My favorite impression of Italy comes from my college roommate, who broke her arm there over winter break in our senior year. Although she returned to New York in high spirits, and ultimately no worse for wear, it was with a humongous cast, the kind of heavy, awkward creation that looked like it came out of a 1950s sitcom, or like she broke her arm playing football with Charlie Brown. Granted, Alyce approached our final semester gamely—I have inspiring photos of her in full costume/party attire/dance regalia carrying that monstrosity of a cast—but I remember thinking at the time, “Note to self: Never let anything bad happen to you in Italy.”
And so it was with this in mind that I approached Waiting to Be Heard, the memoir for which Amanda Knox received a reported $4 million. (Admittedly, I also suspected it would make for an entertaining blog post.)
If you’ve been living under a rock—a rock with no access to Nancy Grace or the Huffington Post—Knox, better known as “Foxy Knoxy,” was charged with the 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher, a British student killed while the two lived together during Knox’s semester abroad in Perugia, Italy. The case, as presented by the prosecution, is a story of sexcapades gone wrong: Knox is said to have tried to initiate some sort of orgy/Satanic sex ritual with Kercher, accompanied by her (Knox’s) boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, and acquaintance Rudy Guede. When Kercher refused to participate in said sexcapade, Guede raped her, and then Raffaele and Guede held her down while Knox slashed her throat. Knox then returned to her boyfriend’s apartment, woke up the next morning, and “discovered” the body upon returning to her flat.
Knox and Sollecito were convicted by an Italian court in 2009, after having been in custody since 2007. Each served an additional two years in prison before their convictions were overturned in 2011, primarily because of dubious practices on the part of the police and the prosecution. In March of this year, the Italian Supreme Court overturned that overturning, though it remains to be seen if Knox would return to Italy for a retrial. In the meantime, Guede is serving a 16-year-sentence after his DNA was found at the crime scene, on and inside Kercher’s body.
I suspect that the vast majority of people who paid attention to the Knox case won’t read her memoir—it does clock in at nearly 500 pages, and much of the content would be repetitive to those already familiar with the proceedings. But Knox goes to great lengths to clarify elements of her story that are often cited as evidence of her guilt, including her use of drugs, confusion during interrogation, refusal to leave Italy after the murder, and alleged sexual deviancy. WTBH may be redundant for the Knox aficionado, but it’s nothing if not thorough.
There remains a great deal of confusion surrounding the scientific aspects of Knox’s case—experts disagree about whether DNA found on the edge of a knife belonging to Sollecito matched Kercher’s, or DNA found on a piece of Kercher’s bra was Sollecito’s. Moreover, the vast majority of solid evidence was collected poorly, or weeks after the murder took place. To these accusations, Knox maintains a constant “impossible,” and so much of WTBH is instead focused on the elements of the case that have to do with her character. They are as follows:
1. Knox as Sex Fiend. There’s an excellent op-ed in the New York Times this week by Frank Bruni (of Born Round fame) that discusses the double-standard applied to women when talking about sex and sexual history. For the most part, Knox was painted as something of sexpot during her trial, a claim backed up by the following information: 1) She had a few one-night stands, one of which resulted in her contracting oral herpes 2) She brought a vibrator with her to Italy, which she kept in a clear makeup case in the bathroom 3) In the days after the murder, she was seen buying underwear with Sollecito.
I’m sorry, are we not in the 21st century? Was Knox not a college student? Did this not all occur in a country whose men have a reputation for being just this side of skeevy? As a fellow 20-something, I couldn’t help but read WTBH and imagine the kind of stuff that might get dredged up as evidence of my own (nonexistent) sexual deviance. At the very least, there are some photos I’d want to untag.
2. Knox as Drug Addict. Since Knox admits that she and Raffaele had smoked hash on the night of Kercher’s murder, much has been made of the “drug-fueled” nature of their alleged crimes. To this again I say: Whaa? I’ve heard stories from friends of “wild” nights on hash, most of which end with “and then I fell asleep,” not “and then I tried to initiate Satanic sex and violently murdered someone.” Sure, Knox’s confession that marijuana “was as common around our house as pasta” might raise a few eyebrows, but come on. Come on. Pot? If anything, the defense should have used this as evidence in Knox’s favor. If Amanda smoked as often as she says she did, there’s no way she was getting high enough to go all blackout-murderous-rage on anyone. More importantly, on the list of “best activities to do high,” murder comes wayyyy below staying in and watching a movie. Murder takes so much effort.
3. Knox as Total Weirdo. Perhaps the most important thing working against Knox during her investigation and conviction was her behavior. She didn’t return to the States after Kercher’s body was found, suggesting in the book that it was because she wanted to stay and be of help to the police (not evidence of her indifference towards the murder). She did not show a lot of emotion during interrogations, she hung all over her boyfriend, and she made a few awkward jokes in the presence of police and investigators. All told, she came across as kind of a weirdo, and ambivalent about the fact that a heinous crime had been committed just a few doors away from her bedroom. (Btw, a lot of this boils down to inane he-said-she-said stuff. For example, much was of made of Knox “doing cartwheels” in the police station while waiting to be questioned. Knox claims she was having a conversation with a guard about yoga, and showed him she could do the splits when he asked.)
In her book, and in an interview with Diane Sawyer that aired last week, Knox points out that different people react to tragedy in different ways, and that her difficulty expressing emotion (in a country that prizes it) doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. I have to say that I’m kind of Team Knox here. Sure, I’d like to believe that in the face of a violent crime I’d be all sobby hiccups and runny mascara, or that I’d feel compelled to stop living my daily life, but really, who knows? Knox appears to be more outraged by the murder than saddened by it, and considering she’d known Kercher just a few months, that frankly doesn’t seem entirely crazy.
But just so I don’t come across as a total Knox apologist, I should mention that there are definitely parts of her story that don’t jibe, or are at the very least hard to accept. At one point during her interrogation, Knox changes her testimony, saying that it’s possible she was at the flat that evening, and that she has vague memories of meeting up with her boss Patrick, who she thereby implicated in the murder (Knox was later convicted of callunia—basically Italian slander—and forced to pay Patrick 22,000 euros. Slander is also the reason WTBH wasn’t published in the UK, as she accuses police of treating her poorly during the investigation).
No matter how much duress Knox claims to have been under—days of interrogation with no lawyer and little sleep, being questioned primarily in her non-native language—I find it hard to imagine feeling compelled to change my story so dramatically. In WTBH, Knox says she was fatigued, confused and desperate to stop being yelled at. (She also tracks down an expert in false confessions to back up her mistake.) Knox essentially claims the police strong-armed her into imagining the incriminating scenario, and says she spent the subsequent days telling anyone and everyone who would listen that she wanted to recant. A dubious chain of events, to say the least. I also don’t know that it would have taken me nearly as long as it did Knox to realize that I was a suspect in the investigation, or to ask for a lawyer. I watch alot of Law & Order; I know how these things works.
There’s no question that Knox was naive, and in many moments immature. She made a lot of stupid decisions before the murder, and a lot of tone-deaf decisions during the investigation and trial. Even in the book, she comes across as unaware of others’ perception of her, and many of her attempts at self-preservation/self-sufficiency read as aloof. She seems, overall, like a girl wholly unprepared to face public scrutiny. But in reading WTBH, it’s hard to make the leap from “weird and insensitive” to “psychopathic killer.”
Indeed, after spending last night in a culminating k-hole of Knox coverage online, I still find myself believing in her innocence. Not wholeheartedly, or rabidly, but by default, because I can’t seem to get convinced by the evidence against her. Using the Occam’s Razor test—the simplest answer is usually the right one—this case could go either way: It’s true that murders are usually committed by people close to the victim, and it’s true that Knox knew Meredith Kercher better than most. But murders are not usually committed by normal college students from Seattle, or by potheads, or by women. I’d also like to think that if Foxy Knoxy were as cold-blooded and analytical as the prosecution/press seems to think, she might have done a slightly less half-assed job of cleaning up after the crime.
Of course, I fully accept the possibility that I’ve been duped, swayed by Knox’s clear-headed (and generally okay) writing. Because WTBH is just that, focused and direct, characteristics that make it a decent testimony but at times a tedious and plodding book. WTBH feels like a pent-up exhalation of breath, a long-winded anecdote whose details would seem pointless if so many of them weren’t ultimately brought up during her trial. The book is banal but never terrible, and at its most interesting when Knox documents her time in Italian prison.
I can’t say that Knox comes across as the nicest person (certainly not the smartest) or that she doesn’t bear responsibility for how convoluted the Kercher investigation became. And I certainly think it’s deplorable that she implicated someone innocent, stress-induced hallucinations or not. But in writing WTBH, Knox accomplishes what I imagine she set out to do: Presenting her side of the story, and countering 95% of the claims made against her. If she is a psychopath—which I suppose she’d have to be, if she were guilty—then she’s a fine one. A fine one, indeed.