The Neverending Nightmare of Amanda Knox

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Knox had several disadvantages from the start: She was American and, despite majoring in Italian at the University of Washington, could barely speak the language. Her poor comprehension may have contributed to her second problem: her inability to realize that she was, from the first day of the investigation, suspected of murder. Most damaging, however, was her obstinate faith in the kindness of strangers.

Knox grew up in the middle-class suburban neighborhood of Arbor Heights, in West Seattle, several blocks from the Puget Sound. Her parents like to describe her as "book-smart." This is true — she made the honor roll at Seattle Prep, a private Jesuit high school, and at UW — but it's also their way of suggesting that her intelligence was limited to books. As her stepfather, Chris Mellas, tells me, "She's the smartest person you'd ever know" but "dumb as a rock" when it comes to "street sense." In conversations with her friends and family, a portrait emerges of a person with a childlike innocence. She was, as her mother, Edda, puts it, "oblivious to the dark side of the world."

When strange men approached her in city parks, she would chat with them. "What's going on in your life?" she'd ask. "Let's talk." Her friend Madison Paxton recalls an incident when they passed a woman sobbing near the UW campus:

"All of a sudden, Amanda wasn't next to me. I turned around and she has this shocked look on her face. She says, 'I cannot believe that you just walked by her.' Amanda grabbed my hand and pulled me back. This woman couldn't even speak, she was crying so much. But Amanda took her by the hand into a cafe, ordered her a coffee and started talking to her, trying to get her to calm down."

By junior year, Knox announced that she felt too "closed off" from the world and wanted to spend a year abroad to "expand her horizons" and live "without a safety net." ("That," says her stepfather today, "seriously bit her in the ass. So to speak.") Her parents, recognizing her determination — she had taken extra jobs to pay for the expense — agreed to support her decision.

"You don't want to take a dream away," her father tells me today. Curt Knox, who was a vice president of finance at Macy's for 25 years, makes sharp eye contact and speaks precisely. It often seems that he is undergoing great exertions to restrain a wild, inchoate rage. "When she said she wanted to study abroad, and we sat down and talked to her, my first question was, 'What happens if you get sick?' There was a good response for that — her mother has a cousin that lives in Germany, just two hours away. A lot of questions went through my mind. None of them was, 'What happens if your roommate gets murdered?'"

In one of Knox's Facebook posts, she wrote, "I don't get embarrassed and therefore have very few social inhibitions." Upon arriving in Perugia, her lack of inhibitions worked in her favor. When she saw a young woman posting a housing flier, Knox struck up a conversation. She wrote about the encounter to her friends at home:

We go immediately to her place, literally two minutes from my university. It's a cute house... in the middle of Perugia.

I'm in love... The house has a kitchen, two bathrooms and four bedrooms... Not to mention my roommate owns two guitars and wants to play with me... Not to mention she wants me to teach her yoga... Not to mention the view is amazing.

Her Italian roommates were friendly, if somewhat aloof — they were seven years older, with jobs and serious boyfriends. But Knox became closer to Kercher, who claimed the fourth bedroom. They went out together to bookstores and bars and, in mid-October, to Perugia's chocolate festival. Still, they might not have been friends under other circumstances. Kercher found her extroverted roommate a bit too loopy (she complained to her sister that Knox sang "loudly all the time") and untidy (Knox, concerned about water conservation, "never seemed to flush the toilet"). As classes began, the roommates saw each other less. Kercher spent more time with her British friends, and Knox worked at Le Chic. But for the five weeks they knew each other, they appeared to get on. In a conversation with her parents in mid-October, Knox described Kercher as fun, beautiful and smart.

On November 2nd, Knox's callowness caught up to her. As soon as Kercher's corpse was discovered, the two Italian roommates called their lawyers. Kercher's British friends were even more cautious: Most of them fled the country, returning to the U.K. Edda asked Knox to fly home, or visit her cousin in Germany, but Knox refused. She wanted to see Kercher's family when they arrived in Perugia. She also wanted to help investigators find the killer. Today her mother's greatest regret is that she listened to her daughter. "Had I known that the British girls were out of there, had I known that the first thing her roommates did was lawyer up — had I known all of that? Absolutely, I would've made her come home," says Edda. "I would have had my cousin on the first plane out of Germany to yank her out of there."

"It's so Amanda that it hurts me," says Paxton, who has recently moved to Perugia to help with the case. "People talk about her being a manipulative mastermind. If she is, she's a fucking idiotic one. If you're a mastermind and you commit this murder, you leave the country. She walked into the police station. She just basically fucking skipped into the police station."

It was at the police station that Knox met the man who would become her chief antagonist for the next four years: Giuliano Mignini, the prosecutor who would oversee the murder investigation and eventually Amanda Knox's trial. A native Perugian, he wears smartly tailored jackets that cling snugly to his inflamed, bullish frame. A pair of spectacles rests low on the wide bridge of nose, beneath his broad forehead and powerful, gleaming eyes. Mignini is seen by Knox's supporters as a blustering maniac whose bullying reduced Knox to tears on the stand. But in person, he more closely resembles the benevolent caretaker of a rustic pensione: casual, kind, eager to amuse, an intent listener. He presents himself as the model of moderation. When I ask him today whether he thinks Knox is evil, he says that nobody is all good or all bad. He wishes she were innocent; he did not enjoy putting a young girl in prison. But it was his duty.

In private conversation, Mignini always seems to want to know, very sincerely, your opinion. And then, when you are done, he will patiently explain to you how things, in fact, are. As it turns out, in his view, things are often touched by Satan. He detected Satan's influence as early as 2001, when he became a central figure in the Monster of Florence serial-killer case. Mignini proposed that the suicide of a Perugian doctor was actually a murder committed by a satanic cult, practicing since the Middle Ages, that demanded human organs for their Black Masses. He later accused a hostile journalist of satanism and was convicted of abusing his office. In the early stages of the Kercher investigation, Mignini suggested that the victim had been slaughtered during a satanic ritual, but in his closing argument, he only went so far as to refer to Knox as a sex-and-drug-crazed "she-devil."

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