I saw the most famous house in Italy again this summer. The whitewashed Perugia cottage where University of Washington honor student Amanda Knox stabbed her British roommate Meredith Kercher to death—without premeditation, without animosity and for no particular reason, say the Italian courts. Convicted last December, Amanda has been locked up abroad nearly three years.
For me, the Amanda Knox case is as mesmerizing as ever. I still dream about it. It’s a riddle “as compelling and terrifying as any work of fiction” to quote Femme Noir’s review of Murder in Italy (Penguin: Berkley Books), my true crime book about the case. I still cover every twist and turn on my blog hosted by seattlepi.com.
There I’ll capture the third season of what Italians call “The Amanda Show.” Appeals and slander trials begin this fall. Expect paparazzi. English tabloid writers. American TV hot shots. Armed cops. Prison guards. Amanda’s friends and family. Bloggers. Print reporters. All of us, together again in court.
The truth is I’m still fascinated by this spell-binding mystery. Two beautiful girls dream of living in Italy, like so many of us. One is American, the other, British. Both are excellent students, middle-class, close to their families, good at making friends. They become roommates. On November 1, 2007, Meredith is murdered. Prosecutor Giuliano Mignini concocts a sex game gone wrong theory, laced with drug use and the occult. He accuses Amanda of killing Meredith with the help of her rich Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito and drifter Rudy Guede. An international media storm begins. All three defendants are convicted of the crime and receive lengthy jail terms. All three declare their innocence. A Florentine court convicts Mignini of abuse of office in an unrelated case, but he still calls the shots in Perugia.
This August I caught a fast train to that postcard-perfect town, where Mignini and other case celebrities stroll the Corso. The homeless “super-witness” Antonio Curatolo occupied his usual park bench in Piazza Grimana. College students were partying at Merlin’s Pub and La Tana D’Orso, but mourners no longer tied pink roses to the rails of the whitewashed cottage where the crime occurred. Police had finally removed the cigarette butts and striped crime-scene tape from the doorway. They’d stripped the yellowed brochures sent to renters, dead or in prison, from the mailbox.
In this “house of horrors,” new tenants cook supper in the upstairs flat where lovely, charming Meredith died alone, lying on her bedroom floor, gasping for breath. In the downstairs flat, where her Italian boyfriend lived, foreign students pull tables outside and hold candlelit dinner parties, enjoying the fairytale view of the Umbrian hills.
Now, the defense is pulling out all the stops, challenging the prosecution’s experts on DNA and computers. Tantalizing new witnesses have popped up. A former FBI agent, Steve Moore, promotes Amanda’s cause. She can’t even cut her hair, ala Britney Spears, without creating sizzling headlines. Movies are pending. Reporters wait for Mignini, the Houdini of the case, to present yet another surprise.
And still nobody knows for sure: Who killed Meredith Kercher? How did Amanda Knox become the prime suspect? Could she be innocent?
I hope readers of Murder in Italy will tell me what they think.
Candace Dempsey is an award-winning Italian-American journalist and travel writer. She’s written for the Chicago Tribune, Boston Phoenix and many other publications. Her adventure tales appear in Travelers Tales and Seal Press anthologies. She’s the former editor/producer of Underwire, a MSN website that Newsweek called “cheeky, nicely written, fun.” Dempsey’s favorite bookstore is Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane, her hometown.