Four years ago, no one had heard of Amanda Knox. But after the brutal rape and murder of British student Meredith Kercher in 2007, the then 20 year old found herself at the centre of a global scandal, and facing life imprisonment in Italy.
But two years after her conviction and sentence to serve 26 years in prison, the shocking news that she and ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito have been found innocent is ringing in the ears of those around the world. The DNA taken from Kercher’s body and clothing at the time has now been deemed as insufficient for convicting the pair: a terrifying revelation if it is true, and perhaps even worse if this inconclusive evidence has somehow wrongfully convinced a jury of their innocence. Either two people who had done no wrong have spent the last four years of their lives in a prison cell, or the guilty are walking away scot-free from a heinous crime.
It was reported in the last few days that the Kercher family were worried that their daughter was being forgotten, with press headlines occupied by the scandalous ‘foxy Knoxy’ and her rather sordid reputation. Indeed, in times of such intrigue and confusion, it is easy to forget that at the bottom of this gruesome tale is the story of a young woman taken from her family forever. No conviction will ever rid them of that torment, but it would perhaps bring them closer to a sense of resolve and justice for the person they loved.
It seems fair to say that most were convinced of Knox’s guilt, and today’s shock verdict has brought the Italian judicial system into disrepute, with her appeal based on a number of inadequacies by the likes of the forensics who are presumed to have contaminated some of the evidence. In fact, perhaps Knox has been innocent all along (although the regularly changing alibis might have suggested otherwise) and has been living in utter hell wondering if she was to spend the rest of her days behind bars. If the reports regarding the DNA are true and there was never sufficient evidence to condemn her or Sollectio, then the damage done to them both is truly disgraceful and irreparable. I wrote a blog several months ago entitled ‘the danger of defamation,’ and this brings the notion crudely to light. Knox’s life has essentially been ruined by the case – you simply cannot lead a normal existence after getting caught up in such a horrific scandal. She may be free from the prison bars, but she will never be rid of the utter character assassination she has been subjected to in the media over the past four years.
This case also bears some similarities to that of Barry George, who was convicted of Jill Dando’s murder in 2001. Imprisoned for seven years before his acquittal in 2008, again, insufficient DNA evidence had been used to convict someone who was, in the eyes of the law, ultimately innocent. It is, quite frankly, terrifying that people can be wrongly accused and forced to live like a convict for such a huge portion of their lives, have any semblance of dignity shattered by the press and then be thrust back into the real world and expected to carry on as if nothing had happened. We can certainly never know what goes on behind closed doors, but it is worrying to think that evidence we deem to be so conclusive has been used on several occasions to wrongly convict the innocent.
Something that is also rather disturbing is the celebrity that this case has made Knox into. Just as in the case of Natascha Kampusch, an Austrian kidnap victim turned TV presenting star, the million dollar deals being thrown Knox’s way are beyond vulgar. To think that she could become revered as a celebrity for being a part of a notorious court case is disgusting, and would surely cause no end of distress to the Kercher family, who have suffered enough. Some might argue that after the torment she has faced, she at least deserves to make something out of her misery, but if she truly cared for the memory of her friend in the way she claims, one would hope she would think better of it. Ultimately, the overturning of this case has severely damaged the credibility of the courts and has left a number of families grieving – for the loss of life, for the loss of four years spent in a prison cell, and for the loss of the chance to ever lead a normal life again.