Police probe American artist's death in Italy

FLORENCE, Italy -- Police questioned the friends of an American found dead in her Florence apartment as Italy's expat community expressed hope Sunday that the case won't turn into another Amanda Knox-style, headline-grabbing legal saga.

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Police opened a murder investigation Saturday after 35-year-old Ashley Olsen of Summer Haven, Florida, was found dead, her neck bruised and scratched.

Police said they questioned Olsen's boyfriend, a local artist, Saturday but that they have no suspect so far.

Meanwhile, friends and fellow expats expressed horror at the slaying of a woman known around Florence for her beagle, Scout, and said they hoped her killer would be found quickly.

"I can't imagine a person who would hurt her, she is a gentle, a kind, a beautiful, friendly, lovely girl and it's an awful shock," Amy, a friend who only gave her first name, told The Associated Press in Florence. "We've got a great community here of people and everyone loved her."

Friends and other expats expressed hope that the case wouldn't end up repeating the flawed, flip-flopping investigation into the last high-profile murder case of a foreigner living in Italy, that of Meredith Kercher.

The British student was studying in the Umbrian city of Perugia when she was found dead in 2007. Knox, Kercher's American roommate, and her then-boyfriend were at first convicted of the murder, then acquitted, convicted again on appeal and finally acquitted for good when Italy's Supreme Court last year definitively exonerated them. Another man was convicted and is serving a 16-year sentence.

"I would hope for her sake that this investigation is more clear," said Georgette Jupe, who writes the "Girl in Florence" blog and knew Olsen casually, primarily because they both had beagles and lived near one another in Florence's Santo Spirito neighbourhood.

Social media groups for expats in Florence expressed the same sentiment, with several people posting comments about the parallel to the Kercher investigation, which was harshly criticized in both the American and British media.

Jupe said Olsen was involved in fashion and had moved a few years ago to Florence, where her father was also a professor.

Olsen's Facebook page is full of photos of her and Scout, including on the steps of the Santo Spirito church on the lovely piazza of the same name that is the heart of the "Oltrarno" neighbourhood of the Tuscan city.

"She always with her dog, always sitting on steps of Santo Spirito with friends," Jupe said in a phone interview.

Nicole Winfield reported from Rome.


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