Last week an Italian court found Amanda Knox guilty of the murder of British student Meredith Kercher. Again. Knox was first found guilty in 2009. In the almost seven years since this story broke, an industry of books, websites and made-for-tv movies has emerge to exploit - or investigate - the case of Amanda Knox. Brooke speaks to author Nina Burleigh, who wrote one of the best accounts of the Knox case, “The Fatal Gift of Beauty, The Trials of Amanda Knox."
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Last week, an Italian court found Amanda Knox guilty of the murder of British student Meredith Kercher, again. Knox was first found guilty in 2009. Two years later, an appeals court overturned the guilty verdict and, after four years in prison, Knox returned home to Seattle. This newest guilty verdict will go before Italy's Supreme Court for the final judgment, a process that could last another year. Here's Knox talking to ABC's Robin Roberts last week about how she felt when she heard the second guilty verdict.
AMANDA KNOX: I'm going through waves of emotion –
ROBIN ROBERTS: Right.
AMANDA KNOX: - as - in response to it. My first reaction was, no, this is wrong and I’m gonna do everything I can to, to prove that it is.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It's almost seven years since the story broke, and an industry of books, websites, and made-for-TV movies has emerged to exploit or investigate the case of Amanda Knox. One of the best accounts can be found in The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox, written by Nina Burleigh. The story begins in the ancient Umbrian city of Perugia, on the night of November 1st, 2007.
NINA BURLEIGH: British student Meredith Kercher was murdered in a cottage that she shared with Amanda Knox and two Italian women. Amanda Knox says she came home in the morning from sleeping with her boyfriend, the door was ajar, went in and took a shower, went back to the boyfriend's house and then said something strange had happened at my house. There were blood drops in the bathroom. The door was ajar. And she and her boyfriend called the police. The police found this poor girl's body, and Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, her boyfriend, were arrested and charged with murder.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The reporters and the bloggers were pretty much divided into two groups.
NINA BURLEIGH: The inocentiste and the culpabliste.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The first thought she was innocent, the second guilty. Your account is a telling example of trial by media.
NINA BURLEIGH: Immediately, the British media was in there, television stations from all over Italy. The police and the prosecutor were pressured to arrest somebody. Hundreds of reporters pack into the room and the prosecutor gets up and says, we have arrested Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito. We believe that they were engaged in a kind of a sex game or even a satanic rite. And then they didn't give any other information. Well, what do you do, if you’re a reporter and you hear that, especially if you work for the Italian press, where they have a whole section in the newspaper devoted to lurid sensational crimes? So what they did was they ran out the door and immediately went to look for information about these students. And what did they find? Amanda Knox had nicknamed herself “Foxy Knoxy” and had posted pictures of herself on her grand European tour before she got to Italy, holding a machine gun in a - at a Nazi Museum in Germany. There was a, a videotape of her drinking at a party in Seattle. And her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito conveniently posted a picture of himself dressed as a mad doctor and holding a meat cleaver aloft.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: There was a leaked video of 20-year-old Amanda and her boyfriend kissing outside the murder scene.
NINA BURLEIGH: What that was was as soon as this crime was known, the, the photographers in Perugia picked it up on a police radio scanner. They showed up there, and there were Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito standing outside the house while crime scene investigators were going in and out of the cottage. And they hugged and kissed. Once they were arrested, every single time this case was reported on, that little clip of video was run over and over and over again, so that it looked like they were actually making out. And the press had a field day.
I can tell you, I arrived there in 2009 assuming that I was going to be writing a book about a young woman who had basically turned into a Charles Manson. I was basing that on things that I had been reading in the press.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So let's talk about how the various media dealt with this.
NINA BURLEIGH: The differences between the way the media of Italy, the UK and the United States operate were glaring. The British tabloids presented it right away as a archetypal battle between good and evil femininity, the pure innocent British and the wild and untamed American. They basically took the prosecutor’s story and ran with it.
And when it seemed strange, when they realized there was absolutely no physical evidence linking these students to the room where this happened, but there was physical evidence linking a third man who they found in Germany who was on the lam, whose fingerprints are all over the room, whose DNA was in the body, they didn't do Journalism 101 on this guy. His name is Rudy Guede. And he basically showed up. The Perugia authorities whisked him through what they call a fast-track trial, and he was put into a cell. Reporters couldn't get to him. The Italian press didn't go around the back and ask questions about what was going on with the prosecutor and why he had created this outlandish theory, because the theory was so salacious and so delicious and so perfect for these columns in what they call the Cronaca near, devoted to salacious, passionate crimes. So they processed everything differently. And the Ameri – there are only a few Americans over there.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, there were only two initially covering the trial, right? And they were both in the “she's guilty” camp.
NINA BURLEIGH: There were two women there. They were freelancers. And one of them wrote a book, which has been optioned into a movie.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The Newsweek reporter, Barbie Latza Nadeau, wrote in one of her stories during the trial, quote, “She looks comfortable in the court room, almost as if she is playing a role, rather than facing charges of cutting Meredith's throat while Sollecito held back her arms and Guede sexually assaulted her.” I mean, that is such an indicting sentence. Why has the court of public opinion still decided against Amanda?
NINA BURLEIGH: I think there are three things going on here. One, the good girl versus the bad girl, that’s very popular in Italy. We Americans like it too. The sexist archetypes is one thing here. The other is race. And Rudy Guede, being an African- Italian, I think there's a kind of a, a sense that now if you say he did it by himself, you're being racist, in some sense.
There is another element here, besides the sexist archetypes and the race issue, and that is national pride. The Italians subscribe to something called La Bella Figura. It’s about appearance. They dress a certain way. They present themselves in public with dignity.
And Amanda Knox, hippie chick from Seattle, breaking into a downward dog in the middle of the police station, kissing the boyfriend in public, having, apparently, had a lot of sex, the Italians and the Brits are looking at this American. She seems disheveled. She says inappropriate things. And she is rather tone deaf. And I mean, that is one of the problems. She doesn't know how to present herself as authentic. It's a testament to the power of the image. She was presented from the very first day as a pretty girl with a monster inside her. That was the prosecutor's theory. And it's very hard for us to turn away from that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So is there any lesson we can take away from the trials of Amanda Knox?
NINA BURLEIGH: It’s an extremely simple crime. It was probably a break-in. This gentleman had broken into at least three houses, climbing in windows, in what he thought were empty houses and taking things. And that night, the second floor window was broken into. He was in there. Meredith Kercher came home, and there he was in the house. If you take out the satanic theory, you take out the sexist archetype, you take out national pride, you take out race and you just look at it, it's pretty clear what happened in that house. But I will say that this is not an Italian phenomenon. Prosecutors don't want to admit they made mistakes. But it's journalism's job to ask those questions. And those questions were not asked in Italy.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Nina, thank you very much.
NINA BURLEIGH: You're welcome.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Nina Burleigh is the author of The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox.