Amanda Knox: New Hope for Student Killer

The Daily Beast has obtained a court document detailing why an Italian jury decided to convict the American college student for killing her roommate. Barbie Latza Nadeau, author of the upcoming Beast Book Angel Face, on how the findings open the door for Knox to appeal.

Amanda Knox was not convicted of murdering Meredith Kercher because she did cartwheels in the police station or owned a vibrator, as her supporters suggest. Knox, 22, along with her 25-year-old former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, were found guilty by a jury in Perugia, Italy, based on hard forensic evidence, according to the sentencing judge’s 427-page reasoning, which was issued Thursday and obtained by The Daily Beast. The two judges and six jury members for the 11-month trial agreed with the prosecution’s case, calling it a “comprehensive and complete picture without gaps and inconsistencies.”

“One can hypothesize that the bad decision came after the consumption of stupefying substances.”

But they disagreed on the motive. The prosecution lawyers began their case in January 2009 by arguing that Kercher was killed during a sex game gone awry. When it came time for closing arguments, they had changed the theory slightly, trying to make the case that Knox resented her prissy British roommate and killed her in hatred. The jury rejected both theories, and the reasoning document declares that “the killing was carried out with no planning, no animosity, and no revenge against the victim.” The two young lovers, interested in each other and in the intellectual and cultural world around them, would not have made a conscious decision to kill Kercher. Instead, the judge wrote, they killed spontaneously under the influence of drugs. “One can hypothesize that the bad decision came after the consumption of stupefacente—stupefying substances—that Amanda verified in her testimony.”

As the jury saw it, Knox, Sollecito, and Rudy Guede, the Ivory Coast native who was convicted for his role in Kercher’s murder after a fast-track trial in 2008, came to the house the two girls shared in order to get high. Guede used the toilet, then became aroused when he saw Knox and Sollecito making out. He went to Kercher’s room and made sexual advances toward her. The reasoning refers to evidence presented at Knox’s trial that Guede was the type of guy that “bothered women” when he was under the influence. Then, according to the reasoning, Kercher cried out for help, but instead of helping her, Knox and Sollecito, their judgment impaired, decided instead to help Guede. The killing was based on “sexual-erotic violence” but not with Knox as the mastermind. The jury believed that it was Guede who led that attack, and the other two, too high to know better, joined in.

The judge’s reasoning also underscores what the jury believed to be the most important elements of the prosecution’s forensic case. They believed that a kitchen knife with Knox’s DNA on the handle and a trace of Kercher’s on the blade was the weapon that made the large fatal wound in Kercher’s neck. They also referred to Sollecito’s “knife habits,” surmising that, as an admitted collector of blades, he likely used his own knife to make the second wound. The jury agreed that Sollecito and Knox conspired to stage a break-in in another bedroom to cover their tracks. And they attributed an unidentifiable bloody shoeprint found on the pillow under Kercher’s body to Knox, even though the prosecution only implied that it was compatible with a woman’s shoe size. A spot of Knox and Kercher’s mixed blood in one of the bedrooms, found using Luminol, and four additional spots in the small bathroom the girls shared also swayed the jurors.

“These were left when Amanda was cleaning her hands and feet of Kercher’s blood,” the judge wrote.

The jury members were convinced that Kercher was killed by more than one assailant, citing her parents’ testimony that she was fit and strong. But they believed, too, that Knox and Sollecito took pity on her later by covering her with a duvet. “They felt a certain repentance after what they had done,” the judge wrote. “They could not look at her, they covered her body.”

The judge also wrote emphatically about the lack of a credible alibi. Although Knox and Sollecito claimed to be at his apartment all night, “Not one phone call, not one meeting, no computer activity or any other element proved that they stayed at that apartment.” And the judge was particularly hard on Knox for accusing Patrick Lumumba, an innocent man, of the murder "knowingly and deceivingly." Overall, however, it appears that the jury was sympathetic to the two suspects, but ultimately felt that they committed a crime for which they must pay a hefty price.

None of the defense lawyers would comment until after they had a chance to study the lengthy legal document. But it appears to leave a wide opening for Knox and Sollecito's appeal. First, the reasoning barely skimmed over Knox's involvement in Kercher's sexual assault, so astute lawyers are likely to focus on that oversight and challenge her conviction for a sex crime. Likewise, the judge discounted motive, even though Knox and Sollecito were convicted of first-degree murder, which by law requires intent to kill. Manslaughter, or killing without a motive, carries a lighter sentence. In Guede's appeal, his sentence was cut to 16 years from 30 due to extenuating factors, and now lawyers for Knox and Sollecito have plenty to work with in pursuit of a similar outcome. They have 45 days to file the official appeal. Then a new judge and jury will be assigned to review the evidence and determine whether to uphold or overturn the convictions. That hearing will be held in the fall of 2010.

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