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The New Face of Evil

Is the real Amanda Knox the sex-obsessed, cold-blooded murderer that the prosecution depicted? Or worse?

12.06.09 10:56 PM ET

Amanda Knox should be finishing college and polishing her résumé for her first job. She should be buying Christmas presents for her friends. She should be falling in love. But so should Meredith Kercher, the British woman Knox was just convicted of killing. Knox, who was sentenced to 26 years in prison for sexual assault, murder, staging a crime scene, and criminal defamation, will one day walk out of prison. She will likely be out in time to marry and have children, should she chose to. Kercher has been wiped from existence.

“You are a mother, too,” she often said. “How would you feel if this was your child? You have got to believe me. She didn’t do this.”

Barbie Latza Nadeau: Amanda Knox’s Next MoveKnox is a convicted murderess but she is not necessarily an assassin. She is a 22-year-old woman who followed a dream to study in Perugia, but instead found herself in an unthinkable situation that led her to Capanne Prison just outside of town. She has a recognizable face, but she is no longer the young woman from the pictures taken on November 2, 2007, snuggling outside the crime scene with her then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, who was also convicted for Kercher’s murder. Back then, Knox seemed naïve and carefree. Now she is withered. The lines in her face are deep with concern.

Just who Amanda Knox really is has been the most difficult puzzle to solve in the two years since Kercher was killed. Her family is so certain of her innocence, so completely sure she had nothing to do with the murder. They happily flip through scrapbooks and laugh with stories of her childhood. “She is quirky, sure,” Curt Knox once admitted over a Coca-Cola at a café in Perugia. “She is an original, but she is not a murderess.”

Even before the verdict came in, Amanda’s mother, Edda Mellas, could not stop crying. She cried constantly, a mother’s pain almost unbearable to watch at times. “You are a mother, too,” she often said. “How would you feel if this was your child?” Last summer over too many beers at the Joyce Pub in Perugia, she held my hand and pleaded that Amanda was misunderstood. “You have got to believe me,” she cried. “She didn’t do this.”

Parents will often do anything—even lie—to protect their children, but there is no doubt that Knox and Mellas are telling what they believe is the truth. They believed Amanda. In intercepted prison visits, they discussed what they called “the mistake.” Amanda felt so sure that she would get to go home. She told her mother time and time again that “they will figure this out.” And that “they will realize it wasn’t me.” Amanda’s parents were assured along the way that their Italian lawyers could break down the prosecution’s “weak” case. They were given reason to believe that Amanda would use the December 9 airline ticket they bought her. “There is no way the jury can find her guilty based on the evidence presented,” Curt Knox said recently. “There is absolutely nothing that ties her to this case.”

The jury thought otherwise. They convicted her unanimously, the disagreement was only on whether or not to give her a life sentence. “A life sentence would have been a death penalty,” one juror said. “They were too young and there was no motivation for the murder.”

Still, they believed wholeheartedly that she was involved. They valued the forensic evidence that Amanda’s parents say does not exist. They wondered why Amanda’s DNA and Meredith’s blood was wiped away and recovered with Luminol. They thought it was Raffaele’s bloody footprint on the bathroom rug and his DNA on Meredith’s bra clasp. They believed the prosecutor’s testimony that Meredith’s DNA was on the blade of the knife that had Amanda’s DNA on the handle. They had the forensic evidence they needed to tie her to the murder, they said in off-the-record interviews after the hearing. They believed that if she did not kill her, she knew enough about who did to warrant the conviction. The inconsistencies in Knox’s story were too many. Her lack of corroborated alibi just too much to overlook. How Amanda explained these same things to her parents is a well-kept secret. “She says she wasn’t there,” her father claims. “We just know she wasn’t there.”

But the jury thought she was there. After all, she even admitted it early on. They were convinced that she had been there because she described the scream. They just didn’t think that the young woman they saw at every hearing—so cool and confident—could crumble under pressure of an interrogation, even with a slap on the back of the head. And they just didn’t understand why this young woman, so seemingly fresh-faced, would lie about being in the house when Meredith was killed. When she gave her testimony, the jury was not convinced.

She spoke perfect Italian, but she did not get her message across. In the courtroom, she seemed so self-assured, almost too assured. Her family supported her so vehemently as an innocent, simple young woman. But somehow the jury did not see the same young woman in front of them.

The most complex question in this case is whether Amanda Knox is an actress or if she is like Amelie, the naïve protagonist of the French movie she says she watched the night Kercher died. "A little Amelie, A Little Dark Lady," one headline ran the day after the verdict, implying that she was, indeed both.

That has been the underlying theme in this complicated story—is Knox a sinner or a saint, or if she is somehow a combination of the two, as most of us are. When witnesses described her sexual appetites, she easily fit the role. Knox is naturally sensual and the desire of at least half the male press corp. Comments on articles often end with, "I would do her" or other sexual innuendos. Being desirable does not, of course, equate being guilty. But in the context of a sex crime, being hot does not help. The jury heard too much about her bedroom habits, and here she was, so very pretty, sitting in front of them in tight jeans and short-sleeve T-shirts.

In fact, it seems obvious that the jury saw Amanda Knox as the “she-devil” the prosecution maintains she is. But is she really evil? Could Amanda have actually held the knife? Taunted Meredith with it, cutting the palms of her hand and playing the blade against her throat before stabbing her? If Amanda really is that person, the one who dealt the final blow to Meredith as the prosecution presented in an animated video during closing arguments, then 26 years is not enough to pay for the torture Meredith endured. She was left to die, suffocating on her own blood.

Knox never managed to beat the bad rap associated with the accusations against her. The jury found it easier to see her as the rapacious sinner than as the beautiful blue-eyed saint. None of those who testified on her behalf were convincing enough, primarily because none of her supporters could speak Italian. Somehow a translator lessens the emotional impact of heartfelt testimony. When Knox’s best friend, Madison Paxton, testified about how honest and innocent Amanda really was, it came across as an emotionless staccato statement in Italian. Paxton’s feelings were, literally, lost in translation.

And perhaps Amanda, herself, had been too honest. She admitted to all the wrong things. She loved sex. She enjoyed drugs. These were not the answers to satisfy the jury’s questions. They were endorsements that she was, in fact, the hedonistic, amoral girl the papers described. She giggled at certain questions. She made a mockery of the judge’s court. Smiling to the cameras and blushing and passing chocolates to Raffaele did little to help her. When the two got into the prison van at the end of each hearing, the press had bets on whether or not they got to have sex the whole way back, or whether they just talked dirty to each other through the bars.

By the end of the trial, Knox started to get it right. She began acting the part of a murder suspect instead of a starlet. But it was too little, too late. She wore her hair back, she dressed in conservative clothes. She cried for the first time in the trial, but even that came at the wrong time for the jury. She broke down as the prosecutor described how he envisioned she had covered Meredith’s body with the duvet. "This crime has the mark of a woman," he told the jury, as Knox cried in front of them. "You can easily see Amanda taking revenge on "prissy" Meredith."

In the end, the jury did not rely on headlines and innuendo to convict her. They relied on Amanda herself.

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