It was touted as the “trial of the decade”, because it seemed to have what the media salivates over: sex, race and three attractive, wealthy, young white protagonists. But will we ever know the truth about the murder of Meredith Kercher? By REBECCA DAVIS.
By the time you read this, Amanda Knox will be home safe and sound in Seattle, experiencing her first days as a free woman in four years. And the family of Meredith Kercher, killed in Perugia at the age of 21, will have returned to Surrey, England, with one question still unanswered: why did their daughter die?
On the face of it, we now have answers. Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were freed because they were innocent of the murder of Meredith Kercher. Judge Claudio Hellmann was at pains to make this perfectly clear in a final hearing of less than three minutes, he announced the two were acquitted “because they have not committed the crime”. It appears Knox and Sollecito join Kercher as victims of the events of the night in Perugia four years ago. In their case, grossly mistreated by a series of amateurish police errors which saw faulty DNA evidence used to put them behind bars for a murder with which they had nothing to do.
So who killed Meredith Kercher, the 21-year-old exchange student who, by all accounts, had not an enemy in the world? It seems the answer we must satisfy ourselves with is: Rudy Guede, the man originally from Côte d’Ivoire who the media love to refer to as a “drifter”. Guede is currently serving a 16-year jail term for Kercher’s murder, a sentence reduced from 30 years after he recanted former testimony and told his appeal judge that Sollecito and Knox were present in the house on the night of the crime.
What motive would Guede have for killing Kercher? The suggestion is that he gained entry to the house (he was friendly with the Italian boys who lived below), sexually assaulted her, and then – seized by panic that she would identify him – murdered her. Part of the reason why the courts accepted this version of events is because a bloody footprint found in the bathroom was traced to Guede. But part of the reason is simply this: which seems more reasonable – that Kercher was killed by two rich white kids, or that Kercher was killed by a black immigrant who had previously been in trouble with the law? Yet Guede, by the accounts of those who knew him, was a friendly, well-liked, fun-loving chap. Nothing in his background of skirmishes with the law suggested violence: he didn’t have a criminal record, but had been accused of a couple of local burglaries.
Guede admitted that he had been in the house on the night of the murder, but his testimony was confused and inconsistent. He initially said Sollecito and Knox had not been in the house on the night of the crime – then changed his story to having grappled with a man who could have been Sollecito outside the bathroom, and having seen a silhouette outside the house who could have been Knox. Not very convincing stuff in the face of his first version of events.
But you know who else gave confused and inconsistent testimonies? Both Knox and Sollecito. Both said initially they had spent the night at Sollecito’s, smoking marijuana, having sex and watching movies. Yet there was no activity recorded on Sollecito’s laptop – where he said they had downloaded films – for the period when they were supposedly watching the movies. Both of them had turned off their phones simultaneously at 20:30. (Coroners testified Kercher had died between 20:00 and 04:00 – the unhelpful length of this period due to yet another police error, in not having her death date-stamped earlier).
After interrogation Sollecito said he was, in fact, unsure of what had happened that night and it was possible Knox could have left his house for a time. Meanwhile, Knox also abandoned her original story to claim instead that she was indeed in the house she and Kercher shared, and that she had witnessed Congolese bar owner Patrick Lumumba commit the murder. “He is bad, bad, bad!” she reportedly wept to police. But Lumumba had a watertight alibi: a Swiss businessman came forward to say he had been talking to Lumumba at his bar at the time of the murder. Knox has now been found guilty of slandering Lumumba, and must pay him approximately £19,000 in damages, but Lumumba, her former boss, has made it quite clear how he feels about her: “Everything that comes out of her mouth is a lie,” he told the Mail on Sunday four years ago. “She’s empty; dead inside.”
Knox’s false accusation, the inconsistencies in her testimony and the flawed DNA evidence, later found to be totally unreliable, were all considered sufficient by the Perugian court to put Knox away for 26 years and Sollecito for 25, in 2009. The reason why the two were not given a life sentence was that, again, there appeared to be no motive for the murder. The best the prosecutors could do was to hash out a vague scenario of “sex game gone wrong” – a phrase the media leapt on and ran with. They claimed Knox, Sollecito and Guede ganged up on Kercher to force her to participate in some kind of group sex act, taunted her with a knife, and then, in an unintended escalation of events, ended up killing her.
Why would they try to make this case? Because it emerged that Knox was a bit of a vixen: a beautiful man-eater who went by the moniker “Foxy Knoxy” on MySpace. That’s the way she was painted both by prosecutors and the media. Her family protested Foxy Knoxy was a nickname she acquired as an eight-year-old soccer player and her friends pointed out that she’d never had a boyfriend before she was 19 years old. Ah, the prosecution said, but she was certainly making up for it. They claimed Kercher and Knox had squabbled over the fact that Knox insisted on keeping a vibrator in a see-through bag in the bathroom, and that Kercher objected to a stream of men Knox brought back to their shared house.
Try searching online for an objective view of what kind of a person Amanda Knox actually is, and you might as well be trying to get at the facts of the Israel-Palestine situation from reading only press releases from Mossad and Hamas. The UK media have been biased against Knox from the start, seeing her as the American vamp who took the life of an innocent English rose. The US media has rallied for Knox, painting her as the ingénue abroad, a sweet, naïve, all-American girl in the wrong place at the wrong time. If you’d like a taste of this, compare this article from the UK’s Daily Mail – headline “The wild, raunchy past of Foxy Knoxy” – with this in-depth piece from Rolling Stone titled “The neverending nightmare of Amanda Knox”.
But who trusts journalists, anyway? Maybe you’d rather sidestep them and go straight to the horse’s mouth: the family and friends who actually know the girl. Visit the website of Friends of Amanda and learn “the truth about Amanda”. “The real Amanda Knox bears no resemblance to the warped image presented by the Italian authorities and some elements in the media,” they write, and present a series of rosy-cheeked photos from the Knox family album – Knox cradling a baby, Knox with a dog, Knox on her 7th birthday.
Obviously they’ve got an interest in depicting Knox as a good girl, so it’s safe to assume the website doesn’t present the full story. But for a glimpse into the head of the woman herself, try out Knox’s MySpace blogs, archived here. Much was made of these when they came to light four years ago, because they include a short story written by Knox which deals with rape. Frankly, big deal. What they reveal most clearly is a lively, cheerful, self-absorbed 20-year-old young woman with slightly dodgy spelling. Telling of how she found the Perugia house where Kercher died, she writes: “The house has a kitchen, 2 bathrooms, and four bathrooms. not to mention a washing maschine, and internet access. not to mention, she owns two guitars and wants to play with me. not to mention the view is amazing. not to mention i have a terrace that looks over the perugian city/countryside. not to mention she wants me to teach erh yoga. not to mention they both smoke like chimneys.”
Do these sound like the ramblings of someone who would go on to stab her housemate three times in the throat? Who knows. We will almost certainly never learn the full story of how Meredith Kercher came to die, despite the fact that prosecutors are reportedly pressing for an appeal of the acquittal. This would involve the extradition of Knox from the US back to Italy, and there’s not a hope in hell of that happening.
Knox left the courtroom to scenes of ecstatic triumph from her American supporters, and cries of “Assassina!” and “you condemned the black man!” from her Italian detractors. Both are responses that are likely to trail her in some form for the rest of her life. For now, US media outlets are falling over each other to offer her extravagant sums for exclusive interviews and tell-alls. She has said she hopes eventually to work either for the rights of those wrongly convicted, or as a translator (one unintended benefit of her incarceration is that her Italian is flawless). No such future is available to Meredith Kercher, whose family must now begin the difficult work of accepting that the truth about her death will forever remain out of reach. DM
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