In December, Rudy Guede, the only person still convicted for the murder of the British student Meredith Kercher, was quietly released from prison. His original sentence had been commuted from 30 years to 16, and now he was free after 13. It was a feeble end to a tragic tale. But it was the response to the decision that surprised me the most; very little of it focused on Guede at all. “Man who killed Amanda Knox’s roommate freed on community service”, read a headline in the New York Post. Knox, who has twice been acquitted of the murder, was clearly infuriated. “His name is Rudy Guede. Her name is Meredith Kercher. The one name that should not be in this headline is mine,” she wrote on Twitter.
I had been in touch with Knox for a month or two at this point, having looked her up while researching the Criminal Minds series in The Times of London, and had become increasingly confused by how the public perceived her. It wasn’t just that she remained the focus of any reporting on the case, but the extent to which she was still blamed for Kercher’s murder. Typical responses to her tweets were “gross” and “you should be ashamed of yourself”.
I scrolled through the messages with growing unease. I knew a little about Knox’s case: that she and her boyfriend at the time, Raffaele Sollecito, had been convicted of the 2007 murder of Kercher, her British housemate, in Perugia, and sentenced to 26 and 25 years in jail respectively; that they had been freed following an appeal in 2011; that she was now back in the States, had written a book and featured in a Netflix documentary.
As Bad as O. J. Simpson?
Knox, who was 20 at the time of the murder and is now 33, has reinvented herself as an activist against wrongful conviction and presents a true crime podcast. One case seemed to have struck a chord with her because of the apparent parallels with her own: the conviction, she believes wrongful, of Jens Soering for the 1985 murder of Derek and Nancy Haysom in Virginia. Unlike Knox, however, Soering has never been found innocent. Many believe justice was served in the case. I asked her to write about why she thought otherwise, only the response I got when I told people was the same as I’d seen on Twitter. Shock, outrage and disgust. One even suggested it was the equivalent of handing OJ Simpson a free rein. But was it really?
In March 2015, after a series of legal flip-flops, Knox and Sollecito were definitively acquitted of murder by Italy’s highest court. The ruling highlighted “stunning flaws” in the case against them and “a complete lack of biological traces” connecting them to the crime. Why, when the courts had acknowledged this, were so many people unwilling to do the same?
The more I talked to Knox, the clearer it became that the question bothered her a great deal. “I have plenty of thoughts,” she wrote in one email. She was angry at times and apologized for being defensive. “People seem to believe that there can be only one true victim,” she said. “So my suffering is constantly compared — by others, not by me — to Meredith’s. I’m told that I’m profiting off Meredith’s death by having a career in any way relating to my experiences. It’s all very frustrating.”
Over a Zoom call from her home in Seattle, she tells me: “I exist only through the lens of Meredith’s murder in some people’s minds. They forget that I’m a human being with my own life and my own experiences and I’ve literally had nothing to do with Meredith’s murder, except that I was her roommate at the time.”
It is particularly galling, she says, because her infamy belongs to someone else. Guede, a local drifter whose DNA and bloody handprint were found at the crime scene, was convicted of murder and sexual assault in a fast-track trial, held before Knox and Sollecito’s. The problem, Knox says, is the lack of closure around the case. “The final legal reckoning in Meredith’s case is that Rudy Guede committed the rape and murder with others, who remain unknown. To this day, people point to this to mitigate Guede’s responsibility and point the finger at me and Raffaele. They say, ‘If it wasn’t Amanda and Raffaele, then who were the others who committed the crime alongside Guede? Who ultimately killed Meredith?’ When in fact, all the evidence points to Guede committing this crime alone.”
Knox, who was 20 at the time of the murder and is now 33, has reinvented herself as an activist against wrongful conviction and presents a true crime podcast.
In his 2019 book Talking to Strangers, the writer Malcolm Gladwell devoted a chapter to Knox’s case. “Meredith Kercher was murdered by Rudy Guede,” he writes. “His guilt is a certainty.” The reason why Knox found herself in the firing line, Gladwell argues, was because she was consistently misread by investigators: “If you believe that the way a stranger looks and acts is a reliable clue to the way they feel, you are going to make mistakes. Amanda Knox was one of those mistakes.” To Gladwell, she “is the innocent person who acts guilty”.
Knox disagrees with Gladwell. “I felt his analysis was no different really than the vast majority of analyses out there, where he tried to figure out why I was wrongfully convicted by looking at me.” She doesn’t blame him; for a long time she did the same thing. “I don’t know if this is a woman thing, or just a human thing, but very early on, even while I was being screamed at and hit in my interrogation, I kept thinking, what am I doing wrong? My instinct was to question myself.”
That started to change in 2014 when she was reconvicted in Italy in absentia, pending yet another appeal. She was in a very dark place when someone from the Idaho Innocence Project, an organization that campaigns against wrongful convictions, contacted her mother and told them to come to an event in Portland. It was revelatory; for the first time she could see her experience not as a nightmarish anomaly but as something quite typical. It is common, for example, to blame the victim of a wrongful conviction for what has happened to them. “We’re so good at retroactively legitimizing our own impulses to judge that we don’t sort of pause and go, wait a second, why was I even looking in that direction in the first place?”
Learning about other cases has helped her to make sense of some of the narratives in her own. She says that often-shown footage of her kissing Sollecito outside the house while the police were inside was filmed before she learned that Kercher had been murdered. The supposed cartwheels she was doing in the police station soon afterwards never happened: she did do some yoga stretches because she had been waiting for hours. At one point a police officer asked if she could do the splits, which she did. That does seem quite odd, I tell her. “That sort of fixation on singular moments in those days leading up to my arrest is selection bias. You don’t remember the times that I cried. Or the times that I was quiet and pensive and sad. No one reports back on those moments. They only report back on the moments that they feel justify, retroactively, their position of judgment toward me.”
In his 2019 book Talking to Strangers, the writer Malcolm Gladwell devoted a chapter to Knox’s case.
Perhaps, but what about her “confession”? Knox initially signed a statement falsely implicating Patrick Lumumba, her boss at a bar where she worked, in the murder and placing herself at the crime scene. She was convicted of calumny against Lumumba — the one charge against her that has not been overturned in Italy. It is still something that is used to attack her credibility.
“The statements I signed were not authored by me, they were written by the police,” she says. “I was exhausted and afraid and couldn’t understand what was happening. No one explained to me that I was even a suspect. I was just being yelled at. I got scared and signed some statements, which I immediately recanted. You don’t have to be electrocuted with a cattle prod to make you feel crazy.”
Writing a New Story
Knox was 24 years old when she was released from prison. She returned to her family in Seattle and lived mainly with her mother and stepfather (her parents are divorced). She did a creative writing course and started writing articles about art for a local newspaper under a pseudonym. “I was trying to be as invisible as possible and to survive in a really traumatic environment,” she says. She wasn’t exposed to “the doubters” until 2013, while promoting her memoir. Interviewers asked her, “Did you kill Meredith?” and she realized she couldn’t escape the image of her that had been spun by the Italian prosecution. And what an image it was.
Looking back, one of the most troubling aspects of the case was the obsession with Knox’s sex life. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where this came from. Knox had been in Italy for a month at the time of the murder and had met Sollecito the week before at a classical concert. She told the police that she had spent the night at his flat and had returned to her house to have a shower. (Sollecito had called a plumber, the landlady and his father that evening about a leak in the kitchen.) A policeman at the scene claimed the shower story could not be true because Knox “smelled of sex”.
They then found her vibrator in the bathroom (it had been given to her as a joke by a friend) and the portrayal grew from there. “This whole case hinged, weirdly, on this really ancient purity complex, where the prosecutor was fixated on the idea that Meredith was like a Madonna, a virginal figure who disapproved of my adulterous ways and that was the reason I killed her. It was just so bizarre,” Knox says.
When I suggest that Meredith’s status as a nice middle-class girl fueled the vitriol against Knox, she pushes back. “Why didn’t it fuel conviction about Rudy Guede’s guilt? What it did was fuel anger and feelings of retribution that someone had to pay for this. The story presented by the prosecution and tabloid media was that I was that someone.”
Looking back, one of the most troubling aspects of the case was the obsession with Knox’s sex life.
The lengths to which the police went to back up their story were extraordinary. During her first few weeks in prison, long before the trial, she was tested for HIV, falsely told that the results were positive and advised to figure out who gave it to her. She wrote down a list of all her sexual partners — seven — which was promptly handed over to the prosecution and leaked to the press. “I’ve got three younger sisters and one of them is 21 now. When I imagine her being put through that — there’s no way that she could withstand that sort of pain. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone,” Knox says.
Social media was in its infancy and her profiles were raided by a press pack hungry for detail. Her school nickname, Foxy Knoxy, given to her because of her speed on the football pitch, was twisted into a sexual epithet. That characterization of her persists today — proof perhaps of Jonathan Swift’s assertion that the “falsehood flies and the truth comes limping after it”.
Realizing that her experiences are not unique gave her the confidence to start giving talks about injustices, as did her acquittal in 2015. Shortly afterward she met her husband, Chris Robinson, a poet, whom she interviewed for the local newspaper. “He said, ‘Hey, we should be friends,’ and I was, like, ‘Oh my God, I can make friends again, I don’t have to hide any more and associate only with people I’ve known my whole life.’ ” He was dimly aware that she had been involved in some sort of case but thought “it had something to do with defenestration”, Knox laughs, and he made a decision not to google her while they got to know each other. They crowdfunded a sci-fi-themed wedding last year, after an emboldened Knox made a controversial first trip back to Italy to give a talk there.
Over time Knox gravitated to the true crime genre, which she says “in general is very badly done. It’s very salacious, it revels in tragedy and trauma and horror. I wanted to do the opposite, because I was a character in a morality play.” Doing so has only increased the vitriol against her. “I’ve put myself in a position of trying to speak up about these issues publicly. I feel like I’m still processing it and trying to find a sense of peace,” she says, adding: “It’s not that human beings are dark things, we’re just imperfect creatures.”
Amanda Knox produces and hosts the podcasts Labyrinths and The Truth About True Crime with her husband, Christopher Robinson