The prosecution’s case against Amanda Knox was never a strong one. Weak evidence. No motive. A prosecutor notorious for attributing ritualistic, sacrificial rites to suspects. (Investigators reportedly mistook the Halloween decorations in Amanda’s rented villa as proof of her obsession with the occult.) But I’ll admit, back in 2007 and 2008, when I was new to the city, I was shocked by how forcefully Seattleites came to Knox’s defense immediately after learning she was a suspect in the November 2007 murder of her British housemate, Meredith Kercher. Not because I thought Knox was guilty—or that I was in any way qualified to say one way or another—but because here, as elsewhere, the public typically treats murder suspects as guilty until proven innocent. (Scope just about any crime story on, say, seattletimes.com and watch the commenters pounce on the accused with the bloodlust of a pitchfork-wielding mob.)
Instead, every local I talked to, without ever meeting Amanda, seemed convinced of her innocence. Seattle-based New York Times columnist Timothy Egan wrote a scathing indictment of the Italian legal system. King County Superior Court judge Michael Heavey risked (and received) a misuse-of-office rebuke on his judicial record for publically criticizing the Italian prosecutor. And all those online commenters, characteristically quick to attack a defendant, largely showed support for their fellow Seattleite.
I didn’t get it—at least not until I was assigned to report on Seattle Prep’s decision to publically stand by its alumnae (“School of Knox,” December 2010). The private high school, and alma mater of former mayor Greg Nickels and former governor John Spellman, held fundraisers and waged letter-writing campaigns for Amanda.
And by the time I had interviewed her English teacher, the school principal, her mother, and even Judge Heavey (whose daughter, a Prep classmate of Amanda’s, called her the kindest person she’d met in her life), a picture emerged: of a bookish young woman who loves soccer, dresses with slacker flair—at Prep she wore mismatched socks and jeans under her skirts—and who is ravenously curious about the world and almost insufferably compassionate. I mean, that’s a Seattleite.
Last night on Nightline, America and the world saw what Seattle knew all along. To promote her memoir, Waiting to be Heard, Knox sat down with Diane Sawyer, and the audience met a person far more articulate and thoughtful than the British and Italian—and even some American—press has portrayed her for the past half-decade. Amanda explained to Sawyer that her supposed bizarre behavior after Kercher’s murder—a blank, cold stare caught on video—was really the result of an existential crisis after learning of her roommate’s death and confronting mortality for the first time. And in the memoir, she explains that what the Italians thought was a cartwheel at the police station—a gesture that caused wild speculation—was really just a yoga move, something Amanda did to calm down.
Existentialism? Yoga? It’s easy to imagine what happened to her, in a place where her actions were so misunderstood, happening to one of us. She dressed oddly, held a libertine worldview, and came across as guarded and bookish. Those things were viewed as evidence of guilt.
The story isn’t over. After four years of imprisonment and winning her freedom in 2011 thanks to an overturned conviction, Knox is still in the Italian crosshairs: The country’s highest court overruled the lesser court’s ruling in March. A new trial is pending.
But one thing will stay constant. Amanda Knox is one of us.
James Ross Gardner is a senior editor at Seattle Met magazine.