In the story about Adam and Eve and their precipitous removal from the Garden of Eden, Adam is presented as an innocent by-stander who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It wasn’t his fault; the woman made him do it. All Eve did was hand the apple to Adam. It was that pesky free will that led him to make his own bad decision but Eve gets all the blame.
Dan Waddell posted the following analysis of the Amanda Knox trial fiasco on Murder Is Everywhere. It is worth reading on its own merits, as are all Dan’s posts, but it is also a reminder that being young and foolish isn’t an actionable offense. And, as so often happens, the victim is overlooked.
This blog is slightly out of date but unforeseen circumstances meant I couldn’t post last week. It was a shame because earlier last week, as a result of a few tweets of mine on the Meredith Kercher murder case which saw Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito have their convictions upturned on appeal in Italy, I was asked to go on BBC Word Service and discuss the case. Like all radio discussions, and this featured countless people from across the globe at the end of several phone lines, it was difficult to get one’s point across, but it was interesting nonetheless.
The Kercher case has fascinated me from the beginning. Not necessarily the details of the case, but the way it has been covered in the media and the depiction of Amanda Knox, or ‘Foxy Knoxy’ as the British tabloids called her. It has been proof both of latent and blatant misogyny in the British press and society, and disturbing evidence that we really haven’t come that far since the days we threw mistrusted and promiscuous women in a lake: if they sank and drowned they were innocent, but if they surfaced they were witches and were burned to death.
For those that don’t know the case, Meredith Kercher was a British university student on an exchange in Perugia in 2007 when she was found stabbed to death in an apartment she shared with some other foreign students. A few days later the police arrested her flatmate Knox, an American student, and her new boyfriend Sollecito on the suspicion of her murder. In interview, Knox was said to have incriminated another person who was arrested but later released. Some time later a third man, Rudy Guede, was arrested and he is in prison serving a 16-year sentence for the murder.
In a nutshell that’s it, but the case is far more complex and would require far more than a blog to discuss in detail. Needless to say some facts are not disputed: Knox gave a confession which was later deemed to be inadmissible because she had no legal representation; she was questioned for almost a whole day without a lawyer by a team of detectives speaking a language she barely understood; no motive was ever given for her or Sollecito killing Meredith; they spent a year in custody before being charged with murder; the crime scene wasn’t secured properly and rendered useless, and the DNA evidence brought against the pair was unreliable at best. When Guede was arrested, he claimed never to have never met Knox or Sollecito in his life. Then, after five months in custody, he changed his story and said he did know them and saw them at the apartment on the night of the murder. Shortly after remembering this, his sentence was cut from 30 years to 16.
In other words, you don’t need to be Perry Mason to realise the case against Knox and Sollecito was incredibly flimsy. Unfortunately the prosecutor wasn’t Mason, it was Giulano Mignini, a man who is facing a jail sentence of his own for abuse of process during his farcical investigation into the Monster of Florence murders. For more detail on that read Douglas Preston’s jawdropping book on the murders and investigation, The Monster of Florence. Preston ended up being questioned as an accomplice and was exposed to Mignini’s, um, how shall I put this, rather innovative investigative techniques. Except he was a grown man, who knew the law who spoke fluent Italian, and not a student who had spent a few weeks in the country.
Knox, however, in 2009 was found guilty of the murder, despite the lack of any real evidence. However, in the minds of the public, in Italy and in the UK, she was as guilty as hell. In the year between her arrest and trial, the investigators and their lickspittles shared all kinds of lurid stories to paint her as some sex-crazed devil. At one stage the cops erroneously told her she was HIV positive, and asked for a list of her sexual partners to warn them. This list was then leaked to the press. It was one thing to be a woman suspected of murder, but even worse to be a woman who was having lots of sex. Because of the absence of subjudice in Italian jurisprudence, the newspapers were free to print whichever lurid details they wanted, and the British press in particular made the most of their opportunity. Knox became a she-devil, a heartless, promiscuous killer. Because there was no motive, people had to believe all the smears about her otherwise it made no sense.
Funnily enough, her boyfriend Sollecito received barely a fraction of the press lavished on Knox and her sexual habits. Instead, despite being older and more worldly, he was portrayed as some kind of naive schmuck, beguiled and entranced by Knox and her nefarious, lascivious ways.
But it was all smears. Knox behaved no worse or better than countless foreign students who find themselves away from home, surrounded by other young, good-looking people and a ready-made, easy-going social scene to enjoy.
Slowly but surely, Knox’s family and their supporters managed to make their voices heard above the whole sordid din. People started to look beyond the wild claims of orgies and satanic rituals to the facts of the case. Which didn’t really add up to much, at least in terms of Knox and Sollecito’s involvement. Thankfully for those interested in justice rather than salacious tittle-tattle, the appeal court decided the same and released the pair. Cue, you would think, lots of apologies, not least from the British press, about their coverage of Knox.
Not a bit of it. Instead the focus has been on Meredith’s family, which is as it should be. They have been forgotten, the media say. By whom you might ask? Ah, yes, by the media, who were more interested in Knox’s sex life than the life of the woman who was so brutally murdered, but they skip over that bit. How are the family going to find justice now, the papers have also asked? This ignores that they already have justice. The man who almost certainly killed Meredith is in jail. The questions that need to be asked are why the prosecution bargained down his sentence to support their original paltry case, and why they allowed the myth of Knox and Sollecito’s involvement to get so far. They and their friends in the press are the ones who have cheated Kercher family, allowing them to swallow the myth of Knox and Sollecito’s involvement in their daughter’s murder, rather than closing the case properly and so letting them rebuild their lives.
Then we have the canard about how Knox is now free to make a fortune form books, interviews and movies. But why shouldn’t she? She has spent four years imprisoned for a crime she did not commit, much of it in solitary confinement. In the meantime, her reputation has been trashed across the whole world. If I was her I’d be suing everyone in sight for every penny I could get my hands on and it’s to her and her family’s credit that the early signs are she won’t. But what the newspapers and online ranters are really hinting at is is that they think she’s guilty, she’s got away with it, and now she might profit from it all, ignoring the facts, or the lack of them.
Thing is, Knox was guilty. Guilty of being a confident, attractive, sexually active young woman. Which is apparently still very much a crime.