Actress Hayden Panettiere attends the 2010 CMT Music Awards on June 29. She has been cast as Amanda Knox, who is serving time in an Italian prison for murdering her housemate. (Peter Kramer/Associated Press)

Heroes actress Hayden Panettiere is to play Amanda Knox, the U.S. exchange student who was convicted of murder in the 2007 death of her British housemate.

Panettiere, who plays the indestructible cheerleader on Heroes, is to take the role in a movie for U.S. TV channel Lifetime to air in 2011.

Victim Meredith Kercher was also an exchange student in Perugia, Italy, at the time of the attack.

Knox was convicted in Italy in December 2009 for murder and sexual violence. She has been sentenced to 26 years in prison.

Knox's ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito and small-time drug dealer Rudy Guede were also convicted in the killing, which prosecutors say was a sexual attack. Knox was accused of staging a fake break-in to cover the crime.

Knox's odd behaviour after the body was found aroused police suspicions — she was reported to have performed a cartwheel and done the splits while waiting to be questioned by police.

Kercher's family has objected to the title of the film, The Amanda Knox Story, saying it draws too much attention to a convicted murderer.

They told British newspapers Knox is still before the courts appealing her sentence and a film could prejudice the legal process.