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02.16.11

Amanda Knox's Parents Slander Trial

Their nightmare isn't over yet—after watching their daughter sent to prison for murder, Amanda Knox's parents now face the same fate for slander. Barbie Latza Nadeau on the latest twist.

Their nightmare isn't over yet—after watching their daughter sent to prison for murder, Amanda Knox's parents now face the same fate for slander. Barbie Latza Nadeau on the latest twist. Plus, the drama behind Lifetime's Amanda Knox movie.

After a three-year ordeal in which they were forced to watch their daughter investigated, tried, and convicted of murder, the Italian justice system is still not done with the Knox family.

On Tuesday, Amanda's parents were indicted in absentia in Perugia, Italy, for slandering the local police. The charges filed against Curt Knox and Edda Mellas, who are divorced and both remarried, translate to criminal libel and carry a maximum three-year sentence and a hefty fine. The police are also suing Knox’s parents for damages in a parallel civil case. Knox, who is appealing her 26-year sentence for the murder of Meredith Kercher, faces similar criminal slander charges. Slander is a common charge in the Italian court system, with over 1,000 cases heard annually, mostly for slander through the press, but sometimes for accused criminals and their families as well.

Knox’s parents were first called to court in a preliminary hearing on these charges last July and Tuesday’s hearing amounted to the judge’s ruling that, yes, there is enough evidence to send the Seattle ex-couple to trial.

The charges may seem bizarre to Americans—after all, they were merely parents defending their daughter, as any parent would—but they are an integral part of the case against Knox. In a heated interrogation on November 5, 2007, Knox told police that she was at the house where Kercher was murdered and that her boss Patrick Lumumba was the assassin. Her “confession” led to her and Lumumba’s arrest. Lumumba was later set free, but Knox was convicted of the murder along with her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito and a third man, Rudy Guede.

Slander is a common charge in the Italian court system, mostly for slander through the press, but sometimes for accused criminals and their families as well.

Knox maintains that the reason she said she was at the crime scene and accused Lumumba of the murder was because the police mistreated her—hitting her on the back of the head and depriving her of food, water, and sleep. The police say they didn’t touch her, and that she admitted she was at the house where Kercher was murdered of her own free will. There is no audio or video tape of the interrogation. The only people who know what really occurred during that interrogation are Knox and the cops. And their stories don’t jibe.

Then, in June 2008, Knox’s parents gave an interview to the Sunday Times in which they repeated claims that the police verbally and physically abused their daughter during that fateful November 2007 interrogation. The article quotes Curt Knox as saying, “Amanda was abused physically and verbally. She told us she was hit in the back of the head by a police officer with an open hand, at least twice. The police told her, ‘If you ask for a lawyer, things will get worse for you,’ and ‘If you don’t give us some explanation for what happened, you’re going to go to jail for a very long time.’”

book-cover---angel-face
Angel Face: The True Story of Student Killer Amanda Knox. By Barbie Latza Nadeau. 224 pages. Beast Books. $14.95. ()

The police deny mistreating Knox and say that repeating these claims has not only damaged their reputation, but incorrectly calls into question the entire conviction. A lawyer for the cops told the court on Tuesday that Knox’s parents spread the lie that, “Contrary to the truth, that Amanda had not been assisted by an interpreter, that she hadn't been given food or water, that she had been abused both physically and verbally, and that she had been slapped on the back of the head and threatened".

Knox herself also faces criminal libel charges for her testimony in the summer of 2009 when she told the court that the police hit her “twice, on the back of the head.” That, she says, is why she lied about being at the crime scene and fingering Lumumba.

Now, the race for the truth—or interpretation thereof—is on. Will Knox and her parent’s slander suits be decided before a ruling on her appeal? Knox will be back in court on March 12 and 26 and on April 16 to hear testimony in the first evidentiary hearings of her appeal. On May 19, the appellate court will hear the results of an independent review of key forensic evidence, which may be crucial to her chance at freedom. Meanwhile, Knox’s own criminal libel trial is scheduled to begin May 17 and may take several hearings to complete. That of her parents is on the docket for July 4.

Barbie Latza Nadeau: Lifetime’s Amanda Knox Movie DramaIt’s feasible that the appellate decision will come before the slander decision. If Knox wins a discount on her sentence in the appeal but loses in the slander trial, extra years could be added back on. If she is released on appeal, she could be re-sentenced if convicted of slander. Her parents could even end up in jail with her if they are convicted.

The cases are so intertwined that it seems impossible that one ruling would not affect the other, but timing is everything, and in Perugia, nothing is ever quite as simple as it seems.

Barbie Latza Nadeau, author of the Beast Book Angel Face, about Amanda Knox, has reported from Italy for Newsweek since 1997 and for The Daily Beast since 2009. She is a frequent contributor to CNN Traveller, Departures, Discovery and Grazia. She appears regularly on CNN, BBC and NPR.