The opening day of the Amanda Knox appellate trial for the murder of Meredith Kercher was like a family reunion of the truly obsessed. All the usual suspects were there: journalists who have been here since day one took their spots in the courtroom, a few newbies nervously asked who’s who, and a deluge of animalistic photographers literally clamored over chairs and each other to be the first to capture an image of Knox back in the dock.
But unlike the criminal trial in which Knox appeared to relish the media attention, she didn’t seem to be enjoying it at all this time around. Three years in prison have reduced the 23-year-old Seattle student to a shadow of her former self. Dressed in a chalky-blue smock top, her short pixie had grown out to a shaggy bob since the summer, hiding her pale face. She looked thin and drawn, and did not smile at the members of the press like she had in the past. Instead, she cowered, flinching at the snapping of cameras. “She is spent,” her lawyer Luciano Ghirga said after the hearing. “She is losing hope.”
Today’s hearing surely did nothing to bolster her mood. In fact, it proved a disappointing waste of time. Scarce business was discussed and no motions were filed. The most important exercise was the swearing in of the new jury, which is made up of five women and one man—but even that took place out of sight in the courtroom’s back chambers. Unlike the original criminal trial, which was gender-balanced, the appellate jury is made up of five non-descript women in their forties and fifties and a single male juror, who looked very uncomfortable in the spotlight as he stared wide-eyed back at the press from the bench. One of the women remained fixated on Knox, staring at her for the duration of the short trial. The two males judges are both stern-looking men who seemed appalled at the media scrum, but stopped short of closing the appeal trial to the press.
The half-hour hearing was really nothing more than a day out of prison for Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, her co-conspirator, who has also grown his hair since he was last seen the night of December 4, 2009, when the two were convicted. The two looked oddly alike and shared a few stolen glances during the hearing. After a formal request by the lawyers for Sollecito to adjourn today’s hearing due to defense attorney Giulia Bongiorno’s pregnancy and political circumstances, all parties reluctantly agreed, but not until after the new prosecutor reminded the court that this trial was as important as Bongiorno’s personal life. “To ensure the serenity and tranquility of this important trial, we will accept this request,” said lead judge Claudio Pratillo Hellmann, a forbidding-looking man with a crop of white hair. He then set the calendar for the next three hearings—December 11 and 18, and January 15.
She looked thin and drawn, and did not smile at the members of the press like she had in the past.
On December 11, lawyers for both Knox and Sollecito will finally present their appeals to the court. Both are asking for a complete and independent review of key forensic evidence used to convict the pair during their criminal trial. They will also ask the judge to consider the lack of motive and the absence of proof of sexual abuse, and rule that neither should have been used to convict the young couple. The jury will deliberate and rule on this request on December 18.
Despite the anti-climactic day, the appellate trial is now officially underway and as such, the clock is ticking. If granted on December 18, an independent review of the evidence will take 60-to-90 days. A verdict must be handed down by June 2011. If her lawyers can successfully convince the new judges and jury that she was not fairly convicted, Knox can go back to Seattle and put this horrible experience behind her. If not, she must wait for her second appeal to reach the high court, which could take years. If she loses that, she faces 23 more years in a prison cell. “She truly understands the gravity of her situation, “ said Ghirga. “She feels the weight of it all on her shoulders.”
Barbie Latza Nadeau, author of the Beast Book Angel Face, about Amanda Knox, has reported from Italy for Newsweek Magazine since 1997. She also writes for CNN Traveller, Budget Travel Magazine and Frommer's.