ROME—The poisonous debate that still defines the 2007 murder of student Meredith Kercher erupted anew the moment Amanda Knox, twice convicted and twice acquitted, tweeted that she’d be coming back to Italy. She had accepted, she said, an invitation from the Innocence Project to talk about what it was like to be in the center ring of the media circus.
The trip is one Knox, now 31, apparently has been dreaming about for years as part of her own healing process. She wants to see the country she loved for a time, when she was studying in the mountain town of Perugia and rooming with Kercher. She would eat some gelato. She would close the circle.
But her presence on this side of the Atlantic will be something akin to ripping off a scab for Kercher’s family, who have not yet been able to bring themselves to visit the country where this tragedy began. For them there is no closure to be had, and the name Knox does nothing for their own healing process.
The polarizing murder case marked by endless trials started on Nov. 1, 2007, the day after Halloween, when Kercher’s bruised and bloodied body was found in the Perugia apartment she shared with Knox and two Italian law students. The American college student and her then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were convicted of the murder in 2009, acquitted on appeal in 2011, and convicted again in 2013 before Italy’s highest court absolved them for good in 2015.
Knox’s Congolese boss at a Perugia club, Patrick Lumumba, served a stint in jail after Knox falsely accused him of the murder, and Ivory Coast native Rudy Guede is now rounding out the final years of his 16-year-sentence for his involvement in the crime.
Guede implicated Knox and Sollecito in the crime, telling a television interviewer that he was “101 percent certain Amanda Knox was there.” To this day his officially docketed conviction upheld by Italy’s highest court lists him as one of three assailants.
Knox, who is expected to give the keynote address at the first ever Criminal Justice Festival in Modena, Italy, on June 15, has stayed in the media spotlight since returning to America after her original acquittal in 2011.
“We decided to invite her because she is an icon when it comes to a mass media trial in Italy,” Guido Sola, the festival organizer said Wednesday. “Even mafia trials have never received as much attention as her trial in this country.”
Knox has carved out a career built on her notoriety, traveling the world to speak at conferences dedicated to those who were wrongfully convicted of crimes. She is the host of a Vice podcast called "The Scarlet Letter Reports" and a Sundance TV documentary called The Truth about True Crime.
While she did not choose to become famous for her roommate’s murder, she has made a conscious decision to stay relevant because of it.
“The Italy Innocence Project didn’t yet exist when I was wrongly convicted in Perugia,” she tweeted from Seattle Tuesday night. “I’m honored to accept their invitation to speak to the Italian people at this historic event and return to Italy for the first time.”
But in what has become classic Knox, she then seemed to revel in the infamy her case has wrought without consideration for what it does to the Kerchers.
Moments after the first tweet, she posted a funny photo of a paparazzi-proof scarf that apparently makes the face of the person wearing it disappear when the cameras flash. “Here we go!” she tweeted. “Anyone know a thrift shop where I can find some of this paparazzi resistant clothing?”
Organizers of the festival say Knox’s talk will focus on what it is like to be in the eye of a media storm, and whether she believes that attention ultimately impacted the fairness of her trial.
It could be argued both ways. Those who question her innocence say that if she had not been such an international media darling, the appellate court may not have felt pressure to overturn her conviction in 2011 and certainly the high court would have felt less pressure in 2015.
Those who support her innocence say that she would have never been convicted in the first place had there not been such negative media attention about the “American gone wild abroad.”
Knox has a lot to say about the topic of the festival. She was just like any other American girl studying abroad before the night of Kercher’s gruesome murder. By her own description, she liked to party, she liked boys, and she was far away from home for the first time. Her talk should shed light on what it was like for her to be caught up in what was surely a terrifying and confusing whirlwind of accusations in court of law and in the court of public opinion, which may have counted even more.
There were times during her various trials when her police van had to weave through the throng of satellite television trucks from international networks ready to beam the details of the case against her. There were other times when locals shouting “assassina” chased the van, banging on the windows. She walked into court each week to a symphony of camera shutters and questions shouted by reporters. She was on the front page of every Italian newspaper for weeks at a time.
Her co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito—who Sola said was also invited to speak but who declined—has kept a very low profile since his final acquittal. He has recently publicly cast doubt on Knox’s innocence, saying the evidence that tied her to the crime had nothing to do with him and that he should have never been tried for it because the only thing the investigators had on him was that he was sleeping with Knox. But he has mostly just moved on with his life after his own book, Honor Bound: My Journey to Hell and Back, about his own ordeal quite apart from Knox’s came out. He developed a social networking site where people could leave messages for the dead, and he earned a degree in robotic surgery. He has often complained that meeting Knox ruined his life.
Knox has said her piece in the United States, but not in Italy. She has been on all the U.S. major television networks and a 2016 Netflix documentary broadly reflects her book Waiting To Be Heard. But because she has not been back to Italy since she was first acquitted in 2011, she is something of a ghost in this country, appearing in the papers only when she makes headlines in America.
News of her short-lived engagement to a ghost hunter or making her Instagram page public were covered with tepid interest, and it’s not clear at this point whether Italians want to hear what she has to say when she speaks next month.
When news broke that she would be returning, the overwhelming response was one of dismay. “Why would she come back here?” a popular radio host asked Tuesday morning. “If they arrest her again, no one can say she didn’t ask for it.”
There is no legal risk for Knox to come back to Italy. She is not under investigation for any crimes. She was acquitted of sexual assault and murder and she served her time for falsely accusing Patrick Lumumba of the murder. She still owes him around $25,000 in damages for the false accusation.
Lumumba’s lawyer told The Daily Beast that they have not seen any of it, but Knox’s lawyer said that there is no legal order to hold her until it is paid. The European Court of Human Rights, in turn, ruled in January that Italy owes her slightly less, $20,000, for not providing an objective translator or access to legal assistance during her original interrogation back in November 2007. She had asked for nearly a million for maltreatment, but the European court did not find Italy had treated her inhumanely.
Meredith Kercher died when she was only 21 years old. Upon the news of Knox’s return to Italy, a member of Kercher’s family told The Daily Beast that they will have to brace for the pain that comes with having the person they firmly believe participated in the murder back in the news.
“One has to wonder why she is doing this, why we have to go through all this again” the Kercher family member said. “You don’t get used to the notion that your daughter’s killer has become a superstar any more than you get used to the fact that your daughter was murdered in the first place.”