Lawyers for Suspects in Slaying of British Student Seek Their Release

Lawyers for two suspects jailed in connection with the slaying of a British student said Sunday they were hopeful their clients could be freed after investigators found a bloody fingerprint from someone else on the victim's pillow.

A lawyer for a third suspect — the victim's 20-year-old American roommate, Amanda Marie Knox — said reports that a new suspect had been identified changed little for his client. Luciano Ghirga said Knox had never mentioned any such person in her two declarations to prosecutors.

Meredith Kercher, 21, was found dead on Nov. 2 in her apartment in Perugia, northeast of Rome. She was sexually assaulted and fatally stabbed.

Knox's 23-year-old Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito; and a Congolese pub owner, Diya "Patrick" Lumumba, 38, are also being held in a Perugia jail as suspects.

Their lawyers said the discovery bolsters their appeals to a court to review the judge's Nov. 9 ruling jailing their clients. A date for a new hearing on the detentions is expected to be announced this week.

The lawyers praised indications that investigators were turning their attention to another suspect after bloody fingerprints were discovered on Kercher's pillowcase and on toilet paper in the house that did not match those of any of the three jailed suspects.

Tiziano Tedeschi, the attorney for Sollecito, called the new lead "good news."

Tedeschi said investigators knew from the beginning that there were such traces and that Kercher was found with hair clutched in her hands. He said investigators should have focused on identifying the DNA from those samples rather than detaining his client in haste.

"This is the first suspect, not the fourth," he said in a phone interview. "They should have immediately focused their attention on this subject, and then if there were others."

Italian news reports said Sunday that investigators were believed to have identified the "fourth suspect," based on the bloody fingerprints, as a man from the Ivory Coast with a known criminal record, and that he was believed to have been formally placed under investigation.

Phone calls placed to prosecutors were not answered Sunday and messages left with police seeking confirmation of the reports were not returned.

No charges have been filed against the three suspects in custody, but the Italian judge who upheld the suspects' detentions has said there were "serious indications of guilt" that warranted keeping them behind bars for up to a year while the investigation continues.

All three have denied involvement in the killing.

"I'm convinced this is an open case," Lumumba's lawyer, Carlo Pacelli said of the new investigative lead.

He said that he hopes the hearing would confirm that his client had nothing to do with the slaying. Lumumba has said he was at his pub, not in the apartment, on the night of the slaying.

Tedeschi said he thought prosecutors were eager to close the case because it has been so widely publicized.

"They (prosecutors) didn't want to find the truth; they wanted to close the case and make a 'bella figura,"' he said.