Amanda Knox: 'People love the idea of a monster'
When Amanda Knox enters a coffee shop in Seattle, she just wants a cup of coffee.
Sometimes that’s what happens.
“This morning it was just fine. No one recognized me or made a big deal, no one asked to do a selfie with me,” Knox said with a laugh. But that’s not always how it goes.
Knox became known internationally in 2007 when she was arrested for the murder of her British roommate, Meredith Kercher.
She was studying in Perugia, Italy, at the time. She and her Italian boyfriend were convicted of the murder and spent four years in an Italian prison before being acquitted of murdering Kercher. A charge for falsely accusing her boss, an African immigrant, was upheld, however. She spoke with KUOW’s Bill Radke about what she says led her to blame that man. The case was sensational, rife with theories about a sex game gone wrong, and the media spotlight on Knox was intense.
The result: She will forever be associated with what happened in Perugia. And strangers will forever speculate about her innocence.
So what’s that like?
“When I enter into a room and I’m meeting people for the first time, it's like people are not meeting me for the first time," Knox said. "I go into a room and what I am facing is people’s ideas about who I am. And they may be positive ideas, they may be negative ideas, they may be coming from a million different sources, and I don’t know what they are.”
That feeling of always trying to guess how people perceive her has led Knox to learn quickly who her people are.
“Not in the sense of who believes me and who doesn’t believe me, but actually who is going to see me as a person? Who is going to look past whatever notions are out there and try to engage with me as a person because it’s very easy – so, so easy – to just be sitting on what you already think about me.”
Knox has many sympathizers in Seattle. During her incarceration, they banned under the name "Friends of Amanda Knox." Many of these people had never met her, including a Seattle judge who said there was no way a nice girl like her could commit an ugly crime like that. But there are still people who recognize her and think she’s done something terrible, that she’s a murderer.
“People like the idea of a monster,” Knox said.
“On the one hand, it’s entertaining, and on the other hand it’s a convenient device for understanding terrible things that happen," she said. "When we want to believe that the justice system is on our side at all times, that an innocent person would never have to go through what I went through … then the only other option is that I’m a monster. I’m not.”
With the release of a new Netflix documentary about her case, Knox is facing a new wave of strangers who want to know just that – are you a monster?
So why cooperate with film makers and the media, why keep the spotlight trained on your life?
“When I first came home, I thought that I never wanted to deal with this ever again. Because it was this thing that was just thrown on me that I had nothing to do with, that I was being made the center of but that I did not create.”
Knox struggled with that for years. She wanted to go back to being someone in obscurity, just a University of Washington student.
But when she came to terms with the fact that that wasn’t going to happen, that her experience in Italy was now part of her identity, she was able to change the way she felt about it.
“I suddenly feel like it’s not just this thing that was put on me, but that I can feel empowered," she said. "Suddenly it’s this thing that I can take ownership of myself, of my perspective, of my experience, and I can do what I will with that.”
Knox said she talks about her experience to highlight what other exonorees have gone through – and to highlight the weaknesses of the justice system.
She said many exonorees see the same weaknesses, including mistaken eyewitness testimony, shoddy forensic work and coerced false confessions. She said black men in particular are vulnerable to false convictions, noting that 63 percent of exonerees are black.
“The price of wrongful conviction is usually the life of a black man who doesn’t have the resources to defend himself,” she said.
Radke zeroed in on Knox’s own case in this regard: “When you were being interrogated by police, you falsely accused an innocent man, this Congolese man, your boss,” he said, referring to Patrick Lumumba.
Knox replied, “I was brought in the middle of the night, denied my rights, denied a lawyer, and told that I had amnesia from having witnessed the murder. And that if I didn’t tell them, if I didn’t remember, I would lose my life. I would never see my family again. That terrified me.
“They raised the stakes to someone who cared about Meredith and knew her and can help us with the investigation to, ‘You were involved, and we know the truth, and you don’t know what’s going on because you’re traumatized, and we’re going to tell you what’s going on. You met this man, because that’s what your text message says.’
“These techniques, they make you tired, they confuse you,” Knox continued. “They feed you ideas and information. Those are techniques that are legal and in use.”
She said such failings in the justice system should matter to people.
“It should matter to everyone because they could potentially be me,” Knox said.
So if you run into Amanda Knox in a coffee shop in Seattle, what should you do? What does she want from you?
“I would love for you to engage with me,” she said. “I would love to engage in discussion about the bigger picture and the way that we’re all assuming things of each other, or going out of our way to be patient with our judgement.”