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The Neverending Nightmare of Amanda Knox

Page 5 of 7

By Monday, November 5th — three days after Kercher's body had been discovered — Knox was complaining to friends of exhaustion. That night, after 10 o'clock, the police called Sollecito, asking him to return to the station for yet another interview. Knox, as usual, accompanied him, jotting notes in her journal while she sat in the waiting room. "I'm very tired," she wrote. "I don't want to stay."

During Sollecito's interview, investigators accused him of covering up for Knox. He asked for a lawyer, and to speak with his father, but his requests were denied. "Confused and nervous," as one of the officers described him, Sollecito finally stated that Knox could have left his apartment for several hours on the night of Kercher's murder while he was asleep.

That was all the investigators needed to hear. Two female officers, who had been chatting informally with Knox, invited her to an interrogation chamber.

"Let's go back over what you did that night," they asked her. "Start with the last time that you saw Meredith."

"Again?"

"Again."

But they went slower this time.

"What did you do between 7 and 8 p.m.?" they asked. "What about between 8 and 9?"

"I don't know the exact times," said Knox. "But I know the general series of events. I checked my e-mail, I read a book, we watched a film, we ate dinner...."

More officers kept entering the room. An interpreter showed up. The tone sharpened.

"But Raffaele says that you left his house that night."

"What? That's not true. I was at his apartment all night."

The interrogators became angry.

"Are you sure? Raffaele said you left his house."

"I didn't."

"If that's a lie, we can throw you in jail for 30 years."

"I'm not lying."

"Who are you trying to protect? Who were you with? Who was it? Who was it?"

This bit went on for hours.

There was now chaos in the room. The Italians were shouting at her, arguing with one another, calling out suggestions.

"Maybe she really can't remember."

"Maybe she's a stupid liar."

"You're either an incredibly stupid liar," said Knox's translator, who was sitting right beside her, "or you're someone who can't remember what you know and what you did." The translator, changing tactics, explained that she had once been in a gruesome car accident in which she broke her leg. The event was so traumatic that she suffered amnesia.

"Amanda," said the translator, "this is what happened to you. You need to try to retrieve those memories. We'll help you."

Knox, ever-credulous, started to ask herself what she might have forgotten.

"C'mon," said the interrogators. "You were going to meet Patrick that night." "Remember. Remember. Remember."

"We know it was him."

Knox shook her head.

"Remember."

Boom — someone slapped her on the back of the head.

Knox closed her eyes. A scene began to play out in her mind. She imagined Patrick Lumumba's face. At 5:45 a.m., after breaking down in tears and screaming Lumumba's name ("He's bad, he's bad"), Knox signed a confession. Written in Italian, it declared that Knox had accompanied Lumumba to the house on the night of November 1st. She had been standing in the next room while Lumumba stabbed Kercher to death. When Knox signed the confession, the interrogators all started hugging one another.

The most remarkable thing about Knox's account of the interrogation is that, even as she signed her confession, she didn't realize that she was a suspect. "I know that sounds utterly moronic," says Paxton, "because it is utterly moronic. But she actually, genuinely, was that naive."

On November 6th, the police announced that the killers had been found, and arrested the young couple. Both Knox and Sollecito, whose shoe print the police initially believed matched one found at the scene, have been in jail ever since. A strange twist occurred, however, two weeks after the confession, when the forensics lab reported the results of its examination. The DNA evidence and fingerprints on the crime scene did not match Knox, Sollecito or Lumumba, but instead a fourth person.

Rudy Guede didn't have a criminal record, but he had been accused of several local burglaries. Only five days before the murder, he had been arrested in Milan after breaking into a nursery school. The Milan police had released Guede without charge — a murky scenario that has given rise to rumors that Guede was a police snitch and being protected.

Guede, who had been friends with the boys who lived downstairs from Knox and Kercher and had met the girls in passing, fled the country after the murder. When the bloody fingerprints in the cottage were identified as his, Guede became the subject of an international manhunt. He was apprehended in Germany the next day and admitted to being at the murder scene, but he claimed Kercher was killed by a mysterious intruder. Guede told the police that Knox and Sollecito were not involved. The young lovers believed that Guede's arrest and statement would destroy the case against them, but the prosecutors simply slotted Guede in the place of Lumumba, who had a solid alibi — he was seen bartending at Le Chic all night.

Mignini developed a new theory: Knox had made a date with Guede to party back at the house on Via della Pergola, and Sollecito tagged along. The three revelers encountered Kercher, and the girls began fighting; the boys, both trying to impress Knox, held Kercher at knife point. Guede molested her. There then follows what Mignini acknowledges to be un missing scene, which ends with Kercher's murder.

Knox and Sollecito were not formally charged until a year after their arrests. The prosecution's case leaned heavily on two pieces of evidence. Kercher's bra clasp — which was not retrieved until 47 days after the murder, by which point it had been moved across the room and lay in a pile of debris — had tested positive for trace amounts of Sollecito's DNA. (Sollecito's lawyers allege contamination.) And a knife, selected at random by a detective from Sollecito's kitchen drawer, tested positive, albeit at extremely low levels, for Kercher's DNA.

Lumumba sued Knox for damages. "She's empty — dead inside," Lumumba would later say. "Everything that comes out of her mouth is a lie." Today, from prison, Knox says that there is nothing she regrets more than implicating Lumumba. She is still ashamed that she wasn't stronger during the interrogation, but at the time it never occurred to her that the police might manipulate and lie to her.

The confession, in violation of Italian police policy, was not recorded — an odd lapse given the intense efforts made previously to document everything Knox said or did. Yet in the court of Italian popular opinion — the highest court in the land, since jurors are not sequestered — the confession remains the single most damning piece of evidence. When I asked Perugians why they thought Knox had been involved, they never mentioned physical evidence or a motive. She admitted to it, they said, shaking their heads.

She signed a confession.

Amanda Knox's appeal trial is now in its eighth month, and Knox's family is warily optimistic. So, it seems, is Knox. In a recent letter to Paxton, Knox drafted a list of things she wants to do if she is released: work for the Innocence Project, serve as a translator and be "a mom."

There was also a second list: what she would do with her life if her appeal failed. This list was more vague. Though Knox received a sentence of 26 years, she calculates that she will be released by the time she's 40, if you take into account time off for good behavior. This seems a reasonable prediction for an inmate whom prison guards have nicknamed "Bambi." Knox seems determined to use prison as a comparative-literature graduate program. She continues to study Italian (which she now speaks fluently, with occasional sallies into jailhouse vernacular), reading textbooks from cover to cover three times each. She has also become proficient in German and French, and is studying Japanese, Chinese and Russian. She is devouring the Western canon, and lists in her journals each book she completes. She has become something of a specialist in Existentialism (Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, Sartre's No Exit and Nausea), Magical Realism (Calvino, Borges, Eco), Absurdism and Despair (Vonnegut, Beckett, Woody Allen, Kafka).

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