11.30.09

Amanda Knox's Last Chance

As the sensational murder trial ends, the defense tried a risky strategy to free Amanda Knox—and her parents are now being investigated for a crime.

With the sensational murder trial in the hands of the jury, Barbie Latza Nadeau reports on the defense's risky strategy to free Amanda Knox—and why her parents are now being investigated for a crime.

American murder suspect Amanda Knox was nervous Monday morning when she entered the courtroom in Perugia, Italy, where she is standing trial for the 2007 murder of her British roommate Meredith Kercher. This week is the defining moment of this epic trial, which has played out like a twisted murder-mystery novel for much of the last 11 months, leading up to a verdict expected Friday night or early Saturday morning.

Lawyers for Knox’s former boyfriend and co-defendant Rafaelle Sollecito had two choices when they addressed the jury with their closing arguments, which were held November 28 and 30. They could have followed the prosecutor’s lead two weeks ago and painted their client as a submissive young man who did whatever Knox told him to do. In fact, during closing arguments last Saturday, Sollecito’s attorney Luca Maori described his client as a naïve young man with limited sexual experience prior to hooking up with Knox. “He is incapable of taking part in this type of sex crime,” Maori told the court last Saturday. “Raffaele is the second victim of this crime.”

“She is not Amanda the Ripper,” Bongiorno told the jury in her summation. “She is a little crazy, extravagant. She does the cartwheels in the police station because reality for her is too strong to deal with.”

On Monday, however, the real strategy was obvious. Sollecito’s co-counsel Giulia Bongiorno (who barely made it to court after an appendix-related illness) is a member of parliament and a Johnny Cochran-type attorney who tends toward high-profile cases. She surprised court observers and spent most of the morning ignoring her own client. Instead, she defended Knox even though Sollecito is the only of the two with DNA evidence in the room where Kercher was murdered. The prosecution says they found Sollecito’s DNA on the clasp of the bra that was cut from Kercher's body after the murder. (During the afternoon, Bongiorno dismissed the bra clasp as contaminated, citing the 46 days between the murder and when it was collected off the dirty floor.)

By doing the work of Knox’s defense team, Sollecito’s own defense took a calculated risk that it will be harder for the jury to convict them both. But in doing so, she paved the way for the two to be judged as one, meaning they will either both be acquitted or both receive life sentences. And by defending Knox and attacking the forensic evidence against her—including mixed blood and the alleged murder weapon, a knife with Knox’s DNA on the handle and what the prosecution says is Kercher’s on the blade, which Bongiorno called an “insult to forensic science”—she is banking that Knox’s lawyers will also do their bit to defend Sollecito later this week when it is their turn. “She is not Amanda the Ripper,” Bongiorno told the jury, which at times must have been wondering when she would get to Sollecito. “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.”

It was a moment of obvious relief for Knox. The last few weeks have been particularly arduous for her. Two weeks ago, Rudy Guede, the man who has already been convicted for his part in Kercher’s murder, testified in his appeals trial that he saw her silhouette in the window of the crime scene the night of the murder. The same week, the prosecutor painted a disturbing picture of Knox as a drug-fueled vixen who called Meredith Kercher “prissy” before threatening her at knifepoint to have group sex with Guede and Sollecito. Then last week as the civil plaintiff’s closing arguments against her concluded, Knox was called a “dirty minded she-devil” by lawyers for Patrick Lumumba, the man she had originally accused of the murder. Invoking past testimony about Knox’s bad hygiene, he said “Amanda was dirty on the outside because she was not clean on the inside.”

Invoking past testimony about Knox’s bad hygiene, he said “Amanda was dirty on the outside because she was not clean on the inside.”

But the worst blow for Knox was the revelation this week that her parents are now also in trouble with the local authorities. Upon arriving in town last Friday to ride out the waning days of their daughter’s murder trial, Knox’s parents were served papers advising them that they are being investigated for criminal defamation for a June 2008 interview they gave the London Sunday Times. In the article, they claimed that their daughter had been had been “physically and verbally abused,” including being deprived of water for nine hours. “She told us she was hit in the back of the head by a police officer with an open hand at least twice,” Knox’s parents told the Times. But because Knox’s lawyers have never filed their own charges against the Perugian police for the alleged abuse, the cops decided to act first. The question of abuse is vital in this case because Knox is also facing criminal defamation charges in addition to sexual assault and murder. She claims that she was coerced by heavy-handed police into falsely accusing Lumumba of Kercher’s murder. By defending their actions through Knox’s parents, Perugia police are essentially denying the abuse and may well affect the outcome of the trial since the jury is not sequestered and very likely heard about the charges.

Despite that twist, it was the best day the defense has had in this trial. Bongiorno’s oratory was a tribute to criminal defense. The jury didn’t take their eyes off her as she weaved a story separated by her own self-titled chapters. And when Knox’s defense lawyers begin their summation, they are expected to do their part and pick up where Sollecito’s defense left off. “We are really four lawyers with two clients,” Knox attorney Carlo Dalla Vedova said after court. “We are all in the same boat.” Soon the jury will decide whether it will stay afloat.

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