The Neverending Nightmare of Amanda Knox

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There are many theories, but the most persuasive scenario goes as follows:

Guede stakes out the cottage after dark. He breaks into the girls' apartment and makes himself comfortable. He swigs orange juice from a carton he finds in the refrigerator — he had a spicy kebab for dinner — and then uses the bathroom. While he's on the can, Kercher enters the apartment, locking the door behind her. Guede is trapped. He can't exit through the window without alerting Kercher, and he can't use the front door, because you need a key to open the lock from the inside. (Kercher's keys would be stolen, along with cash, credit cards and phones.) Guede rises from the toilet without flushing, so as not to make a noise. He walks to Kercher's bedroom. Perhaps he tries to explain himself — "Sorry, the door was open, I let myself in, I'm a friend of Giacomo's downstairs" — or perhaps she starts screaming before he can speak. He grabs her by the mouth (there were bruises on Kercher's face) and threatens her with the knife. He assaults her and, realizing that Kercher can identify him, he panics and kills her. The missing scene.

During his appeal process, Guede, who had been convicted in a separate trial of murdering Kercher and sentenced to 30 years, changed his story multiple times. In a final reversal, he claimed that he was at the murder scene with Knox and Sollecito, and the judge reduced his sentence to 16 years. This hurt Knox and Sollecito's chances on appeal. If Judge Hellmann decides to acquit, he will not only defy the judge of the first trial, but also the judges who concluded that Guede, Knox and Sollecito acted together. The system is designed to thwart such embarrassments. The pressure on the judge is especially high in a case that has brought international disdain to the entire Italian judicial system. This is why many Italians expect Hellmann to follow the precedent set by Guede's case, and reduce Knox's and Sollecito's sentences each by eight years. Italian honor would be preserved, and with time off for good behavior, Knox would be released in time to be a mom.

There were heated arguments that Saturday at the Perugian court, but not about forensic evidence. As the judge read out dates — all Saturdays, to appease Bongiorno — lawyers on either side objected. "That's a holiday weekend," said one. "I have a wedding that day." Knox, in black slacks and a silk blouse the color of eggshell, sat erect at her desk, occasionally bending over to scribble furiously, like an attentive student in lecture hall. On her entrance, she had appeared uncertain, fragile, scared. The reporters muttered that she had lost weight; the blouse hung loosely over her frame. When she sat down she had forced herself to take a deep breath.

Sollecito, who sat 10 feet away, no longer resembles Harry Potter. Men's prisons in Italy are not so forgiving. He has shaved his head and has added muscle on his shoulders, arms, back. He smiles bitterly at his lawyers and has a cold gaze. He has begun to look like a convict.

The jurors, who wear tricolor sashes, sat impassively beside the judge. They appeared tired, impatient. One distractedly toyed with his iPhone in plain sight, checking messages and typing into the keypad.

But then there is a sudden commotion, and a shock, almost visceral, goes through the room. Knox has stood up. The press rushes forward to the bar. With her back stiff and her hands clasped before her, she begins to speak in tentative, tremulous Italian. At several points she pauses, struggling to compose herself. "For more than three and a half years, I have been in prison as an innocent person," Knox says. "This has been extremely frustrating for me. It has been draining. I don't want to remain there, unjustly, for my entire life... I recall the beginning of this whole thing, when I was free... I think of how young I was then, how I didn't understand anything..."

Here was a striking contrast. On one side, the airy pomposity of the country lawyers, adding delay upon bureaucratic delay, ensuring that the prisoners will stay in their concrete cells all summer (Italian courts don't meet in August, and often don't return until mid-September). And on the other side, an expression of raw human suffering. Everyone in court — even the tabloid reporters — seemed shaken.

Everyone except the jurors. They looked completely unmoved. It was as if they couldn't understand a single word that Amanda Knox was saying.

This story is from Rolling Stone issue 1134/1135, available on newsstands and through Rolling Stone All Access on June 24, 2011.

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