The Neverending Nightmare of Amanda Knox

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Mignini's official title is "public minister," a hybrid of detective and district attorney. This makes Mignini less a prosecution lawyer than a Grand Inquisitor. He leads the investigation, giving directions to the police under his care, and serves as lead prosecutor during the trial. This arrangement means that the police often find themselves under professional obligation to look for evidence that supports the prosecutor's hypotheses. This is especially true in high-profile cases, when there is enormous pressure to explain quickly what exactly happened.

When I ask Mignini whether he regrets any decisions he made during the Kercher case, he will name only one. It was the very first decision that he made. When he arrived at the crime scene he asked the chief forensics expert, Patrizia Stefanoni, whether she had taken Kercher's body temperature, a reliable indicator of time of death. Stefanoni, Mignini says, was worried that doing so might contaminate the body and advised that they wait until other testing had been done. The temperature was not taken until November 3rd, at which point the death was set between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. The failure to make a more exact estimation proved critical. If Kercher died before 9:30 p.m., Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito would have had an alibi: They were seen at Sollecito's apartment at 8:45, and Sollecito's computer showed activity as late as 9:10.

Though Mignini won't say it straight out, there is another thing he seems to regret. When I ask him whether he wishes that the carabinieri, and not the state police, had handled the investigation, he sighs warily and glances past me. There, on his bureau, stands a small collection of carabinieri action figures: two three-inch plastic figurines in uniform, and a matchbox-size patrol car. It might have made a difference, he says. The carabinieri, he acknowledges, have more resources and a different style, due to the fact that they are a division of the military. Yes, he says finally, he prefers the carabinieri.

From the beginning of the case, he was fascinated by the behavior of Amanda Knox. She was extremely unconvincing in the role of the wrongfully accused. That a 20-year-old woman suspected of her roommate's murder should not behave the way her accusers expect is hardly surprising, just as it is hardly surprising that a small, provincial police force should botch one of the most intensely observed criminal investigations in their nation's history. Three and a half years after her arrest, Knox has still not entirely mastered it. But her behavior in those first days doomed her.

Especially disturbing to investigators was a video that appeared on YouTube soon after the body was discovered. Filmed by paparazzi who quickly materialized at the "house of horrors," the video showed Sollecito consoling a pallid, dazed Knox outside the cottage. Sollecito rubs her arms and gives her three chaste kisses.

Others were bothered by the couple's displays of affections once they were taken to the police station for questioning.

"Knox and Sollecito would make faces, kiss each other, while there was the body of a friend in those conditions," said homicide chief Monica Napoleoni.

"I couldn't help thinking how cool and calm Amanda was," said Giacomo Silenzi, a neighbor who had been having a fling with Kercher. "Her eyes didn't seem to show any sadness, and I remember wondering if she could have been involved."

Officers would later complain that Knox, after sitting for hours in the stiff waiting-room chairs, had started to do cartwheels and even splits. Convinced that she was psychotic, the guards begged her to stop, explaining that such behavior was "inappropriate." And a detective complained when he saw Knox sitting on her boyfriend's lap. "Inappropriate," he said.

When I ask Knox — through Paxton, who visits her twice a week in prison — whether she regrets her behavior in those first days after the murder, she says she absolutely does not; she was reacting the only way she knew how. She also disputes the accounts of her behavior. She sat on Sollecito's lap, for instance, only because she had been pacing, and he had pulled her to him in an attempt to comfort her. And while she may have seemed "cool and calm," when she went at night to Sollecito's house she would break down in tears.

More eccentric allegations would be aired during the trial, some of which seemed to reveal more about the police than about Knox. One officer was certain Knox had lied about taking a shower that morning because "she smelled like sex." And an older male detective claimed that, upon returning with detectives to the murder scene, Knox had spontaneously broken into a seductive, hip-rolling dance, popularized in old Italian sex comedies, called La Mossa. Knox, the detective claimed, had shimmied her hips like Monica Vitti, shouting "Hoopla!"

Over the weekend, Knox was repeatedly called back for additional interviews — first to the station, then to the crime scene. "Do you see any knives missing?" asked the detectives. "What kind of sex did Meredith like?" Though unaware that she was a suspect, Knox had been put under surveillance by the Perugian police. She and Sollecito were followed around the city as they ate and shopped for underwear (Knox wasn't allowed to retrieve her clothes from the crime scene). When at the station, the lovers were led into a room bugged with hidden microphones, where their conversations were monitored. Their cellphones were tapped as well. And the police confiscated a school notebook in which Knox had started taking notes while waiting to be interviewed. A passage was later leaked to the press:

The strange thing is that all I want to do now is write a song about this. It would be the first song that I've written and it would be about someone who died in a horrible way for no reason. How morbid is that? I'm starving. And I'd really like to say that I could kill for a pizza but it just doesn't seem right... I don't know what to do or think.

The investigators' theory was beginning to take shape: Knox was smart enough to avoid saying anything inculpatory, but stupid enough to draw attention to herself. They believed that Sollecito, the spoiled computer geek, was weaker and manipulated by her. They turned their focus onto him, hoping that he would break.

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