The satellite trucks are already lined up outside the Capanne prison where Seattle native Amanda Knox has spent nearly four years of her life. The city of Perugia has once again been transformed into a giant circus stage complete with white tents and an abundance of spectators. For those of us who covered the final verdict of Knox’s first murder trial in December 2009, it is an eerily familiar scene. Only the season has changed.
On Monday, Knox and her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, will learn whether a new judge and jury agree with the first judicial team that convicted and sentenced them to 26 and 25 years respectively for the murder of Knox’s British roommate, Meredith Kercher. The press dares not hedge bets on the outcome of this trial, but instead sketches a plan for how to chase Knox if she gets to leave Capanne. Flights are tentatively booked from all local airports to Seattle. Motor scooters in Perugia have all been rented out by the paparazzi. Local drivers who know the backroads to the closest airport are the media fixers’ new best friends. Even the American Embassy in Rome is being watched since Knox’s passport has reportedly expired and no one is quite sure how she’ll get it renewed without a personal appearance like the rest of Americans abroad. Big names in news—NBC’s Matt Lauer, ABC’s Elizabeth Vargas, CBS’s Peter Van Sant—on the streets of Perugia make this story seem more like the trial of a diplomat than that of a college student.
Knoxavists, a name the press has given the most ardent supporters from her Friends of Amanda advocacy group, sit in the public seating area of the courtroom condemning a trial they cannot understand because of the language barrier. Many have taken to following those of us tweeting live updates of what’s being said. During court breaks the media interview the media about the media, trying to dissect why there is so much interest. Meanwhile the Knox parents slalom between TV tents giving interviews for the morning shows. Every afternoon they gather at the Brufani bar and mingle with the friendly reporters. Each dinner is courtesy of a different media outlet. They are now completely versed in TV jargon, asking about their “hit times” and “beepers.”
Well-known advocates like former FBI agent Steve Moore, who has traveled to Perugia for the verdict, give mini press conferences outside during breaks. Moore’s wife, herself a Knoxavist, accosted prosecutor Giuliano Mignini earlier in the week. “You are evil,” she said to the public official. Moments later she was asked for her documents. Others hiss at reporters they disagree with, creating a toxic and tense environment.
The trial itself is often a sideshow to what’s going on outside, but even on the bench, the tone waffles between harsh and hysterical. This is a serious appellate process about a tragic murder of a wonderful woman full of potential, but you’d never know it. The court has heard evidence about vibrators, condoms, and showering after sex. They’ve been lectured with analogies about recipes and references to Jessica Rabbit, Hydra, and Venus in Furs. They’ve heard testimony from a homeless heroin addict, a notorious babykiller, and a Neapolitan mafia turncoat. Knox herself has been labeled both a “she-devil” and a “faithful” innocent. Her lawyer said her life has been swept away by a tsunami. “The press have crucified and impaled her in the public square.”
The trial itself is often a sideshow to what’s going on outside, but even on the bench, the tone waffles between harsh and hysterical.
Closing arguments began this week with the lawyers for Kercher family showing photos of her massacred body. Then the lawyer for Patrick Lumumba, the man suing Knox for accusing him of the murder back in 2007, let loose a misogynistic tirade in which he berated Knox for her lies and obsession with sex, drugs, and living life on the edge, ending his oration by calling her an “enchanting witch.” Tuesday was the defense’s turn with a hearty support of Sollecito by his team who did their best to win back the momentum from the zealous prosecution. Pointing out forensic mistakes and ridiculing the prosecution’s theory of a sex game gone wrong, they ended the day on a positive note for Knox and Sollecito. After a needed break Wednesday, Knox’s defense made stellar ground on Thursday, defending their client through lucid explanations about how the case was marked against her from the start. “The prosecution always suspected her,” said Knox’s lawyer Carlo Dalla Vedova. “And they found the evidence to support the suspect’s involvement, not the other way around.”
The underlying theme, though, seems to be the media in this case. The judge often begins each session dealing with media requests for live streams and camera pools. The police are worried about security in the courtroom as masses of camera operators jockey for space, often performing acrobatic stunts to get the best shot. There is also concern about safety on the streets as more and more outlets show up, stringing cables along the sidewalks. All lawyers so far have blamed the press in one way or another, even citing particular articles as evidence. The extreme polarity has divided the public, and the press continues to feed the beast it created with countdowns to the verdict and live-tweeting from the courtroom. But everyone has used the press in this story, first by the prosecution to guide the story against Knox, and then by her family to wrestle it back. The media did not kill Meredith Kercher, but it’s almost certain that it has by now destroyed any real chance of finding out who really did.