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Sunday, November 18, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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New lead raises hopes for some suspects in slaying of British student

The Associated Press

ROME — 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, University of Washington student Amanda Marie Knox — was reticent about discussing the fingerprint.

But Luciano Ghirga said reports that a fourth suspect had been identified may change little for his client, who has accused one of the other two jailed suspects of killing Meredith Kercher. Ghirga said Knox had never mentioned a fourth suspect.

Knox has changed her account several times, according to Ghirga and court documents. At one point she accused Congolese pub owner Diya "Patrick" Lumumba, 38, and said she had to cover her ears to drown out Kercher's screams from next door. In another version, she said she was not at home the night of the killing, according to the judge's ruling upholding her detention. But a street camera caught her entering her home that evening, according to Italian reports.

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, is also being held in a Perugia jail as a suspect.

Attorneys for all three have appealed for a review of 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.

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.

Italian news reports said today 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 today 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.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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