PERUGIA, Italy (Reuters) - American student Amanda Knox made a tearful plea on Monday to be acquitted of murdering her British roommate during a brutal erotic game, saying she was paying with her life for a crime she did not commit.

"I am the same person I was four years ago," said Knox, visibly shaking and fighting to hold back tears. "I am not what they say I am," she said, seeking to rebut prosecution suggestions that she was a manipulative, sex-mad "she-devil."

"I lost a friend, in the most brutal and inexplicable way possible. My absolute faith in the police authorities was betrayed, I've had to face absolutely unfair ... and baseless accusations. I am paying with my life for things I did not commit."

The Seattle native and her Italian boyfriend at the time, Raffaele Sollecito, are fighting a 2009 verdict that found them guilty of stabbing Leeds University exchange student Meredith Kercher to death during a drug-fueled sexual assault.

The panel of two professional and six lay judges retired to consider a verdict immediately after Knox's final plea. Their decision is expected after 8 p.m. (1800 GMT) on Monday.


Expectations are high among many in the United States that 24-year-old Knox will walk free from the Perugia prison where she has spent nearly four years, after a forensic review cast deep doubt on DNA evidence used to convict her and 27-year-old Sollecito.

In his own final plea Sollecito said in a halting voice: "I am a Mr Nobody but now they want Mr Nobody to spend the rest of his life in jail."

Francesco Maresca, a lawyer for the Kercher family, did not comment on the pleas made by Knox and Sollecito, but said the Kerchers were stunned at the media clamor for their release.

"We're just hours away from a sentence in such an important trial and we continue to only hear pleas for acquittal almost as if the decision is a foregone conclusion," he told reporters.

The Kerchers -- mother Arline, sister Stephanie and brother Lyele -- missed the hearing because their flight landed just as the judges retired. But they are expected in court for the verdict.

The appeal trial has gripped attention on both sides of the Atlantic, four years after 21-year-old Kercher's body was found in a pool of blood in the university town.

The people of Perugia resent the media attention, believing the hitherto quaint image of their city has been sullied by allegations of drugs, drink and orgies among students there.