The room where Kercher died was full of Guede’s DNA and prints, yet Knox and Sollecito - his two supposed accomplices - left no trace. Other DNA evidence was highly contested. Knox made a confused confession – which she later retracted - after being interrogated for nearly 53 hours over 5 days. There was no lawyer or translator present, but it was included in the evidence on a technicality. That leaves circumstantial evidence – her phone was turned off on the night of the murder (she says because she was having sex with Sollecito); witnesses say they saw her buying bleach and soon after the murder, she was smooching with Sollecito and turning cartwheels in the police station. No one has produced a plausible motive for Knox, so the prosecution has relied on the image of a drug-crazed sex scene. Tiny amounts of dubious evidence come nowhere near to establishing Knox’s conviction “beyond reasonable doubt”. In Britain or America, a judge would surely have instructed the jury to acquit.
Giuliano Mignini, Perugia’s public prosecutor, announced within a few days of the murder that the case was solved. He leaked to journalists that Knox, Sollecito and Lumumba (a local bar owner) had killed Kercher during an orgy she had refused to take part in. He arrived at that assumption before the tenuous DNA evidence was found; before it was discovered that Lumumba had a cast-iron alibi and that the DNA in the room and on Kercher’s body belonged to Rudy Guede. All of Knox’s behaviour was seen through the prism of guilt – so her natural high-spirits were interpreted as the behaviour of a cold-blooded killer. In court, Mignini used his summing-up to ask the jurors to imagine what Knox might have said to Kercher: "You are always behaving like a little saint. Now we will show you. Now we will make you have sex.” In a British court, this would have been thrown out as inadmissible speculation. As Rachel Donadio wrote in the New York Times, Italian trials “are more about defending personal honour than establishing facts, which are easily manipulated.” Donadio was writing about Silvio Burlusconi’s ability to slither out of accusations made against him – but the same applies in the Knox trial. The court would have been inclined to convict Knox to allow Mignini and the Perugia police to save face.
The Italian, American and British media have become obsessed with this case combining – as it does – sex, horrible cruelty and two beautiful young women. Tabloids dug up every detail of Knox’s sexual habits, and gleefully reported information leaked by the police. Knox’s gender went against her, encouraging prurient interest. Unlike Britain, Italy has no contempt of court rules, and because the jury were not sequestered, as they would have been here, they were exposed to every torrid aspect of the reporting. They knew from the tabloids that Knox was promiscuous, and that she kept condoms and a ‘Rampant Rabbit’ vibrator in a transparent washbag in the girls’ shared bathroom. They heard the prosecutor’s theories about her guilt, and saw photos of her posing with a machine gun – she says in jest. This must have influenced their verdicts. Under the circumstances, the entire trial would have been abandoned as hopelessly prejudiced in an Anglo-Saxon model.
Perugia is a tiny, traditional Catholic town which is invaded by thousands of foreign exchange students every year. The two professional judges and six lay judges who found Knox guilty were locals. For them, Knox epitomised the debauched, drunken, promiscuous students who have changed the face of the town. The information about her sex life dug up by the prosecutors and the tabloid newspapers was hugely damaging. As New York Times correspondent Timothy Egan wrote “In Seattle, where I live, I see a familiar kind of northwestern girl in Amanda Knox…In Italy, they see a devil, someone without remorse, inappropriate in their reactions.” Anyone who had smoked hashish and enjoyed one-night stands – as Knox did – would know there was a huge difference between that and initiating violent sadomasochistic sex orgies. For the Italian jurors, however, the idea that Knox was a “she-devil”, as the prosecution called her, capable of murder, was all too plausible, and Knox had as little chance of persuading them otherwise as a woman accused in a Salem witch trial.
Most American newspapers and television channels are convinced that Knox was convicted by a flawed Italian legal system which is prejudiced against Americans. Marina Cantwell, a US senator from Washington, Knox’s home state, has said that she detects the “taint” of anti-Americanism in the verdict and has sought a meeting with Hilary Clinton to air her concerns. The US played a major part on Italy’s post-war politics, especially keeping the Communists out of government, which many Italian magistrates resent. And the US campaign for Knox’s innocence, in which her parents were backed by lawyers, scientists and writers, may have been counter-productive, making the jury even less keen on the American girl in the dock.
Perhaps no one item of evidence proves that Knox murdered Meredith Kercher, but there is plenty of evidence against her. Knox knew details of the crime – although she told police she hadn’t seen the body, witnesses said she had described the position of the corpse, and boasted about being first to find it. Although she acknowledges that she returned to the house the morning after the murder and saw blood in the shower, she didn’t call the police – they only arrived and found the body by chance. Although Rudy Guede’s guilt is beyond doubt, he almost certainly had an accomplice – or two. A neighbour heard several people escaping, and someone broke a window after Kercher was dead (the glass was on top of her clothes) - presumably to make it look like the murderer broke in rather than being let in. Knox’s behaviour was strange throughout the investigation, she has no alibi, she appears to be narcissistic and controlling, she did confess and there is DNA evidence linking her and Sollecito to the crime.
Knox’s defenders have made much of the fact that there was no obvious reason for the murder – phone records show that she and Kercher had exchanged chatty text messages about a Halloween party just days before, although they had only a cool relationship. But if it was a drug-fueled sex orgy, “the absence of a rational motive is rather beside the point,” argues Melanie McDonagh. It’s perfectly plausible, as the prosecution suggested, that a sex game reached a point of no return where Guede, Knox and Sollecito had to kill Kercher to avoid her accusations. They might have hoped to get away with it. As the prosecutor said, “we live in an age of violence with no motive.”
Defendants in Italy are allowed two appeals, the first of which is essentially a re-trial. Every aspect of the case will be examined again towards the end of next year, and it is very common for the first verdict to be overturned. The power of the public prosecutor is balanced by the comprehensive nature of the appeal trial. The dramatic and rhetorical style of the public prosecutor is common in Italian law and goes back all the way to Roman practice – judges know to discount this.
Her situation would have been far worse had she been convicted in the US. All but 15 of America’s 50 states have capital punishment, and she would almost certainly have been condemned to death. If Knox was eventually freed on appeal, she would have spent years waiting on Death Row – an agonising situation. If you are the "outsider" in the US system, say poor, black and low IQ, then your chances of a fair trial for violent crime are pretty low, argues Marcel Berlins in the Guardian. As it is, she has been well-treated in Italian prison, learning the language fluently, entering short-story competitions and singing with nuns.
If Knox is eventually acquitted, she will have spent three years or more in prison. But she may be able to parlay her notoriety into a major money-spinner. John Grisham has told Italy’s La Stampa newspaper he believes Knox is innocent, and that he would like to turn her story into a novel if she is let off.
Americans are feeling embattled across the board following the unpopular presidency of George W. Bush - to accuse the Italian system of being anti-American says more about how oversensitive they are feeling than anything else. Knox's Italian boyfriend was found guilty also by the same judges, so how could the reason for the verdict possibly be anti-Americanism? When an individual comes to symbolise a whole country – as the "wrongly accused angelic Knox" has to many Americans– it will always be impossible for their trial to be perceived as fair. But what is really unfair is that when America does not like the outcome of a foreign process, be it a trial in Italy or a foreign election that goes against its interests, America is always tempted to substitute might for principle.
Meredith Kercher was a British exchange student in Perugia who shared a cottage with another student, the Seattle-born Amanda Knox. Two years ago, Kercher was found violently murdered.
Rudy Guede, an Ivory Coast-born drifter, has been sentenced to 30 years for killing Kercher, who was found naked in a pool of blood, her windpipe crushed and her throat slashed.
On December 5th 2009, a jury found Amanda Knox and her Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Solicito, guilty of her murder and convicted them to 26 and 25 years in prison each.
American opinion has tended to see the 21-year-old Knox as a high-spirited all-American college student caught up in a nightmare of unfair accusations, police bungling, and, above all, a basically unfair criminal justice system.
The Italian criminal justice system is a compromise between the french inquisatorial procedures and the anglo-saxon adversorial ones. Although "trials are based on equal confrontation of the parties before an independent and impartial judge", juries are composed of judges---a mixture of professional and lay---and they are not sequestered for the duration of the trial, which can often go on for many years.