For the family of Meredith Kercher, the 21-year-old British student murdered in Perugia in November 2007, a final, truthful explanation for what happened, and who was responsible, seems as distant as ever.
Yes, Raffaele Sollecito and, most prominent of all, Amanda Knox, were last week found guilty once again of Kercher’s murder (alongside Rudy Guede, the one defendant against whom there is compelling evidence, who was convicted in 2008). But this is far from conclusive. After all, Knox and Sollecito were first found guilty in 2009, before their convictions were overturned on appeal in 2011. These acquittals were themselves overturned by the Supreme Court of Italy in Rome last year, and Knox and Sollecito’s case was sent back to appellate level to be tried again. So while this latest court review of the case has reinstated the original verdicts, it does not mean it’s over. Knox and Sollecito will appeal, and it looks as if the case will eventually end up being retried in Italy’s Supreme Court at some point in the next two years.
But the profoundly inconclusive, clarity-resistant nature of this case isn’t just due to the slow, inquisitorial nature of Italy’s justice system, where the process of judgement can pass through multiple layers of judicial seniority before something resembling finality is achieved. It also lies in the very causes of the case’s spectacularly high profile. In other words, finality, clarity, justice even, seem so elusive because the case has long since ceased to about what happened in that Perugian cottage over six years ago. It is now almost entirely about one person: Amanda Knox.
Or more accurately, it is almost entirely about what the warring international factions think of Knox. Guilt or innocence is no longer a question of due process, of evidence gathered and presented; rather, it now seems to be attributed according to which journalist’s vision, which biographer’s character portrait, people find most convincing. The bias is bewildering. You can read one report of the case in one newspaper and are left convinced that Knox is a wrong ’un; read another and you find yourself convinced that Knox has been wronged. And that is why the whole thing lacks any sense of potential closure. Because whatever the eventual decision of Italy’s Supreme Court, this battle between those who think Knox is innocent and those who think she’s guilty will never really end. They have too much invested in the case, and much of it unrelated to the actual murder.
Almost from the moment Knox, alongside her then boyfriend Sollecito, was implicated back in November 2007, this battle to portray a particular image of Knox had begun. Initially, it was Knox’s sex and sexuality that was under the media microscope. She was presented as the epitome of hedonistic, morally lax, liberal America, condemned, it seemed, for having had the unfeminine temerity to have had sex with more than one man. Indeed, it has since emerged that the Italian police tricked Knox into talking about her sexual past, before turning the admission into something approximating evidence for the prosecution. More infamously, this was also the moment the soubriquet ‘Foxy Knoxy’, used first by the British journalist Nick Pisa, entered the popular imagination, and cemented her reputation as some sort of sinister temptress. That this nickname referred to Knox’s footballing skills rather than her seduction technique hardly mattered. It was enough that it seemed true.