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The waiting game: Amanda Knox’s new life

The Times

March 28, 2013


On Tuesday at 2am the colour was said to have drained from Amanda Knox’s face as she learnt she and ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were to be retried for the murder of British student Meredith Kercher in Perugia in 2007. Her Italian lawyer had phoned Knox’s family home in Seattle, where relatives and close friends were assembled to hear the decision of the Italian Supreme Court. Knox hugged James Terrano, her boyfriend, then the rest of the family, a source said. “They are trying to keep positive but it is hard.” As ever, the American media’s attention is focused on Knox’s fight to assert her innocence rather than Kercher’s mysterious, brutal murder.

Until the announcement of the retrial, Knox, 25, was keeping a low profile, with her memoir Waiting To Be Heard due to be published on April 30. The tell-all book is set to earn her $4 million. Since returning to America in 2011, Knox has been studying creative writing at the University of Washington in Seattle, her home city, where she lives in Terrano’s $950-a-month Chinatown flat. Her lawyers are playing down reports of her possible extradition, hoping she and Sollecito will be acquitted again before the reactivated case reaches a point where she is needed in Italy.

If Knox’s life since being freed from jail in 2011 were a story in carefully curated pictures, it would have been of a young woman trying to regain a normal life: “Welcome Home Amanda” banners greeted her return to America and she was pictured buying a Hershey’s bar and toothpaste. She has apparently taken up Krav Maga, an Israeli form of self-defence that includes techniques from boxing, jiujitsu and wrestling.

While she has declined requests for interviews, Knox has been seen regularly with Terrano in Seattle’s grungy, hipster uniform of beanie hat, denims and bulky jacket, clutching coffee cups, holding hands and kissing. In 2011, Knox and Terrano were photographed by Us Weekly (“Seattle sweethearts!”) walking arm-in-arm to a Salvation Army store and then an Asian market. Terrano’s brother James confirmed to the magazine that they were dating: “They have known each other for years. We’ve all been friends since before Amanda went to Italy.” Another friend has said: “She’s very much resumed her studying. One goal she has is to be as normal as possible, to get on with her life, do good things and try to put this behind her.”

It is even possible that Knox’s notoriety has brought the odd unexpected perk. INF Daily reported that the couple has been seen on a date in Portland, “where they chowed down at Apizza Scholls before chilling in the VIP section at the Mumford and Sons concert”. She and Terrano are a regular sight strolling through their Chinatown neighbourhood, where they were “smiling, laughing, and looking lovey-dovey” according to onlookers.

In March last year the couple were seen on an intimate date at a Japanese restaurant, and last September they were at a Seattle dance studio “having a little fun working on their dance was photographed hiding her face.

Knox and Sollecito’s case was a dizzying array of murder clichés — sex, drugs, the seamy underbelly of a beautiful university town, police incompetence, the insinuation of murderous female jealousy — and yet no definitive answer has emerged on what occurred on the night of November 1, 2007, at the house that Kercher and Knox shared. Knox and Sollecito were found guilty of murder in 2009 and sentenced to 26 and 25 years respectively. Prosecutors depicted Knox as “Lucifer-like, demonic, satanic, diabolic” . . . “a spell-casting witch, a virtuoso of deceit”. She spent 1,450 days in jail. In 2011, with much of the DNA evidence against them deemed unreliable, Knox and Sollecito were acquitted. Rudy Guede, found guilty of Kercher’s murder and sexual assault, was sentenced to 30 years in prison, which was later cut to 16 years; he will be able to apply for parole in 2016.

Beyond Knox’s veneer of hippyish, carefree twentysomething normality has been a calculated attempt at image rehabilitation. She is determined to set the record straight on her terms. Coinciding with the publication of Waiting To Be Heard will be a prime-time interview with Diane Sawyer of ABC News.

The cover of the memoir shows Knox, unsmiling in minimal make-up, chastely attired in blue dress and pale off-white cardigan. The message of the image seems to be: “I am innocent, strong, defiant, unbroken.” Clearly this is the new desired image of Brand Knox, consigning to the past the damning pictures of good-time “Foxy Knoxy” incongruously kissing Sollecito at the murder scene in full view of the media, or her teary helplessness when on trial. An Italian legal expert told NBC News that Italians had warmed to Knox since her acquittal: “She was avoiding the limelight, it would appear.” “She and her family wanted privacy,” insists her spokesman David Marriott.

However, the publication of her memoir will again put Knox in the international spotlight and this time it is entirely of her choosing and design. With the book and a retrial will come a re-run of the wildly divergent labels and archetypes applied to her, including “murderous sex vixen” and “innocent victim of a flawed foreign legal process”. “I’m sure she and the family are aware of both sides of the fence,” Marriott said diplomatically, on the inevitable criticism that Knox is cashing in on her notoriety. Her book deal was arranged by Washington lawyer Robert Barnett, who has worked for President Obama.

HarperCollins said of the book’s contents: “Knox will give a full and unflinching account of the events that led to her arrest in Perugia.” She will speak about her “struggles with the complexities of the Italian judicial system”, “include excerpts from journals she kept in prison” and “talk about her harrowing experience at the hands of the Italian police and later prison guards and inmates.” The publisher promised she would “reveal never-before-told details surrounding her case” about “the most challenging time of her young life”.

Yesterday HarperCollins would not respond to questions about whether material within the memoir would be revised or edited in view of the retrial. Perhaps Knox plans to use some of her $4 million to reimburse her parents Edda Mellas and Curt Knox, who divorced when she was 2 and spent nearly $1 million — taking second mortgages on their homes — to fund their daughter’s legal battle and be with her in Italy.

Knox said on Tuesday the decision to re-try her and Sollecito was “painful . . . when the prosecution’s theory of my involvement in Meredith’s murder has been repeatedly revealed to be completely unfounded and unfair. The prosecution responsible for the many discrepancies in their work must be made to answer for them, for Raffaele’s sake, my sake, and most especially for the sake of Meredith’s family. Our hearts go out to them. My family and I will face this continuing legal battle as we always have, confident in the truth and with our heads held high in the face of wrongful accusations and unreasonable adversity.”

The Kercher family welcomed the retrial. “There are a lot of unanswered questions. Obviously, we want answers,” Meredith’s sister Stephanie said. As for Sollecito, in 2011 he said he “really wanted” to see Knox again. She had asked him to Seattle, “and I accepted with pleasure”. The pair needed “to speak and write to each other to try to understand what happened to us”, looking forward to a “future that appeared broken forever but instead, we can still build on”. However in his memoir, Honour Bound: My Journey To Hell and Back With Amanda Knox published last September, Sollecito said of meeting Knox again: “We had been through so much; perhaps we owed it to each other to live our lives and leave each other in peace.”

He wrote about having sex with Knox the first day they met, after he had loaded a film to watch. “By the time I settled in next to her, all thoughts of the movie were quickly forgotten and we pulled each other’s clothes off before the opening credits finished rolling. When I woke up the next morning, Amanda still had her arms wrapped tightly around me. We related in a sweet, almost childlike way, maybe because we didn’t share a native language.”

That echoes an illuminating story in The New Yorker about Knox in 2011 that said she was less a killer and more “immature, unserious, irresponsible, a fount of TMI banality . . . guilty of nothing more egregious than stupidity and extremely poor judgment”. One former director of a study-abroad programme for Americans told the magazine that students abroad tended to have a “fully aware narcissism”, unable to wean themselves from Skype and Facebook and immerse themselves in the local culture.

Sollecito claimed he and Knox had smoked marijuana the day of Kercher’s murder, clouding his memory of what had happened. He was uncomfortable with Knox’s “bizarre” behaviour at the police station afterwards — sitting in his lap and doing cartwheels. In a later prison interview he denied being in love with her: “I feel close to her because I consider her my companion in misadventure.” He said Knox was not capable of murder, “it is absurd and inadmissible. She is a very sweet girl”.

Now 29 and studying robotics at the University of Verona, Sollecito said in his book : “I felt I was suffering from some sort of associative disorder, in which it became difficult for me to focus on my genuine and continuing fondness for Amanda without being overwhelmed by an instinctive, involuntary revulsion at everything the courts and the media had thrown at her. Two different Amandas — the real one, and the distorted, she-devil version I had read about and seen on television non-stop for four years — seemed somehow blurred in my unconscious mind.” Annie Achille, Sollecito’s girlfriend, said he was “destroyed” by the prospect of the retrial.

Knox’s American lawyer Ted Olson is hopeful the courts in Italy will affirm the 2011 acquittals. “Whatever evidence there was, was deemed non-existent, unreliable — and that hasn’t changed.” Knox remained “very strong and vigilant”. She and her family had shown “an unquestioned resilience, fortitude and courage”. One of Knox’s fellow students told a reporter that “what happened to Meredith Kercher is kind of ‘whatever’ at this point. OK, it was murder but . . . it was in Italy. It’s so far removed I don’t think people care”.

Many do, not least Kercher’s family, who feel the spotlight is offensively misplaced. “The media’s glare throughout the trial and appeal process has been fixed almost entirely on Amanda Knox,” Meredith’s father John once said. “Books have been written about her and there has even been a television film focusing on her. It has seemed as if Meredith has been all but forgotten.”