It has been a long hot summer for American murder suspect Amanda Knox, currently living in an Italian prison cell. Her parents are in the United States, her trial (she is accused of sexually assaulting and murdering her British roommate, Meredith Kercher, in November 2007) is on hold for the Italian holidays, and there is no air conditioning in Capanne Prison. Temperatures there have hovered in the upper 90s for most of August, and, like many Italian prisons, Capanne is seriously overcrowded. There are 485 detainees stuffed inside a facility built for 284. In August, nine guards suffered smoke inhalation after angry inmates started a fire and staged a mini-riot. (Knox was not among those involved, but she described the frightening incident to friends.) "You can imagine how hard it is to control these criminals who live in seven-square-meter cells when temperatures are unbearable," says Francesco Petrelli, who represents prison guards. "The situation is extremely difficult for guards, but it's worse for the detainees whose only outlet is to argue and fight with each other. It is bad for everyone."
It is hard to feel sorry for prisoners who are serving hard time for heinous crimes. But Knox is not a convict, and yet her life has fallen apart. Between the trial (which resumes Monday), the constant media blitz (she is a tabloid sensation across the Western Hemisphere), and the expenses, the experience has essentially wrecked her adulthood. Thing is, she's not alone. The collateral damage from Kercher's tragic murder now spans from Seattle to London and Bari to Perugia. Her co-defendant and former boyfriend, Rafaelle Sollecito, is also being held in prison during the trial; his lawyers say he is suffering from health issues, including depression and acute gastroenteritis from stress. Meanwhile, her parents are broke, the victim's parents are distraught, and even the lawyers who got involved with this case have come to regret it. The Knox trial is poison: nearly everyone it has touched so far has suffered irreparable psychological and financial harm.
In the two years since losing their daughter, the Kercher family may have learned the worst details about their daughter's horrific murder, but they still have no closure. The weekly court hearings only serve as a reminder of their loss. Sources close to the Kerchers say that Meredith's mother, Arline, requires heavy sedation to cope with the stress. Kercher's father, John, a journalist who has written about this case for his British newspaper, is writing a book about the case to help defray legal costs. The Kerchers have filed a civil suit for $33 million against anyone found guilty of the murder, but even if they receive a portion of that money, it will never bring back their daughter.
Then there are Knox's parents. Although they are divorced, they have offered a unified front of support for their daughter. They, too, have paid a heavy price. Knox's father, Curt, told an Italian television audience that his family is in "six-figure debt" in legal and travel bills to support Amanda in Perugia. He lost his job when Macy's department store in Seattle downsized and is currently looking for work. Knox's mother, Edda, a schoolteacher, can't take any more time off work and says she probably won't go back to Perugia until a verdict is reached. Sources close to the family also hint of feuds between Knox's divorced parents and their spouses. The family members rotate in and out of Perugia, and when they are here, they share a dilapidated car and stay in a tiny hovel outside of town. They bring canned food and ready-to-eat meals from Seattle; they are rarely seen in public except for court hearings or media appearances. They say they have exercised every available financial resource and now rely on donations to stay afloat.
But the tragedy extends far beyond the immediate families. Patrick Lumumba, the man Knox originally accused of murdering Kercher during an intense interrogation, had to close his bar, Le Chic, due to loss of business. He spent two weeks in prison in November 2007 and is suing Knox for more than half a million dollars in damages. Ivory Coast native Rudy Guede was convicted last October for his part in the crime and is serving a 30-year sentence. He admits to being at the house and says Knox and Sollecito were there too, but says he is not the one who killed Kercher. Guede's appeal starts Nov. 18, and he has hired a private investigator to help find new witnesses to bolster the case against the current defendants.
The lengthy trial, which began Jan. 16, has also provided fertile ground for legal politics. Two of Sollecito's lawyers split up their joint practice, and several paid forensics consultants have abandoned the case due to disagreements over evidence. The trial has also spawned a bizarre online subculture where bloggers bicker and anonymous posters spew vile comments and juvenile threats that often seem straight out of a South Park episode. One blogger even filed a police complaint against another in Seattle. Another blogger reportedly tried to sell nudie pictures of Knox to a British tabloid. While in Perugia, Knox's family and friends hurl insults at "tacky journalists" who dare question the defendant's innocence.
Criminal cases in Italy are generally drawn-out affairs, but this case is particularly slow and complicated because of the number of parties involved. Knox and Sollecito are charged with murder and aggravated sexual assault, which carry life sentences, but if they are convicted of lesser crimes (staging a crime scene, theft, defamation), they might not serve many years. The time they've spent in prison will be bankable against their sentence. Yet if they are acquitted of all charges against them, the emotional scars of the ordeal will likely be permanent—for everyone involved. "Meredith Kercher is the real victim of this crime," says the Kerchers' attorney Francesco Maresca. "But it is also distressing that so many other people's lives have also been destroyed."