11.20.09

The Knox Trial Endgame

As closing arguments began, prosecutors described accused murderess Amanda Knox as a sex-and-drug-crazed sociopath while tears streamed down her face.

Amanda Knox is finally facing her moment of truth. The Seattle native spent Friday listening to Perugian prosecutor Giuliano Mignini lucidly describe how he believes she and her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito schemed to violently assault and kill Knox’s roommate, Meredith Kercher, in November 2007.

Mignini painted a picture of Knox as a woman who often brought strange men to the house the girls shared, and who didn’t care about the feelings of others. “It is easy to imagine Amanda, with her sexual confidence, insulting the more reserved Meredith,” he told the jury. “Amanda was in charge. She plunged the knife into the side of her neck with the intention of killing her friend.”

“You can imagine Amanda telling Meredith, ‘You act like such a saint, now you are going to have sex with us.’”

The closing arguments summed up an 11-month trial that has at times seemed like a reality-TV show. Mignini spent over seven hours outlining the various aspects of Kercher’s brutal murder. He reconstructed the scenario in great detail, at one time describing the sound of dry leaves crunching underfoot as the murderers ran from the crime scene. He talked about Knox’s relationship with Rudy Guede, an Ivory Coast man who has already been convicted for his part in Kercher’s murder, and he explained to the jury that Guede had a romantic interest in Knox. Mignini also told the jury how Knox controlled Sollecito, the “ever present” boyfriend who did anything Knox told him to.

The defense team was not allowed to interrupt or object during the closing arguments, and Knox stared straight ahead, tears streaming down her face. During a brief break, she broke down and wept as she left the courtroom. Her lawyers held her hand and hugged her. “She has been in prison for two years,” her attorney Carlo Dalla Vedova said after the hearing. “What do you expect?”

Mignini’s closing arguments focused not only on Knox’s alleged guilt in the murder, but on her dominance over Sollecito and Guede. The prosecutor also recounted the other charges against her, including staging a crime scene, which he believes is proof of Knox's involvement. He described a bedroom in the back of the house the girls shared where a window had been broken with a large rock, as he described, “to create the illusion of a break-in the night of the murder.” Mignini tried to transport the jurors into the house through visual images and provocative suggestions. “The key to this mystery lies in the bedroom of Filomena Romanelli,” another tenant in the house, he told the jury. “The window was broken from the inside, not the outside. The glass was on top of the clothes that had been strewn around the room, not under them. The break-in was staged and Knox is the one who did it.”

He also hinted that Knox and Sollecito might have been in a drug-fueled frenzy when they allegedly killed Kercher. He outlined the effects of cocaine and acid, and told the judges and jury how Knox and Sollecito ran with a crowd that often used these “ stupificante,” or stupefying drugs. At one point, he hypothesized about the dialogue that might have taken place. "You can imagine Amanda telling Meredith, 'You act like such a saint, now you are going to have sex with us.'"

He also raised points about Knox’s strange behavior after Kercher's body was found, how she “didn’t lift a finger” to help the police until she had been called in for questioning. At times he raised his voice and asked the jury questions. He talked about how when Knox returned to her home the morning after the crime, she took a shower even though there were traces of blood in the bathroom. “Is this normal?” he asked the jury, waving his papers. “Why would anyone do that?”

When explaining his theory of the murder dynamic, he raised his hand as if to wield a knife while describing how he believed Knox plunged it into Kercher’s neck. Then he described Kercher as a woman full of life and potential, “the young woman we too often forget.” Mignini quoted Kercher’s father John on a number of occasions, especially when explaining that she was a strong woman who practiced karate and who would have fought back against an attack. The courtroom was silent as he recalled the words of Kercher’s father: “Meredith would have fought with all her life.”

Mignini also worked to legitimize some of the more questionable witnesses in the case that the defense had successfully discounted. He described an Albanian witness’ use of Italian as commendable under pressure. He explained that a homeless man who had seen Knox and Sollecito together lived that way by choice and that he was an educated man who was “extremely credible.” Tomorrow the prosecution will conclude closing arguments; lawyers for Sollecito and Knox will give their closings starting November 30. The case is expected to go to the jury on December 4, with a decision coming back within a day or two.

Knox’s attorney, Dalla Vedova, discounted the prosecution’s version of events as suggestive. Luca Maori, attorney for Sollecito, called it “a melodrama.” In fact, at times Mignini talked about the details of Kercher’s death as if he were describing a book he had just read. Soon it will be up to the jury to decide whether Mignini’s story is fiction or nonfiction.

Barbie Latza Nadeau has reported from Italy for Newsweek magazine since 1997. She also writes for CNN Traveller, Budget Travel magazine and Frommer's.