Amanda Knox: why both sides should now back off
Verdict will be worthless if it is won in the media and not in the courtroom
A WEEK from today, an appeal court in the Italian city of Perugia is due to announce its verdict in the Amanda Knox case. If, as many expect, the two judges and six lay magistrates decide to quash Knox's December 2009 conviction for murdering her English flatmate Meredith Kercher, it will bring joy and relief to Knox's family, friends and professional advisers who have argued continuously on television, in the papers and behind the scenes that the Seattle student is innocent.
However, so unrelenting has their campaign for public opinion been that, if Amanda Knox does get off, there will be a suspicion in some quarters that the Knox camp simply won a propaganda war and that the jurors were swayed by the media coverage.
The Knox family - all of whom are now gathered in Perugia for the denouement - have fought assiduously for Amanda's release. And why wouldn't they? The idea of a young woman spending the best years of her life in jail is unthinkable if, as they believe, she is not guilty.
What is troubling are the tentacles of the Knox campaign. Not only are Amanda's extended family and the Seattle-based PR agency Gogerty Marriott involved in professing her innocence, but there are many others - Knox activists, or Friends of Amanda - involved on the fringes, including a group intent on bringing down the prosecutor who won Knox's conviction, Giuliano Mignini.
As a result, the campaign for her freedom has taken on the attributes of a US election campaign. The public have had a welter of conflicting opinion and emotion directed at them, while journalists covering the case have been sweet-talked on the one hand, and threatened and attacked publicly on the other.
In Britain, the battle has been played out all year in the newspapers. In a nutshell, at the start of 2011 the general assumption was that Amanda Knox's appeal would not succeed. Even if police procedures were deemed questionable, there was too much other evidence pointing to her guilt (and to that of her then boyfriend Rafael Sollecito, who is also hoping to have his conviction quashed).
But in recent months, there has been a growing wave of conjecture that Knox could win her appeal. This has come about mainly as the result of interviews with friends and family, each interviewer inevitably returning with a positive story to tell of Amanda's confidence that she will be freed. Even the prison chaplain is praying for her release, convinced of her innocence, we are told.
This lobbying has built to a crescendo in recent days, to the extent that the Knox camp appears 100 per cent confident she will win her appeal and anyone who questions this has not got their head screwed on.
But out of nowhere the family of Meredith Kercher has suddenly begun to make the headlines.
The Kercher family thought they had found 'closure' when Knox and Sollecito were sent to jail for 26 and 25 years respectively in December 2009. Meredith had been horribly murdered, but at least they knew the killers - Knox, Sollecito, and Rudy Guede who was tried separately - had been apprehended and were paying the price.
While the Knox camp has fought its campaign for justice, the Kerchers have occasionally let it be known how upsetting they find it, complaining that Meredith's life is forgotten in the media scrum surrounding the 'angelic' Amanda. But generally the Kerchers have maintained a dignified silence.
What appears to have happened is that the Kerchers have been persuaded in recent days that Knox and Sollecito could well be set free and, if they didn't take a higher profile, it might be too late.
As a result, Meredith's mother Arline and sister Stephanie, speaking from Britain, appeared last Thursday on the influential Italian TV show Porta Porta to talk about Meredith and ask for justice.
Over the weekend, they have continued to press their case in the media. The Sunday Times reported Arline's despair at the thought of Knox going free simply because two traces of DNA could have been contaminated. But these two traces represented only a fraction of the case against Knox and Sollecito - what about the rest of the evidence that persuaded the court to find them guilty in 2009?
In the Sunday Telegraph, a fellow student of Meredith's in Perugia, Natalie Hayward, "broke her silence" to say she was convinced Knox and Sollecito killed Meredith Kercher.
She suggested that Meredith and Amanda had not been getting on as flatmates in the weeks before Meredith died. More important, she described Amanda Knox's "strange behaviour" at the police station following the discovery of Meredith's body on November 2, 2007. While Natalie and other friends were "shell-shocked", Knox seemed "a bit too OK". She also appeared to be aware of details of the murder scene to which she could not have been privy unless she had seen Meredith's body before the police found it.
Natalie had no hard evidence to persuade readers of Knox's guilt – just a gut feeling that Knox was guilty.
But then neither camp has much more to offer than conjecture and gut feelings. Perhaps both sides should now withdraw and let the jurors do their job. Otherwise there is a danger that, whatever the outcome, it will always look like a verdict won in the media rather than the halls of justice. ·
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