Amanda Knox's Summer in Prison
As the trial resumes this week, Barbie Latza Nadeau reports on the PR campaign championing the accused murderess, and her former boyfriend and alleged accomplice's two months "in hell."
Ardent supporters of murder suspect Amanda Knox have always done an impressive job telling her side of the story in America. The 22-year-old Seattle native is on trial in Italy on charges that she and former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito sexually assaulted and murdered her British roommate, Meredith Kercher, back in November 2007. Since her arrest just days after Kercher’s body was discovered, a sophisticated public-relations strategy using mass media and the Internet have painted the fresh-faced all-American girl as a victim of bad police work and an inept prosecution team.
A photo of a bloody footprint that has been attributed to Sollecito appears doctored on the Knox Web site—not surprisingly, it matches Guede's foot.
While these efforts have garnered sympathy and donations for the cause back home, none of it has really mattered to the judge and jury here in Perugia. But now the supportive friends are taking their message on the road. During the two-month courtroom hiatus, interpreters have been busily translating all the American-based hyperbole about Amanda into Italian. The result has been a slew of new Italian Web sites and an increasing number of Knox-friendly articles showing up in popular Italian women’s magazines such as Gente and Oggi, which are aimed right at some of the members of the jury. “There is no coincidence that these articles showed up in the type of magazines that end up in the beach bag,” says Kercher lawyer Francesco Maresca. “There is no question that they are reaching out to the jury.”
Recent articles in the two most popular glossies toed the Knox party line. In Gente, an open letter from Sollecito practically begs the jury for compassion. The letter begins “Cari Amici della Piazza” (the greeting “dear friends in the piazza,” generally used at political rallies) and goes on to outline Sollecito’s own suffering while in jail. “I continue to serve my sentence in hell before being convicted of a crime,” he laments, adding that he hopes that “someone will remember that I’m still here and that I am innocent.”
Sollecito also talks about how the sudden jail transfers are disruptive to his studies and how he has been living in isolation with only a family of cockroaches for company. Sollecito, who comes from a very wealthy family in Puglia, says he wonders what other torture awaits him. His lawyers have successfully crafted an image in stark contrast to earlier pictures of the 24-year-old in the days after his arrest. Then he was shown in one photograph with long hair smoking a joint and in another wrapped in surgical bandages brandishing a meat cleaver. Unlike Knox, whose court attire is often questioned, Sollecito and his supporters have always arrived perfectly dressed. He usually wears pastel colors, which criminal strategists say paints a picture of innocence. The positive articles and new Web sites in Italian will surely bolster support for him here in Italy.
A waiting-room staple, Oggi also ran a piece this week that says Rudy Guede, the Ivory Coast native who was convicted for his role in this crime last October, acted alone. And in August, an Oggi article topped with the headline “Why Amanda and Raffaele Should Go Home” glossed over most of the forensic evidence presented thus far in the case. The new Italian-language Web sites about the case are also riddled with errors of fact and contain photos that have nothing to do with what has been presented in the courtroom in Perugia. A photo of a bloody footprint on a bathmat that has been attributed to Sollecito appears doctored on the Knox Web site—not surprisingly, it matches Guede's foot.
But it’s the hard evidence, not the glossy publicity, that is most likely to affect the outcome of this trial, which resumes Monday after a two-month break, then continues Friday and Saturday. The hiatus was tough on the defendants, who no doubt missed their weekly furloughs to the courtroom, but the break could give the defense an advantage. Last July, testimony by noted forensic specialist Adriano Tagliabracci was abruptly suspended after the defense discovered that they had not been given all the prosecution’s evidence reports. Specifically, they did not have crucial evidence about Sollecito’s DNA found on the clasp of the bloodied bra that was cut from Kercher after she was stabbed.
Lawyers for both Knox and Sollecito, who have toiled over the evidence all summer, say they will deliver a bombshell in hearings this week. They claim to have new evidence that they say will be indisputable with regard to contamination of the crime scene. The prosecution and lawyers for the victim’s family say that is mostly hype. “This week will be fundamental in this case,” agrees Maresca. “But we have to wait to see whether it will be in favor of the defense.”
And in the end, what the jury thinks might not actually matter. An Italian jury—known as “citizen judges”—does not have the same weight as an American jury. Instead, the two judges that sit with them have the ultimate say as to guilt or innocence. In the case of a hung jury, the presiding judge makes the final decision. He can also overrule the jury’s decision if he does not agree with it.
The defense lawyers now say they will finish up their case by early October. After that, the judge can decide to recall witnesses to clarify points. Or the presiding judge could call for an impartial “super witness,” who will take 60 days to study all the forensic evidence and testify. Then closing arguments are expected to start, which could take as long as six weeks, given the twice-weekly schedule. Either way, there is no quick end in sight to this trial, and still no closure for the family of Meredith Kercher.
Barbie Latza Nadeau has reported from Italy for Newsweek since 1997. She also writes for CNN Traveler, Budget Travel, and Frommer's.