The murder conviction of US student Amanda Knox in Italy has polarised opinion, but now hercase is putting Italian justice itself on trial.
Airdate: 
Sunday, August 28, 2011 - 20:30
Channel: 
SBS

The conviction of US student Amanda Knox for murdering her British roommate Meredith Kercher in Italy has polarised opinion across three countries.

Knox has been labelled as a 'luciferina' or 'she-devil' in court, and vilified by some parts of the media, but her friends and family have always strenuously protested her innocence.

Now, with a decision due next month on her appeal, Italian justice itself is on trial.

Amos Roberts reports from Perugia on the questions around the entire sequence of events that led to Knox's conviction.

How did police initially get a confession from her? Did detectives botch the forensic evidence? And did Knox's defence team fail in their role to defend her in court?

WATCHClick to see Amos's report. Apologies, but this story is not available outside Australia for copyright reasons.

RADIO INTERVIEW - Amos talks to SBS Radio's World News Australia about the story, including more on the way the case has been handled by the media.

EXTRA - Read some of the varied coverage of Amanda Knox's case in the press by following the links under 'other perspectives' on the right-hand side of the page.

Tweet


Photos: AAP

Transcript

Now to a sensational murder mystery that's attracting huge attention around the world. When a young American student named Amanda Knox arrived in Italy to further her studies, life was good. She literally had the world at her feet, however within a few weeks she was charged with a shocking and brutal murder. Currently serving 26 years in jail for the crime, she is now appealing her conviction. So - is Amanda Knox a calculating killer or the innocent victim of a gross miscarriage of justice? Here's Dateline's Amos Roberts.

REPORTER: Amos Roberts

The romantic appeal of Perugia is obvious. This Umbrian hill town is a magnet for tourists - and for university students from around the world who come to learn Italian. But for three of those students, Perugia became a nightmare.

In 2009, American Amanda Knox was convicted of killing her housemate two years earlier. So too was Italian Raffaele Sollecito - her then boyfriend. The victim - English student, Meredith Kercher.

Knox and Sollecito are now appealing the convictions. Their supporters are convinced they're innocent and as the appeal draws to a close, the prosecution's case is looking increasingly shaky.

BOB GRAHAM, JOURNALIST: There are dozens upon dozens of areas in this case that we as journalists have got to question, because clearly the police weren't and clearly the prosecution wasn't.

MADISON PAXTON, AMANDA'S FRIEND: Why is it that if you're a young woman who's had sex with seven people in her whole life - why is that used as evidence that you could be a murderer?

LUCA MAORI, RAFFAELE'S LAWYER (Translation): The problem is that they had to.. I repeat, they had to make an arrest at any cost.

Amanda Knox came to Perugia from Seattle when she was 20 to study Italian. This is where she lived - and where her housemate, Meredith Kercher, had her throat slashed in November, 2007.

RAFFAELE SOLLECITO, PHONE CALL (Translation): Hello, good morning, someone has broken into the house through the window. They didn't take anything but a door is locked;. There are bloodstains. One of the flatmates is missing, we tried to call her but no one answered.

This is the phone call Amanda's boyfriend of just a week, Raffaele Sollecito, made to police before the body was discovered. As police examined the crime scene, a TV camera caught Raffaele kissing and comforting Amanda. Meredith's friends found their behaviour strangely detached - and police also became suspicious. During a late-night interrogation 4 days after the murder, Amanda confessed to being involved. She later retracted her confession - but the damage had been done.

AMERICAN REPORTER: A 21 year old college student - an American - is being held in Italy for the murder of her roommate there.

MARK PHILLIPS, LONDON REPORTER: This is a story that should come with a health warning - it's ugly. It's a murder that's still full of mystery.

News of Amanda and Raffaele's arrest triggered an international media frenzy. Amanda had implicated another man in the murder - the owner of a bar where she worked part time, Patrick Lumumba.

Perugia's police chief famously declared, "casa chiuso" - "case closed". Police said the murder was the result of a drug and alcohol-fuelled, "sex game gone wrong". When journalists saw the arrest warrant, they were transfixed.

ANDREA VOGT, JOURNALIST: So here was an official document with all these salacious details, it's just, as a journalist you just think wow, this is an official court document Because it's a primary source.

For almost four years, these reporters have covered every twist and turn of this case - and helped shape the public perception of Amanda Knox.

NICK PISA, JOURNALIST: If you're getting some information from a primary source - like a police officer, like a prosecutor, you've got to take it at face value and you've got to believe what you're being told.

Nick Pisa is a freelance journalist for the British tabloids. Barbie Nadeau writes for Newsweek and has published a book about Amanda Knox.

BARBIE NADEAU, JOURNALIST: You think well we're in a university town with a lot of drugs, a lot of co-eds, having a lot of sex, why not? It was easy to believe it.

SABINA CASTELFRANCO, JOURNALIST: At the beginning it was easy to believe that there could have been something.

Italian Sabina Castelfranco is a producer for the American CBS network.

ANDREA VOGT: She was a girl who was very deeply out of context in Italy.

And Andrea Vogt reports for a newspaper in Amanda's hometown, Seattle.

SABINA CASTELFRANCO: They needed to solve the case immediately. And they announced immediately, within a week, that they had solved the case.

Although Amanda retracted her confession, it remained the basis of the prosecution case.

NICK PISA: I'll never forget they drummed that in really hard in the beginning, insisting that poor Meredith was an unwilling victim of a terrible sex crime that had been cooked up by Amanda, Raffaele and Patrick Lumumba.

BARBIE NADEAU: But Amanda was the first person to mention sex. Because she said that Patrick wanted to have sex with Meredith and that she brought Patrick into the house to have sex with Meredith, she said she heard the screams, she described the screams, she covered her ears - that's why Amanda Knox is in prison, no one was ever able to erase that to the extent that they could free her. Whether they should have or not we don't know.

REPORTER: Do you think she volunteered that information or do you think that the police believed that that happened?

BARBIE NADEAU: A homicide investigation, a homicide interrogation is not a dinner party. The conversation is never going to be some docile, "What do you really think happened?" They're trying to get a confession out of someone.

AMANDA KNOX (Translation): All of them were saying 'Maybe you are confused - maybe you should try to remember something else'.

During her first trial, speaking in Italian that she'd perfected in prison, Amanda accused police of assaulting her during the long interrogation.

AMANDA KNOX (Translation): I was there thinking 'What did I forget? I forgot something.' Okay, so I'm thinking "œWhat did I forget' They were like 'Come on, remember remember;' Pow! On my head. 'Remember'. I was like 'mamma mia!. Then pow! 'Remember'

MADISON PAXTON: Of all the people who could not handle this type of interrogation, of the friends it would be Amanda, because she's the most trusting of all of us.

Madison Paxton is one of Amanda's best friends and moved from Seattle to Perugia to be here for the appeal. Today she's meeting up with Amanda's stepfather for their weekly prison visit.

MADISON PAXTON: There's nothing that clicks about it, there's nothing in me that says oh yeah, she's a very dangerous person they should keep her behind bars.

In the end, Amanda's confession wasn't admissible in court because she didn't have a lawyer present. But Madison says her friend's reputation had already suffered - and that lurid reporting, often invented, played a key role.

MADISON PAXTON: They were quoting people as saying, I mean I can pull up exact articles for you, saying things like, literally, Amanda could not get through a single day without having shots of vodka. I have never seen Amanda take a shot of vodka. I'm sure she has, but daily? I was going to the gym and doing yoga with her daily and they're saying she can't get through the day without doing vodka or taking vodka everyday.

AMERICAN JOURNALIST: Knox, from Seattle, Washington has a chequered history. Her MySpace page shows her and her Italian boyfriend in costumes - she with a machine gun; he with a meat cleaver. The Italian press is painting Amanda Knox as what one newspaper called, "The Dark Lady of Seattle" - with an unflattering digital trail from MySpace to Youtube now being examined frame by frame.

Amanda was certainly no prude - but she was a straight A student. Her friends don't believe that two months in Italy could have turned her into the she-devil or "luciferina" that she was described as in court.

MADISON PAXTON: Is that what people do, they go to another country and they're like, "You know what I haven't tried? Murder and rape. That's on my bucket list". I mean, it's just absurd, it was so hard to take this seriously and it was so hard to respect the process because it was absolutely insane.

The process started unravelling just days after Amanda's arrest. The man she'd accused of murder - Patrick Lumumba - had a watertight alibi, and was released by police after spending two weeks in prison. The police had another problem. Meredith's murder had been violent and messy - but there was no forensic evidence to show Amanda and Raffaele had been in her room.

They discovered that these bloody fingerprints - along with DNA - belonged to this man - Rudy Guede - a small-time drug dealer and burglar who'd fled to Germany two days after the murder. Guede knew Amanda and Raffaele - and at his trial he testified they were also involved in killing Meredith. Amanda and Raffaele's supporters believe Guede -who was also convicted of the murder - acted alone, killing Meredith when she caught him robbing the house. The court disagreed.

ANDREA VOIGT: Most of the jurors and judges who've looked at this case are convinced that Raffaele and Rudy and Amanda were all present. They don't know how it went down, they don't know exactly who put the knife in her, but the confessions and all of the evidence put together has convinced multiple judges and jurors that the 3 were involved.

JUDGE (Translation): Pursuant to articles 533 and 535 of the Penal Code; the court finds Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, guilty as charged and sentences Miss Knox to 26 years in prison and Mr Sollecito to 25 years.

Amanda received a longer sentence than Raffaele or even Rudy Guede - who ended up getting 16 years. Meredith Kercher's family was relieved. Many Americans were outraged.

AMERICAN NEWS: All new - the worldwide headline shocker. An American student sentenced to 26 years for killing her roommate in Italy.

"Was she on drugs the night of this murder?"

I think the President should get involved - this is a miscarriage of justice. And I think people should boycott Italy. They shouldn't go to Italy.

REPORTER: Were you surprised when Amanda was convicted?

MADISON PAXTON: Uh uh. Not at all. I'd been to court, I'd seen the media coverage, I'd seen the public opinion, I felt we were completely screwed.

REPORTER: How many of you feel that she was proven guilty in the first trial? Beyond a reasonable doubt?

NICK PISA: In a UK court that trial would not have taken place. Because the evidence was not, I don't think was concrete enough, to convict her.

The prosecution had claimed that Raffaele's DNA was found on Meredith's severed bra clasp and that her DNA was found on a knife at Raffaele's house. But last month an independent review of the forensic evidence overturned both findings - and accused police of mishandling evidence or failing to follow proper procedure 54 times.

BARBIE NADEAU: The question is, is this a clean conviction? Is this a clean conviction? It's not. No. No matter what you think. None of us believe that. No matter whether you think she's innocent or guilty, was this a clean conviction? No.

LUCA MAORI (Translation): The burden of proof was reversed. In most western countries the burden of proof is on the prosecution. It can't be the reverse. The accused don't have to prove their innocence. In this case we were the ones who had to prove our innocence against non-existent evidence.

Raffaele Sollecito's lawyer, Luca Maori, says that in the first trial the defence was given an impossible task.

BARBIE NADEAU: In any kind of "sex game gone wrong"

Not everyone agrees. In a case that polarised opinion among journalists as well as the general public, doubts remain.

SABINA CASTELFRANCO: There is or there isn't evidence that she should be in prison then.

ANDREA VOGT: I feel that it has still not been properly explained why there are mixed traces of DNA of Amanda Knox and Meredith Kercher in 4 different spots in the house. Mixed blood, and I've talked to different biologists -

SABINA CASTELFRANCO: What are you talking about? They were living in the same apartment.

BARBIE NADEAU: I have to say, I live in a house with 3 people, my two sons and my husband, I guarantee you I have no mixed blood with any of them, anywhere in my house. I don't bleed where they bleed, we don't bleed at the same time. There would never be my mixed blood, their blood and my blood anywhere ever.

MADISON PAXTON: I don't, I don't - I don't know. It does not seem impossible to me to have a drop of your blood go into the sink.

REPORTER: It seems more impossible to imagine Amanda;.

MADISON PAXTON: Well what does seem impossible is to clean up your DNA from the murder room, what does seem impossible is to murder someone and then only have your DNA in your own bathroom. That, I dare say, is impossible.

The American and British media have travelled to Perugia for today's hearing - as they have for almost every court date since the arrests.

REPORTER: Do you think this case represents Italian justice at it's best?

BARBIE NADEAU: I think it represents Italian justice the way Italian justice works.

Many of those who've covered the trial say Amanda Knox's defence team bears a lot of the blame for her conviction.

BARBIE NADEAU: If she would have had an adequate and able defence, she'd be home right now, probably enrolling in her next university course, she'd have her own handbag line, reality TV show, or who knows what. But she wouldn't be in prison right now. She had a defence that did not defend her in the way that she needed to be defended.

But Amanda and Raffaele's family - as well as defence lawyers and even some journalists - blame the media for accepting the prosecution case at face value.

BOB GRAHAM: I think we the media, collectively have failed to ask a lot of questions.

REPORTER: Can you blame the media for reporting on information they're given by the police or prosecutors though?

BOB GRAHAM: Without question - if they report it without question if they report it when some of the things they've been told are as extraordinary as they have been in this case. There are people among the journalistic corps here who've got an awful lot to answer for. Will they ever be held to account? Probably not.

SABINA CASTELFRANCO: The reality is that none of us know what happened that night.

BARBIE NADEAU: The truth is elusive. We don't know the truth, we have no idea whether she's innocent, whether she's guilty, whether she was there, whether she wasn't, whether her false confession was actually true, we actually don't know, none of us know, whatever we believe. None of us know for sure.

YALDA HAKIM: The appeal decision will be handed down next month and Amos Roberts tells us that 50% of convictions are overturned. Go online for an interview with Amos talking about the controversial media coverage of this case.

Reporter/Camera

AMOS ROBERTS

Producer

GEOFF PARISH

Fixers

GIULIA ALAGNA

SABINA CASTELFRANCO

Editors

DAVID POTTS

MICAH MCGOWN

Translations/Subtitling

DONNA TIERI

Original Music composed by Vicki Hansen

28th August 2011