The new Netflix documentary Amanda Knox explores the 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher and once again raises a host of troubling questions. Jen Offord took a look.
It’s almost nine years since British student Meredith Kercher was found murdered in the bedroom of her student accommodation in Perugia, Italy. She had been sexually assaulted and her throat had been cut, leading to death by blood loss and suffocation.
All murders are grisly by their nature, but it has always seemed hard to reconcile Kercher’s death with the smiling image of the 21-year-old that the world came to know so well during the legal process that ensued.
That process, which lasted the best part of eight years, is one of the most spoken-of aspects of this infamous case. Fellow students Amanda Knox and her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were tried for the murder of Kercher, alongside Rudy Guede – the Ivorian immigrant who was, ultimately, the only one to be found guilty and serve a sentence for the crime.
The eight years that followed Kercher’s murder saw Knox and Sollecito tried and found guilty, then acquitted on the grounds of insignificant evidence after key pieces were found to have been grossly mishandled by Italian police, rendering DNA samples inconclusive. They were then retried and again found guilty (while Knox remained in the United States), and, in March last year, again acquitted, this time by Italy’s highest court, thus ending the case against them.
The most famous aspect of the case, however, is Knox herself, or ‘Foxy Knoxy’ as she was widely referred to (a nickname given to an eight-year-old Knox in her soccer league). Amanda Knox: the attractive American student demonised by the world’s media, and now the subject of a Netflix documentary.
The documentary is unnerving: the crime is gruesome and graphic crime scene photos capturing Kercher’s lifeless foot protruding from the duvet in which she was entombed, are – as you might suspect – far from easy viewing.
It’s necessary to paint a picture, to understand the crime in question, of course, but I couldn’t help feeling slightly patronised. Kercher and her family, didn’t need to suffer this final indignity for the viewer to realise we’re dealing with something incredibly unpleasant.
But that’s not the only disconcerting aspect of it, because Knox herself is a pretty unnerving character. She tells us in the opening frame: “There are those who believe in my innocence, those who believe in my guilt – there is no in-between,” with an air of self-importance that sets the scene for the rest of the documentary.
“If I’m guilty it means that I am the ultimate figure to fear, because I’m not the obvious one,” she continues. “But on the other hand, if I am innocent it means that everyone’s vulnerable, and that’s everyone’s nightmare. Either I’m a psychopath in sheep’s clothing, or I am you.”
If I hadn’t formed an opinion of Knox prior to the documentary, I certainly had by the end of it. Perhaps her need to protest innocence against this most heinous of crimes would be understandable – and the entire documentary appears to exist as a vehicle for just that – had she not already done so at length already via numerous US broadcasters. And not forgetting her 2013 book, Waiting to be Heard. It seems bizarre that Knox, apparently so aggrieved by the media intrusion into her life, would now seek to rake it all up again.
Most likely Knox’s camp are only too aware of the many viewers scrutinising her, searching for ‘tells’ as an admission of guilt. They’ve tried desperately hard to limit any opportunity for this, but the result is unfortunate: Knox’s responses are so staged, it’s impossible not to feel deeply suspicious of them. It’s as if she’s media trained any ounce of humanity out of her demeanour.
But Knox’s behaviour feels odd in general. Even ignoring the cartwheels she was apparently turning at the police station before questioning, there’s little thought here for Kercher, for the victim, and little compassion for her family.
“I wasn’t sure who was being shamed, the victim or alleged perpetrator, but regardless, none of it sits comfortably – apparently even our murders must be sexy to command any attention.”
A cartwheel in an incongruous setting does not a murderer maketh, though, and because of the intense media glare, it’s impossible not to question your feelings towards Knox. Would she have been so ruthlessly picked apart had she not been a young, attractive woman?
Enter Daily Mail journalist Nick Pisa, perhaps the only person other than Knox so willing to perpetually dine out on the sorry story such a long time later, and a man responsible for much of the furore in the first place. Though fortuitously, he does at least have the good grace to present himself as a truly reprehensible human being.
Pisa credits himself as the man who put ‘Foxy Knoxy’ on the map, breaking the sordid elements of the story in the British press. It was through this lens he cultivated the image of Knox as the femme fatale, leaking her prison diaries listing sexual conquests, and depicting the ‘sex-crazed killer’ she was viewed as in the years that followed her arrest.
He talks openly about the pride in his scoop, about the ‘feeding frenzy’ presented to the press and, more callously still, the allure of the attractive ‘girl on girl’ element of the case. But what is that allure exactly? Girl on girl violence? Murder? Sexual assault? I wasn’t sure who was being shamed, the victim or alleged perpetrator, but regardless, none of it sits comfortably – apparently even our murders must be sexy to command any attention. And it was this attention that Italy’s highest court ultimately ruled had created a ‘frantic search’ for the killers, undermining the entire process.
Thoughts about what really happened are academic at this stage: a legal process was followed, however cackhandedly, by a detective who seemed to base his case on some fairly spurious reasoning and massive presumptions. And despite Guede’s conviction, it’s hard to feel like justice has really been served: so many questions seem unanswered given the mishandling of the prosecution.
My flatmates and I ultimately had different opinions on what may or may not have happened in Perugia that night, not that it’s our job to have an opinion at this stage. The one thing we did agree on was the complete absence of focus on Kercher and the crime itself – not just by the filmmakers (Brian McGinn and Rod Blackhurst), Knox and Sollecito, and the press, but by the public who lapped up Pisa et al’s ‘news’.
The final scenes of the documentary show what looks like archive footage of Kercher’s mother Arline being doorstepped. She expresses her surprise in the outcome of the trial, and adds: “It’s bringing everything into disrepute.”
And in that moment we are finally reminded who the real victims in this case have been.6553 Views
Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen