Saturday, December 05, 2009

Thankfully, there is no X on Amanda's forehead.

This is apropos of nothing, but you must watch it. Just not right after eating. And you have to stick with it till at least the 1-minute point.


It's hard to know what to make of the Amanda Knox verdict.

Twenty-five years of writing, encompassing a number of sensational crime stories, has taught me a simple truth: One can never know what secrets and demons hide in the heart of a given human being. Living in San Diego, I covered the case of CHP Officer Craig Peyer, whom coworkers and neighbors desc
ribed as just the nicest guy in the world, a guy who'd do anything for you, a guy who went out of his way to help the media get the word out regarding the safety of young people, particularly young women, traveling alone at night. Two nights after Christmas 1986, for reasons that remain murky, Officer Peyer pulled one such young woman, Cara Knott, off the freeway into the dark, where he apparently beat her over the head with his massive CHP flashlight, strangled her and threw her off an overpass. She landed on a rocky ravine below, and when the police found her the next day (after an all-night search by her own parents, sisters and fiance)...well, one of the earliest cops on the scene described her body to me thusly: "She looked like what happens when you take a Milky Way out of the freezer and slam it on the counter." Craig Peyer became the first member of the illustrious California Highway Patrol to be convicted of committing a homicide while on duty. (In an eerie and tragic footnote, Cara's father, Sam, later died while sprucing up the memorial that had been built in his daughter's memory at the site where her broken body was found.)

That said, I must also say that on the surface of things, there's seldom been a case where someone struck me as a less likely murder suspect than Amanda Knox
especially given the grisly nature of the murder at hand. Throughout the story and the trial she seemed much younger than her 22 years, almost like a giddy teenager. During breaks in the proceedings, she mugged and grinned as if she were really backstage at a high school performance of To Kill a Mockingbird (and maybe looking forward to prom night, tomorrow).

But then after a while, you start to think about that on another level. You start to think about how bizarre it is for someone to be acting that way while she's being held without bail in a foreign country, on trial for murder. This is, by all accounts, a highly intelligent girl. She knew full well what was going on over there, and what was at stake. Why the hell is she laughing and winking all the time? This is also the same girl who did cartwheels and splits (!) in the police station while waiting to be interviewed shortly after the murder. Knox's lawyer says Amanda was just working off nervous energy. OK, but come on. Even if the girl never imagined she'd be a prime suspect in the case, her friend had just been butchered in the apartment they shared. Meredith Kercher's throat was sliced open; she died choking on her own blood. And you're doing
cartwheels in the police station?

I'm not saying I think the girl did it after all. I'm pretty certain that here in the U.S., with any jury except perhaps the type of jury that sprung O.J., Knox would've been acquitted. You can't really consider the inappropriate behaviors, the laughing and the cartwheels (or the panty-shopping with her boyfriend* the day after the murder)
that's not evidence, in my view—and what evidence there was is simply too thin and ambiguous, based on everything I've seen and heard. No question, I would've voted "not guilty."

I'm just saying that I wonder if there may be something slightly amiss with Miss Knox
, regardless of her guilt or innocence in this case. Sometimes when the camera catches her just a certain way, she has the oddest cast in her eye. Of course I'm having that reaction, at least in part, because I already know that this girl has been arrested (and now convicted) in a homicide case; I'm contextualizing her.

Whatever the reason, at those moments, to tell you the honest truth, my mind flashes back four decades and I sort of see one of the Manson girls.

* also tried and convicted.


Mynahnni said...

Now you mention it, there is a subtle quality in Amanda Knox that would hint she does not grasp the inherent brevity of the whole situation, not unlike Susan Atkins and her giggling cohorts in the murky yesteryear.

Given the endless examples of those whose social persona came to hide a dark and secret interior, I wonder if the Italian justice system is not simply more perceptive and less politically correct than our own.

Ms. Knox seems to have tripped herself on several counts, appearing disassociated from a murder of someone she new in the next room and casting a finger at someone who had no involvement. Clearly, she appears to have had knowledge of the crime whether or not she assisted in its completion.
That she appears to be a sociopath may or may not be beside the point.
Her roommate was terrorized and murdered, but in Amanda's mind it just seemed the way things go sometimes...whether she is personally guilty or innocent of committing the act.

Steve Salerno said...

Myna: Methinks you meant to type "gravity" instead of "brevity," but we got it, and I just made the same exact mistake myself in a manuscript the other day. Must be something in the water.

Elizabeth said...

The sky-gliding is freakishly awesome, Steve. Unfortunately, I ignored your advice not to watch it right after eating -- and I'm still paying for it.

You say that "behavior is not evidence" -- and that's true -- but looking at behavior is important in our assessment of the suspect's possible motives, state of mind, etc.

I have not followed the Knox case, but watched yesterday's news about her sentencing -- and I agree that something is amiss there. I saw the clip with her giving a statement asking for a not guilty verdict -- she appeared as if she were on a school debate team, discussing a pleasantly exciting topic.

There seems to be a weird emotional disconnect in her, and one not necessarily indicative of sociopathy (though this is only a very superficial guess on my part, I do not know nearly enough about her), but rather some other psychological glitch. A strange case.

But then you look at the two most recent cases of the juvenile killers -- Alyssa Bustamante and Andrew Conley -- and you have to wonder what's going on with our young people that makes killing another human being a thrill for them, or at least no big deal (search for "boy kills brother" and see what kind of things pop up -- siblings executing each other over video games, treats, etc., and feeling no remorse afterward). Scary.

Anonymous said...

There was a 20/20 or 60 minutes report on this case. Evidently the prosecutor in this might be the one with mental issues. He fixated on the allegedly satanic ritualistic murder aspect then just decided to go after this girl on no physical evidence.

If anything, the girl has suffered mentally from being in jail falsely accused.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon: I'm sure that incarceration hasn't done the girl any good. OTOH, the manifestations to which I refer in the post were there in the immediate aftermath of the murder, before she was even in detention.

Yes, that prosecutor is a piece of work. Fixated on serial killers--and under investigation for corruption himself, if I'm not mistaken.

What a crazy case all-around.

Eric Davidson said...

Despite the objections raised by her family about the Italian justice system, etc., it is strange that this Knox trial has attracted so much international attention

Martha said...

Thanks for the thrill ride down the Eiger, Steve. That's one thing I can cross off my list now!

You're right about that slight "off" look in her eye. And I just can't imagine maintaining my composure if I were under the pressure of being tried for murder under any circumstances, not to mention these. She's one cool customer, that's for sure.

Still, I can't believe she got a fair trial. At least "fair" in terms of American jurisprudence. Which, of course, this isn't. Bummer, huh?

To anyone who is interested in this case, I highly recommend the book The Monster of Florence, which is about (at least at first) the multi-decade investigation into a serial killer. But by the time you finish the book, you realize that the Monster the author is really talking about is the Italian judicial system.

Based on what I read in Monster of Florence, I wouldn't believe a thing that emerged from their official investigation. And, to Anon's point, yes, the prosecutor has a track record of very shady investigative sleight of hand. He figures prominently in the long saga of outrages in Monster.

Steve Salerno said...

I saw Ann Coulter on O'Reilly last night and she is (or at least purports to be) more convinced of Foxy Knoxy's guilt than anyone I've heard in American media. She even presented several snippets of damning evidence that I hadn't heard covered. I wonder if she's stretching the truth, or if the media--in their collective friendliness to Knox and moral outrage at her prosecution--were just selective in their reporting on the case?

Harry Rag said...

The English translation of Judge Massei's sentencing report can be downloaded from here: