The Question Amanda Knox Left Behind

Can we stop this from happening again?

Amanda Knox reacts after her murder conviction is overturned by an Italian court

Photo by Tiziana Fabi/Getty Images.

The party is over in Perugia. The courtroom, which, just yesterday, was jammed with more than 100 journalists, observers, and family members, is desolate. Chairs—the kind from elementary schools that shriek against the tile when drawn up to desks—are strewn everywhere. Newspapers on the floor, crumpled cups from the cafes down the street. Usually, Italians take their espresso at the bar, porta via being a vulgar practice reserved solely for foreigners. But witnessing this historic verdict was a competitive waiting game. Spots were ruthlessly fought for, and the only way to have your afternoon coffee was to bring it in.

This writer realizes that calling the Amanda Knox-Raffaele Sollecito appeal “a party” is crass, particularly when it brought so much pain to so many people. And yet, when I was in the courtroom last month, I couldn’t help feeling that it was a bit of a scene. Journalists and photographers in the gallery moved about, making dinner plans, complaining of hangovers from the night before. Newspaper writers gossiped and flirted idly with Giuliano Mignini, the prosecutor, while the American producers chatted amiably with the endlessly good-natured Knox family. When Amanda Knox would enter, a roar would fill the room, and a physical feeling of electricity would pervade the air. The international frenzy will not be duplicated in Perugia for many years, if ever. As the news trucks navigate out via the tiny, twisty streets, one can almost hear the grand old town sigh the same way a hostess does when her interesting but destructive houseguests have finally moved on.

So Amanda Knox is gone, ferried away in a sleek black car with tinted windows. Justice was served, it seems, as even the court-appointed Italian experts could find no physical evidence linking Knox or Sollecito to the crime.

No matter what side you were on, it was impossible not to feel emotional as Sollecito gave his lovely, simple speech about his “Free Amanda and Raffaele” bracelet, “frayed but not soiled,” or when Knox burst into sobs at the verdict, her exhausted body crumpling to the table. Knox was well-coached before the appeals trial. She had learned her lesson that the American tendency to smile at everyone is not always a good idea, and throughout the summer she barely looked back at the crowds at all. Many interpreted this as strength and stoicism, but from yesterday’s display, it was clear that she was at the end of her rope. I don’t care what insults the attorneys hurled—she-devil, demon—when they saw this human being physically drawn back from the brink of despair, it might even have made them shudder a little.

But who is left? So many people, so much mess. The Kerchers, most importantly, who are breaking the hearts of parents across the world with their bleak gazes. They are angry, and they have a right to be. They’ve been betrayed—not by the American roommate, it turns out, but by Mignini, who took the family in his charming Italian elbow lock and strolled it down a false path.

Only yesterday did the Kerchers touch upon a key point that, so far, has been kept fairly quiet. There is a definite possibility that there may have been a second killer, and there are many samples of DNA, for example, the semen found on Kercher’s pillow, that have never been tested. In other words, just because it now apprears clear that Knox and Sollecito didn’t help Rudy Guede kill Meredith Kercher doesn’t mean someone else didn’t. Anyone in Perugia feeling uncomfortable yet?

Also left behind: Patrick Lumumba, awarded 22,000 euros and legal fees. This seems a decent amount, but it should be remembered that the man was dragged from his home in the middle of the night and traumatized for two weeks. It is hard to equate a monetary sum with such trauma. However, it was very easy for Lumumba to calculate exactly how much he lost when his business was shuttered by the Italian police for four months, even after his release from solitary confinement. According to him, it was much more than 22,000 euros. Lumumba has long since closed his bar and now works at the University for Foreigners Perugia, the same school where Knox took classes. But, as he told me personally, that horrific memory will never, ever go away.

The case was, no matter what side you happened to be on, a bungle. Mistake upon mistake on both sides, mixed with the most sensational ingredients possible. Usually it takes a novelist to think up something this good—the beautiful women, the romantic setting, the sex. However, what was most extraordinary about this case, internationally, was the complete lack of generosity for the human spirit. The insulting, demeaning headlines against Lumumba, Knox, Guede, and Sollecito. The shocking photos of Meredith Kercher displayed to the public gallery last week. The decisions of certain journalists—our supposed searchers for truth—to write books so biased and selective in fact that they rendered Perugia, a kind, sleepy college town, completely unrecognizable as a den of iniquity, and did their best to damn Knox and Sollecito for better book sales.

It was the Perugians, surprisingly, who were the least interested in the case. Perugia is an ancient city with a long history of blood running in the streets. As recently as 1859, the city was sacked by troops hired by the Pope, women raped in front of husbands, children killed on the steps of the houses. It’s hard to shock a Perugian. Yet as Nina Burleigh wrote in her thoughtful book on the trial, The Fatal Gift of Beauty, Perugia was once home to the hunting and burning of witches. I am not the first to point out that this case had similar qualities. Knox and Sollecito fit an idea. They were punished for this despite lack of evidence, and the judge and jury jumped on the wagon. This, of course, is not just happening in Italy. Look at the long chain of mistakes—and worse—that led to Troy Davis’ recent execution in Georgia.

So what Amanda Knox has really left behind, as she jets back to Seattle, is a basic question: Can we stop this from happening again, when the sensationalism of the story completely supercedes the facts? I’m not at all optimistic.