. However, he is still considered a suspect.

Knox at one point told investigators that Lumumba was the killer.

Knox has given conflicting statements, first saying she was not home the night of the slaying and later telling prosecutors she was in the apartment and had to cover her ears to muffle Kercher's screams while Lumumba killed her.

Knox's parents said in a recent interview on ABC television that their daughter could never have committed such a crime. Her mother, Edda Mellas, said Knox's story had stayed "absolutely consistent" except for the one she told during her first interrogation, when she was "the most scared that she's ever been in her entire life."

According to prosecutors, a drop of Knox's blood found on a bathroom faucet places her at the apartment the night of the slaying or the morning after. A bloody footprint near Kercher's body was matched to Sollecito's shoes, placing him at the crime scene as well.

Defense lawyers have maintained there is not enough evidence linking the knife to Kercher's wounds or the shoes to the footprint. They say Sollecito was at his own apartment in Perugia, working at his computer.

Both Knox and Sollecito have explained confused recollections and conflicting statements by saying they had smoked hashish the night of the killing, according to court documents.