The Death of Meredith Kercher and the Trials of Amanda Knox

by Glenn on September 4, 2017

I’ve spent some time this summer considering a criminal event from nearly ten years ago, the murder of Meredith Kercher.

The journey began when I listened to Amanda Knox’s Waiting to Be Heard: A Memoir Read by the Author. (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2013).

Cover artwork of Amanda Knox's Waiting to Be Heard: A Memoir, Read by the Author

As Knox was the reader,  the unique authority and authenticity of her voice as well as the dramatic telling of her story made for compelling listening. For whatever reason, I didn’t expect her to be so engaging or her narrative so captivating.

I knew little of Knox’s story beyond the inescapable headlines from years ago and occasional news updates, but honestly didn’t follow it much at the time. I suppose I started listening with the assumption that she was guilty because it was hard to imagine both a legal system and the media getting it so wrong. I have come to the conclusion that there was a symbiosis there—investigators leaked certain information and the media used it without questioning it. Reporters were told a story and didn’t consider the truthfulness of it. At least this is how I make sense of it.

I was interested in what Knox had to say, rather than what others said about her.

I respected her candor, although as someone who is old enough to be her parent, I sometimes wished she hadn’t been quite so forthcoming about the particulars of her intimate relationships and found myself concerned by the amount of marijuana use she describes. But when your life has been subjected to the kind of scrutiny that hers was, I imagine that anything less than open-book honesty could be interpreted as deceit. Regardless, I thought she was courageous to put herself out there so completely. Her vulnerability was a powerful element of this book.

I’m not sure it was the intent, but this book is a cautionary tale for college students and their parents. If I had a daughter that wanted to attend school abroad, I’d want to research carefully what kind of support system is in place for her.

In Knox’s case with the Università per Stranieri di Perugia (University for Foreigners Perugia), it all feels very loose and independent. I don’t know if there was such a thing as campus housing or some sort of educational community (cohort) to stay in touch with, but Knox wanted the experience of being with Italians and so she sublet a room from a couple of Italian women who were beginning their law careers in Perugia. (The fourth roommate was the murdered British student, Meredith Kercher.) She reports not being busy enough, so she found work in a bar.

Knox had a difficult task—she couldn’t minimize the injustice to Ms. Kercher while decrying the injustice that happened to her. Anything she said could be interpreted as making it about her when the true injustice had happened to Kercher. I thought she managed this well.

The murder of Meredith Kercher was horrific. The more you learn about it, the more you grieve for her, with the minutes of violence and suffering that preceded her demise, and her family and friends, for the loss of a beloved and loving young woman of promise who went to Italy to have her life enlarged, not closed, with all the accompanying questions and emotions that come with a tragedy like this.

Nevertheless, this is Knox’s story. She could have left the country after the crime, as did most of Kercher’s British friends, but she explains she thought she was helping the police.

An alarming aspect of the police interrogation is where the investigators noticed on Knox’s cell phone that she had texted with Patrick Lumumba, her boss at the bar where she worked. Lumumba told Knox it would be a slow night and she didn’t need to work. Knox texted back something like, “Good night. See you later.” Police seized on that last statement as evidence of a plan where Knox would meet Lumumba to commit the murder. It’s hard to understand why the Italian investigators couldn’t make the cultural leap to see that for an American, “See you later” doesn’t actually mean “I will see you later this evening at the appointed time.” It doesn’t even indicate that you will actually see the person later. It may be hours, days, or weeks, if ever. This misunderstanding felt like the moment where the prosecution thought “Gotcha.”

There were a number of highlights in the narrative for me. It was stunning to hear Knox describe the lengths to which her family (a family that had gone through a divorce no less) went to support her, from her stepfather and best friend moving to Perugia so that in prison every week she would have a family visitor, to the group of people who gathered each week in Seattle for her ten-minute phone call home. All at once I felt bad for her in her situation yet was grateful to hear the lengths to which her family, friends, and others (like novelist Douglas Preston and former FBI agent Steve Moore) supported her as she endured life at Capanne Prison. Their sacrifice was remarkable; their love, inspiring.

I appreciated her description of the Catholic priest who befriended her in jail. At first, I feared he would somehow betray her or let her down in some way. (Knox couldn’t be sure who she could trust in prison. Nearly everything she said or wrote was subject to recording or confiscation to use as evidence against her. It appears the priest was at least one safe refuge.) It was a joy to see how their relationship developed. I am a Christian who is sometimes embarrassed by the way “we” treat people some might describe as “other.” Knox was honest about where she stood with formal religion but felt no need to keep a person of faith at arm’s distance even though she didn’t embrace the religion herself. In prison, Knox played guitar and participated in church services. This was another inspiring part of her story. Considering the priest: Can I be a trustworthy friend to someone in need even though we may not share the same outlook on ultimate things? Considering Knox: Can I take another person’s religious views seriously and support the person even if I don’t take the same path? There was a lot there to consider.

I was struck most, though, by the way Knox decided to make something of herself with the limited options that were available to her in a situation that could easily induce hopelessness and despair, which is not to say that she never experienced hopelessness or despair. Knox was a bright college student and an aspiring writer, and so she studied and wrote. Clearly, when she thought about going to Italy to learn the language and have a maturing and meaningful experience, she didn’t have this in mind. (Nor do I sense she would wish it on anyone.) Many of us have done less with more. I smiled when she related how at her press conference back in Seattle her family had to remind her to speak in English.

It’s a real tribute to the kind of person she is when you consider the amount of disciplined reading and writing and translating she engaged in while she was imprisoned, often under ridicule for those activities, and many times in the service of other inmates.

In her comments at the end of the book, she said something like, “Everyone is going through something,” which strikes me as a remarkably generous thing to say. We all are, indeed, going through something, but I think we can agree that most of us will never endure anything like she did. If nothing else, her story was helpful for perspective.

Of all the indignities she suffered and described, the one that I found most troubling was the doctor in prison who told her she had AIDS, which she later interpreted as a rather twisted way to get her to talk about her romantic past. She wrote down the names of her sex partners and this information was used by the prosecution to demonstrate that she was promiscuous and, therefore, perhaps capable of murder if others didn’t indulge her. This information was given to the press, which for me damages my trust in the integrity of the prosecution.

The doctor later told her she did not have AIDS. If it was an accident (“We mixed up the blood tests, you’re going to be fine—I’m so sorry to cause you anxiety.”), it’s hard to understand why the information was made public. In context it did seem like a manipulation of the cruelest sort.

Something I didn’t hear in her voice or words, though, is any sort of bitterness toward the people who caused her this kind of emotional anguish. It would be great to hear her speak of how she has managed to get past resentment—if indeed that was a task she had to do. If the word forgiveness is not part of her vocabulary, what word does she use?

I have no idea what it’s like to be Knox, and can’t imagine what it was like to revisit all of the injustices and indignities she describes both in writing and recording the book, but I can only wish her well on her journey through life. While she has been exonerated, her life didn’t go back to “normal.”

Of course, critics would say, at least she has her life while Meredith Kercher lost hers.

Even as she explains some of her reactions following the crime, they are hard for me to understand. One abiding impression from Knox’s book is that at the time of the events, she seems very young and perhaps a little socially awkward. At the very least she was a quirky kid (from a quirky part of the country—understandable). But quirky is not criminal and isn’t proof of criminal activity. She was newly in love, however, and who knows to what effect that cocoon of intimacy as well as the effects of marijuana had on her. Quirky + in love + high = actions that may not reflect favorably on you if they are judged by others, which they were most severely in this case.

Additionally, Knox and Kercher only knew each other for five or six weeks. It didn’t sound like they’d hit it off completely and were that connected. They were friendly, but not that great of friends. Meredith found her own circle of friends and may have been considerably tidier and more sophisticated as a person. Knox seemed more independent and free-spirited.

As far as Knox’s behavior after the crime, I’ve come to the conclusion that we all grieve differently.

 

 *  *  *

While I don’t believe Knox had anything to do with Meredith Kercher’s murder, as I was listening to her read her book, I wasn’t sure. Her story is a little confusing at times. Knox maintains her innocence, but she was arrested and tried and convicted which leads to the simple fact that Knox and the prosecution can’t both be telling the truth, unless the prosecution only thought they knew the truth (or worse). Her behavior after the crime, including her confession to being present at it, were not easily explained. I wanted to hear another voice and found a book written by John Kercher, the victim’s father, Meredith: Our Daughter’s Murder and the Heartbreaking Quest for the Truth. (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2012.)

Cover artwork of John Kercher's Meredith: Our daughter's murder, and the heartbreaking quest for truth.

Life has its challenges, but one of the normal rules is that parents see their children married, not buried. And there’s nothing about what happened to Mr. Kercher’s daughter that doesn’t raise questions, make you angry, break your heart, and beg you to cry out at the injustice of it all.

There are moments in this book that you feel the heart-break of Mr. Kercher and his family, from the phone call telling him that his daughter had been killed to the long and uncertain wait for the return of her body (due to the investigation and autopsy) so there could be a funeral. He relates how he suffered a stroke during the course of the court trial. He recovered from it, but I read that line and thought he was Job-like in all that he was enduring. The worst moment, though, has to be the one where he describes going to identify the body. His ex-wife and daughter went into the room to say good-bye, but he stayed out because he knew this was not how he wanted to remember his daughter.

This book is an expression of grief and you can only empathize with Mr. Kercher, his ex-wife, and children. Their daughter/sister is gone while Amanda Knox is given media attention in the process. In the book he writes,

“As the trial approached its conclusion, I was becoming increasingly disturbed at the way Amanda Knox, nicknamed ‘Foxy Knoxy’ by the media, had acquired an almost celebrity status. Raffaele Sollecito’s role in the case seemed to have been deliberately neglected, to allow more space for stories about Amanda Knox, including lurid details about her private life. And just as Sollecito seemed to have been sidelined, so too had Meredith been relegated to the fringes of her own story. This was a particularly painful burden to bear. It was Meredith whose life had been taken, Meredith who had gone to Perugia never to return home, Meredith for whom we were all seeking justice – and yet the press seemed to be much more concerned about what fashions Amanda Knox was wearing in court.”*

I don’t think Knox sought celebrity—I think notoriety is a more apt term anyway—but it’s easy to look at it from Mr. Kercher’s perspective and wonder Why are you giving the person accused of killing my daughter more attention than my daughter who was killed?

The goal of his book is to keep the memory of Meredith Kercher alive, and he is successful in this regard. This is a broken family, but clearly a loving family in which Meredith Kercher had a starring role as a lovely, joyful, and affectionate (as well as consistently late, with everyone’s bemused understanding and acceptance) member of the family. The cruel irony is that I might never have heard of Merdith Kercher if she hadn’t been killed.

Mr. Kercher takes great care to echo the case as outlined by the Italian Judge (Micheli) for why Knox and Sollecito should stand trial. He accepts the case as presented by the prosecution and agrees with the claim that his daughter had been killed by multiple attackers. He relates how his daughter had taken karate lessons and concludes, “There was no doubt, in my mind, that she could not have been overpowered by only one person.”

After Knox and Sollecito were found guilty, Kercher quotes his ex-wife Arline as she spoke to the press,

“We are the ones who have been given a life sentence. We have to live with what’s happened, for the rest of our lives. People say that time heals, but it doesn’t.”

Kercher notes the lack of connection between the Knox and Kercher families and places responsibility for this on the Knox family. He writes,

“Her parents have never expressed their condolences to our family for our grievous loss. There has been no letter of sympathy; no word of regret. Instead, I have had to watch them repeatedly reiterate the mantra of their daughter’s innocence.”

I can see both sides of this. Events were happening quickly and before any expressions had been made, Knox was arrested and her family’s primary concern became protecting her. And once the Kercher family hired a lawyer and began a civil case, we now had opposing camps where winning was more important than reconciling. Perhaps an expression of sympathy—”I’m so sorry for your loss”—could have been taken as adding insult to injury.

Amanda Knox never seemed to reach out, either, until her legal predicament more or less prohibited it. After her acquittal she was asked about this in an NPR interview where she said,

“No, I haven’t reached out to them personally. It’s been a very complicated question for me about what is the right way to approach them. What I did do is I read John Kercher’s book and it definitely confirmed to me that they are grieving intensely from this incredibly horrible thing that happened to their daughter. And I can tell that they are unconvinced of my innocence and that is this huge wall that I’m not sure how to confront.”

One of the difficulties about this book and this case is that different conclusions about the crime take on nationalistic overtones. Kercher complains that “pressure from America had mounted throughout the trial, much of it from King County in the state of Washington, whose capital is, of course, Amanda Knox’s home town.”**

With the psychological cost of this loss, there was a financial one as well. Kercher writes,

“We found it surprising that there was a complete lack of financial support from the British Government. We had received tremendous support from the British Consulate in Florence, who arranged for translation facilities when we were dealing with the Italian authorities, and made transport arrangements, but despite our pleas, we had not received any financial support from the Foreign Office. A number of MPs campaigned on our behalf for some form of contribution towards our flights, but every time their efforts were to no avail. Indeed, it seemed that this was a policy decision, one that did not affect just us, but anybody who suffered such an ordeal as my family and I had.”

In the book, Kercher does describe one light episode in an otherwise grim experience when, posthumously, Meredith received her college degree from the University of Leeds, which was accepted on her behalf by his other daughter, Stephanie. This was a kindness.

One can only imagine how frustrating this case would be if you knew and loved Meredith Kercher and the truth. You are told there was a conspiracy to kill her, all three accused were convicted, but then two were acquitted, retried, but ultimately exonerated. What happened? Not only with the legal process, but what actually happened?

Kercher expresses his anguish like this:

“As we have said, we would never want innocent people to be imprisoned. Yet now we are left thinking: the world cared about justice for Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, but what about justice for poor Meredith? She was the kindest and most caring person you could imagine, so why was her life taken from her so cruelly? What was the reason? Will we ever know?”

Sadly, the one guy (Rudy Guede) who could actually shed some light isn’t talking and when he has spoken, he has been self-contradicting as his story has evolved over time.

After I read this book, I found myself with a problem. I still wasn’t convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that Knox had anything to do with the crime. But I did find myself wanting to respect authority and accept the case as presented by the prosecution. You want to say they knew the truth and they prosecuted accordingly and appropriately.

I decided I would read a book by a journalist for a less personal narrative.

 

 *  *  *

I read Death in Perugia: The Definitive Account of the Amanda Knox Case (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2011) by John Follain.

Evidence of the nationalism involved in views comes when you consider this book has a different title in England: Death in Perugia: The definitive account of the Meredith Kercher Case from her murder to the acquittal of Raffaele Solecito and Amanda Knox. (Great Britain: Hodder & Stoughton, 2011.)

The great virtue of this account (regardless of its title) is its impartiality. Follain is excellent for a clear presentation of the facts and a clear outline of the timeline of events. He takes no position on the case. He merely lays out the important statements and actions and allows you, the reader, to draw your own conclusions. He is so careful not to insert himself into the narrative that when he needs to refer to himself, it’s always “the writer.”

By the time I finished this book, though, I was pretty certain that Knox and Sollecito were innocent.

What is stunning is how different were the conclusions of the two courts—the one that convicted Knox and Sollecito and the one that acquitted them. The first court took the prosecution’s case as gospel. The second court began with a statement by Massimo Zanetti, the secondary judge, “The only certain and undisputed fact is the death of Meredith Kercher.”

The acquittal was a blow to the Kercher family. Follain says that for Lyle Kercher (one of Meredith’s brothers) it felt “like being back to square one” because “‘It almost raises more questions than there are answers now because the initial decision was that it’ – he didn’t use any more specific term for the murder – ‘wasn’t done by one person but by more than that. Two have been released, one remains in jail, so we’re now left questioning who are these other people or (this other) person?’”

Follain reports that among the things that the second court says as part of its decision to acquit,

“The words ‘probable’ and ‘improbable’ featured no fewer than thirty-nine times in the earlier court’s review of the evidence, the judges pointed out, adding that ‘its reconstruction of events was always based on probability.’”

Now you really have a problem. Two Italian courts look at a set of facts presented by the prosecution. One says, in effect, “Slam dunk: Guilty.” The other says, “Not so fast, you’ve proven nothing.” Was the first court overzealous? Was the second overly cautious? How come justice isn’t more clear?

 *  *  *

I thought I was done reading at this point, but I decided to continue on and read Raffaele Sollecito’s (with Andrew Gumbel) Honor Bound: My Journey to Hell and Back With Amanda Knox (New York: Gallery Books / Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2012).

In a case where the murder victim had been largely forgotten and the focus of the media was primarily on just one of the (at the time) suspects, I wondered about Sollecito—who was he and how would he describe this experience?

Incidentally, I’ve listened to Raffaele Sollecito in English interviews and I’m saying his co-writer, Andrew Gumbel, played a significant role in writing this book, which I found forthright and logical. (Sollecito was a student studying computer science, which may have had something to do with it.)

Any doubts about the innocence of Knox and Sollecito were gone after this book. Sollecito (with Gumbel’s assistance) comes across as credible and hapless. A guy with very little experience with women, he meets Knox at a concert that Knox and Kercher attended together. When Kercher left at the intermission, Sollecito made eye contact with Knox. They would spend the night together after Knox went to work and be nearly inseparable until they were arrested.

The most helpful thing in this book is when Sollecito says he was as surprised by some of Knox’s behaviors after the murder as others observing them were. He writes,

“Amanda behaved in ways that were culturally baffling to many Italians and attracted a torrent of gossip and criticism. We were young and naive, unthinking and a little reckless. Of that much we were guilty. But what we did not do—and could not have done, as the evidence clearly showed—was murder Meredith Kercher.”

He adds, “Something about her was undeniably eccentric.”

He offers very plausible reasons for why he wasn’t consistent under interrogation. He mentions the use of marijuana and confesses,

“The days began to blend into each other. We went to bed a lot, but neither of us slept well. I wasn’t used to having a woman in my bed and woke up several times a night. Amanda tended to be up at 5:00 a.m. every morning, which she chalked up to the aftereffects of jet lag. So our time together felt a little restless and blurry. That did no harm to our romance, but it was lousy preparation for witnesses in a murder case.”

Later, Sollecito would quote Steve Moore, the former FBI agent, who  became involved in the case on behalf of the defense. From the side of the police,

“If you’re trying to determine facts and truth, you want your suspect clear, lucid, and awake. If you want to coerce your suspect into saying what you want them to say, you want them disoriented, groggy, and confused.”

It seems to me that the police interrogating Sollecito and Knox were going after the latter.

One of the things that you learn about the Italian justice system is that the rules for prosecutors to hand over evidence to the defense are different. Sollecito writes that on the night of the murder,

“Shortly before eight o’clock, a video surveillance camera in the parking structure across from Amanda’s house captured a man walking briskly past the security barrier and onto Via della Pergola. Of course I had no idea of this at the time; this was material my family gathered during the investigation and the trials. I’m mentioning it here because it was one of many facts that the prosecution and the media chose to overlook, and because it helps make sense of what did and did not occur on that fateful evening. The man in the video footage was wearing a black coat with high wing-tip lapels and sneakers with white trim. He had his back to the camera and his head was covered with a woolen cap, making him difficult to identify. But his height, gait, coat, and shoes were all a plausible match for Rudy Guede, a twenty-year-old drifter of Ivorian origin who often shot hoops at the basketball court next to the University for Foreigners and was acquainted with the boys who lived downstairs from Meredith and Amanda.”

The more I read of Sollecito’s account, the more I thought that Occam’s Razor should have been applied to this case by the prosecution. There was a rather simple explanation for what happened.

Unfortunately, the prosecutor wanted to pursue an angle where a high-achieving, American honor student (who didn’t speak Italian that well) manipulated an Italian computer science major (who didn’t speak English that well) who was finishing his college thesis, into helping her with some bizarre sex ritual with Halloweenish overtones. These two connected with a third person, Rudy Guede, an immigrant from the Ivory Coast whom Sollecito had never met, a bit of a drifter with a history of breaking and entering, and committed a murder together for no reason (which is what the prosecution claimed). This makes for a sensational true crime story, except that there was no evidence of Knox being in the room and the one piece of “evidence” placing Sollecito in the room was problematic at best. Nevertheless, the prosecution created this very complicated scenario. Sollecito’s tone as he describes this has just a hint of the exasperation that must have been his faithful companion throughout this ordeal. He writes,

“To an outsider this must sound more like a conspiracy-laden plotline from Umberto Eco than the workings of a public prosecutor’s office. I wish I were making it up. But this was the mind-set we were dealing with: a grand, baroque imagination that could never be satisfied with the banalities of a brutal, straightforward murder by a man with a clearly established criminal history. From the beginning, the notion that a burglar broke in, came across Meredith unexpectedly, and killed her in a panic—the simplest and most plausible explanation of the scene at Via della Pergola—could not have been further from the prosecutor’s mind.”

What really comes through this book is how badly the investigators and police performed. The “evidence” connecting him to the crime was his DNA on Kercher’s bra clasp. This bra clasp was listed as evidence at the crime scene on November 2, but failed to be collected at the time and wouldn’t be until December 18. Meanwhile, with all the investigators going in and out of the room it had moved across the room and ended up under a rug. Sollecito’s team claimed (reasonably if not rightfully) that the bra clasp was “contaminated more or less by definition.”  Sollecito describes the explanation from the government’s DNA specialist,

“The phrase she came out with was ‘È traslato.’ It made its way over there. But the words in Italian also carry the connotation of miracles and religious apparitions. When the Catholic Church talks about saints appearing in two places at once, or the house of the Virgin Mary flying from the Holy Land across the Adriatic, it uses the same term.”

Sollecito describes a most unscientific process for collecting the evidence that investigators claimed connected Knox to the crime. Two police officers came into Sollecito’s apartment. One of them “came across a drawer full of kitchen knives.” Sollecito relates,

“He pulled out the first knife that came to hand, a large chopping knife with an eight-inch blade. “Will this knife do?” Finzi asked Chiacchiera. “Yes, yes, it’s great,” came the answer. Much later, in court, Finzi made no secret of the fact that this was simply a random pick. He had no reason to select such a knife. He hadn’t been given any specifics on the murder weapon from the coroner’s report, or anywhere else, and had nothing to go on other than what he called his “investigative intuition.”

There was actual evidence for a knife that was used—there was a bloody outline of it on Kercher’s pillow. The knife that the investigators took from Sollecito’s apartment was not that knife. So the prosecution came up with a story of how Knox was fearing for her life in Perugia and for safety she started carrying around this other knife (the one randomly chosen by police) in her handbag. This knife, with another knife for which there was actual evidence, was used at the murder, and then taken back to Sollecito’s apartment to be used for cooking again.

It goes on and on. Sollecito’s book is, I believe, a devastating critique of the investigators and prosecutors.

Similar to Knox’s account, Sollecito’s  family came through for him. Although unlike Knox, he was missing a biological parent. His mother had died some years previous. It is remarkable the level of sacrifice Sollecito’s father made on his son’s behalf.

Sollecito’s sister, Vanessa, paid a personal price. She was a member of the Italian military police, but was forced out of this career work because of her brother’s trial.

I don’t think prison was easy for Knox, but I get the sense that it was easier for her than Sollecito. Members of his family tried to get him to throw Amanda under the bus and save himself, but he decided that since they were both innocent their fates were inextricably linked, even though he had learned from Amanda that she no longer wanted a romantic relationship with him. Sollecito, like Knox, does not write in a self-pitying sort of way, but you’ve got to wonder if he ever thought to himself, “Why did I ever introduce myself to that girl? We hook up, I get thrown in prison, and then she dumps me.”

Compared to the media attention given to Knox, Sollecito is a cipher.

 *  *  *

Clearly obsessed with this case, I decided to read another journalistic account by someone not directly involved, so I turned to The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox (New York: Broadway Paperbacks, 2011, 2012) by Nina Burleigh.

If John Follain’s book was great for the facts and plenty of detachment, Burleigh’s book was about context, the first-person “I,” when referring to herself, and “Amanda” as she discussed Knox. Though she, too, took a journalistic approach to the story, she had come to the conclusion that Knox and Sollecito were innocent. This did not prevent her from being critical of Knox at times, for example,

“Amanda’s behavior looked suspicious, even though the police were not able to pull together convincing material evidence. She was unable to show sorrow after the murder, and in many instances afterward, when she might have shown empathy for her dead friend, she did not. Listening to her make gurgling death sounds during her trial testimony was chilling.”

While the tone of the book is respectful toward everyone involved, near the end of the book, Burleigh writes,

“American justice is not superior to Italian justice, just different. The convictions of Knox and Sollecito were, in my view after a long and exhaustive investigation, miscarriages of justice. Police made mistakes, the prosecutor failed to investigate exculpatory avenues, and a so-called confession was extracted without a lawyer present—improper under Italian as well as U.S. law.”

She concludes,

“[I]t is far better to admit error and pursue due diligence in investigations than to force facts to fit theories that defy logic and, ultimately, derail justice.”

Burleigh teaches as much about Italy as the crime. I learned of the history of Perugia, the Italians’ fascination with cronaca nera (“crime news”), the way bribes and the mafia are involved in daily life, secret societies, drug culture in Perugia, and the influence of superstitions on life, which is offered as an explanation for the imaginings of the prosecutor, Mignini. She also provides a background to Knox’s life in Seattle and how different a culture she left behind when she traveled to Italy and how nationalistic stereotypes clashed as part of this case. For example Burleigh discusses how The United States and Italy approach education differently. She writes,

“Before she left for Perugia, Amanda added a major in creative writing to her college plan. Creative writing as a field of study doesn’t exist in Italian schools. It wouldn’t occur to Italian educators to nurture the spilling of dreams, thoughts, whimsical fragments, fantasies, and perversions that in the United States may be regarded as the juvenilia of the next Great American Novelist. Italian first graders are taught to perfect their cursive letters before they can read printed text, and they are graded not on comprehension but on the neatness of their script. American first graders are taught to write anything they want to without paying attention to spelling, grammar, or backward letters. The two systems veer further apart as children grow. Italian grammar school children who have learned cursive soon begin copying out passages from Dante and Saint Francis, word for word. In the United States, children who can write are encouraged to tell stories about what they did over the weekend or to make up stories about dragons, elves, baseball, and video games—whatever strikes their fancy. The different methods have different outcomes, not always favorable to the Yankee side of the Atlantic.”

Burleigh would go on to explain how much writing Knox had done as a young child on and how she thought of herself as a writer. Some of her writing Knox put on the internet. It included dark subject matter, a rape, which the prosecution would use as evidence that inside Knox lay an angry girl who could commit a sexual assault and murder.

An important chapter is the one in which Burleigh gives us background on Rudy Guede, including his criminal background, some of which was known and some of which is pieced together circumstantially. Burleigh writes,

“Rudy had been caught in one home invasion attempt in early fall 2007. By the time he was convicted for the murder of Meredith Kercher, police knew he’d been involved in three break-ins before the killing, one in Milan and two in Perugia.”

Guede could not be more different from Knox and Sollecito. It’s difficult to imagine (except, apparently, for the prosecution) how the three of them could connect for any purpose, really. Sadly, and I don’t remember which book(s) point(s) this out, the break-in in Milan should have resulted in Guede’s imprisonment, but police let him go, the theory of some being that Guede was some sort of police informant.

 *  *  *

I read a couple of short books related to the case that were available on Amazon Kindle.

A group of people came together to write The Forgotten Killer: Rudy Guede and the Murder of Meredith Kercher.

This is a highly partisan effort written to speak on behalf of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito who were, in the view of the authors, arrested, prosecuted, and judged unfairly. It’s a short and focused book, quite dense.

Thomas Lee Wright, a friend of the Knox family, gives the broad outline of Rudy Guede’s story. It seems pretty clear that Guede was the killer based on the evidence. Guede, himself, entered a guilty plea for the crime. After the murder and he had fled the country, a friend of his talked with him on Skype. The call was monitored by Perugian Police. Guede said, “Amanda has nothing to do with it…. She wasn’t there….” That should have been the end of the matter. But there was a problem, which Wright explains,

“By then, however, an overzealous prosecutor named Giuliano Mignini, a lifelong resident of Perugia, had detained, interrogated, and arrested Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito for the murder of Meredith Kercher. Rather than admitting his mistake in light of the capture of Rudy Guede and freeing the young couple, he kept them imprisoned for an entire year, routinely allowing prejudicial gossip, damaging innuendo, and questionable ‘evidence’ to reach a media pool hungry for salacious details. In this way, irreparable harm was done to the reputations of the accused, who were isolated and denied any avenue of response. When Mignini finally charged them as co-conspirators with Guede in the murder of Merdeith Kercher, any chance of a fair trial had been purposefully destroyed.”

Wright notes that

“all of the authors who did not know Amanda personally—Preston, Moore, Lovering, Douglas, and Olshaker—originally assumed from the media coverage that she and Raffaele were indeed guilty. It was only after delving into the facts and the evidence that each came to the certain knowledge that a profound miscarriage of justice had taken place and felt a need to speak out against it.”

This was my experience as well.

Douglas Preston, a best-selling author, writes of his experience in dealing with the prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, which included a near three-hour interrogation “without the benefit of an interpreter or lawyer present.” Preston was working with an Italian writer on the case of the Italian serial killer, the Monster of Florence. What they were writing was critical of Mignini. Fearing backlash, Preston left the country before he was indicted by Mignini. His co-writer, Mario Spezi, was jailed and charged, as Preston explains it, “with being a member of a satanic cult that ordered the Monster’s murders.” Spezi was released and Mignini was indicted “for abuse of office, illegal wiretapping, and other crimes related to his Monster investigation.” Preston makes the case that Mignini was in a position where he needed to save his career and that solving the case of the murder of Meredith Kercher “might rehabilitate his reputation and help him fight the abuse of office charges.”

And so Mignini was eager to solve the crime. He thought Knox behaved oddly and rather than wait for physical evidence to come in, Mignini created evidence, including a “confession” that was not recorded, against Italian legal procedures. Knox and Sollecito would be imprisoned for eight months before they would be charged. Preston writes, “That was how long it took to develop the ‘evidence.'”

Preston provides a useful overview of the media terrain which had lost focus from a Murder victim, “Meredith Kercher, who was by all accounts a lovely, intelligent young woman full of great promise,” and “Rudy Guede—the actual murderer.” He mentions biased journalists Barbie Nadeau, Newsweek‘s Rome bureau chief who “sarcastically dismissed Amanda’s defenders as a ‘cult’ in an e-mail to me—even as she was covering the case as a supposedly objective journalist,” Andrea Vogt of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, who “opined in the pages of the New York Post that she thought Amanda was guilty,” and Tina Brown of Newsweek/The Daily Beast who “wrote that a ‘merciless culture of sex, drugs, and alcohol’ led to Amanda’s ‘descent into evil,’ and she wondered aloud if Amanda’s ‘pretty face’ was perhaps only a ‘mask, a duplicitous cover of a depraved soul.” Preston says, “Because the victim was British and the daughter of a tabloid journalist, the British tabloids went wild portraying Amanda as a promiscuous, remorseless, depraved, drug-addicted killer.” No surprise, “British public opinion turned strongly against her.” A number of bloggers and Web sites joined the fray and “The Wikipedia entry about the case became one of the most controversial ever, triggering a brawl among top Wiki editors, which led to outings, rants, and bans for life. The dispute finally triggered the intervention of founder Jimmy Wales himself.”

John Douglas and Mark Olshaker wrote a book about the case titled Law & Disorder, which I haven’t read, but they included a chapter here titled, “What The Crime Scene Shows.”

Douglas and Olshaker describe the scene in fairly graphic detail with a clinical approach. The most intriguing part of their chapter is their focus on one piece of evidence, the duvet cover which covered Ms. Kercher, which was used by Italian investigators to say that a woman (i.e. Knox) must have been involved in the crime because she would have felt guilty. Douglas and Olshaker speak to this idea:

“The covering of a victim’s body is often misinterpreted by local investigators some of whom might suppose that the offender is showing remorse or personal feeling and therefore wished to ‘take care’ of the body. While that is sometimes true in cases where there is or was a strong emotional tie between killer and victim, those presentations tend to show actual concern and careful wrapping and placement of the body. We would expect to see this in cases of ‘soft kills’ by strangulation or drugs.

“There are no such characteristics in this presentation. The postmortem covering of the body is sloppy and haphazard, with a foot exposed.

“Stripping the duvet from the bed and throwing it over the victim’s body in this situation is an indicator of depersonalization—the UNSUB did not want to see the results of his assault as he remained in the room searching for money and valuables.”

They also offer this stinging conclusion regarding DNA evidence: “It is scientifically impossible for one offender to leave extensive DNA evidence and for others involved in the same assault to leave none.”

Their conclusion, based on their examination of the crime is that the crime was committed by a single individual, a male in his 20’s or 30’s, with “a history of petty crimes and breaking and entering.”

The one weakness of this chapter is that it’s written in a way that suggests that the person who committed the crime—the “UNSUB”—was unknown at the time. Their conclusion: when “a suspect is developed, DNA testing should quickly confirm or rule out his involvement.” At the time this was written, Rudy Guede had already been caught.

Former FBA special agent Steve Moore opens his chapter declaring that because of his long service with and familial ties to the FBI, “If my first looks into the Kercher murder case in Italy were anything but unbiased, any bias I had would have to be credited in favor of law enforcement.” Moore, though, is highly critical of the investigation:

“The conclusions and prosecutions in the Kercher murder investigation were based solely on (flawed) intuition, profound ignorance about the science of investigation, social and religious bias, superstition, corruption, and self-preservation.”

Ouch.

Moore quotes the lead investigator, Edgardo Giobbi, who “all but confessed his ignorance with this statement to the press: ‘We knew she was guilty of murder without physical evidence.'”

I first heard of Steve Moore near the end of Knox’s memoir. When she was released, Moore was part of a team that got Knox out of the country. It was the stuff you read about in spy novels including a nighttime drive with lights off to lose those who were tailing (the media/paparazzi) and an overnight stop at a safe house in Rome before a flight back to the States in the morning.

I’ve seen him interviewed—he’s intense, and convincing.

Judge Michael Heavey and Jim Lovering wrote about “Court Findings.”  They stressed the “critical importance” of distinguishing “the irrefutable evidence against Guede from the muddled inferences used to frame Knox and Sollecito. Their conclusion is that this didn’t happen at the first trial, but it did at the second trial, which was  presided over by Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellmann.

The last chapter of the book is titled, “My Declaration.” It was written by Amanda Knox for the Court of Appeals in Florence. It’s an impressive statement—not simply a declaration of her innocence, but the reasons for her innocence. Her closing paragraph is powerful:

“The prosecution’s accusations are unworthy of judicial or public confidence. In over six years they have failed to provide a consistent, evidence-driven, corroborated theory of the crime, but would nevertheless argue that you should take my life away. I beg you to see the facts and reason of what I say. I am innocent. Raffaele is innocent. Meredith and her family deserve the truth. Please put an end to this great and prolonged injustice.”

Douglas Preston was the sole author of a second short book that can be found on Amazon’s Kindle, Trial By Fury: Internet Savagery and the Amanda Knox Case (Amazon Kindle Single).

The point of this book is to answer a couple of questions. First, “Why did the Knox case arouse such a furor on the Web?” Second, “Why are there so many savage, crazy, vicious, and angry people on the Internet?”

Preston tells a more extended story of his tangling with Giuliano Mignini. It began with his family’s trip to Florence where he learned of a series of murders that had never been solved. His subsequent investigation, the conclusions of which Mignini didn’t like, resulted in a book, The Monster of Florence, which became a bestseller.

When Knox was arrested, Preston received a call from Tom Wright, a friend of the Knox family. His daughter had gone to school with Amanda and the Amanda he knew wasn’t capable of murder. Wright was aware of Preston’s tangle with Mignini and asked him to help. Preston reflects, “I wasn’t sure of Amanda’s innocence at the time, but when I looked into the case, I was shocked. Mignini and the Perugian police were railroading Amanda and Raffaele for a murder they did not commit. … I felt like I had to become involved.”

He did.

His involvement began by allowing Candace Dempsey of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to interview him and write it up in her blog. That interview received a lot of attention in the form of comments from readers, many of them simply critical, some of them off the rails, for example accusing Preston of a sexual interest in Knox, and others a little scary, though Preston doesn’t use that term, because they threaten violence against Preston and/or his family. As he tried to counter all the negativity on the internet he “couldn’t believe that [he] had gotten sucked in and become almost as crazy” as his critics. He wondered “Who are these people?”

Preston writes,

“When you ask Web sophisticates why people are so vicious on the Internet, you get a set of stock responses. The very question is naïve. What do you expect? The world is full of angry people who don’t have a life. The Web offers a perfect outlet where they can be anonymous, important, and powerful, and attack others without fear of retribution. The Web has given them a voice when before they had none. These are people who find meaning in their lives by connecting with similar people on the net, who seek a sense of purpose and fulfillment online that they can’t achieve in the real world. Finally, the nature of the Internet, we are told, is also to blame — it’s a place where the human id runs amok, it’s a playground for disturbed people, it’s an echo chamber for the uninformed. We are advised that Internet nastiness is white noise, best ignored. It has little effect in the real world.”

Preston describes a process where shortly after Knox’s arrest, “comments seemed random and inchoate.” But then time passed and “a more organized movement developed.” You now had “anti-Amanda bloggers.”

You can still find on the Internet:

Perugiamurderfile.net

truejustice.org

murderofmeredithkercher.com

Regarding “Perugia Murder File,” Preston notes that “The chief moderator …  Skeptical Bystander, according to statistics on her profile, has blogged about Amanda Knox an average of seven times per day, every day, for the past five years.” This site had an interesting evolution. At one point there was a dispute and so the site split in two, a “.net” and a “.org” version. I can’t find the “.org” version, although there is perugiamurderfile.typepad.com. And there is a rather sarcastic third version that takes shots at the other two.

Preston discovered that on “True Justice,” “The creator … Peter Quennell (the only anti-Amanda blogger to use his real name), wrote over eight hundred detailed articles about the case in addition to posting more than two thousand comments. His writings add up to more words than the Bible, War and Peace, Finnegans Wake, and the Iliad and Odyssey combined.”

The third website, “Murder of Meredith Kercher,” is one I found. It explains its mission is “to counter the misreporting that has characterized this case, fueled by PR agency spin, Knox family misrepresentations, and political interference in a judicial process.”

There are at least two websites dedicated to represent the other side, notably:

amandaknoxcase.com

injusticeinperugia.org

The rest of Preston’s book is his attempt to answer the questions he framed at the beginning. He has a few great observations. First,

“Never in human history has a system developed like the Internet, which allows for the free rein of our punishing instincts with no checks or balances, no moderation, and no accountability, and conducted with complete anonymity. On the Internet, any assertion, no matter how false, remains forever. It is a process that is horrendously unfair.”

Second,

“The Internet simulates the small communities in which human beings thrive. But these Internet communities are devoid of the softening effects of real human interactions, in which discussions of wrongdoing occur face to face, where diverse opinions are expressed, and where people are held accountable for what they say. In these cybergroups, all are self-selected punishers. Dissenters are blocked and nonconforming opinions deleted.”

And, finally,

“The accused is dehumanized. A toxic feedback loop of highly filtered information transforms the group into a cybermob not unlike the medieval witch hunts of Europe or lynch mobs in the American South. We see this phenomenon not just in the Knox case but all over the Internet. The Internet is indeed a non-state form of social control — but one that is severely dysfunctional. The ugliness on the Internet is not white noise. It lasts forever. It cannot be ignored. It causes terrible things to happen in the real world. The Internet is a place where our darkest evolutionary biology runs riot.”

Even as his observations make sense, it’s hard to know what to do about them.

 *  *  *

Somewhere in this reading journey I watched the Netflix documentary Amanda Knox. It’s excellent. The filmmakers interviewed the principals in this story and you, the viewer, are allowed to draw your own conclusions. The media, represented by Nick Pisa, the reporter to whom was leaked Knox’s prison diary, don’t come off looking too good.

I don’t know where I originally heard about this documentary, but I did read an excellent article in Vanity Fair that spoke about it.

Nathaniel Rich also wrote an article for Rolling Stone that I enjoyed. It provides a one-sitting understanding of what transpired and why Knox was prosecuted. Critics of Amanda Knox complain about a “PR Machine.” It seems to me that Rich and others are operating independently, attempting to come to their own conclusions. I find the idea of a conspiracy among independent journalists to be highly unlikely.

 *  *  *

I’m not sure why I read so much about this case. I suppose I wanted to be convinced one way or the other. I was. Any questions that came up were answered.

Along the way, I became fascinated by the way the different authors structured their accounts and told their stories.

The one abiding impression from Knox’s book is that she was young and naive. Even her reading makes her sound a little young. But especially when she quotes her writing from the time of the events there is a dreamy, detached quality to the writing. I think it’s a personal style. She does not have an engineer’s mind for details and sequence; she does, however, have the capacity to convey a visceral experience.

By contrast, Sollecito’s account is a dispassionate and logical indictment of the wrongness of his indictment. He was clean-lined Bach to Knox’s brooding Rachmaninoff. (I tend to prefer Rachmaninoff but, in this case, the directness of Bach communicated more immediately and clearly.)

The two journalists, Follain and Burleigh, offered eminently readable and fair-minded accounts of what happened. It was fascinating to see how they took such different approaches to tell the story. Follain was “the facts and just the facts”; Burleigh put a frame around it all.

There seems to be significant resentment and/or anger that Douglas Preston, Steve Moore, et al got involved in the case on the side of Knox and Sollecito. They get accused of being part of a PR machine rather than trying to seek the truth.

John Kercher’s book was the most difficult to read.  He wasn’t telling a story as much as keeping his daughter alive.

It seems there are very few people connected to this story who did not experience a loss of one form or another.

The Kercher family experienced the most devastating and troubling loss. This is the one that needs to be kept foremost in mind as you consider this story.

While other losses were incidental to the loss of life, they were real.

If you take the view, as I do, that Amanda Knox and Raffael Sollecito were accused, convicted, and tried unjustly, their nearly four years behind bars were a significant loss for them and their families. While I’ve read that Knox received a multi-million dollar contract for her book, I’m certain all this did was pay down her legal expenses and other bills. The same is true of Sollecito. Forever, both must walk through life with a cloud around them. Beyond their circle of family and friends they will never be Amanda or Raffaele, but always “Convicted murderer, though ultimately exonerated” Amanda or Raffaele. Famous for being infamous. Never able to be who they are in the present, but always seen in the past.

Truth, Culture and Civility experienced a loss as well. Again, the murder was the saddest part of this but sad, too, is the fact that individuals couldn’t look at the case and come to a conclusion without being labeled by others as part of a camp or conspiracy. Truth is something you search for. When you find it, you advocate for it, but you don’t hate, insult, or threaten those who see things differently. If you love truth, you must love people.

People who decided to take the side of Knox and Sollecito paid a price. It was disturbing to read what Nina Burleigh had to say in Time about her encounters with people who were against them and, by extension, her. This is the age of “haters,” often anonymous. One of them created a website by Miss Represented. Interesting, when Burleigh tracked down the creator of the website, she begged Burleigh not to identify her, which she said she would not do.

The truth in this case was tough to find.  It was often obscured on one end of the spectrum by misinformation; on the other end by outright and malicious lies. In the middle is the ceaseless chatter of people repeating what they’ve heard, right or wrong. This case was a situation that required more listening and less talking. (The irony of this long article is duly noted although, in my defense, I’ve spent considerable hours reading about the case.)

A terrible thing was done to Meredith Kercher, which caused grievous harm to her family and friends. This is the thing that must be remembered.

 

 

 

 

 

* “Foxy Knoxy” was a childhood nickname given to Knox by her soccer teammates in describing her play. It was appropriated by the media because of the sexual overtones.

**A small, albeit insignificant error (at least for me, a non-Washingtonian), Olympia is actually the capital of Washington.

 

 

 

 

 

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