This summer, I followed my boyfriend to Italy. He had received a fellowship, the sort where you live in a castle and are served prosecco while you think brilliant thoughts. Our daughter and I trailed after him, eating his leftover shaved ham (very delicious) and attending intimidating dinners. One night, in the garden of a local restaurant, after some lemon liqueur that had the same effect on my conversational skills as grain alcohol, I piped up to ask what the table thought of "the Amanda Knox thing."
There was a flicker of amusement among the international crowd. "It was a Masonic ritual, I heard," someone from Holland said. Another, a painter from Kenya: "She got hysterical and lost her mind. Don't all American girls abroad get hysterical?" "Sex, sex, sex," a German videographer added. "You know how it can be … between roommates … dirty dishes and things. …" This went on until my toddler passed out in a rose bed. Most of the table concluded that Knox was guilty. Certainly, it was the most fun theory.
In case you aren't, like myself, a follower of sensational stories: An American girl, Amanda Knox, and her then-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were sentenced to 26 and 25 years of jail, respectively, for the murder of a fellow student from Britain, Meredith Kercher, in 2007. Another man, Rudy Guede, was convicted of murder and sexual assault in a separate trial, after his DNA was found inside the victim, under her fingernails, and in the victim's smeared blood. Guede, a small-time drug dealer who was born in the Ivory Coast but raised in Perugia, was sentenced to 30 years. After naming Knox and Sollecito as co-killers, Guede's time was reduced to 16 years. During the trial, Knox and Sollecito were accused of planning and carrying out a sex crime that ended in the slow sawing open of the victim's throat. The jury, made up of citizens of Perugia, bought it.
The court proceedings have been long and heavily covered. I'm obviously not a legal expert, but I can point to several sources to reference if you'd like further detail, including 10 books in English alone. Amanda Knox's personality has been picked apart and studied more than most celebrities', perhaps even more than the new princess, Kate Middleton.
For a slightly trapped Umbrian tourist with a 16-month-old on her hands, this case seemed a gift. Finally, something to talk about in my broken Italian with the locals! Do you think she's guilty? My pension owner, a jolly man with two kids, said yes, definitely. Hadn't I been to college? It was an orgy with a knife! An American expatriate friend over cappuccinos at Sandri's: Guilty. It's a known fact that the girl had sex with three men in two months. Need we say more?
Having seen the behavior of many drunken Americans in Italy, at first I accepted this. My apartment in Perugia was located just above an expatriate hangout, and I would lie in bed and listen to the boozy reverie all night. They could all be murderers, I raged into the pillow. Every last yowling one of them.
Yet as I researched the case during those midday hours when everything in Italy is closed, the story made less sense. For one thing, during her interrogation, Amanda named her boss, a bar owner named Patrick Lumumba, as the killer, and herself as present in the cottage. But Lumumba had an airtight alibi of tending his bar, Le Chic, that night. Why this bogus accusation implicating herself?
Then there was the prosecutor's theory of a bullying four-way sex game gone wrong. At the time of the murder, Knox and Sollecito had been going out only six days. Plus, Sollecito professed to being a virgin before he met Knox. Have you ever been a virgin? A virgin does not get bored after six days, especially when his girlfriend looks like Amanda Knox. Why on earth would he want to have an orgy with a local drug dealer?
As I followed the appeal process, the presented facts were quickly becoming disturbingly contradictory. Meredith Kercher's blood was on the murder weapon, a knife found in Sollecito's kitchen. But no it wasn't, the experts who testified at the appeals said. That was other organic matter¾likely rye bread. OK, well, what about the fact that Knox bought bleach at 7 in the morning after the murder? Wait, but she didn't. A witness later said her co-worker was coerced into saying that by a reporter. (Plus, after a violent diaper emergency, I myself can tell you that no store in Perugia is open at seven in the morning.)
And then, while out running one incredibly humid day, I found this dog. It was a scruffy thing, matted, wandering in Perugian traffic. I took off my shoelace, made a leash, and took him to the shelter to get his microchip checked. The owner (the dog's name was Bruno), turned out to belong to a good friend of Patrick Lumumba, the man Knox named as the murderer. And so, due to my love of canines, I found myself lunching with Lumumba.
Lumumba (whose uncle, he told me, was the real Patrice Lumumba, the great Congolese political leader slaughtered by the Belgians) wasn't sure exactly what I was doing asking him these questions. I wasn't either. But he didn't really care. What he wanted, like many wronged people, was for someone to listen to his story.
And what a story it was. Because of Knox's accusations, he was ripped away from his young son in the middle of the night, interrogated, beaten, and held in solitary confinement for 14 days. His business remained closed for four months, even after his name was cleared. And he definitely thought Knox and Sollecito were guilty.
"When put in front of a judge," he told me, "I pleaded with him. 'What was I doing here? I didn't do this!' And Knox? She said nothing. Why would she say nothing? She must have done it. She is a cold woman. She did it."
Patrick Lumumba was a nice guy put through hell, and I left that lunch not liking Knox very much. Yet Lumumba is also suing Knox for slander. I can't blame him, but given his anger and the damage she did to his life and reputation, I did wonder if I could entirely accept his take on her guilt.