Amanda Knox's Memoir 'May Be Evidence Against Her'
As far as sensational murder trials go, the case of Meredith Kercher, a young English woman who was sexually assaulted and killed in November 2007, is one for the books. In 2009, American student Amanda Knox, Kercher's roommate in Italy, was convicted of Kercher's murder. Knox served four years of a 26-year sentence before her conviction was overturned in 2011. Finally, in March 2013, the Italian court ordered the case back to trial. A month after that, Knox published a memoir, Waiting to Be Heard, professing her innocence. Amidst the media noise surrounding Knox's memoir, we decided to get an expert's take on the book's potential legal ramifications. Linda Fairstein, author and America's foremost legal expert on sex crimes, gives us five reasons why Knox's book may get her into trouble:
There is nothing in the law like a "high-profile" case, fueled by tabloid media coverage—often inaccurate—to cause public opinion to be wildly divided on the guilt or innocence of the accused. One such case involves the horrific murder of a young woman from England—Meredith Kercher—who was killed in her bedroom in the home she rented in Perugia with other students, including the 20-year-old American, Amanda Knox. Already convicted in a fast-track trial is Ivory Coast native Rudy Guede, whose fingerprints and DNA linked him to the sexual assault of Kercher, as well as to the stab wound in her throat that caused her to be asphyxiated by her own blood.
As those millions who have followed the events know, Amanda Knox and her then-lover, Raffaele Sollecito, were also tried and convicted of Kercher's murder in 2009, a verdict overturned two years later by an appellate court. Knox returned home to Seattle, and her memoir, Waiting to Be Heard, was released this spring—not long after news that the Italian court had ordered a retrial of the murder charges.
While I would not attempt to analyze the trial evidence without firsthand reports of the testimony and physical evidence—both sides have strong supporters in this case—I couldn't help but scratch my head and wonder why Knox included statements in her book that will undoubtedly give rise to trouble for her as the case heads back to the courtroom.
1. Doing the unthinkable: A false accusation of murder
When Knox was first questioned by police, it was because she was not only a housemate of the victim, but she was also one of the first people—a witness, not a suspect—to encounter the crime scene the morning after the murder. As the facts she recounted changed, and she learned that Sollecito had contradicted her alibi of being with him throughout the entire night, Knox began to dig herself deeper and deeper into an evidentiary hole. Then she did the unthinkable: She falsely accused a man she knew—her boss at the bar at which she worked—of being the killer. Just pages earlier in her memoir, when she bemoaned her dilemma, Knox writes, "the authorities I trusted thought I was a liar. But I wasn't lying." Then she goes on to describe how she came up with the idea to finger a businessman—a friend to her—to throw suspicion off herself. Can you think of anything worse than naming a person to police as a murderer, when you know he's completely innocent? Can you imagine telling that blatant a lie to police, who then went out to arrest the guy? Amanda Knox's credibility is the centerpiece of her case, and she not only undermined that in 2007, but writes about it again—already convicted of slander of the accused man—as though it was an act without profound consequences.
2. Errors in judgment: Trusting an unknown lover
Knox writes of her relationship with Raffaele Sollecito, described in most media reports as her boyfriend. In reading her book, I learned for the first time that the pair had only been together for one week at the time of the murder. A chance meeting resulted in a return to Sollecito's apartment for marijuana and a one-night stand, which extended into seven days and nights leading up to Kercher's death. It's curious that Knox felt the need to describe how alone she felt, "detaching emotion from sex," and yet believed that in the hours after being implicated in the crime, her brand-new lover—a virtual stranger with whom she communicated through a hodgepodge of languages, but mostly sex—would cover her back when she became a prime suspect. Instead, Sollecito threw their planned alibi to the wolves and denied that Knox had stayed with him through the night when Kercher was killed. "I knew I could trust Raffaele with my life," Knox says, although it seems to be another of her great errors in judgment. Less about the romance, and more about how fragile their relationship actually was, might have strengthened her case.
3. Forensic evidence: What about the blood?
From reliable news accounts, I know that DNA played a significant role in this case. There is no question that it provided a solid link to Rudy Guede's presence at the crime scene. But Knox shrugs off DNA with just a few glancing references to its importance—either in her defense or by the prosecution. Yes, Sollecito's DNA on the bra strap was compromised by the police investigation, and her own blood on the knife found at Sollecito's apartment could have been deposited at another time. Not enough is revealed in this book to know if it was the red herring that Knox claims—and may have been discounted by the court. But what about Knox's blood in the bathroom sink, there along with Kercher's? It seems that Knox simply discounts any evidence that is negative to her side, rather than confront and explain it. Again, where her credibility will be a critical factor going forward, she may regret how easily she dismisses forensic evidence in her telling of the story.
4. Loose ends: A laptop, a cell phone, and a mop
There are two major areas in which what I would call Knox's lack of candor will be a disservice to her. One is the issue of the laptop and the cellphones (Sollecito's and her own). The electronic records don't lie, but again it seems that Knox is dishonest in her description of their importance. The timeline Knox tried to establish for the night of the crime is belied by the fact that Sollecito's computer was shut off at 9:10pm and not used again all night. Similarly, in activity quite different than their usage in the preceding week, both cellphones were shut off from 8:40pm until 6am. The prosecution apparently made important use of this fact, while Knox offers no logical explanation to us here.
The other issue concerns the mop that Knox claims to have taken from her home to Sollecito's apartment. She never mentions the police claim that his place smelled of bleach, nor does she link it to the fact that the floor at the crime scene was so bloody that it was not illogical for the police to connect the mop and bleach to efforts by the two suspects to clean up after the murder.
5. Too much blame, too little introspection
Throughout the long narrative in this book, Amanda Knox manages to blame just about everyone in her orbit for the position in which she found herself, charged with the murder of a housemate. It's the other occupants of the house, casual acquaintances, just about every police official trying to solve the brutal crime, prosecutors, and court officials. There doesn't seem to be a page of introspection which examines her own actions and statements—I don't mean the cartwheels, nor the antics with Sollecito, nor the seeming lack of empathy for Kercher—but, rather, the lies, inconsistencies, unusual steps in the hours and days following the discovery of Kercher's body—all of her own doing and all of which led to putting Amanda Knox in the docket. When Knox started to write this memoir, I assume she thought the case and the ordeal was behind her. Now there may be another trial, and many of the words in this book may turn out to be evidence against her.
Linda Fairstein is America’s foremost legal expert on crimes of sexual assault and domestic violence. She led the Sex Crimes Unit of the District Attorney’s Office in Manhattan for 26 years. Her 14 previous Alexandra Cooper novels have been critically acclaimed international bestsellers, translated into more than a dozen languages. She lives in Manhattan and on Martha’s Vineyard.
This piece was updated on September 22, 2014.