Demonised as a sex-driven killer but police case was pure myth
SHE-DEVIL. Witch. Dominatrix. Venus in furs. Rarely can a defendant have been subjected to such an unbridled courtroom character assassination as Amanda Knox, a siren who could apparently entice a virtual stranger to commit murder with her hypnotic sexual charms.
Over the past four years, the Italian legal system has served up a steady diet of salacious, sensational claims about the American's "demonic" sex life that allegedly held the key to the brutal murder of her flatmate, Meredith Kercher. It has made Ms Knox (24) the most infamous woman on the Continent and the subject of books, a feature film, television debates and newspaper articles the world over.
But last night an appeal court jury decided that the portrayal of "Foxy Knoxy" as a manipulative, malevolent killer was nothing more than a myth that had been invented, and then perpetuated, to distract attention from a seriously flawed police investigation.
Having cleared her of any part in Ms Kercher's murder, the jury cast Ms Knox and her ex-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, in the role of victims in a case that destroyed lives on both sides of the Atlantic.
Ms Knox's father, Curt, has described his daughter's ordeal as "a failure of the Italian judicial system and . . . Italy as a whole", while Ms Knox herself said in her final address to the jury yesterday: "I have never faced so much anger before . . . I have been in this nightmare and I have never woken from it."
Her "nightmare" began within four days of the discovery of Ms Kercher's brutalised body in her bedroom in Perugia on November 1, 2007. Police made up their minds that the British student had been killed during a "satanic" sex orgy involving Ms Knox, Mr Sollecito and the owner of a local bar.
"All three participated in this crime," the local police chief, Arturo de Felice, dramatically announced. "The motive was sexual and the victim rebelled."
But over the past four years the case against Ms Knox has steadily fallen apart.
Ms Knox's acquittal had seemed inevitable from the moment DNA evidence linking her to the possible murder weapon was found to be hopelessly unreliable. Her parents, who mortgaged their homes to pay her €585,000 legal fees, always believed that the case should have been thrown out. Yet Ms Knox had struggled to explain inconsistencies in her evidence.
Ms Kercher, an exchange student from Coulsden in Surrey, was found dead by police who had been called by a neighbour who had found the Briton's mobile phones in her garden.
Ms Kercher's body lay on her bedroom floor in a pool of blood, largely covered by a duvet and naked except for a T-shirt pulled up around her armpits. Her injuries suggested that she had been forced to kneel, with her face pushed into the floor, and raped at knifepoint before being killed by a combination of strangulation and three deep stab wounds to her neck.
When police began interviewing Ms Kercher's flatmates, they were alarmed by the behaviour of Ms Knox, who performed cartwheels and did the splits while waiting to be questioned.
Where her friends had been distressed, Ms Knox seemed detached, cold even.
When detectives found text messages on her phone to Patrick Lumumba, the owner of the bar where she worked, she admitted she had been in the flat when Ms Kercher was murdered, and heard her scream after Mr Lumumba went into the bedroom with her. He was arrested, as was Mr Sollecito, whose shoes appeared to match a bloody footprint at the scene.
Ms Knox was also arrested and promptly withdrew her statement, saying it had been made under duress. Instead, she said she had spent the night with Mr Sollecito at his flat, but he could not remember if she had been with him.
Furthermore, mobile phone records suggested they had both been in the vicinity of the murder scene and had turned off their phones for about three hours at around the time Ms Kercher was thought to have died.
Case closed, as far as Mr de Felice was concerned: Ms Knox had not only been involved in the murder, but had instigated it, leading the two men on what would later be called "an unstoppable crescendo of violence" partly to get revenge on Ms Kercher, who had criticised her promiscuity and hygiene.
Then, a fortnight after the murder, DNA samples from the scene were matched to Rudy Guede, a drifter and drug dealer known to carry a knife, and showed it was he who had raped Ms Kercher.
Guede, who had fled to Germany after the murder, was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in jail (reduced to 16 on appeal) in 2008. Mr Lumumba was declared innocent and Ms Knox's legal team assumed that the charges against her would be dropped after Guede told a friend that she was not in the flat at the time of the murder.
But two pieces of forensic evidence appeared to link Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito to the scene. A 6.5in kitchen knife taken from his flat had Ms Knox's DNA on it and evidence of Ms Kercher's DNA on the blade. In addition, a clasp from Ms Kercher's bra had Mr Sollecito's DNA on it, which seemed to prove his involvement.
However, Ms Knox's defence said the sample on the knife blade could not be attributed to Ms Kercher with any certainty and the knife did not match a smear at the murder scene nor two of the three stab wounds. The bra clasp had not been found until seven weeks after the murder, during which time it had been scuffed.
Both sides relied on startling rhetoric to make their case to the jury when the case came to appeal.
Mr Lumumba's lawyer described Ms Knox as "a diabolical, satanic, demonic she-devil" who "likes alcohol, drugs and hot, wild sex".
As Curt Knox put it after her conviction, "the attacks on Amanda's character . . . overshadowed the lack of evidence in the case against her".
As the jury decided last night, behind all the mud-slinging lay a truth that the Italian justice system struggled to accept: the police had simply been wrong. (© Daily Telegraph, London)