Amanda Knox Redux

Amanda KnoxUnbelievably (or rather, not), the Italian Supreme Court this week reinstated the murder conviction of American Amanda Knox and her Italian former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito for the 2007 murder of Knox’s British flatmate, Meredith Kercher, in Perugia, Italy. Knox and Sollecito’s original conviction was overturned in late 2011. The new verdict comes in spite of an overwhelming lack of evidence of the pair’s guilt and in spite of the conviction of another man for the crime, for whom plenty of evidence was present. His bloody finger and handprints were found all over the apartment and his DNA “inside” Kercher’s body. He has said, variously, that Knox/Sollecito are innocent, that they are guilty, and that he is innocent. He has told fellow inmates that he did the crime.

U.S. journalist Nina Burleigh’s The Fatal Gift of Beauty provides an excellent rundown of the facts of the case, including some of the reasons behind the Italian media and public’s apparent eagerness that “Foxy Knoxy” be found guilty. The compelling insights of former FBI man, Steve Moore, in his “Mind the Gap” blog post provide some understanding of why the Kercher family has likewise maintained its vehement insistence on Knox/Sollecito’s guilt.

After the murder, Knox was subjected to repeated lengthy interrogations and, though treated as a suspect, no lawyer was provided her. Her Italian was not good, and the “translators” assigned to her was actually working with the police and were, Burleigh says, “inclined—at least after the arrest—to put a certain spin on her voluminous writings in English.”

The interrogations went on for hours and, according to Knox’s description, involved many of the intimidation techniques—techniques known to produce false confessions—described in a December 9 New Yorker article by Douglas Starr. “The interrogator’s refusal to listen to a suspect’s denials creates feelings of hopelessness,” Starr wrote, “which are compounded by [fake information] and lies about the evidence.” A session of all-night questioning produced Amanda’s description of a “vision” in which Meredith was murdered, but which she soon recanted, blaming her statement on exhaustion and confusion

Up until this most recent phase of the legal wrangling, the prosecution was handled by a poster-man for Italian jurisprudence gone off the rails, Giuliano Mignini, whose erratic logic was amply documented in Douglas Preston’s book, The Monster of Florence. Preston has said the case against Knox is “based on lies, superstition, and crazy conspiracy theories.”

This case has been interesting on so many counts. I read Preston’s book as I was starting to write Witness, a suspense novel set in Rome that involves a number of crimes, and a sense of the way Italian jurisprudence works was essential. Along the way, I also received help from several experts in Italian law in order to clarify the powerful role the pubblico ministero (Mignini) plays in an Italian courtroom.

The case is a tale with many confusing elements—Amanda’s changing story, which is one of the chief marks against her, the mistakes in securing evidence from the crime scene, the conflicting interpretations of the DNA evidence, the clash of cultures when privileged foreign students indulge their freedoms far from home, oblivious to their conservative environment.

The story has fascinating characters, irredeemable tragedy at many levels, and the ability to evoke partisanship for or against out of proportion to the definite facts of the case. Every court proceeding seems to muddy the water further. While Amanda believes the truth is out there and wants people to find it, I’m not sure it will ever come to light, although in a U.S.-based extradition hearing, it might.