by Natalie Finn | Fri., Sep. 30, 2016 6:00 AM
The question of who killed Meredith Kercher, a British student living in Perugia, Italy, in 2007, was seemingly answered, if not right away, then in due time.
American student Amanda Knox, one of Kercher's roommates, was convicted of the murder—as were the Italian man Knox had been dating at the time, Raffaele Sollecito, and Rudy Guede, a man originally from Ivory Coast who Kercher had met at their neighbors' place downstairs.
But their arrests and that trio of guilty verdicts was only the beginning—and it's doubtful that Amanda Knox, a new documentary that started streaming on Netflix Friday, will be the end.
"There are those who believe in my innocence and those who believe in my guilt. There is no in-between," Knox says in a voiceover during the film. "If I'm guilty, I'm the ultimate figure to fear, because I'm not the obvious one. But, on the other hand, if I'm innocent, it means that everyone is vulnerable, and that is everyone's nightmare. Either I'm a psychopath in sheep's clothing, or I am you."
That's quite the choice she's laying out for us.
Knox had already spent two years in an Italian prison—and, as she has described it, what sounds like anyone's version of a personal hell—by the time she and Sollecito were convicted of murder and sexual violence in December 2009. She was sentenced to 26 years in prison and Sollecito 25 years. Knox sobbed when the verdict was delivered.
AP Photo/Luca Bruno
"We are extremely disappointed in the verdict rendered today against our daughter," Knox's family said in a statement at the time. "While we always knew this was a possibility, we find it difficult to accept this verdict when we know that she is innocent, and that the prosecution has failed to explain why there is no evidence of Amanda in the room where Meredith was so horribly and tragically murdered.
"It appears clear to us that the attacks on Amanda's character in much of the media and by the prosecution had a significant impact on the judges and jurors and apparently overshadowed the lack of evidence in the prosecution's case against her."
Guede, convicted in 2008 of sexually assaulting and killing Kercher while "acting with others," had already been sentenced to 30 years in prison.
But Knox and Sollecito appealed, and both were found not guilty in an appellate court trial in 2011. Prosecutors didn't give up either, though, and the pair were convicted again in 2014—though by then Knox, sentenced to another 28 years in prison, was long since back in the United States. Sollecito, however, was in Italy and was once again taken into custody.
Finally, in March 2015, Italy's highest court—the Court of Cassation—vacated both convictions, determining there were "stunning flaws" in the investigation. In June 2015, Knox was charged in absentia of slandering the Italian police. On the flip side, the European Court of Human Rights this past May agreed to investigate Knox's claims that her human rights were violated during the course of the investigation into Kercher's murder.
TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images
Meanwhile, Guede's sentence was reduced to 16 years on appeal in 2010—and, while he's eligible for parole in 2018, he filed a request for a new trial just last month. He has always insisted he was innocent.
He said earlier this year in an interview that aired on the Italian series Madelette Storie that, after getting close with her at a club, Kercher had invited him over on the night of Nov. 1, 2007—All Saints' Day in Italy. They fooled around, but didn't have sex, and Kercher complained about Knox, he said. Guede said he had eaten a kebab that didn't agree with him and, while he was in the bathroom for at least 10 minutes, he heard Knox's voice and then a scream "louder than the music from my headphones."
He left the bathroom (infamously forgetting to flush the toilet) and said that he saw a man—he didn't disagree with documents saying it was Sollecito but never ID'd Knox's boyfriend himself—and he was "101 percent certain Amanda Knox was there." After the pair left, Guede said on the show that he went into Kercher's room and tried to stop the bleeding around her slashed throat with towels—and then he fled out of fear. Not just the scene, but the country. He said he picked Germany because that's where the next train was going.
As it was later determined, however, first he went home, washed his hands, changed his clothes and went to a nightclub. And then a pub. The next night, Nov. 2, he went out dancing again and then, in the wee hours of the morning, left for Germany.
While Guede's conviction stands, much like the case of the unsolved killing of JonBenét Ramsey, there's still a sense of unease swirling around the Kercher murder case, which is closed and yet…not.
So much information presented by the police, the court, the media and everyone in between—but also so many distorted observations and flat-out assumptions. So many things to this day that still don't make sense.
That could be because, from the beginning, the circus far outshone the evidence as far as the investigation went. Everyone knew the name "Amanda Knox," but a lot of people may have been hard-pressed to name the victim, Meredith Kercher.
"Mez has been forgotten in all of this," her sister, Stephanie Kercher, said in the TV documentary Is Amanda Knox Guilty? that aired after Knox and Sollecito were re-convicted in 2014.
"Everything that Meredith must have felt that night. Everything she went through," Stephanie said. "The fear and the terror and not knowing why. She didn't deserve that. No one deserves that." (Amanda Knox director Rod Blackhurst said on Today that the Kerchers didn't want to talk to them for the film, making it "clear that every time they have to talk about this it's reexamining this wound.")
For a year leading up to their trial, everything reported on Knox and Sollecito carried a tinge of the salacious. Foreign student brutally murdered! Lovers arrested! The devious American girl and her Italian boyfriend smoked pot—and had sex! And he was hardly her first! Was this a ritual killing, a sex game gone wrong? Obviously Knox made Sollecito and Guede do it with her manipulative, seductive ways. So much blood, so much brutality.
It was practically the Manson family all over again.
And yet the Court of Cassation, which in itself sounds ripped from a page penned by J.K. Rowling, would rule eight years after the murder that Knox and Sollecito's guilt or innocence probably could have been definitively determined in 2007 if the authorities' investigation hadn't been so inept.
Not a turn of events that would satisfy anyone looking for definitive answers.
"The international spotlight on the case in fact resulted in the investigation undergoing a sudden acceleration," the judges also concluded.
During Knox's trial, tabloids referred to the defendant as "Foxy Knoxy"—a once-innocent nickname taken from her MySpace page—or, as one Italian paper wrote, "Luciferina with the face of an angel." The scene of the murder was dubbed "The House of Horrors." They perpetuated prosecutor Giuliano Mignini's theory that Kercher's murder was a case of "extreme sex" gone wrong.
Police found Kercher's body around midday on Nov. 2, 2007, the flat's open front door and smashed window seemingly crying burglary but later determined to be staged. Kercher's bedroom door was locked and she was half-naked, her blood-stained bra cut to shreds and tossed aside. Guede had said Kercher was fully clothed when he ran off and he left her bedroom door open.
Knox would later say she had come home that morning after spending the night at Sollecito's and seen blood on the bathroom floor, but assumed one of their two other female roommates had cut herself. She said the unflushed toilet seemed to indicate she wasn't alone.
It's fairly indisputable that Knox and Sollecito's behavior after Kercher was killed was strange and raised some red flags: Why couldn't they get their stories straight? Why didn't Knox call the police when she saw blood in their bathroom, Kercher's door was locked and she couldn't reach her on her cell phone? Instead, Knox apparently went back to Sollecito's place and casually told him about what she observed. (Sollecito says he called police—police would later say he called, but only after they had already arrived at Knox and Kercher's place to look for the owner of two abandoned cell phones found in a nearby garden, which turned out to be Kercher's.)
The day after the murder Knox and Sollecito were captured on CCTV kissing and buying underwear at a trendy boutique called Bubble. The store handed the tape over to Mignini, who had the couple's cell phones tapped. The next day, Nov. 4, the couple were seen laughing in the police station waiting room.
"If [the police] ask me to stay on over Christmas, I'm going to ask someone for help…I can't stay at their beck and call forever," Knox told a friend over the phone, according to Vanity Fair, which obtained a copy of the transcription of her cell phone calls. She was also overheard at the station complaining, "They treat me like a criminal."
Knox and Sollecito were arrested four days after Kercher's body was found.
The new documentary Amanda Knox effectively points out that the tabloids—with help from Italian authorities—entirely skewed the reality of the situation at the time, gleefully painting Knox as a sex-crazed, soulless weirdo and printing every iota of information that came along, including a list of Knox's sexual partners that she gave under duress, when she was lied to about having HIV while in prison awaiting trial. Journalist Nick Pisa, who helped lead the media charge against Knox at the time, candidly talks in the film about his efforts to get a leg up on the story using whatever means possible.
Just like her phone calls, Mignini ordered all of her conversations in prison to be taped as well. She was questioned outside the presence of a lawyer, the detectives giving her the stereotypical lawyers "just make things worse" business. Investigators slapped her in the head during their efforts to extract a confession.
"From brilliant student to cold man-eater," a Perugian paper described her.
Adding to the murkiness of her version of events, at one point during questioning she claimed the owner of the bar where she worked part-time , Patrick Lumumba, had killed Kercher—but none of his DNA was ever found at the scene, plus he had a solid alibi. Yet Lumumba spent 14 days in jail too.
Sollecito, meanwhile, was telling investigators various reminiscences of that night, ultimately settling on the too-stoned-to-really-remember excuse.
Sollecito's DNA was found on the metal clasp of Kercher's bra (analysts later disputed that it was a usable trace) and his fingerprints were on the outside of her bedroom door (he said that was because he had unsuccessfully tried to open it). Guede's DNA was all over Kercher's body and he left a bloody fingerprint on a cushion in her bedroom.
Guede, having been arrested in November, was finally extradited from Germany on Dec. 6, 2007. He and Sollecito insisted they never met, although another entirely reckless tabloid theory was that Knox had orchestrated some sort of orgy scenario for all four of them and then got the two men to kill Kercher.
A kitchen knife found in Sollecito's house had Kercher's DNA on the blade—and neither could explain why it was there. VF would report, however, that multiple sources said the knife blade was inconsistent with the wounds.
As the high court and a handful of independent experts would later determine, the collection, handling and analysis of forensic evidence in the case was tantamount to a joke.
AP Photo/Andrew Medichini
Overall, from her arrest to her release in October 2011 after being acquitted on appeal, Knox spent almost four years in prison, much of it alone because she was kept isolated from the rest of the population.
Though the contradictions persisted, between what Knox wrote in the diary she kept in prison and what she wrote in her 2013 memoir, to how she insists she was feeling at the time to how she outwardly acted according to numerous accounts, that doesn't excuse those who seized on the she-wolf narrative drummed up by those trying to convict her—and those trying to sell papers.
The case became all about Knox and her perceived hold over Sollecito, and as she became a different kind of victim (of the burgeoning 24/7 online media cycle, of an overzealous prosecutor), the possibility of true justice for the real victim—Meredith Kercher—moved further out of reach.
"We have so many things to say to each other," Sollecito told the Italian magazine Oggi upon his release in 2011. "We spent four years in a circle of hell, we suffered unspeakably and it ruined our lives." He said that he and Knox, who was back home in Seattle, still spoke on the phone and wrote to each other every day.
More recently, however, Sollecito's preferred narrative is to reiterate that he and Knox had barely been dating for a week before they were lumped together for posterity.
In Knox's 2013 book about her experience, Waiting to Be Heard: A Memoir, she wrote about contemplating suicide while behind bars, but Sollecito did help her make it through that painful time.
Knox, who knew she was going to be retried for the crime, talked about the unfairness of being judged so harshly in the media, and by Italian authorities, from the beginning.
"I find it incredible that despite an absolute lack of evidence that connects me to this murder, I am still being judged based upon unrealistic and unreasonable expectations about how a young woman would react to a horrible situation," she told CNN's Chris Cuomo while doing press for her book.
"No one knows how they would react to a horrible situation until it happens to them," she added. "I have cried. I have been angry. I have been scared. And these were all things...that I have shown, that have come out of me."
And the moving on with her life has continued, though to this day she's still adjusting to her reality post-exoneration. For one thing, Knox seems to feel the right person remains behind bars.
"I'm upset by the fact that Guede has never shown any remorse and hope that whoever granted him permission did so only as part of a social reintegration program," Knox, speaking from the U.S., told La Repubblica in May after Guede was granted 36 hours of release from prison for good behavior.
Knox got engaged last year to Seattle musician Colin Sutherland; it's unclear when they split up but she's now dating writer Christopher Robinson, who's been spotted with her in New York this week. She and Sollecito, who as of last year had a serious girlfriend, seemingly remained on good terms, though, and she called to congratulate him when the high court cleared them for good in March 2015.
"I am obviously very happy for Amanda, since I knew from the start that she had nothing to do with it and I believed in her innocence," he told People at the time. "But now it is time to move on. I no longer want this tragedy to tie us together."
ABC News/Good Morning America
Sollecito embarked on a job as a true crime reporter in Italy earlier this year. Knox, meanwhile, been doing press ahead of the documentary release.
"I think I'm trying to explain what it feels like to be wrongfully convicted—to either be this terrible monster to be just a regular person who is vulnerable," she said on Good Morning America yesterday. "What I'm trying to convey is that a regular person like me, just a kid who was studying abroad who loved languages, could be caught up in this nightmare where they're portrayed as something that they're not."
Knox too acknowledged that it was Kercher who had been shamefully forgotten in this whole mess.
"That's the really sad part about this tragedy is that as soon as the prosecutor made it about, 'It has to be Amanda, it has to be Amanda,' they took away the fact that this case is about her and what the truth was about what happened to her," Knox said.
"She's been lost in all of that, but that doesn't change the fact that we have also an obligation to everyone that could potentially be innocent to find out the truth for the sake of the victim."
If Guede's petition for a new trial is granted, it's Nov. 2, 2007, all over again for investigators. And the number of convictions will still stand at five—but ultimately amount to zero.
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