March 9, 2014
Knox is making headlines all over US — again
For The Herald in US
A young woman is at the centre of an Italian murder case trial once moreNEW YORK - News about her have shared front pages of online and printed media with the Super Bowl, the unexpected death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, the allegations that Woody Allen had abused her adopted daughter, the first deficit reduction in years, the new CEO appointed by Microsoft. Amanda Knox, now a 26-year-old Creative Writing student living in her native Seattle, WA, was on the verge of tears all through her TV interview in Good Morning, America: “I’m going to fight this to the very end. It’s not right, and it’s not fair.”
She was referring to her second conviction—this time, in absentia—by an Italian Court for the sexual assault and murder in 2007 of 21-year-old British student Meredith Kercher, her roommate in Perugia, where both have arrived for a study abroad programme.
Knox’s boyfriend of one week, Raffaele Sollecito, was tried with her. Both were convicted: 26 years and 25 years, respectively. They had spent four years in prison when a higher court decision reverted the first verdict in 2011, which allowed Knox to come back into the US, to her mother’s house and her college studies, and a 3.8M contract for her best-selling memoir, Waiting to Be Heard.
The man whose DNA was found in the victim’s body and all over the crime scene was also tried. But Rudy Guede, from Ivory Coast, then 20-years-old, chose a separate, speedy trial. He admitted guilt and was sentenced to 30 years; on appeal, when he changed his statement and placed Knox and Sollecito in The House of Horrors—as the Italian and British tabloids dubbed the apartment the young women shared with other two students from Italy— his sentence was reduced to 16 years. He might be eligible for parole this year.
The prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, accused of forcing facts to fit into his theory and contaminating evidence, appealed the second verdict. The Supreme Court ordered a re-trial, and on January 30, 2014, Knox and Sollecito were found guilty for the second time and sentenced to 28 and a half years and 25 years.
Headlines in the US are not merely about the extradition that Italy might likely request if this new ruling—which will be appealed—stands, or the misunderstandings caused to the lay audience by the differences between US Common Law and the Italian System of Justice.
One of the issues at stake is the tragedy of wrongful convictions, widely known in the US. That problem would not only leave—in this case—Kercher’s family with the unbearable burden of not knowing about her loved one’s last moments, but would also create new victims: Knox and Sollecito, if innocent.
The other factors seem to have influenced that controversial outcome.
A strong anti-Americanism in a city of 160,000 inhabitants, 25 percent of whom are young Italian and foreign students unfavourable to the actions of the US in the post bi-polar world, from the Gulf Wars to Libya and Syria and the economic inequality.
The role of the press in the lynching of the young, beautiful, sexually active American female student, a story of sex & drugs & witchcraft that sold particularly well when Silvio Berlusconi was in power for the last time, partying hard.
It still seems to sell in the UK tabloids. “It makes a mockery of the Italian magistrates (…) who regularly risk their lives prosecuting the mafia in that very same courtroom. Has American arrogance ever been so bold?,” asked Andrea Vogt in The Week. Allison Phillips wrote in The Mirror: “No efforts at rebranding herself as a thoughtful demure victim (…) can hide true guilt. Amanda is clearly desperate to shed the image of Foxy Knoxy, which catapulted her to international attention.” In The Daily Mail, Hannah Roberts argued: “Knox has successfully won over millions in the US to her cause counting Donald Trump among her supporters. Even early on senators petitioned Hilary Clinton on her behalf, claiming it was an anti-American trial.”
Foxy Knoxy was the nick-name that Knox was given as a teenage soccer player for her way to move to get the ball. She resurrected it, with unfortunate timing, on her MySpace page along with an alluring picture when she left Seattle for Perugia. She wrote in her memoir: “Before Italy, I’d had sex with four guys, each in a relationship I considered meaningful, even though they had turned out to be short-lived. I left for Italy having decided I needed to change that. For me, sex was emotional, and I didn’t want it to be any more—I hated feeling dependent on anyone else. I wanted sex to be about empowerment and pleasure.”
One week after arriving in Perugia, she had a boyfriend. And then another, and another. Kercher also found a boyfriend after two months: a student that lived with other three male roommates in the first floor of a house where the four young women shared the second floor. They used to meet at the parties they held at the garden, where they grew their own marijuana. Guede met Kercher in one of those get-togethers.
The police found Kercher’s cell phones in a neighbouring garden and tracked them to her door. According to Sollecito, he had called them before they found the corpse because Knox, after having slept with him at his apartment, went to shower at hers, found blood and Kercher’s room locked, and came back to his place, scared. But also hungry, the police and the media criticized her: they had breakfast before going to the authorities. And worst of all—which marked the beginning of the media frenzy—happy enough to kiss Sollecito in front of the building, a video that went viral. But not as much as the one where the couple is caught by security cameras buying thongs for her and cuddling and laughing—sent to the press by Mignini himself—two days after Kercher’s murder.
So there is a young and beautiful woman that renews her lover’s supply faster than her wardrobe. And there is a religious holiday to remember the dead, All Saints Day, November 1. And there is this A-student that leaves the house at 4 pm that day to eat pizza with friends and comes back to an empty house at 9pm just to end half naked, with signs of sexual activity (as of now, forensics could not even establish if it was forced or consented) and her throat slain.
Investigator-prosecutor Mignini’s hypothesis was simple: a ritualistic orgy gone wrong. And he focused on it even when the actual perpetrator—who had fled to Germany, where he was arrested—said that he hardly knew Knox and Sollecito. The DNA evidence that placed them both in the crime scene (a clasp in a piece of cloth part of a bra that belonged to Kercher) was lost inside the apartment for 47 days, where the defendants used to be daily, and also contained DNA of other four people. The wounds in the victim could not be found consistent with the knife that ended in Sollecito’s apartment, with traces of the dead young woman and Knox that the defense also objected as contaminated.
The superior court explanation of the new verdict is expected to address the issue of the manipulation of the evidence that rendered it doubtful, according to the other superior court that could not establish guilt and released the pair. Also the use of false confessions got by the police by slapping Knox, interrogating her for hours without water or a moment in the ladies room, let alone a lawyer—it would be worse for her, she was told—who would have prevented the officers from screaming to her “Liar!” when she said she was innocent. They also told her she would spend 30 years in prison because her boyfriend had declared against her—which was not true. Her different stories to the police—one of them implicated the owner of the bar where she worked part time, who could prove that he was attending customers during the hours of the crimes—made her look suspicious both to Mignini, hurried to get a conviction, and the tabloids, happy to sell.
Respectable UK journalism—The Guardian, The Independent—have pointed out that the circus-like coverage of the trial played a role in the original conviction, base for this third judgment. Il Corriere della Sera described her as “Una cacciatrice di uomini”—a man-hunter—; the rest of the press was blunter: “A she-devil,” “From brilliant student to cold man-eater,” “An enchanting witch”—capable of inducing to rape and murder. When the first conviction was announced, the streets of Peruggia were filled with crowds chanting “Americana assassina!”
Sollecito and Guede were out of the picture.
“A woman is beautiful to look upon, contaminating to the touch, and deadly to keep,” says the Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches) written in 1486 by request of Pope Innocent VIII. “All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable.” Perugia was an active centre of witch trials, and there is proof of five women burned in the city during the second half of the 15th Century.
Gender prejudice, prosecutorial irresponsibility that leads to false confessions and poor manipulation of evidence, among other facts, add to this story that has already sparked 19 books in US (among them a novel that changes names and scenario, where Italy is Argentina, of all places; John Kercher’s homage to her daughter and Sollecito’s memoir), three movies and nine TV specials.
The show has started over with the new verdict. The judge Alessandro Nencini may face disciplinary proceedings for speaking with the press before the jury explains the reasons for re-sentencing. Knox’s blog is active: “I am frightened and saddened,” she wrote on February 2. Also active are her detractors. But it still remains unclear what happened to Meredith Kercher; her voice is no longer waiting to be heard.