.

The Neverending Nightmare of Amanda Knox

How a naive kid from Seattle was coerced into confessing to a brutal murder and wound up sentenced to 26 years in an Italian jail

June 27, 2011 1:45 PM ET
The Accused: Amanda Knox at her trial for murder in Perugia, Italy, 2008.
The Accused: Amanda Knox at her trial for murder in Perugia, Italy, 2008.
Federico Zirilli/AFP/Getty Images

Her killer did a bad job. It was amateur work: There were bloody fingerprints and footprints all over the apartment, and the killer even defecated in the toilet and forgot to flush. But that wasn't the worst of it. Whoever murdered Meredith Kercher didn't know how to use a knife.

The first two wounds weren't deep enough to do fatal damage, the knife catching on bone. On the third try, the killer found a soft spot in the left side of her throat and plunged the blade full to its hilt. The attacker then pulled the weapon from left to right several times in a sawing motion, then up and back, leaving a gash more than three inches long and three inches deep. It was clear, from the purposeful savagery of this final blow, that the intent was to kill. But since the blade missed the carotid artery, Kercher's agony lasted as long as 10 minutes. An experienced killer would have known better.

After the stabbing, the killer's behavior was peculiar, displaying an attitude rarely evident in a crime scene: remorse. Three white towels were used in a frantic effort to staunch the bleeding. When that failed, the killer removed the comforter from Kercher's bed and, in a perverse gesture of compassion, laid it over the corpse. Investigators would wonder whether the person had even seen a dead body before. Finally, the killer ran out through the front door, leaving a trail of bloody shoe prints.

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When an attractive young woman from a privileged British family is murdered in Italy, you've got a popular crime story. When the person suspected of killing her is an attractive young woman from a privileged American family, you have tabloid gold. When the prosecutor hypothesizes that the victim was slaughtered during a satanic ritual orgy, you've got the crime story of a decade. When a sitting U.S. senator declares that the case "raises serious questions about the Italian justice system" and asks if "anti-Americanism" is to blame, and when 11 Italian lawmakers in Silvio Berlusconi's coalition request a probe of the prosecutor's office — well, at that point, you have an international crisis.

One might expect that the lead role in this blockbuster would be assigned to the victim, a placid, pretty girl from London named Meredith Kercher. The daughter of a tabloid writer and his Indian-born wife, Kercher was a serious student who didn't take herself too seriously; she had been drawn to the Italian city of Perugia, in part, for its reputation as the City of Chocolate. She quickly made a group of British girlfriends, joining them for dinner parties, movie nights and dancing at the local discos. Kercher was beautiful, bubbly, devoted to her family, a model daughter.

And yet, less than a day after her murder, Meredith Kercher was all but forgotten. The show was stolen by an accidental ingénue named Amanda Knox, who, until she was convicted of murder and sentenced to spend the next 26 years in prison, was unaware of a number of significant facts about herself. Knox did not understand, for instance, that she was beautiful. It was new to her, her beauty — as a high school student at Seattle Prep she was heavier, had acne and was more devoted to rock climbing and backpacking than to dating. She didn't have her first boyfriend until she was 19. "She's a little dork who doesn't wear matched socks," says her best friend, Madison Paxton. "I'd never use 'sexy' to describe her." Her beauty is no longer a mystery to her, however, now that she's received hundreds of letters from male admirers all over the world.

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Knox also didn't realize that she would be judged by her behavior, her looks and her nationality. Nor did she suspect that her faith in human nature was a dangerous fantasy. She would learn other terrible lessons along the way too — the kinds of things most of us don't like to think about. In July, while she waits for her appeal case to be settled, Knox will turn 24. It will be her fourth consecutive birthday in jail. She's learned her lessons. Now she just wants to go home.

This is what we know for certain: Shortly after 10:30 a.m. on November 2nd, 2007, Amanda Knox left the apartment of her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito. They had met only one week earlier, when Knox and Kercher had attended a Schubert recital at the university where Knox was studying. Knox had noticed Sollecito, a gawky, pale 23-year-old with delicate, rimless glasses and zero history with women. He struck her as "an Italian Harry Potter." After Kercher departed at intermission, Sollecito tentatively approached the American girl.

"She seemed to be searching for something in my eyes," Sollecito would tell his father. "I noticed that her opinions on the music were odd... She didn't concentrate on the emotions it provoked but only on the rhythm — slow, fast, slow."

Knox told him that she was working that evening at Le Chic. The bar, popular with students, was owned by a Congo-born Perugian named Patrick Lumumba, who had hired Knox on as a waitress. Sollecito showed up later that night and stayed until closing. Amanda spent that night at his apartment, and the next seven nights as well.

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On the evening of November 1st, she was supposed to come over after her shift ended, but Lumumba had texted shortly before Knox was to begin work, telling her not to bother coming in — it was a holiday and nobody was drinking. She returned to Sollecito's house and, after dinner and a joint, the couple had turned off their cellphones for the evening.

They always stayed at Sollecito's because, unlike most of Perugia's 40,000 students, he didn't have roommates. His father, a wealthy urologist, had set him up with the apartment — along with the black Audi A3 that he parked outside. The only problem with the apartment was the plumbing. Whenever he used the sink, as he did that night when he made dinner for Knox, the pipes leaked and water pooled on the floor. Sollecito was so flummoxed by the puddles that he called his father for advice on how to get rid of them.

This is how, at 10:30 a.m. on November 2nd, Knox found herself returning to the cottage at 7 Via della Pergola that she shared with Kercher and two Italian girls. She planned to take a shower in her own bathroom, change clothes and grab a mop.

When she arrived, she began to notice several things that struck her as "abnormal." The front door to the cottage had been left ajar. Knox called out, but no one responded. This was unsurprising, as she knew that her Italian roommates would be away for the holiday weekend. Kercher's door was shut, so Knox assumed she was asleep.

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It was only after her shower that Knox noticed the blood. In a flustered e-mail sent to friends and family two days later, she described what had happened:

There were drops of blood in the sink. At first I thought the blood might have come from my ears, which I had pierced extensively not too long ago, but then immediately I knew it wasn't mine... when I touched the blood in the sink, it was caked on already... I thought it was strange, because my roommates and I... wouldn't leave blood in the bathroom, but I assumed that perhaps Meredith was having menstrual issues and hadn't cleaned up yet. Ew, but nothing to worry about.

When Knox used a hair dryer in the second bathroom, she saw the feces in the toilet. Knowing none of her roommates would have forgotten to flush, she started to suspect an intruder. She grabbed the mop and left the house in a panic.

After telephoning her roommates — and reaching one, Filomena Romanelli — she returned with Sollecito to check for signs of a burglary. Knox's room appeared untouched. In Romanelli's room, however, the window had been shattered. They tried Kercher's door. It was locked. Knox knocked gently at first, then loudly — no response. Finally Sollecito threw himself against the door, but he wasn't strong enough to break it down.

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