THE family of the murdered girl was bereft; the family of the alleged murderer jubilant.
After judges in the Italian hill town of Perugia declared convicted murderer Amanda Knox not guilty on appeal, her sister Deanna said briefly outside court: “We’re thankful that Amanda’s nightmare is over. She has suffered four years for a crime she didn’t commit.”
Ms Knox, an American, was expected to fly home to Seattle yesterday, where she is expected to receive offers for multimillion-dollar book and movie deals about her ordeal. American TV networks are already in a bidding war for her first interview.
Ms Knox’s mother and other family members were seen at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci Airport yesterday, where Ms Knox was expected to join them to board a British Airways flight to London late in the morning and then catch a connection there for the US.
But for the family of the woman she was accused of murdering, 21-year-old Meredith Kercher, there is no joy in the legal decision that overturned Ms Knox’s conviction and 26-year jail sentence.
They said in a statement: “We respect the decision of the judges but we do not understand how the decision of the first trial could be so radically overturned. We still trust the Italian justice system and hope that the truth will eventually emerge.”
At an earlier press conference Ms Kercher’s sister Stephanie said her “brutal murder” was being overlooked: “I think Meredith has been hugely forgotten.” Her brother Lyle said: “It is very hard to find forgiveness at this time. Four years is a very long time but on the other hand it is still raw.”
In the same verdict judges acquitted Ms Knox’s alleged partner in crime, her Italian former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito. The two had been convicted of raping and murdering Ms Kercher, an English exchange student, in the bedroom of a cottage the two women shared in Perugia in 2007.
The case sparked lurid language and an almost lascivious fascination both inside and outside Italy’s justice system, which has been disgraced by the finding. Judges have yet to give their reasoning but it is thought they relied on the evidence of experts who testified that the original investigation had been botched, with more than 50 errors in the slovenly handling of DNA evidence. The acquittal can still be appealed to the Italian Supreme Court, and prosecutors confirmed that they will do that.
The two judges, sitting with a six-person jury, were clearly not swayed by the venomous language of the lawyer who had painted Ms Knox as a she-devil for initially falsely blaming her employer, bar owner Patrick Lumumba, for killing Kercher.
Mr Lumumba was arrested and jailed for two weeks after Ms Knox claimed she had heard him enter Ms Kercher’s room and then clapped her hands over her ears to muffle screams. Mr Lumumba’s lawyer told the court: “The woman you see before you today is charming [and] angel faced … [but] she was a diabolical, demonic she-devil. She was muddy on the outside and dirty on the inside. She has two souls, the clean one you see before you, and the other.” He also claimed: “She is borderline. She likes alcohol, drugs, and she likes wild, hot sex.”
Borderline personality is a serious psychiatric disorder involving severe mood swings, chaotic personal relationships and sometimes dissociation.
Police had become suspicious early on because of reportedly strange behaviour by Ms Knox, who had allegedly performed cartwheels and splits while waiting to be questioned and who had gone shopping for a g-string the day after the killing, where she was heard promising her boyfriend wild sex.
She was found to have lied about Mr Lumumba. Judges this week sentenced her to three years’ jail for slandering him. She was freed because she has already served four years jail, although she must also pay him €22,000 ($30,600) in damages.
Ms Knox said she lied only after being bullied and cuffed by police, who questioned her without a lawyer present. Ms Knox’s parents reportedly mortgaged their homes to pay her legal fees.
Mobile phone records suggested that she and her boyfriend had been near the scene at the time of the killing and turned off their phones for three hours around the time Ms Kercher is thought to have died.
Prosecutors at one point suggested the killing was the result of an attempted sex game and that Ms Kercher had been raped and killed for refusing to play. But this theory did not fit with the fact that the courts also convicted an Ivory Coast drifter, Rudy Guede, of the killing after DNA samples at the scene were matched to him. Ms Knox barely knew Mr Guede and Mr Sollecito had not met him.
Ms Knox’s father, Curt, said after her conviction that “the attacks on Amanda’s character … overshadowed the lack of evidence in the case against her”.
Ms Knox thanked those “who shared my suffering and helped me survive with hope,” in a letter to a foundation that seeks to promote ties between Italy and the US and which has always championed her cause, Associated Press reported.
Her supporters in America, where she is expected to take part in a $US1 million ($1.03 million) interview, greeted her acquittal with delight. In Seattle, supporters holding vigil hugged, wept and cheered when the verdict was announced.
They were not alone. Ms Knox, who had been rushed sobbing from the courtroom by guards, was returned briefly to jail to be formally released. “There was a huge cheer … an ovation from every cell,” one of her supporters, the Italian MP Rocco Girlanda, told journalists. “Everyone was shouting ‘libera, libera!’ (Free, free!] It was like being in a football stadium and was something I will never forget. Amanda saluted the other prisoners with a timid wave – she didn’t really know how to react.”
Amanda Knox has lived under continuous media scrutiny since her arrest and subsequent conviction for the killing of Meredith Kercher. The Seattle-born language student from the University of Washington was studying abroad for a year at the University for Foreigners in Perugia. Knox, now 24, polarised opinion. While prosecutors portrayed her as a heartless killer, describing her as a “witch” and a “she-devil, a diabolical person focused on sex, drugs and alcohol”, she has also been dubbed “angel face” by the Italian press. Knox has always insisted that she had no involvement in Kercher’s death. Appealing against her 26-year sentence, she displayed a cautious optimism as defence and forensic experts cast doubt on the DNA evidence that originally helped convict her. Her lawyers claimed she was “crucified” for a crime she did not commit. The case was complicated by Knox’s original statement that she was in the flat while Kercher was murdered. She later retracted this version of events, claiming it was obtained under duress during a hostile interrogation by Italian police. The accusation embroiled her in a slander case and cast doubt on her credibility. In court she spoke of being “afraid of having the mask of a murderer forced on to my skin”. On Monday an Italian jury overturned her conviction. She is expected to return the US as soon as today.
Meredith Kercher, 21,
a student from Coulsdon, south London, was described by friends and family as a caring and intelligent young woman. Studying at Leeds University, she was spending a year abroad in the Italian city of Perugia on an exchange program. She shared a flat with Amanda Knox and two Italian women. Kercher was murdered little more than two months after arriving in Italy. Her body was discovered in her bedroom on the afternoon of November 2, 2007 by flatmates and the police. Italian prosecutors in the case claimed she was killed because she refused to take part in a drug-fuelled sex game with Knox and Raffaele Sollecito. Friends, family and commentators said that amid the drama of Knox’s appeal, Kercher had been forgotten.
Raffaele Sollecito, Knox’s Italian former boyfriend, largely escaped the media frenzy surrounding the case. The young pair met at a classical concert less than two weeks before the murder; Sollecito, 23, was a computer scientist at the University of Perugia. He was later convicted of Kercher’s murder, alongside Knox. Sollecito launched an appeal against his 25-year sentence. His defence portrayed him as shy and naive, while his father, a doctor, said he “wouldn’t hurt a fly”. Doubt was cast on the claim that traces of Sollecito’s DNA were found on Kercher’s bra clip, a key piece of evidence in his conviction. Forensic experts concluded that the sample was too small, and was likely to have been contaminated in the 47-day delay in retrieving the evidence. His conviction was overturned on Monday.
THE CONVICTED KILLER
A small-time drugs trafficker born in the Ivory Coast, Rudy Guede was 20 at the time of the murder. Having moved to Perugia with his father at the age of five, he acquired joint Italian nationality and was portrayed in court as an immigrant who fell into a life of petty crime. Although he denied any involvement in the murder, Guede fled to Germany days after Kercher’s death and spent time on the run before being apprehended for travelling on a train without a ticket. Extradited to Italy to face murder charges, Guede admitted being in Kercher’s home at the time of the murder but denied wrongdoing. He was convicted of murder and sexual assault and sentenced to 30 years, later reduced to 16 on appeal. One of his hand prints, stained with Kercher’s blood, was found on a pillow, on top of which Kercher’s body was lying. Having opted for a speedy trial, his sentence is unlikely to change.
Congo-born Diya ‘Patrick’ Lumumba ran a local bar called Le Chic where Knox occasionally worked. She falsely accused him of the murder soon after Kercher’s death and he was held for two weeks until Guede was arrested. Despite immediately retracting her accusation, Knox was put on trial for defamation and Lumumba was cleared of any involvement.
The prosecutor at the time Knox and Sollecito were sentenced, Giuliano Mignini was convicted of abuse in a separate investigation and sentenced to 16 months in January 2010. This was instrumental in the shift of public opinion in Knox’s favour in Italy and abroad. Due to uncertainty around the outcome of Knox’s appeal, Mignini retained his job and acted as a consultant for the prosecution. He has brought a series of criminal slander charges against critics in Italy and the US.
First published in the Sydney Morning Herald.