Knox: From 'she-devil' to free woman

An Italian judge overturned Amanda Knox's conviction for the 2007 murder of her roommate, Meredith Kercher.

“The tragic junior ‘year’ abroad is over, at long last, for Amanda Knox,” said Timothy Egan in In an Italian courtroom, the 24-year-old Seattle native this week broke down and wept as a judge overturned her conviction for the 2007 murder of her roommate, Meredith Kercher. Knox and her now ex-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, had each been sentenced to 26 years for allegedly raping and stabbing Kercher in what a prosecutor said was a drug-fueled sex orgy with Rudy Guede, a drifter and small-time drug dealer. Guede, whose bloody handprint and DNA were found all over the murder scene, remains in jail; he appears to have committed the rape and murder alone. Upon review, the case against Knox proved “monumentally flawed”—with no physical evidence linking her to the crime scene, and no conceivable motive. Prosecutors concocted a motive by portraying the beautiful young American as a “witch” and a “she-devil” who got high and then decided to join Guede and her boyfriend in raping her roommate and stabbing her more than 40 times. They all but threw Knox “in a tank of water, to see if she sank or floated, à la the Salem witch trials.”

Knox was a victim of Italy’s broken justice system, said Douglas Preston in the London Guardian. Italian police and prosecutors “wield enormous power” relative to their U.S. counterparts, effectively putting the burden of proof on the defendant. The Kercher case was overseen by Perugia prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, a religious fanatic already notorious for his obsessive belief in secretive satanic cults. To Mignini, and to many conservative Italians, Knox was the archetypal American “bad girl.” In stories leaked to the press, Mignini revealed that she’d confessed to sleeping with seven men by age 20, smoking pot, and even owning a sex toy. When Guede emerged as the obvious real killer, Mignini would have incurred “massive loss of face” by admitting a mistake. So he conjured up a fantasized sex orgy, and “two innocent young people spent 1,450 days in prison for a murder they did not commit.”

Italy’s legal system certainly is bizarre, said Nathaniel Rich in, but it has a “profound underlying logic.” All convictions can go through two appeals that consist of “a full do-over,” with judges re-examining witnesses and evidence. About half of convictions are overturned or have their sentences extensively reduced. Had Knox been convicted in her home state of Washington, she might now be sitting on death row.

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A relieved Knox is now home in Seattle, said Henry Chu in the Los Angeles Times, but the fascination with her has just begun. A TV interview and a book are almost inevitable, with the Knox family looking to pay off $1 million in legal bills incurred in fighting the conviction. Over the last four years, her “cherubic face proved to be an irresistible canvas,” onto which the world projected both perfect innocence and the darkest evil. Such is the fate of beautiful women everywhere, said Nina Burleigh, also in the Los Angeles Times. Men have always both worshipped and feared feminine beauty; at any moment, a woman adored as an archetypal Madonna can find herself condemned as a dangerous whore—a psychopath. Knox arrived in Italy as a carefree, self-absorbed 20-year-old college student, but went through a harrowing, four-year ordeal because people projected powerful archetypes onto her. “Only now, having lost the power to bewitch and beguile, has she been revealed as human—and also, apparently, not guilty of murder.”

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