‘There’s a spe­cial kind MON­STER thatisa WOMAN’

Twice con­victed and twice ac­quit­ted of the mur­der of Mered­ith Kercher, Amanda Knox has launched a new show in­ter­view­ing other vil­i­fied women. She talks to Mag­gie Arm­strong

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - INTERVIEW - The Scar­let Let­ter Re­ports’ is on­line now. See face­book.com/thescar­letlet­ter­re­ports

Ev­ery morn­ing when Amanda Knox wakes, she opens her phone and reads what the trolls have to say. “Like most mil­len­ni­als, I have the bad, anx­i­ety-in­duc­ing habit of grab­bing my phone in the morn­ing and scrolling through so­cial me­dia for 15, 20 min­utes be­fore I’m fully awake. That’s when I first glimpse the hate­ful com­ments that I’ve re­ceived overnight.

“If I put up a pic­ture of me with Chris and our cat I’m of­ten thrown back the fol­low­ing. ‘Mur­derer.’ ‘C***’. ‘Aren’t you ac­tu­ally guilty of some­thing?’ ‘Why are you pre­tend­ing to be in­no­cent you psy­chopath?’ ‘You get to live your life and Mered­ith doesn’t, aren’t you ashamed of your­self?’”

It is 9.30am in Seat­tle and the world’s most fa­mous ex­oneree is sit­ting on a foot­stool in her bed­room. Rat­tling off these abuses, she main­tains a de­tached tone of voice. It’s over 10 years since Knox and her then boyfriend Raf­faele Sol­lecito were im­pris­oned for the mur­der of Bri­tish stu­dent Mered­ith Kercher. Knox was twice con­victed and twice ac­quit­ted in the Ital­ian courts. Trolls are small fry to the 30-year-old who served four years in prison.

Now her name has been cleared, and another man is serv­ing a life sen­tence for the mur­der of Mered­ith, who was just 21 when her own life was taken from her. Jus­tice may be done, but Knox’s tri­als aren’t over. Some still be­lieve she is guilty, many still have ques­tions, and old wounds are re­peat­edly prod­ded, for ex­am­ple by RTE broad­caster Ray D’Arcy.

In Feb­ru­ary when she went live on his Satur­day night TV show, Knox was shown the bloody footage of the mur­der scene, then asked to ex­plain why she lied to po­lice dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the crime.

“That is an in­ter­view I’ve done a mil­lion times, that I feel like I shouldn’t have to do any­more,” she says, re­fer­ring to a false con­fes­sion she made at dawn dur­ing po­lice in­ter­ro­ga­tions, that her boss, Con­golese bar owner Pa­trick Lu­mumba, had mur­dered her friend.

“False con­fes­sions, co­er­cive in­ter­ro­ga­tion tech­niques, I’m happy to talk about those. But peo­ple who feel they are en­ti­tled to say ‘you lied to the po­lice, what’s up with that?’ Well, I did not lie to the po­lice, and if you’d done your homework you’d know that. And by the way, I’m not on trial any­more, so why are you putting me on trial?

“I think Ray D’Arcy thought he did the best job he could,” she says fi­nally. “He just didn’t think very hard, he did the very ob­vi­ous thing. It was a missed op­por­tu­nity for him.”

She still has good mem­o­ries of the five days she spent in Dublin ear­lier this year. She en­joyed the Lit­tle Mu­seum of Dublin, walk­ing Howth Head and drink­ing “too many beers” in the Cob­ble­stone and the Ha­cienda in Smith­field.

Now she is back in talk show mode, this time do­ing the in­ter­view­ing her­self. The topic? Trial by me­dia — specif­i­cally the trial of women by me­dia. Her first TV show, The Scar­let Let­ter Re­ports, is a se­ries streamed by Face­book Live and Vice mag­a­zine that ex­plores “the gen­dered na­ture of public sham­ing”.

Knox will talk to fem­i­nist trail­blazer Anita Sar­keesian, model Am­ber Rose, rape vic­tim Daisy Cole­man, ac­tress Mis­cha Bar­ton and Brett Rossi, porn ac­tress. All these women have been in some way ha­rassed and vil­i­fied by the me­dia.

She is in­ter­ested in “re­claim­ing their nar­ra­tives”, she says. “I spend less time in­ter­view­ing them and more time em­pathis­ing with them. Try­ing to of­fer con­text to their ex­pe­ri­ences, which was de­nied to them.”

Amanda Knox didn’t vote for Don­ald Trump, even though he came out in sup­port of her while she was in prison. But Stormy Daniels, the porn ac­tress who was al­legedly paid off to stay quiet about her af­fair with Trump, is of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est to her. “I am so proud of her, com­ing out and speak­ing her truth, as a woman who works in the sex in­dus­try and is con­tin­u­ously slut-shamed and de­meaned.”

Amanda Knox was 20 when she left be­hind her par­ents, step-par­ents, three younger sis­ters and Oma, her beloved Ger­man grandma, to study in Peru­gia for a few months. She was sporty and aca­demic and very “happy”, she says.

She quickly fell in love. She had been dat­ing Sol­lecito for a week when she and her two Ital­ian house­mates dis­cov­ered Mered­ith Kercher’s body in Mered­ith’s room. Knox was con­sid­ered a key wit­ness and taken in for long hours of ques­tion­ing. Un­known to her, she had be­come a mur­der sus­pect — Sol­lecito her sus­pected ac­com­plice.

The pros­e­cu­tion, led by con­ser­va­tive Catholic Giu­liano Mignini, built an elab­o­rate case against her and she was found guilty in a mas­sively pub­li­cised trial. As you might have seen in the Net­flix doc­u­men­tary Amanda Knox, the me­dia went to town on the story of a pretty girl with an evil mind. The nick­name Foxy Knoxy — given to her by

There was an in­cred­i­ble amount of anger and grief and loss and fear

her soc­cer team­mates when she was 13 — was turned against her as she was splashed across the pa­pers, de­picted as a de­praved nym­pho­ma­niac who had killed her flat-mate dur­ing a botched sex game.

“Peo­ple can take, take, take from you,” she says of that time.

“There are peo­ple whose pro­fes­sion is to do that. It’s en­ter­tain­ment at the cost of hu­man lives.”

Much of the case built against her was based on sce­nar­ios Mignini put for­ward. Only a fe­male killer could have cov­ered their vic­tim’s body with a blan­ket. Only a fe­male mur­derer would scream in ter­ror at the po­lice sta­tion as she re­lived the scene. Ul­ti­mately, foren­sic ev­i­dence proved her in­no­cence and the guilt of a poor, drift­ing Ivory Coast im­mi­grant, Rudy Guede.

When Knox was freed and put on a plane home in Oc­to­ber 2011, she then had to try to live a nor­mal life. But her nerves were frayed, her name be­smirched. “Ev­ery­one has been ac­cused of steal­ing a cookie from the cookie jar,” she says. “But to be ac­cused of mur­der? That is a very par­tic­u­lar kind of stigma.

“There were so many trau­mas I had to un­ravel. There was an in­cred­i­ble amount of anger and grief and loss and fear. I had spent years es­tranged from my cul­ture and my com­mu­nity and my friends. Then, there was be­ing on trial for some­thing I didn’t do, and on top of that, hear­ing peo­ple talk about me like I was a mon­ster, when I wasn’t. Then hav­ing the me­dia piggy-back on top of that, and profit for years from por­tray­ing me in the worst pos­si­ble light, be­cause it sold ar­ti­cles and mag­a­zines. Then on top of that, the gen­dered vil­i­fi­ca­tion.”

“All wrong­fully con­victed peo­ple are por­trayed as mon­sters,” she be­lieves. “But there’s a spe­cial kind of mon­ster that is a woman.”

She will also tell her own story on The Scar­let Let­ter Re­ports, prob­a­bly over two episodes. “I talk a lot,” she says.

She does talk a lot, in per­fect para­graphs, with a book-like ar­tic­u­lacy that can only be the re­sult of long hours spent in­doors. She reads widely — her favourite au­thor is Jon Ron­son, who wrote So You’ve Been Pub­licly Shamed — “he deals with top­ics like peo­ple whose lives have been ru­ined”. Mon­ica Lewinksy is among her dis­tin­guished friends. She likes run­ning and cy­cling and she buys her clothes in thrift stores.

Much was made of Knox’s odd­ness when she was put on trial. Her smiles in the court­room, the kiss she ex­changed with her boyfriend out­side the mur­der scene in her Peru­gian villa, the cart­wheel she did at the po­lice sta­tion.

Meet­ing her in Dublin, and over this in­ter­view, what comes across is how nor­mal she is. Talk­ing about her tri­als, she can drift into a state of al­most pres­i­den­tial self-pos­ses­sion. She is also friendly, trust­ing and gra­cious.

She spent years be­hind bars for a crime she never com­mit­ted, and still deals with prej­u­dices and those ar­mies of trolls. Peo­ple have faked her obituary. Peo­ple sneak up and take pic­tures of her in air­ports. Death threats are noth­ing new to her. You ex­pect her to be less trust­ing, but is this yet another pro­jec­tion of ex­pec­ta­tions, sim­i­lar to those pinned on her to prove her guilt?

“When you meet me and hang out with me, I might come across as a very up­beat, driven per­son,” she agrees. “I don’t come across as some­one who is wounded. One thing I learned through this process was when and where to put up a shield, and not ex­pose my­self as a vul­ner­a­ble per­son. That’s one of those prison tricks.”

In Capenne women’s prison she lived with drug traf­fick­ers, thieves and mur­der­ers. “I felt very alien­ated in that en­vi­ron­ment. I had never come into con­tact with a com­mu­nity like that. I did my best to not to smell like fear, which I con­stantly felt. “There was an ‘us’ ver­sus ‘them’ against so­ci­ety, in­so­far as ‘we’re prison­ers, we’re the ones who’ve been f ***** by so­ci­ety’. I had never been f ***** by so­ci­ety in the way that these peo­ple were.”

She used her lit­er­acy to help other prison­ers write let­ters, played gui­tar and stud­ied Ital­ian. But her ev­ery move was be­ing leaked to the press, and she could trust no­body but the prison chap­lain.

So how did she pick her­self up and re­claim her own nar­ra­tive, go­ing from 20-year old cap­tive to talk show host? “When I first came home, I was jazzed up,” she re­calls.

“But I came home to pa­parazzi, and no pri­vacy and no au­ton­omy. I did not have a voice apart from this cho­rus of peo­ple that had taken over my life and re­de­fined it in a way that was out of my con­trol.”

De­ter­mined to pick up where she left off, she en­rolled in the next se­mes­ter of col­lege, choos­ing cre­ative writ­ing. She tried work- ing in a book shop, ig­nor­ing the red-top head­lines that spec­u­lated on whether she was a psy­chopath. She was wary of strangers and even class­mates. Suf­fer­ing from post-trau­matic stress disor­der (PTSD) and panic at­tacks, Amanda’s mother pleaded with her to go to ther­apy, but the few ther­a­pists she saw weren’t re­ally up to the job. “Wrong­ful con­vic­tion, PTSD, you know, they’re kind of niche?” she says and laughs. She wanted to move on and bury her past, and she didn’t want to be known as a wrong­fully con­victed per­son. “I thought, how could it be a part of my iden­tity if I didn’t do any­thing to make it hap­pen? Then I came to re­alise that I had changed over the course of what I went through. I found that I had new per­spec­tives, and I had new com­pas­sion.”

One day her mother con­vinced her to go to a con­fer­ence put on by the In­no­cence Project (the In­no­cence Net­work works to ex­on­er­ate wrong­fully con­victed peo­ple and has projects all over the world). It was an un­usual ex­pe­ri­ence for Knox be­cause she had just been re-con­victed, in 2014, of mur­der­ing Mered­ith Kercher, and was fac­ing ex­tra­di­tion to Italy. “Part of me was like: ‘I’ve been re-con­victed, I don’t think I re­ally count. Can I go, or will they kick me out or some­thing?’”

Her heart was rac­ing when she en­tered the ball­room full of strangers, but she quickly felt wel­comed when An­toine Day and Josh Kezer ap­proached her. These are men who both spent decades in prison, wrong­fully ac­cused. “They swooped me up in this ef­fu­sive em­brace, so thrilled and so warm. They called me their lit­tle sis­ter. They told me that I was safe, and they told me that I be­longed.”

Her voice fal­ters and she seems to be cry­ing, re­mem­ber­ing this. “They knew what my fears were, what my hang-ups were. I learned that I was not alone, but I was part of a com­mu­nity. Most falsely ac­cused are poor, marginalised black men. They were peo­ple I never thought I’d be in tune with, and yet I felt in tune with these peo­ple. And it did change my life,” she says. “The thing we had in com­mon was the fact that we had borne the weight of other peo­ple’s mis­takes, and that we had never been able to de­fend our­selves.”

Her 2014 book Wait­ing to be Heard, and the Net­flix doc­u­men­tary, both present the facts of her tri­als and many peo­ple don’t now ques­tion her in­no­cence. Others — many in anony­mous cor­ners — still do. There are sala­cious doc­u­men­taries, true crime pod­casts and an ‘Amanda Knox Guilty’ YouTube com­mu­nity. Model Cara Delev­ingne played her in a film. If you go look­ing for her book on Ama­zon you come across many ti­tles. Amanda Knox, In­no­cent or Guilty?, An­gel Face, The Fa­tal Gift of Beauty and The Ma­nip­u­la­tive Mem­oir of Amanda Knox: A Crit­i­cal Anal­y­sis, which is not very crit­i­cal.

Has she read any of the books? “There are so many books I want to read in my life that I’m not go­ing to waste my time on a lot of them,” she says, but goes on to say she did read two books per­tain­ing to her tri­als, Sol­lecito’s Hon­our Bound and Mered­ith by Mered­ith’s fa­ther, John Kercher. “That was in­cred­i­bly ex­cru­ci­at­ing to read. It was mov­ing be­cause he had these beau­ti­ful mem­o­ries of Mered­ith and he was writ­ing with the deep an­guish of a fa­ther who had lost his daugh­ter. There was also this anger di­rected at me, and it was so clear that he hated me. He felt that his fam­ily was very un­seen and un­heard, and I em­pathised with that be­cause I also felt very un­seen and un­heard by him.”

These days Knox ad­vo­cates for the wrong­fully ac­cused with the In­no­cence Project, and de­scribes her­self as a jour­nal­ist, es­say­ist and public speaker. Many of her crit­ics find it dis­taste­ful that she has taken on a public role which means Kercher’s fam­ily are al­ways re­minded of their loss. For Knox, it is some­thing she feels she has to do. “I don’t think I was re­ally given a choice, once Foxy Knoxy took over my iden­tity. I was so long in the public eye, and peo­ple got to de­fine who I was. I feel I need to prove who I am and what I re­ally like, and what I re­ally care about, with the work that I do.”

She did try hid­ing, when she first re­turned from Italy. Af­ter she grad­u­ated, the edi­tor of the West Seat­tle Her­ald wrote her a Face­book mes­sage to ask if she would like to write for the pa­per, and Knox said she would do so but only un­der a pseu­do­nym.

“I very much wanted to be a writer. I couldn’t be­gin my writ­ing ca­reer the way other peo­ple did, be­cause I re­alised any­thing I put out in the world would be picked apart and scru­ti­nised and dis­sected and laughed at.”

Un­der ‘Emile Monte’, she wrote daily fea­tures on the arts and books. “It was very lib­er­at­ing, be­cause it meant I could be do­ing as­sign­ments with­out the bag­gage of my name.” Three years ago she was as­signed to re­view Chris Robin­son’s co-writ­ten novel War of the En­cy­clopaedists. She liked it so much she went to in­ter­view him. By then her own book was out, she had been fully ac­quit­ted and she was us­ing her name as a writer.

“At the end of the in­ter­view, Chris shook my hand and said ‘We should be friends’. That meant the world to me,” she says. “That he wanted to be my friend not be­cause I was Amanda Knox but be­cause I was a peer.”

To­day, Amanda and Chris are liv­ing a writerly life to­gether in their rented house, with three cats. “We’re sav­ing up for a house — it’s crazy out there. But we want to raise our kids within walk­ing dis­tance of our fam­ily.”

She has rewrit­ten her story and found some hap­pi­ness, even if on cer­tain days she feels “very sad”. She some­times fears that some­one will come and get her. “Fear of my life be­ing taken away from me, fear of los­ing ev­ery­thing I’ve been able to re­build in my life, know­ing how frag­ile the foun­da­tions we build for our­selves are.”

As for the tire­less Ital­ian prose­cu­tor Giu­liano Mignini who has been pro­moted to state prose­cu­tor since Knox’s tri­als — what would she say to him now?

“I’m an­gry at my prose­cu­tor, Mignini, and all the jour­nal­ists who de­famed me, but I’m also aware of how anger is lim­it­ing and blind­ing. I al­ways re­mem­ber that they are real peo­ple who make mis­takes,” she says kindly, but then her pres­i­den­tial tone lifts.

“If I could meet him I’d say: You were wrong about me. You can’t do any­thing about it now, but you can re­mem­ber that the next time you tar­get some­one. You thought you saw the worst in me, but you judged wrong. In re­al­ity, I saw the worst in you.”

CAUSE CELE­BRE: Amanda Knox and (far left) Mered­ith Kercher who was found dead in an apart­ment in Italy which she shared with Mered­ith. Above, Amanda’s then-boyfriend Raf­faele Sol­lecito in court, and (right) Amanda ar­rives for her ap­peal hear­ing

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