In Amanda Knox’s memoir, Waiting To Be Heard, she writes that she almost didn’t go to Italy as an exchange student. Of course, we know how this turns out - it’s the place where she was eventually accused of torturing and murdering her roommate, Meredith Kercher, in 2007. It’s the place where she and her boyfriend, Rafaele Sollecito, spent four years in jail for Meredith’s murder. And it was the place that she was acquitted of that crime.
But her mother was born in Germany. Amanda spoke German growing up with her mother and grandmother. When she began school at the University Of Washington as a linguistics major, she believed that learning French or Spanish would provide more fruitful job opportunities for her. But when Amanda was young, she had taken a trip to Italy two weeks after 9/11 and fell in love with the warmth towards Americans and the cobblestone streets. She couldn’t get either out of her mind, and thus her journey to Perugia began in 2007, when she was only 20 years old, where she would spend her next few birthdays in prison.
Maybe that’s just bad luck. Because, if you believe she’s innocent (which, for the record, I do), Amanda Knox has had a lot of bad luck. In her memoir, she mostly refers to it as chance. It’s by chance that she meets a man named Cristiano on a train. He misses his bus. They ‘hook up’ and she gets oral herpes from him. It’s an innocent encounter that will be used to smear her name, to paint her as a sexually-crazed temptress, to pad the image that the prosecution tried to create of her: that she sought sexual thrills, and that she slit her roommate’s throat as her biggest sexual thrill of all.
When you watch Amanda Knox’s self-titled documentary, you don’t hear too much about all the things that happen to her by chance, or the wheels set in accidental motion to eventually place her into the biggest nightmare of her life. When she visited Perugia with her sister a month before school began, she went to register for classes at The University of Foreigners. She spotted Laura Mezetti on campus with papers in her hand. On a whim, she asked her if she knew of an apartment to rent. Laura did, in fact. Her apartment, no 7, Via della Pergola was right down the road from the school, and had 2 rooms open. Amanda smoked a joint with Laura and brought the deposit the next day. A week later, Amanda received an e-mail from Laura while she was vacationing in Germany with her family. We found another roommate, the e-mail said. A British exchange student named Meredith Kercher.
And finally, she met Raffaele Sollecito by chance, at a string quartet concert she did not plan on going to. She met him because Meredith left her there, alone. What happened to Amanda that wasn’t by chance, you begin to wonder.
When you watch Amanda’s documentary, the most striking part about Amanda is Amanda herself. Calmly, she details how she came to Italy. Calmly, she details how she came home to an open door and blood on a bath mat. We know that Meredith’s body is in the locked bedroom of that house. We know what will happen next. But what’s most engaging is Amanda herself, not what she says—her small frame, her ice-blue eyes, her steely stare. She smiles when she talks of meeting her Italian boyfriend because it’s a nice memory. Her face looks perpetually distant and shocked when she talks about the police finding her roommate murdered. It’s almost as if she’s still trying to understand it. But it’s not until you read Amanda’s memoir that you really know what she is thinking. That is what the documentary is lacking.
The truth is, much of the book is lacking in that, too. Amanda’s memoir is still distant from her reality. It reads as if she is hovering over the memory of it, like Ebenezer Scrooge watching himself in the past, present and future. It never allows itself to get too close. She writes pragmatically, with the same emotions cycling over and over and over again: back then, she was scared. She writes of the many times she cries or sobs, a break of the literary “show, don’t tell” rule. Everything she experienced was left at an arm's length. She's angry, rightfully. But she rarely breaks from the events to muse or go deeper into her very inner mind. She writes of the first few nights she was in prison: “As I gathered this insider’s information, I felt more like an observer than a participant. I found that being watched by a guard every time I peed or showered or just lay on my bed seemed less offensive when I looked at it with an impersonal eye. I saw the absurdity in it and documented it in my head.” And that was much of the memoir. Emotionally distant, and an observer rather than a participant. Perhaps it requires emotional distance to handle the enormity of it all.
Much of the book was used to discredit pieces of evidence that got her sent to prison in the first place. If you’ve seen the documentary, you probably remember them. All of them were chalked up to chance. She turned off her phone the night of the murder because she didn’t want her boss to change her mind and have her come into work. When she arrived home the next morning, she didn’t get nervous about the blood on the sink because she had just pierced her ears and they bled a little. She wasn't concerned about the blood on the bath mat because she assumed somebody had gotten their period. She didn’t get nervous at the unlocked door because the door was perpetually broken. She didn’t cry when she heard about Meredith’s death because she didn’t fully understand what happened, a language barrier with the Italian police. She kissed her boyfriend at the crime scene because it was comfortable. She bought red underwear in the days afterward because she didn’t have any clothes, her house was a crime scene she couldn’t access. She did her infamous split in the police station because a cop had asked her to. She blamed her boss, Patrick Lumumba, for the murder because she was delirious and frightened in the interrogation room. All of this was out of her control.
And Meredith. She was always, always friends with Meredith. Meredith and Amanda were similar—both middle class, both from divorced parents, both spoke English. Amanda claimed that they were close roommates who bonded over men and clothing and learning a new language. They had only one fight, Amanda claimed. It was about cleaning the bathroom, not the sexual escapades that the prosecution would later try to claim. Most of us barely know anything about Meredith, who suffered the most out of anyone in this case. You also leave knowing very little. She was “exotically beautiful," Amanda writes. And “game” for anything. That's about it.
The most interesting parts of Amanda’s memoir are not the things you learn about in the documentary and every other piece you might read about the trial of Amanda Knox. We know the prosecution was careless with evidence and DNA, that their case was flimsy at best and careless at most. She was released, four years after she was arrested, because there was no DNA evidence that could connect Amanda Knox with any murder weapon. Only Rudy Guede, the man convicted of raping and murdering Meredith, had his DNA all over her body. He was not associated with Amanda in any way, despite claiming on the stand that he was. The prosecution paraded witnesses placing Rudy, Amanda, and Raffaele together. One was a homeless man the prosecution had, conveniently, used as a witness for two other cases. Another was a man who claimed he knew Amanda’s Italian uncle, and recognized her by the space between her teeth. She had neither. These were not new revelations, and neither was Amanda’s prison life. We know prison life is harsh and scary and unpleasant. We know she was acquitted from the crime. It was a sloppy trial and a hard life.
The difference is that the memoir is Amanda's to tell for once. Not the police, not the journalists, and not her lawyer's. Hers. This makes it dense--- it chronicles the day-by-day account of her life in prison, how she got there, and the trial afterwards in exceptional detail. And it’s a defensive book, but why shouldn't it be? Should we allow Amanda to tell her story as she sees it, even if we already know what happened? Doesn't she deserve at least that much? To some, the idea that she distances her from any missteps that were made, even if she was responsible for them, is proof of her guilt. It wasn’t her fault people misinterpreted her affection with Raffaele for anything else but comfort. It wasn't her fault there was trace DNA on Meredith's bra strap, because they lived together and the police mishandled the DNA. It wasn’t her fault the media made her into a different, evil person. She writes, “The tabloids mined my Myspace profile and drew the most salacious conclusions. I resented that they took my posts and pictures out of context, emphasizing only the negative…These were snippets of my teenage and college years. Not shown were the pictures of me riding my bike, opening Christmas presents, playing soccer…Now, at twenty, all I could think of was, Who’s writing these articles? Is no one being fair?” It wasn't her fault that her soccer team gave her the nickname Foxy Knoxy, or that she couldn't make the police believe her side of the story. And most of all, it wasn't her fault Meredith Kercher was murdered. Nothing was of her design, nothing was in her control. And that’s the thing with chance. It’s just not up to you.
Because if you’re Amanda Knox, and the only thing you can do is assert your innocence, over and over again, how else could you really explain it but by chance?
[Image: Getty Images]
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