Amanda Knox Revisited

In just a few days, a verdict is expected in the trial of Amanda Knox, the 22-year-old Seattle exchange student on trial in Italy for the throat-slashing murder of her British roommate two years ago. Her ex-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, is also being tried.

The trial in the Umbrian college town of Perugia has dragged on just short of a year. As this week’s closing arguments showed once again, the case has very little to do with actual evidence and much to do with the ancient Italian code of saving face.

In closing arguments, Knox was described as a “Luciferina” and “a dirty-minded she-devil.” Preposterous, made-up sexual motives were ascribed to her. One prosecutor speculated before the jury what Knox may have said to Meredith Kercher before, he claimed, forcing an orgy that resulted in her death:

“You are always behaving like a little saint. Now we will show you. Now we will make you have sex.”

Nobody alleges that Knox said this to Kercher. But prosecutors asked the jury to imagine her saying such a thing.

What century is this? Didn’t Joan of Arc, the Inquisition and our own American Salem witch trials teach civilized nations a thing or two about contrived sexual hysteria with a devil twist?

On top of everything else, just a few days ago, the parents of Amanda Knox — a schoolteacher and an out-of-work retail accounts manager who’ve maxed out their retirement funds and mortgaged their home to pay for a legal defense — were served with legal papers by the authorities prosecuting their daughter.

Now the parents are under investigation for “defamation,” stemming from a long-ago interview with a British paper, in which they recounted their daughter’s tale of being mistreated while she was questioned all night by police without an attorney.

The timing is suspect, to say the least. This jury is not sequestered. By casting doubt outside the courtroom on Knox’s account of mistreatment, the authorities can hope to influence the outcome inside the courtroom.

Аманда Нокс признана виновной!

Аманда Нокс признана виновной!

But let’s stick with the core of the case. As I’ve written earlier, there is no physical evidence placing Amanda Knox at the blood-splattered crime scene, the room where the killing took place. Zero.

But there is abundant evidence linking a drifter named Rudy Guede to the scene — blood, DNA, prints and his own admission. Little wonder he fled to Germany just after the killing, while Knox went to the police voluntarily, without an attorney. Little wonder that he was found guilty, last year, of sexual assault and conspiracy to kill Kercher. He’s serving a 30-year sentence and appealing the case.

There is no motive for Knox and Sollecito; they have no criminal record, no history of violent group sexual encounters. E-mails show Knox and her roommate got along fine, except for the typical college-student disputes over bathroom and household chores.

The one bit of physical evidence from the scene that ties Sollecito — not Knox — to the crime is a bra clasp from Kercher. Prosecutors claim they found some of his DNA on this. But it was not “discovered” until 46 days after the murder, making it subject to contamination and manipulation.

Prosecutors also say a knife found at Sollecito’s house links Knox to the crime. But numerous forensic experts have said the blade size of that knife did not match the wounds, and the DNA on it was such a trace amount that it could not be accurately tested.

So, why has Knox been jailed for two years? As near as I can tell, she is on trial for inappropriate behavior. A widely shown video showed her kissing her boyfriend and cuddling just days after the murder. An athlete, she did cartwheels — cartwheels! — while in the midst of a long interrogation. This was evidence of her “contempt” of authorities, prosecutors said.

And she wore t-shirts with Beatles lyrics to court — “an alt Holly Golightly from Seattle,” as Time magazine called her.

In her closing argument, the highly acclaimed Italian defense attorney, Giulia Bongiorno, who is also a member of Parliament, tried to address this guilt-by-inappropriate-behavior argument.

“She is not Amanda the Ripper,” Bongiorno told the jury. “She is a little crazy, extravagant. She does the cartwheels in the police station because reality for her is too strong to deal with. She is spontaneous, immediate and imprudent.” She compared her to Amelie, the spacey naïf in the French movie of the same name.

The prosecutorial pride issue dates to the arrest two years ago. Shortly after the killing, after days of interrogation produced suspect stories from Knox and Sollecito, the authorities publicly pronounced the case closed. They had the killers — two college lovers.

Except, they didn’t. Guede was still at large, and not even named. And later, the Italian Supreme court threw out much of the results of the long interrogation. With abundant evidence tied to Guede, prosecutors should have dropped the case against Sollecito and Knox. Instead, they simply added him to the pair of college students, and changed the story to fit. Guede himself did not testify in the Knox trial, after making statements so inconsistent a school child could trip him up.

And once the prosecutors had fastened on to this bizarre narrative of a sex-crazed thrill killing, to the delight of the European tabloid press, they had to stick to it. Their honor was at stake, no small thing in Italy.

To many Americans, this trial is an outrage. “It’s probably the most egregious international railroading of two innocent young people I’ve ever seen,” said John Q. Kelly, a former prosecutor known for getting a civil verdict against O.J. Simpson for the murder of his ex-wife. Speaking on CNN last month, he called it “a public lynching based on rank speculation.”

Italians see it differently, of course. I was in Italy last month, and found that public opinion had shifted somewhat. There was more skepticism about the case. Still, to many Italians, Amanda Knox is a spoiled, amoral American college girl who has not shown sufficient remorse for the death of her roommate. The narrative of the manipulative she-devil is widespread.

How this happened was explained by Peter Popham, writing last week in The Independent, a British paper.

In Italy, “prosecutors regularly leak their theories to the newspapers, often in extraordinary detail,” he wrote. “As a result, by the time a trial comes around, the public already knows what they think about a case, and why. This makes miscarriages of justice horribly likely.”

As with the American system, the Italian jury will be asked to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt this week. Their verdict is not supposed to be about medieval superstitions, sexual projections, Satan fantasies or the honor of a prosecution team. If they simply apply the standard that the law calls for, the verdict will be obvious.

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