What Not to Do When Your Roommate Is Murdered in Italy: Amanda Knox, Her 'Strange' Behavior, and the Italian Legal System
81 Pages Posted: 21 Nov 2017 Last revised: 12 Feb 2018
Date Written: November 17, 2017
One of the most widely publicized cases of our time is that of Amanda Knox, the college student from West Seattle who was convicted of murdering her British roommate in Italy and served four years in prison before being acquitted and released. Retried in absentia, she was convicted again, only to be exonerated by the Italian Supreme Court, which handed down its final opinion in September, 2015. Throughout its eight-year duration, the case garnered worldwide attention, in part because of the pretty, photogenic defendant and the drug-fueled sex game that the prosecutor adduced as the motive for the crime. Interest in the case spiked again with the release of a Netflix original documentary, Amanda Knox, in the fall of 2016.
While the Amanda Knox case has been remarkable for its ability to fascinate an international audience, it is not altogether unique. Rather, it is emblematic of broader themes and a broader problem−that of human beings’ prejudice against “strangeness” and our desperation for a hasty assessment of guilt or innocence‒qualities that can bleed into a legal system to the detriment of the quest for truth.
In this Article, I explore the Amanda Knox case in the context of our defective ability to judge. In Part One, I use the conceit of a “What Not to Do” list to highlight the role played by Amanda’s “strangeness” in bringing about her arrest and two convictions. In Part Two, I re-examine the usual rationale for Amanda’s behavior and suggest that a better explanation lies in her age and developmental stage. In Part Three, I shift from the interpreted to the interpreters, arguing that the latter were powerfully affected by the Madonna/whore complex and cultural differences between Perugia and Seattle. In Part Four, I analyze the impact of the Italian legal system, with its deep roots in the inquisitorial paradigm and its limited adversarial reforms.
This Article is based not only on scholarly research but also on my four sojourns in Italy, where I retraced Amanda’s footsteps and discussed the case with numerous legal experts. I had the opportunity to interview Amanda herself after she was free in Seattle.
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