Amanda Knox, the University of Washington undergraduate who has spent four years in an Italian prison for the murder of her roommate – a crime it would seem she did not commit – is on her way home to Seattle. As much as has been reported about this case for years, I continue to be surprised by the excesses of the Italian judicial system (especially the prosecutor in this case), the Italian media, and the Italian police, who at one point threatened to sue Knox’s father for defamation for criticizing the treatment his daughter received while in custody. Amanda, too, has been, on top of being jailed, prosecuted for slander for incorrectly placing her former boss at the crime scene (she says she did so under extreme duress and abuse at the hands of police).
I’m not an expert in international law, but I have never heard of the police in a civilized country threatening to criminally prosecute for slander the parents of an incarcerated person, or the police as a body threatening to criminally prosecute anyone – especially someone they have already put in jail – for slander. When the government can bring charges against a person, hold her in custody, as well as threaten her and her family members with criminal prosecution for even daring to criticize them or claim abuse, that sounds like way too much government power.
This week, the court upheld the slander charge against Knox, sentencing her to three years of time served. There are so many layers of absurdity to this situation I don’t know where to begin. It reinforces my gratitude to live in the U.S. You can’t get criminally charged here for making statements, as long as they are not threats. I’ve never heard of a civilized government bringing even a civil action, much less a criminal action, against an individual (much less against her father) for saying she was abused. Maybe the lesson to be learned is to be appreciative of our system.
Given the thuggish behavior of the Italian police in threatening to sue her father, I would not be surprised if Knox was indeed abused in custody. In that case, her former boss, who publicly called her some pretty nasty names after he was released (and no one was holding a gun to his head), perhaps ought to direct some of his anger toward the Italian police that coerced a confession out of Amanda that unjustly implicated him. Perhaps Amanda and her family should consider suing the Italian police, too. Then again, I suspect she’ll seek more productive outlets for her time and energy from here on out.
This bizarre case seems to have come about as a result of a perfect storm – sloppy and possibly abusive police work, xenophobia, excess on the part of an imaginative prosecutor, and above all, hysteria – on the part of Amanda, her roommates, as well as the prosecutor (who should have known better) and the media. In the initial trial, the prosecutor engaged in extreme character assassination against Knox – cherry picking facts from her past that would be deemed inadmissible and irrelevant in a U.S. court – to create a demonic persona. That biased the initial jury, causing them to ignore the plethora of evidence against Rudy Guede and the absence of any reliable evidence against Knox.
I was not one who believed it impossible that a beautiful young woman could have committed a crime like this. I’ve known some vicious women. But what was clear all along was that the overwhelming majority of credible evidence, including DNA evidence, pointed to Guede, who was separately tried and convicted. The idea that Knox and her boyfriend conspired with this drifter to commit murder in an elaborate, ritualized sex game and then coolly and ingeniously covered up the DNA evidence of their participation seemed far-fetched and unnecessary to explain what probably happened. Sometimes – usually – the simplest explanation is the correct one.
Perhaps most ridiculous, as an attorney friend pointed out to me, was that while there was the least amount of concrete evidence, DNA or otherwise, against Knox, and while she cooperated with police instead of running, it was she whom the prosecution characterized as the ringleader of this atrocious crime, a “she-devil” who bewitched two hapless males. For insight into that particular bit of creative thinking, one would have to return to the Salem witch trials or, as many have pointed out, to the middle ages.
In America, at least the police aren’t going to criminally prosecute you for speaking your mind, or forget to mention your right to remain silent.
Welcome home, Amanda.