After 1,427 days in prison, the 24-year-old was last week cleared over the murder of Meredith Kercher. She may be free, but can she ever be the girl she once was?
Clear your mind of everything you now know about Amanda Knox. Look at the picture opposite of a carefree child, beloved by her family and friends. Imagine her as that smiling girl, getting into the same trouble most children do. Now, put that hopeful, excited, fresh-faced youngster into an 18-foot by 13-foot cell shared by three women.
Close your eyes and imagine that cell is where she will spend 22 hours a day for the next 26 years. As Amanda Knox wrote in a poem during her 1,427 days incarcerated in that Italian jail, “Open your eyes and see that when it is said I am an angel, or I am a devil, or I am a lost girl, recognise that what is really lost is the truth!” Because the truth is – whatever you choose to believe about the circumstances of the brutal murder in Perugia of British student Meredith Kercher – a young woman went to jail nearly four years ago for a crime which an Italian jury last week decided she did not commit. Instantly, 24-year-old Amanda Knox became the most talked-about woman in the world. More than 410 journalists had credentials to be at the courthouse as the verdict of her appeal was read last Monday, the same day Knox failed to fall out of the top five trending topics on Google.
However it plays out now, hers is a life irrevocably changed. Those closest to Amanda have always strenuously defended her as an intelligent, “book smart” girl; a young woman who had only just shed her teenage acne when she moved to an Italian town previously most famous for its chocolate. This was a girl, they say, who was unaware of the newly acquired beauty that has so captivated the press. Her sister Deanna, 22, says Amanda is the “kindest person” she knows. Her father, Curt Knox, 50 – a former vice president of the department store Macy’s – insists she was always a “regular kid”. Her close friend Madison Paxton describes pre- Perugia Amanda as, “A little dork who doesn’t wear matched socks.” And John Lange, a teacher at the £6,000-a-year Seattle Preparatory School where Amanda was named an “exceptional student” at the age of 13, has said: “Amanda never did anything to hurt anyone.” She was an all-rounder who sang in the choir and excelled at sports – it was her skills on the football pitch that earned her the nickname “Foxy Knoxy”, not her prowess with the opposite sex. Will she ever be any of those things again? It is, experts agree, highly unlikely.
A Life Transformed
It was a chance encounter that would seal the fate of Amanda Knox forever. In August 2007, she travelled to Italy with her younger sister Deanna to find lodgings for a term at the University for Foreigners in Perugia. Deanna spotted a girl posting a flyer advertising a house share for four people. “I went up to her, then ran to get Amanda. She was in love with the cottage,” Deanna would later explain. Amanda moved into the white-washed house on 20 September. Six weeks and two days later her housemate Meredith Kercher was found murdered there.
"This was a girl, they say, who was unaware of the newly acquired beauty that has so captivated the press"
Prior to the murder, a few weeks after settling into her room at 7 Via Della Pergola, Amanda called her mother to reassure her that she was enjoying her new classes and part-time job at the local Le Chic bar. Describing her fledgling romance with IT student Raffaele Sollecito, who she met with Meredith at a Schubert recital a week before the murder, Amanda said, “Raffaele looks like Harry Potter. He’s a nice quiet guy, really smart.” She did not, however, mention anything about his hobby of collecting knives. Amanda and 21-year-old Meredith had only known each other for five weeks, visiting bookshops and bars together. But while Amanda said she “really liked” the “fun, beautiful and smart” Meredith, her feelings were not reciprocated. Meredith found her roommate’s behaviour annoying, complaining to her sister that Amanda was untidy, “never seemed to flush the toilet” and “sang loudly all the time.”
On the night of Meredith’s murder, Amanda was due to work at Le Chic but the bar’s owner, Diya ‘Patrick’ Lumumba, texted her to say that it was quiet, so not to bother coming in. Amanda then claims to have returned to Raffaele’s flat. After dinner and smoking a joint together, the couple turned off their mobile phones for the evening. What happened during the 12 hours that followed remains unclear. Amanda said she returned to the cottage at 10.30am on the morning of 2 November, immediately noticing the front door was ajar and spotting “drops of blood in the sink.” Suspecting an intruder she fetched Raffaele, who called the police. The first two officers to arrive allowed the crime scene to become contaminated, and the door to Meredith’s blood-soaked bedroom to be broken down. Meredith was found semi-naked, with her throat cut. A post-mortem revealed evidence of recent sexual activity.
On 5 November 2007, the police arrested Knox, then 20, Sollecito, then 23, and Lumumba, then 34, who was released two weeks later without charge. On 15 November, a kitchen knife belonging to Raffaele was found at his flat with traces of Amanda and Meredith’s DNA. Four days later, a fourth suspect, Rudy Guede, then 20, from the Ivory Coast, was arrested in Germany. He is the only person to have admitted being in the house on 1 November and was sentenced to 30 years for murder. Amanda and Raffaele’s 11-month trial finally began in January 2009. The prosecution argued that Meredith had been brutally murdered during a sex game that went wrong with Amanda, Raffaele and Rudy. On 4 December 2009 they were found guilty. Amanda collapsed as her verdict was delivered, and she was led to her cell, where she was sentenced to spend the next 26 years.
Then, just short of two years and a lengthy appeal of the conviction later, Amanda Knox was dramatically cleared of murder, due to doubts about procedures used to gather DNA evidence. The slander charge against her, for accusing bar owner Lumumba of the crime, was upheld, but the judge set the sentence for that crime as the time she had already spent in prison.
Amanda Knox had her life back – except it is not a life that pre-Perugia Amanda could ever have imagined. She now faces the prospect of having to rebuild her life under an intense media spotlight, and to forever be connected with a heinous crime of which she was ultimately found not guilty. Lottery winners, Big Brother stars and tabloid kiss-and-tell girls have a hard enough time dealing with unearned, overnight stardom. It’s almost impossible to imagine how heavy a celebrity brought about by the murder of a housemate will weigh on her shoulders. All of us have an opinion on what really happened and already feel we know her, even though we have barely heard her speak, as Italian law does not usually allow television cameras in the courtroom.
"People think because you have been found innocent that you can go home and that’s the end of it but it’s not"
The reality is, only a handful of people do know who Knox really is, and even fewer can even begin to understand what she went through, why she reacted the way she did under questioning – Knox doing cartwheels didn’t help with her public perception – and what it’s really like when your life becomes a real-life courtroom drama. One person who may empathise is British nanny Louise Woodward. Nineteen at the time, she was sentenced to 15 years to life for the second-degree murder of her charge, eight-month-old Matthew Eappen, on 30 October 1997 in Massachusetts. Just as the world judged Knox, the media picked over Woodward’s nervous teenage half-smiles during her early testimony, as she was accused of shaking the baby to death. But in an appeal hearing on 10 November 1997, the conviction was reduced to involuntary manslaughter, and the sentence reduced to time served – 279 days. She has always denied the charges.
She spoke out just after her return to the UK, saying, “279 days is a long time for an innocent person to serve. When it is 279 days of agonising, worry, pain, being torn away from your family, being locked up in a prison in a strange country. Emotionally this has taken an awful lot out of everybody. The tremendous pressure and stress my family have been under has been at times almost intolerable.” She has since remained largely silent, preferring to lead her life in relative anonymity. When she did speak publicly in 2007, 10 years after her release, Louise said, “What has happened will always stay with me, I do think about it, how could I not? It’s strange but I’ve learned to live with the situation. I am really happy and I am proud that I’m happy. After everything, I’ve turned out normal. I have to say I think that is quite an achievement.”
Despite the not-guilty verdict, Amanda Knox divides opinion in a similar way to Woodward, which she will find confusing and overwhelming, says consultant clinical and forensic psychologist, Dr Naomi Murphy, who works at HMP Whitemoor. “Amanda will be feeling anxious now that she is out about the amount of people who have an opinion about her, even though people don’t know what has really happened. She may well have received hate mail and at the other end of the spectrum there is adulation.”
Private to Public
Another woman who can understand Amanda’s circumstances is 41-year-old, British mother of two, Suzanne Holdsworth. She was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2005 after being found guilty of killing her neighbour’s son, two-year-old Kyle Fisher, by repeatedly banging his head against a banister at her home in Hartlepool. Suzanne served three years before successfully winning an appeal in 2008, which concluded Kyle may have died from an epileptic seizure.
“Amanda will be a completely different person. I’m not the person I used to be. I want to go back but it’s impossible,” Suzanne tells Stylist. “People think because you have been found innocent that you can go home and that’s the end of it but it’s not. Prison changes you. It ages you. When I first came home I was on sleeping tablets as I could not sleep. When you have been locked in a room for three-and-a-half years, in a way there’s a sense of security as you know you are in your own environment and nobody can get in. I still sometimes go to bed and hear keys. You rush your food in prison because you have a set time to eat, so I still wolf down food because I got used to eating quickly.” Holdsworth comments that the fact that Amanda was sharing a room with three people only exacerbates the situation. “You are thrown into jail and you think, ‘I’m normal, not like these people who have killed or stolen.’”
Many young women would have crumbled into apathy or complete inertia when faced with a lengthy jail term that may see them missing the chance to be a mother, or have a meaningful career. But Amanda’s mother said last week that despite the stress of her daughter’s imprisonment, she “had a schedule, which she maintained.” She woke up early every morning, made coffee then went outside for a walk. She followed a rigorous schedule of push-ups and sit-ups in her cell and played with other inmates’ children during visits. She kept up her language studies and in June 2009 was fluent enough to begin speaking Italian in court. But however strong and determined she was, those 1,427 days have left Amanda with thinning locks and her frail frame is said to be proof that she struggled to eat during the countdown to her appeal. “The stress of Amanda’s ordeal may well have caused her weight loss and hair loss. You would anticipate that there would be a recovery but the only way to fix her body is to fix her emotions first,” says Dr Murphy.
"Now she is free, her media currency can only be guessed at"
Dr Murphy has witnessed the after-effects of imprisonment many times, “People don’t realise how much of your life is controlled in prison. You are locked up in your cell for a lot of the time, you have someone else telling you when you can eat and when you can shower. A lot of people who come out can struggle to make decisions for themselves. Life can be hard if there is suddenly no routine to follow and no structure, which is why continuing with your studies can be important.” This, her father has said, is exactly what she now plans to do. He told reporters she wants to complete her degree.
Now she is free, her media currency can only be guessed at. The family has already hired the services of a leading Seattle PR firm, Gogerty Marriott, to oversee bids for TV interviews, book and film deals that have been estimated to reach $10million (£6.5million). She kept a prison diary throughout her incarceration, which may now be the subject of a bidding war.
Away from the spotlight, her friends, family and even ex-boyfriend David Johnsrud, have stood by her throughout. Johnsrud has revealed that they, “talked at least twice a week for the entire time [Amanda] was in Italy.” Other friends, such as Jessica Nichols, even relocated to Perugia to ensure Amanda always had someone to see during her prison visits. Jessica, who has now enrolled at Perugia’s University herself, told Stylist, “All Amanda wants now is to be with her family.” But now she is out, she may have problems reconnecting with them in the outside world. “Someone who has been through what Amanda has experienced could end up feeling alienated from friends and family. It will have helped that she remained in contact with them but they will struggle to truly understand her ordeal. Amanda is likely to have been exposed to hard drugs, self-harm and violence during her prison stay – which is not what you would expect from your average undergraduate experience,” explains Dr Murphy.
Fear of Liberty
Forensic psychologist Dr David Nias says innocent people who suddenly find themselves thrown back into their old lives often end up suffering from a syndrome known as adjustment disorder. “It is a dramatic change in lifestyle that you are unable to come to terms with,” he explains. “Once you get over the initial relief there is often depression. You are out of prison, so you ask yourself why you are feeling so miserable but most people are exhausted. Counselling can often make things worse. In order to recover you need to forget about what has happened by returning to a relaxed way of life.”
Dr Nias says it is normal for guilt to remain – even when your name has been cleared. “Some people will recover remarkably well, others never really get over it. In an ideal world Amanda’s family would be counselled to help her overcome her ordeal.” Suzanne Holdsworth adds, “I am free, but still counting down my sentence and always thinking about what I’d be doing if I hadn’t won my appeal. I had the big party and started smiling again but inside I was dying. You just need space to take it all in.”
And this is the one thing that Amanda Knox, currently one of the world’s most controversial women, will not be allowed to do. Think of that carefree childhood picture again. The psychological impact of what she has been through means that young girl will never be the woman she should have grown up to be. Whatever you think of her – and there remain troubling unanswered questions over the murder of Meredith Kercher – the fact remains that although Amanda Knox no longer spends 22 hours a day in a tiny, shared cell, she is unlikely to ever be free of the after-shocks of her four-year ordeal.
Words: Clare Newbon. Picture credits: Rex Features.