Amanda Knox Has Lost the Battle for Public Opinion

Amanda Knox is a household name in Italy, America, and the United Kingdom. Her face is immediately recognizable; her alleged crimes well known. (For those living under a rock for the last two years, she is the Seattle native standing trial in Perugia, Italy, for the sexual assault and murder of her British study-abroad roommate Meredith Kercher.) After a tedious trial that began last January, a verdict is expected sometime late Friday night or early Saturday morning. If she is convicted, she will likely get a life sentence. If she is acquitted, she'll be on the first flight back to Seattle—along with every journalist who can get a seat.

But even if she escapes a prison term, "Foxy Knoxy" (as she called herself on social networking Web sites) has already lost the battle for her image. She still has defenders, in addition to her very vocal opponents, but she will never again be able to control how she is seen. In the press, Knox is portrayed either as an angel-faced devil or the clean-cut girl next door. Few follow her case without bordering on obsession. She is the darling of Italy's front pages and the vixen of the British tabloid press. Bloggers, at least six book authors, and a high-budget British Channel 4 documentary filmmaker are harvesting her cult following for big bucks. Rumors abound that her own high-dollar book deal is in the works. There is even talk of a movie about her life. She is 22.

In spite of all that has been said about her, she is still an enigma. She is criticized for how she dresses and how she interacts with the press. (On Valentine's Day she wore a pink T shirt to the hearings with the Beatles mantra "All You Need Is Love," and she smiles and poses for the cameras each time she enters the courtroom.) The cameras even capture what she writes on her notepad. During the prosecution's closing arguments, she was cast as a "diabolical she-devil" with a lusty temper that drove her to sexual violence and murder. Prosecution witnesses spent months describing her hygiene, her love life, and her sex toy.

Knox was described as "cold" when she didn't show enough emotion. She was described as "bizarre" when she showed too much. Her home life back in Seattle has been dissected by reporters, who closely monitor her family’s behavior in Perugia. The prosecutors even created an avatar of Knox for an animated look at how she could have bashed Kercher's head against a wall before taunting the Brit and stabbing her with a knife. Knox's lawyers spent much of their final arguments describing how this case has been mistreated by the press: "She has also been tried in the court of public opinion, and we have responded with indifference," Knox's lawyer Carlo Dalla Vedova told the jury on Tuesday, despite the fact that Knox's parents have been defending their daughter through the American news networks since the trial began. "It is impossible to win the war of public opinion."

The government is waging its battle there, too, as well as in court. Last Friday, when Knox's parents arrived to support her through the final phase of her trial, they were served with legal papers advising them they were under investigation for criminal defamation because of accusations they'd made to a British newspaper that their daughter was beaten by police. (Knox's defense team never filed an abuse claim against police, despite Knox's own testimony that she was hit by officers and coerced into a false confession.) Filing a suit first is a way for the Perugian police to deny that the abuse took place and to reassure Italians that Knox's statements were not forced.

The jury in Perugia is not sequestered—and can access everything that is written, broadcast, and blogged about Knox—so Italian public opinion really matters. For the most part, the standard portrayal of Knox as a sex-crazed man-eater is a far cry from what those close to her say. On Monday, lawyers for her codefendant, Rafaelle Sollecito, defended her, describing her as open and whimsical, calling her a "naive simple girl" who "did cartwheels in the police station" when she was waiting to be questioned "because reality for her is too strong to deal with." They painted a picture of a young woman who found herself in a difficult situation in a foreign country where she had limited knowledge of the language. Her own lawyers maintain that she was coerced into falsely accusing her former boss of Kercher's murder when they pushed her to "come up with a story." They called her a victim of an investigation that was built on mistakes made early on and carried through, pointing to the fact that the forensic evidence against her is scarce, and there is none in the room where the murder actually took place. "We have countered a bombardment of mistakes and lies," said Dalla Vedova. "You can hide the truth but you cannot replace it with lies."

The truth about how and why Kercher was killed has always been the most elusive element of this case. The storylines presented by the prosecution and defense vary so much that it often seems like they are talking about two different murders. But no matter the verdict, Knox will have to play a role beyond her choosing—this time either as the murderess who got away, the victim of Italy's judicial quagmire, or the American interloper who got her comeuppance.

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