The recent Amanda Knox verdict — or Knox-Sollecito verdict, or Meredith Kercher murder verdict, depending on your vantage point — seems to have generated declarative certitudes among local and other commentators. Yet, on examination, the whole matter would appear deserving of more equivocal reactions.
This should be said at the outset: No matter the country or jurisdiction involved, judges, jurors, prosecutors, and defense attorneys can be wise, stupid, honest, corrupt, independent, or influenced by political or media pressure. The excellent TV series, "Law and Order," makes quite clear in its episodes, often stolen from real-life cases, that the guilty sometimes are freed and the innocent punished. It doesn't just happen on television.
Another point: Human character is hard to read. We see it often in wartime. Seemingly mild and passive troopers show great heroism in combat. More macho fellow troopers do not fire their weapons. Former Boy Scouts commit atrocities and war crimes totally inconsistent with their prior lives. Ex-bad boys perform noble acts.
Here at home a lot of intelligent Seattleites, including some in the media, knew Ted Bundy as a handsome, personable law student and volunteer in moderate Republican politics.
A childhood friend of mine, a popular president of his high-school class, was the younger brother of a badly wounded World War II hero. When we both were in grade school, he proudly showed me his brother's bemedaled uniform hanging in his bedroom closet. Later, sponsored by Sen. Henry (Scoop) Jackson, he received an appointment to West Point, where I once visited and attended an Army football game with him. After a stint as a U.S. Army Ranger, he became a Southern California stockbroker with a wife and family. In the 1970s he found that his wife had a lover. She left their home, took their children, and moved with the lover to Spokane. My pal thereupon shot and killed the lover. He later wrote me, from the state penitentiary in Walla Walla, that committing the murder "had been like swatting a fly." A few years later he committed suicide in his cell in Shelton.
A University of Washington fraternity brother, also popular and genial, walked out the frat house's front door one noon hour, telling me that he "was going to visit my uncle in a hospital downtown." As it turned out, there was no uncle. My fraternity brother never returned but left all his belongings in his room. He disappeared from view until, a few years later, he was convicted of having murdered his grandparents, who had raised him, at their home in eastern Washington.
That is not to say that Amanda Knox, the convicted and then released local girl, was a monster behind her innocent Northwest face. If in fact she was innocent of Meredith Kercher's murder, as the Italian appeals court found, we all should rejoice at her homecoming. But there are many parts of the case that are cause for perplexity.
An Associated Press story Wednesday, written from Perugia, Italy, listed some of them. Another AP story, later in the day, quoted the Appeals Court presiding judge, Claudio Portillo Hellmann, as stating that Knox and Sollecito might in fact have known what happened in the 2007 murder of Kercher and that "the truth that was created in the trial" was not necessarily "the real truth."
"They [Knox and Sollecito] could also be responsible" for the murder, Judge Hellmann said, "but the proof isn't there."
Knox told prosecutors, following Kercher's killing, that she had been in their apartment that night and had covered her ears to drown out Kercher's screams as she was raped and killed. Both she and Raffaelle Sollecito, her co-defendant (and member of a prominent family), subsequently told conflicting stories of their whereabouts during the crime's commission. In one version, Knox said she had returned home after smoking hash and having sex with Sollecito at his apartment, discovering Kercher's body only later after taking a shower. Knox then falsely accused of the crime the owner of a local bar where she had worked. He has sued Knox for defamation. She then asserted that police had beaten her during interrogation. Police slander charges against her are pending.
Prosecutors and police assert that Knox's behavior in the hours after Kercher's murder showed disregard for her housemate's fate. Knox reportedly turned cartwheels and did splits at the police station as she awaited police questioning after the murder. She and Sollecito were observed by a clerk to be kissing and caressing while buying a G-string in a lingerie store the day after the murder. Knox explained her actions as those of someone who "tends to act a little silly" under stress. And that may be exactly what was happening. Stress triggers wide variations in behavior in different individuals.
Rudy Guede, a small-time Perugia drug dealer, was convicted in a separate trial of sexually assaulting and stabbing Kercher. He continues to assert that he was present in Kercher's room but did not kill her. He says Knox and Sollecito did it but has offered no proof. The high-court ruling affirming Guede's conviction said that Guede did not act alone but did not name Knox and Sollecito as accomplices. After Knox's and Sollecito's release on appeal, Guede has asked for reopening of his own case.
A local public relations consultant, David Marriott, has coordinated a public-relations effort on Knox's behalf since her initial conviction four years ago. It has emphasized family, childhood, and teenage photos of Knox in wholesome surroundings, intended to counteract the impact of Knox's own accounts of her sex-and-drugs, Paris-Hilton lifestyle in Perugia. It portrayed Knox as victim of a goofy Italian legal system and boneheaded police and prosecutors. The Knox family has in large part financed the campaign and, according to estimates, has spent most of its total assets to do so. Family members and friends visited Knox often during her four years in prison and were omnipresent during her trials. Sen. Maria Cantwell actively intervened to bring pressure on Italian authorities.
It appears Knox will have little problem getting the money she will need in the aftermath of her ordeal. Her loyal and loving family must be repaid. She needs to pay the money and court costs she owes to the bar owner she falsely accused. Depending on the outcome of the police slander charges against her, she may or may not owe more money in that case.
Early reports indicate that she can expect seven-figure compensation from exclusive TV and talk-show interviews, magazine interviews, any book she might write about her experience, and/or public appearances and autograph sessions at meetings or conventions. At least one commercial and TV film are being discussed. Knox will be able to meet current financial obligations and have enough left over to become wealthy for life. Her initial expressed desire, to return as an ordinary student to the University of Washington campus, would seem to have little chance of happening.
Snce the appeals court has reversed her lower-court conviction, Knox must be regarded as innocent, as is our tradition.
My heart goes out in particular to her family but also to the family of the raped and murdered Meredith Kercher, whose family still feels that justice has not been done and closure not reached. I have wondered, since Knox's return home, what our local reaction would have been if Kercher, the murdered girl, had been from Seattle and Knox, just released, had been from the United Kingdom and if the Kercher family had been the ones returning sadly to Sea-Tac late at night. Would all those TV cameras and breathless reporters have been out there?
The story, of course, is not over. Italian prosecutors have appealed the Appeals Court decision to the Italian Supreme Court. Years from now, you can be certain, the case will continue to be examined and reexamined in cable-TV movies and specials — yet another famous murder case with central-casting characters. In meantime, right now, a lot of anguish and uncertainty linger amidst the welcome-home cheers for Knox.