Amanda Knox’s bright blue eyes widen in confusion. She takes a deep breath and drops her palms to her long, lemon-hued skirt. The 30-year-old glances about the conference room at the W Hollywood hotel, as cameras flash all about her. Moments like this take her back inside the packed courtroom, nearly overcoming her with anxiety. She gently squeezes the hand of her boyfriend, writer Christopher Robinson, whom she met in the summer of 2015 after her final acquittal in Italy’s highest court. The two live together in Seattle and enjoy traveling to Europe, although Knox understandably hasn’t returned to Italy.
Attorneys stream into the building for Knox’s seminar organized by the Westside Bar Association. The lights dim. A brief segment of last year’s highly publicized Netflix documentary Amanda Knox plays for the audience. “I think people love monsters,” she says in the clip. “And so when they get the chance, they want to see them.” Looking away from the screen, Knox closes her eyes to block the tears.
In March 2015, Knox was exonerated of the 2007 murder of her housemate Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy. When she was arrested, at just 20 years old, she had never been so far away from home. She was studying Italian, reading poetry, picking fruit in the garden and sunbathing on the terrace in the fall. However, on November 1st, 2007, someone broke into the apartment that Knox shared with three other students, and raped and murdered Kercher. Acquaintance Rudy Guede was convicted of the crime and is currently serving a 16-year prison sentence, yet the Italian government and international media went at her with all the vitriol they could muster.
Knox was astonished that the prosecutors, investigators, newspapers and the public were focusing on her and Raffaele Sollecito, her then-boyfriend of five days, as suspects for the crime. In 2009, they were both convicted of sexual assault and murder. She was sentenced to 26 years in prison – and he to 25 – but both convictions were overturned in 2011. The prosecution appealed, and in 2013 they were retried for the same murder and found guilty again. The verdict overturned after another appeal, and the two were eventually acquitted in 2015. “I was the lucky one, because what happened to Meredith could have easily happened to me,” she says.
Free and able to heal, Knox wrote the best-selling memoir Waiting to Be Heard, which detailed her experiences and the pain and suffering she endured. Today, she works as a reporter for the West Seattle Herald. She also works with the nonprofit organization the Innocence Project, which is dedicated to using DNA evidence to free wrongfully convicted people from prison and death row. “Believe it or not, I actually do feel very at home in a room full of lawyers,” Knox quips to the crowd at the W. “Before confirmation bias, fake news and echo chambers were a subject of public concern, they were our concerns. The concerns of people like you, who worked in the criminal justice system and people like me, who lived through it.”
Rolling Stone sat down with Knox to discuss how she coped with being wrongly convicted, why she chose to go into media herself and what it’s like to be on Donald Trump’s public radar.
Did you see the world differently when you got out of prison?
You start seeing the world differently the minute you are arrested for something you didn’t do. The world wasn’t different, my ability to see it was different. As a result, incorporating that experience into my sense of self very much changed who I was, but also didn’t change who I was. I’m still fundamentally the same person, and I wouldn’t be the person I am now if I hadn’t been the person I was before, which was someone who was already inclined to love people and want to understand them. Someone not wanting to be angry for the sake of being angry. I don’t think any kind of proof comes from holding other people at a distance. If anything, I had to bring the prosecutor [Giuliano Mignini] close to me and to my heart to understand where he was coming from when he was doing what he was doing to me. That’s something that is so hard for people who have been hurt, right? To bring the thing that hurts you close. The person that hurt you close.
How does the Innocence Project help you cope?
I had no idea the Innocence Project existed back then. I felt very, very alone for a very long time. When I came home, people from the Project had reached out to my family to express support or ask how they could help. One of them, Greg Hampikian, director of the Idaho Innocence Project, invited me to come to this network conference. It was the last thing that I wanted to do after coming home from a wrongful conviction. I just wanted to go home and be Amanda again and go to school again and not have this define me. I did not want this thing taking over my life.
In April, I went to their event in Portland, [Oregon.] Greg insisted I come to this conference because he thought I needed it, and he promised it would be good for me. I drove down with my mom and I was very nervous. I had just been re-convicted, so I didn’t know if I even belonged there. But as soon as I walked in, a swarm of really genuine, warm people came up to me and said, “Hey, I get you. I know you and you don’t owe anything to anybody. If you don’t want to talk to anybody, don’t worry about it. We got you. We understand.” That immediate warmth and that, “you’re our little sister,” and “we know,” was the first time I had ever been in a room where I didn’t have to feel the need to explain myself.
These people have gone through shit and become better people because of it. This group was built by [lawyers], scientists and intellectuals who are trying to prove facts and understand how things get blown out of proportion. They are emotionally and intellectually there for me. They understand that we already had to pay for our lives with the things we didn’t do. There is a lot of psychological trauma in trying to feel valuable again. It is a really deep emotional, intellectual and psychological community that sees so many facets of the experience and deals with them really practically. It’s changed my life.
Some people believe the documentary made you look guilty. What are your thoughts about your doubters?
I feel like they probably have some kind of life experience or fears that they project onto me. That sounds so clinical, but what I mean is that all of us view the world through the lens of our own experiences and our own desires. If someone wants to think of me as a femme fatale for whatever reason or wants to think that I am guilty, then they are going to see that. There is nothing that I can do to change their minds, unless say, I happen to stumble upon them and interact with them in some way and they realize, “Oh, crap. She was a real person all along.” Maybe then I can change a person’s mind. But I’m not setting my heart on doing that, because I don’t feel like that’s my job. I feel like my job is to live my life and to heal from what happened to me. I don’t owe an explanation to people who still think I am guilty. It was crazy enough that I had to prove my innocence in the first place.
Rudy Guede was temporarily released for 36 hours for good behavior last year. What would you say to him if you saw him now?
I don’t know what I would say to him. It’s a scary thought. Someone came up to me yesterday and said, “How can you say you never met a villain? What about the guy who killed Meredith?” And I said, “You know what? I don’t want to ever encounter Rudy Guede in my life.” I am scared of that person. I don’t understand him and he did something deeply, deeply awful. But at the same time, I know that I am not going to get any understanding of him by just labeling him a villain. Calling someone a villain is not good enough. You know, to understand what is going on and why bad things happen. There is deeply unsettling stuff about what he did and what he continued to do by pointing the finger at me.
I still can’t say that I ever, ever, ever want to just run into him. I think I would much rather run into my prosecutor than Rudy Guede. As much as my prosecutor is totally stuck in his crazy ideas, at least I understand where those ideas are coming from. I understand that he has noble motivations, deep down he cares about people, he just has a hard time seeing people who are different from him, you know? I can see how he dehumanizes people, how he dehumanized me. We are all dehumanizing each other. I can understand Mignini’s dehumanization much more than I can understand Rudy Guede. I don’t get him, so he really scares me.
Throughout the film Amanda Knox, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the O.J. Simpson trial. During his case, many Americans couldn’t and didn’t want to believe he did it. But it was so different for you. Why?
Oh, man. I just watched the O.J. Simpson documentary [O.J.: Made in America], too, which was incredible. I didn’t really know anything about O.J. Simpson because I was too young. I never had any knowledge of who he was before he was accused of murdering his wife [Nicole Simpson] and [Ron Goldman]. That documentary did an incredible job showing how people were motivated to see him as innocent, because the black community in Los Angeles had just felt totally victimized by the police at the time.
They saw themselves in O.J. Simpson, so they wanted him to be free. But in my case, who was I? No one knew who I was before all of this happened. If people see what they want to see, they wanted to see the black man in the L.A. community accused of something by the cops who were corrupt be innocent. In my case, so many people thought, “Oh, this random college girl? Ohhh, Girls Gone Wild. Ohhh that’s hot. Ohhh, I want to see that.” That’s what they wanted to see and that’s what they saw.
“I just wanted to go home and be Amanda again and go to school again and not have this define me.”
How does it feel being part of this media boom of high-profile criminal cases?
The thing I feel most strongly is that I am part of a tribe of people I would have never been mixed in with otherwise. They are mostly impoverished black men who are unable to defend themselves, who took the weight of other people’s mistakes onto their lives. I’m humbled and honored to stand among them. We get together once a year at the conferences, we give each other calls and help each other and give each other advice. I didn’t know that world existed before any of this happened. If anything, I am paying attention to that community and how that community is doing. They are saving people’s lives, including mine.
How was the process of writing your book? Was it painful to recount your past?
Oh, man. It was harder than I thought it was going to be. I knew that I wanted to write about everything that had happened. I thought about what it looked like, what it all meant and why it was so surreal for me through the process. Leading up to my conviction, I had all the hope that things were going well, and leading up to my acquittal, I had every reason to fear the worst. That cognitive dissonance that things were getting better and things were getting worse was part of my journey. I knew that so much had been said about me, but I never had a chance to explain myself. I felt very strongly that was important.
What I didn’t realize is how angry I was. Surviving the prison environment and the whole process of sitting there and being on trial and listening to people speculate about how much of a monster I was day in, day out, was difficult. I very realistically and very practically would numb myself to a lot of the pain, the anger and the frustration.
How did you manage that?
I just had to sit back and take it and take it and take it. When I started to unravel the pieces, once I was out, I realized how angry I was, which is weird. I don’t feel like an angry person, you know? I feel like I’ve tried to give every person the benefit of the doubt, but I still feel like I can do that while feeling hurt and angry. There were definitely times when describing more painful moments in my memoir that I had to stop and take a few walks around the block to chill out. I would take breaks to be kind to myself. I needed help and support.
You work at the West Seattle Herald. After all the negative press during your trial and time in prison, what made you want to get into journalism?
I know there is good journalism and there is bad journalism. I call out the tabloids as sensationalist journalism and tunnel vision journalism. Please let me clarify that not all journalism is like that. I am a communications person and I got my degree in creative writing. I went to school to study languages, because, on a very personal level, I care about the communication and understanding of ideas between people. My personal interest in that was my motivation to go, “Well, what the heck happened to me? How is it possible that all this communication, factual information and even emotional information broke down in my case?” That’s the part of my experience I don’t understand and why I got into it.
President Trump donated to your cause and urged others on Twitter to boycott Italy until you were set free. George Guido Lombardi mentioned to the New York Times that Trump was “very upset” that you supported Hillary Clinton. In May, you wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times about the experience. Did you ever hear from Trump directly?
I was never personally reached out to by the president. I’ve just had access to his opinion via social media, like everyone else.
What do you think about his presidency so far?
I am deeply troubled by his policies and that’s my own political stance. I deeply feel that climate change is a legit, worldwide problem and that we are doing ourselves a disservice by not being at the forefront of green energy, which is the future. It is baffling to me that we are stepping back into the ice ages of coal. Also, stepping back into places where we are discriminating against people.
“There was no way I was coming out of the interrogation room intact.”
Right, like the transgender ban Trump recently Tweeted about.
Yeah, it’s like, “Are you kidding me?” I want to be calm, but it’s very difficult. Really difficult. I’m trying. The thing I wanted to do with that op-ed was to point out how deeply troubling it was that he felt like somehow my vote was owed to him because of something he did for me in the past that was completely irrelevant to the election. Yes, he defended me. I thank him for helping and at least looking into it and caring.
But the way that translated into the Italian courtroom was that my prosecutor was talking about how Americans were bullying Italians into doing what Americans said they had to do. It’s not like it was even the most carefully thought out way of defending me. It could have potentially hurt me. I wish he would be more thoughtful then and now.
You have recently sued Italy for violating your rights during the trial. What is the status of that case?
It’s being heard in the European Court of Human Rights. I’m still waiting to hear a verdict on that. I’m suing them particularly for refusing me the right to have a lawyer, for hitting me during my interrogation, which was an illegal interrogation anyway, and to have the repercussions of that totally overwhelm my life. I’m hoping that the Court sees that and finds for me. There is no guarantee that Italy is going to recognize that what it did was wrong, but, at the very least, I would be very happy and appreciative with an acknowledgement that what happened in that interrogation room was wrong.
What happened during this interrogation?
They interrogated me for 53 hours over five days. The outcome was the fault of the police officers who made the interrogation end the way it did. They were not letting me out of that room without me signing something that implicated someone. The insane thing is that false confessions are common. It’s pretty well understood in the United States. Or, at least, by experts who have taken time since the seventies to examine the situation.
You don’t have to beat a person into submission and psychologically screw with them, like they did with me. There are reasons why there are checks and balances to the kind of power that interrogators have in those rooms. As soon as they start pushing an interrogation into a predetermined answer, as opposed to the truth, the outcome is inevitable. You are going to break people. I was a 20-year-old girl who had never been in trouble with the law before, and I had the Italian fluency of a 10-year-old. There was no way I was coming out of the interrogation room intact. There was no way.
You’ve said that you get bullied a lot, but recently, you made your Instagram public. Why did you decide that?
It was certainly a conscious decision. I debated it for a long time. It’s very rare for someone to say something mean to my face. Usually people are mean to me online, or they do it anonymously, or they are paparazzi hiding behind their cameras. I realized that I don’t want to close myself off from humanity. Humanity is also digital and I protected myself for a long time. I felt like I didn’t want or need to be as closed off anymore. Of course, the tabloids went crazy for a second, but how people react to me having an Instagram account says a lot about them. [Laughs]
Have you had any death threats recently?
Oh, I totally have. Some people have told me they have dedicated their lives to seeing my downfall. So, we’ll see if they ever back off. Maybe someday.
Do you have any regrets?
If I could go back and change anything, would I? That’s a really hard question for me to answer. I felt like at the time, I was doing the very best that I could. I don’t think that I was being flippant about the situation. I was really just having a hard time wrapping my mind about what was even happening. I don’t have regrets, per se. I wish that I had been able to write a novel while I was in prison. I have all these ideas of how I could have been a better person. I was always trying the best that I could. I don’t have any regrets in that regard. I feel like I am very happy with the person I am now.