Waiting to be Heard – Amanda Knox
If you followed nothing of the Meredith Kercher murder case in Perugia, Italy, in late 2007 or the Amanda Knox/Raffaele Sollecito trials, appeals and, ultimately, acquittal that followed over the subsequent four years, Knox’s new memoir, Waiting to be Heard, provides both a reasonable outline of events and a useful corrective to the appalling yellow journalism that accompanied the case (especially on the part of Italian and British journalists, who spent the better part of those years sullying themselves with innuendo, sexism, and plain old American-bashing).
If you were a follower of the case, conversely, you’re unlikely to learn anything from Knox’s book that you did not already know.
All in all, Waiting to be Heard is neither especially gripping nor notably eloquent, but it does bear all the earmarks of having been edited with extreme precision. Given that the publisher paid Knox $4 million, it’s not surprising that they took good care with her book, nor is it surprising that a manuscript that must have passed through the hands of a dozen lawyers on both sides of the Atlantic is both frustratingly vague (about matters that matter a great deal) and oddly detailed (about matters that are essentially trivial).
Knox is least interesting when she’s recounting her day-to-day life in the prison where she spent just over four years. Her experience there was miserable, tragic, dehumanizing, and spiritually numbing — in other words, just what you’d expect incarceration to be, especially if you believed you were wrongly convicted. Aside from that, reports of pettiness among prisoners or cold-heartedness on the part of the guards are wearisome and uninformative. Knox clearly needed to pad out the middle third of the book in which, essentially, she does nothing other than waste years of her life waiting for the Italian legal system to move.
She does revive herself in the final chapters, at the point at which her legal team scores a rare victory that allows crucial DNA evidence to be re-examined and, ultimately, thrown out as worthless. From that moment through the chapter describing her and Sollecito’s acquittal in October 2011, she writes as though she has something at stake.
The reason to read this book, of course, isn’t its style, but rather to find out what it reveals about Knox’s guilt or innocence. The answer is: if you already have a strong opinion, Waiting to be Heard isn’t likely to change your mind one way or the other.
Personally, I’ve never understood how anyone can fail to recognize – based on the actual evidence as it is known to us – the doubt that exists regarding whether Knox committed the Kercher murder (either alone or with someone else). It’s not just reasonable doubt, it’s massive. Still, the release of the book, which ironically coincided with the Italian Supreme Court’s March 2013 decision to overturn the acquittal, appears to have swollen the ranks of both colpevolisti (“pro-guilt”) and innocentisti (“pro-innocence”) factions.
All of that said, it’s fair to admit that the main sensation produced by Waiting to be Heard is a nagging ambivalence. On the one hand, it would be difficult to read this book and come away thinking that any untainted evidence existed to link Knox to the murders (anyone who paid attention to evidence could have come to the same conclusion without reading the book).
Knox treads somewhat lightly on the matter of evidence, however, and those expecting her to explain her defense and refute her accusers detail-by-detail will largely be disappointed; here’s where her lawyers likely wore out their blue pencils. (At the least, one might have wished for Knox’s response to the conclusions of the so-called “Massei Report,” the findings and “motivations” of the lead trial judge, Giancarlo Massei, in sentencing her and Sollecito to 26 and 25 years, respectively, in 2009. In more than 400 pages, Massei painstakingly reviews the forensic evidence — and then presents a reconstruction of the murder that is very nearly, as they say in Italian, fantascienza — science fiction.)
On the other hand, one has the vague sensation in reading Waiting to be Heard that Knox isn’t always precisely telling the truth either. Or rather, with plenty of time to think things over, she has created over-elaborate explanations for behavior that doesn’t need much explanation while simultaneously glossing over behavior that any reasonable person would find curious.
I use the word “curious” deliberately because in no case would the answers to these questions point definitively to guilt or innocence. Still, the way Knox treats these matters renders her position precarious. Here’s one small example: On the morning after the murder, Knox comes home briefly to shower and change clothes. She sees a few drops of blood on the faucet of the bathroom sink and what seems to be a pale, watery bloodstain on the bathmat; she notices feces left in the toilet. She showers and leaves again – but does nothing about any of these things. She doesn’t rinse the blood off the faucet, she doesn’t put down a clean bathmat, she doesn’t flush the toilet.
That is odd behavior. It would be one thing if she’d simply said, “Yes, I’m an enormous slob,” or admitted to thinking what most 20-year-olds would probably think: “I didn’t make this mess, so I’m not cleaning it up.” But she doesn’t say any of those obvious things, not even more than five years later. (And, in fact, if she had cleaned up, it would certainly have been used against her.) Rather, she seems unable to make clear why she did what she did.
Whatever happened, the question becomes: what does Amanda’s behavior prove? Or put it this way: If you think she’s a murderer, what does it mean that she didn’t clean the bathroom or flush the toilet? If you don’t think she’s a murderer, what does it mean that she didn’t clean the bathroom or flush the toilet?
Colpevolisti and innocentisti don’t need much reason to come to fisticuffs over their interpretations of details such as these. Indeed, the whole case is a morass of details that allow almost any tale to be spun (consider Massei’s reconstruction, for example), though no one (or no ten) of them may actually be diagnostic (or even necessarily indicative) of guilt or innocence.
What people seem to believe, however, is that such details reveal character, and it is on the basis of Knox’s presumed character that most colpevolisti hang their insistence on her guilt (the unbalanced and frightening nutters who frequent the “Perugia Murder File” blog and its forums are holotypes of the species). Knox’s painstakingly measured, occasionally toneless prose in Waiting to be Heard may be a response to that reality more than to anything else.
The Italian legal system, meanwhile, comes across just as badly as it deserves to do in Waiting to be Heard, and anyone familiar with the most basic constitutional protections afforded the accused in the U.S. will be shocked at the number of factors that would likely have caused this case to be thrown out of an American court even before it got started (never mind the DNA evidence; consider only these two issues: 1) the fact that Knox was interrogated repeatedly and at length without an interpreter and without a lawyer in the first few days after the murder, though she did not yet speak Italian well enough to participate meaningfully in those interrogations and was then brow-beaten into signing written Italian “summaries,” which she could not read, of what she had supposedly said; and 2) prior to trial and during appeals, the prosecution stonewalled, waffled, delayed, and sometimes outright refused to share evidence with the defense; discovery rules, among many other things, aren’t the same in Italian trials).
In other words, we don’t even have to arrive at the question of guilt or innocence to conclude that the prosecution blew its case and that damning evidence (the so-called “confession,” e.g.) should never have been considered. We don’t have to decide guilt or innocence to recognize that the prosecution’s failure to share evidence meant that the defense was hampered in its ability to develop exculpatory analyses. (In the interest of accuracy: the confession was technically excluded from the criminal case, but remained part of the civil case against Knox – which was tried simultaneously, in the same courtroom, with the same jurors, and in front of the same judge. The confession was, in addition, immediately leaked to the press and reported in every detail.)
Then there’s the issue of Knox’s and Sollecito’s motive: there isn’t one. Or, rather, one has two choices. Either one must believe that the penny-dreadful fiction of a “drug-fueled sex game gone awry” is more likely than innocence, even when no uncontroverted physical evidence exists; or one must believe, as a member of the prosecution actually argued, that motive is irrelevant because young people today engage in violence for no reason.
But let’s suppose that Knox was high on the night of the murder and genuinely has no clear memory of what she and Sollecito did, at what time, or in what order. She does admit to having smoked marijuana that night – and in her memoir gets off the much-quoted line that “marijuana is as common as pasta” among students in Perugia.
In fact, marijuana isn’t the only drug that’s as common as pasta in Perugia – and I say that as someone who attended the same university as Knox (two years before she arrived) and who lived among the same kinds of young students. Narconon International describes Perugia as a “Disneyland of drugs” and “one of the largest drug markets of Italy,” and the Italian press has widely reported that Perugia is a crossroads for Italian drug trafficking and distribution as well as for the laundering of drug money; in February of 2012, then-MP Gianpiero Bocci noted that deaths by drug overdose in Perugia were “six times higher than in the rest of Italy” (“Droga/ Bocci (Pd) Interroga Il Ministro Sulla Situazione Di Perugia.” Umbrialeft.it, 9 February 2012).
But Knox can’t say that. If she was so high (on whatever) that she can’t remember exactly what she and Sollecito did on the night of Kercher’s murder, then she was too high to claim to have much of an alibi, and maybe she was too high to remember murdering someone.
This last, naturally, is movie-of-the-week nonsense. Leaving aside people who are actively psychotic, the murderer who commits his crime and then has absolutely no memory of it whatsoever is extremely rare, but Italian police exploited this preposterous fancy when they first interrogated Knox, convincing her that she must have been suffering from amnesia or “traumatic memory loss.” (The police failed to record those conversations, so what she actually said will never be known.)
Knox came to her senses quickly enough and attempted to recant, but it was too late. Meanwhile, the police never tested Knox or Sollecito for drugs after their arrest, although the prosecution’s case, as dramatically extrapolated by chief prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, hinged on the notion that the crime was committed in a “drug-induced frenzy.” In other words, every time Mignini mentioned drugs, he did so knowing that no proof existed of the allegation.
But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Knox did savagely kill someone and then “forget” about it as a result of drugs or temporary amnesia or “traumatic memory loss.” It’s one thing to have “traumatic memory loss” or drug-induced amnesia; it’s another thing to have “traumatic memory loss” or drug-induced amnesia and to be unconnected in any way to the crime scene by untainted physical evidence or by reliable witnesses (the prosecution’s main eyewitness was a homeless heroin addict whose memories of the night of 1 November were, to put it mildly, highly variable).
And that brings us back, once again, to the reason why Waiting to be Heard will change no one’s mind. In the court of public opinion, just as in the actual court that Knox was tried in, facts are less important than speculation, insinuation, and ad hoc storyboarding.
Massei, for example, justified his verdict by means of this reconstruction: On the night of 1 November, Meredith, Amanda, and Raffaele were together at the house on via della Pergola. Meredith was in her own room. At some point, Rudy Guede (convicted of Kercher’s murder in a separate trial) came to the door; Amanda, who barely knew Guede, and Raffaele, who didn’t know him at all, let him in. Guede went into the bathroom, and Amanda and Raffaele left him unattended in the house while they went into Amanda’s room to have sex. Guede exited the bathroom, saw the two of them having sex, and “giving in to his sexual urges,” entered Meredith’s room (the door of which, on the basis of no evidence, the judge concludes must have been open — even with a stranger in the house and Knox/Sollecito making out in Amanda’s room, the door of which must also have been open for Guede to see them) and tried to force her into sex. She loudly refused, and Amanda and Raffaele, hearing the commotion, went into Meredith’s room. At that point, rather than help her repel the attack, they “resolved to participate in an action aimed at forcing the will of Meredith,” a choice that was the result of “extreme evil” occasioned by the “consumption of drugs which had happened also that evening, as Amanda testified.”
Sure, that might have happened. By why is that explanation — which carefully avoids any mention of motive other than “drug-induced evil” — more likely than another scenario in which Knox and Sollecito were not present and Guede acted alone or with unknown others? (Unidentified male DNA was also found in Meredith’s bedroom.) Why is it impossible that Meredith allowed Guede into the house on her own? (The answer is always the same: She would never have done that. Why would Amanda have let him in? The answer is always the same: It’s the kind of thing she would do. This is not evidence.)
Just as one index of how deeply Mignini’s and Massei’s version of events has penetrated, 80% of Italian respondents in a March 2013 online poll conducted by the Italian pop-culture magazine, Panorama, insisted that Knox and Sollecito were guilty. In fact, the Knox/Sollecito case clearly tapped latent anti-Americanism among Italians, which the press both reflected and stoked. Nothing but a kind of horror can come from contemplating the Italian media’s sheer delight in constructing an image of Knox as a wily sexual predator, a drug-abusing wanton, a succubus capable of bewitching a putty-like Sollecito into participating in a rape.
The colpevolisti of the Panorama poll are undoubtedly of the same mentality as the Italians who stood outside the courthouse in Perugia when the acquittal was announced on October 3, 2011, angrily chanting, “Shame! Shame! Shame!”
They have no more evidence than anyone else does. But what they do have is a profound distrust of their legal system, a sensationalist press that long ago gave up any pretense at objectivity, and an ambivalence about Americans that reveals itself in the most unexpected ways.
Knox is too polite or too politic to say any of that in her book. I consider those to be thoughtful demurs for someone (still) on trial for a murder there is every reason to believe she didn’t commit.