On October 3, 24-year-old American student Amanda Knox, convicted killer of 21-year-old Meredith Kercher, stood before an Italian appeals court in Perugia, Italy, and pled for her innocence. “I am paying with my life for things that I did not commit,” Knox said to the panel of eight jurors. “I want to go home, I want my life back. I am innocent.” Hours later, that same jury overturned the 2009 Italian trial court decision convicting Knox and her Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito of murder. Knox, who had been in prison for almost four years, was free to return to America.
Thousands of people around the world watched the live news feed intently that Monday afternoon as the decision was read, and Knox, looking pale and faint, broke into emotional sobs. The broadcasters and legal experts on television seemed to reflect the belief that the Italian appeals court had done the right thing.
But not everyone agreed that an innocent girl was released. Outside the court, hundreds of angry Italians responded to the news with hostility. Convinced of the couples’ guilt, a near-riot broke out in the square and many screamed “Assassins!” and “Shame!” towards the courthouse. The 24-hour cable news networks caught the split reaction of bystanders in real-time, illustrating the widely divided opinion of the global community.
From the beginning, the murder of Meredith Kercher caught the attention of the media. The story seemed straight out of a murder-mystery novel and most surprisingly took place in a small seemingly safe Italian village. The world watched eagerly to see how the notoriously corrupt Italian justice system would handle the murder and subsequent trial.
The case was plagued with accusations of police abuse, contaminated evidence, media-induced bias, and a corrupt prosecution. To further complicate the chaos of the Italian investigation, a revolving group of international suspects was implicated in the murder. Usually there are two sides to every story, but the murder of Meredith Kercher seemed to have a thousand. In the wake of Knox and Sollecito’s release, many questions still remain.
The Murder and Investigation
The night of Meredith Kercher’s murder, all three of her roommates were allegedly away from the apartment, including Amanda Knox. Kercher had planned on waitressing that night at Le Chic, a bar owned by Patrick Lamumba, but the bar was slow and Lamumba informed her via text that she didn’t need to come to work. Instead, Kercher spent the evening of the November 1, 2011 watching The Notebook at a friend’s apartment and returned home shortly before 9 p.m.
On November 2, 2011, the half-naked body of Meredith Kercher was found in her bedroom in a pool of her own blood with multiple slash wounds to her throat and neck. A window had been broken with a rock and several credit cards, two cell phones and 300 Euros were missing from the apartment, suggesting a break-in had occurred.
When police arrived at the scene, Amanda Knox was outside the house with her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, a 23-year-old Italian computer-engineering student waiting for the authorities. Knox claimed to have stayed the night at Sollecito’s and returned home at 10:30 a.m. the next morning to shower. In her original statement, she said to have noticed the front door was open, but did not think to investigate further. It wasn’t until she saw the broken window and Kercher’s locked door that she returned to Sollecito’s for help. Neither thought to break down the bedroom door.
Over the following days, Knox and Sollecito were questioned repeatedly by the police. Both claimed to have been at Sollecito’s all night, where they smoked marijuana and watched a movie. On November 5, however, the investigation took a startling turn when the two were placed in separate rooms and interrogated more aggressively. After eight hours in the interrogation room, both Knox and Sollecito changed their story. Sollecito claimed the marijuana had made his memory fuzzy and Knox could have left his apartment for a few hours without him realizing it. Knox made statements about visions or dreams of being at the house with bar owner Patrick Lamumba, covering her ears to block out Kercher’s screams.
In the meantime, the forensic team discovered Kercher had been sexually abused. The “confessions” of Knox and Sollecito would ultimately shape the prosecution’s theory that Kercher was the victim of a lurid sex game gone wrong. Police immediately arrested Knox, Sollecito and Lamumba. The next day Knox retracted her statements, claiming she was initially questioned in Italian without an interpreter and pressured to implicate Lamumba under duress without a lawyer present.
Knox later claimed that the police also withheld food and water until “she gave them what they wanted,” and hit her over the head “to help her remember.” She also claims the police told her they had evidence of her guilt and if she didn’t confess, she would face 30 years in prison. Unfortunately, what happened in the interrogation room will forever be a mystery. Despite being required by law to record all interrogations, no recordings were ever made.
Giuliano Mignini was the lead prosecutor in the trial and took complete control over the investigation, creating an elaborate motive for the murder. He believed Lamumba had a crush on Kercher and collaborated with Knox and Sollecito to persuade Kercher to participate in a sadistic sex game that turned to murder when Kercher refused to participate.
His motive was put in jeopardy when Labumba’s alibi was decidedly airtight and was released. Lucky for Mignini the police uncovered a bloody handprint at the crime scene several days later belonging to a fourth person, small-time criminal Rudy Guede. Guede’s DNA was also found on Kercher’s clothing and in and outside of her body. Mignini, instead of re-examining the case, stuck with his original motive, simply replacing Lumumba with Guede as the third party in the sex game. Unlike Lumumba, however, Guede had no direct connection to Knox, Sollecito or Kercher.
Leading up to the trial the media painted a gruesome picture of that night in Perugia, running with Mignini’s orgy-turned-brutal-murder theory. Outside of circumstantial speculation, the key pieces of evidence against the couple were a knife found at Sollecito’s apartment with trace amounts of Kercher’s DNA and a bra clasp cut from Kercher’s bra said to contain DNA of Sollecito. Mignini, knowing the concrete evidence against Knox and Sollecito was minimal, launched a full character assault on Knox, portraying her as a sultry seductress, aptly nicknamed “Foxy Knoxy” from her days playing soccer in America.
The evidence against Guede was far more overwhelming. Aside from Guede’s DNA on and inside the body, the police found his DNA in an un-flushed toilet and several boot prints left in Kercher’s blood. Fleeing to Germany immediately after the murder, Guede all but confessed to the crime. He opted for a fast-track trial, hoping for a more lenient sentence. On October 28, Guede was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the murder of Meredith Kercher. Unfortunately for the other defendants, the court in Guede’s case held that such a heinous crime must have required more than one person.
The case against Knox and Sollecito went ahead as scheduled. The defense argued that the “confessions” were coerced and Mignini’s character assault was an inaccurate portrayal of Knox, who was a wholesome girl with no history of violence. There were accusations that the police had mishandled the evidence, neglecting to use gloves at the crime scene and returning over a month later for the bra clasp, which had been swept into a corner with dirt and dust from the apartment. The DNA on the knife was contested as well. The defense argued that the trace amounts were so slight they couldn’t be used as evidence. In the end, the court sided with the prosecution, finding Knox and Sollecito guilty as accomplices in Kercher’s murder. Knox’s family vowed to appeal the case.
On November 24, 2010, Knox and Sollecito returned to court in Perugia for the beginning of the appeal. In a crucial break for the defense, the court granted a review of the DNA evidence and the prosecution’s case slowly crumbled. In July of 2010, two experts on appeal testified that the original forensic analysis was grossly flawed and the evidence contaminated. The bra clasp, left at the crime scene for weeks was tainted and the DNA on the knife was too insignificant to be attributed to Kercher.
The jury was doubtful of the forensic evidence and not persuaded by the sex-game motive. After eight hours of deliberation, they found Knox and Sollecito not guilty. Judge Pratillo Hellman echoed the jury’s decision. “To convict, the penal code says you have to be persuaded beyond every reasonable doubt. The smallest doubt is enough to not condemn. [Knox and Sollecito] may be responsible, but there isn’t the evidence.”
On October 4, Amanda Knox returned to America, but Prosecutor Mignini has vowed to fight on. Unlike the American justice system, the Italian prosecution can appeal in a criminal case. It is unlikely, however, that such an overruling (considered an embarrassment in the Italian court system) would happen again.
With the release of Knox and Sollecito, some are left questioning whether justice was served for Meredith Kercher, particularly her family. “It almost raises more questions than there are answers now,” Kercher’s brother said after the decision, “because the initial decision was that [the murder] wasn’t done by one person but by more than that. Two have been released, one remains in jail, so we’re now left questioning: who are these other people or person?”
We may never know what really happened to Kercher that night in Perugia, but Knox maintains she wasn’t a part of it. “I lost a friend in the most brutal inexplicable way,” she said in her statement to the court. “I’m paying with my life for something that I did not commit.” For some, the jury is still out on Knox’s innocence, but for now, she is a free woman.