Amanda in Wonderland

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Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images
Amanda Knox arriving at the court in Perugia during her appeal trial, four days before her murder conviction was overturned, September 30, 2011
“It was much pleasanter at home,” thought poor Alice, “when one wasn’t always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits. I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit-hole—and yet—and yet—it’s rather curious, you know, this sort of life! I do wonder what can have happened to me! When I used to read fairy-tales, I fancied that kind of thing never happened, and now here I am in the middle of one! There ought to be a book written about me, that there ought! And when I grow up, I’ll write one—but I’m grown up now,” she added in a sorrowful tone….
—Lewis Carroll
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

In May 2011, I went to dinner in Perugia with several reporters who had spent most of the previous three and a half years covering the Meredith Kercher murder case. They shared a sardonic, wary view of the proceedings, in which their reporting had played an outsized and perhaps decisive role. We met at a restaurant called, appropriately enough, Altromondo (Otherworld). It was underground, like so much of Perugia, including the courtroom where Amanda Knox and her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were tried and convicted for Kercher’s death. In Perugia, you almost always feel like you’re underground, even when you’re outside. The medieval city descends a steep hill in crooked, claustrophobic side streets that cross each other at absurd angles. The narrowness of the streets is enhanced by the tendency of the city’s ancient buildings to lean forward, as if about to fall on their faces. The sun doesn’t shine on most streets for most of each day. The mood is relentlessly clandestine, conspiratorial, paranoid.

At Altromondo the journalists ordered pasta with wild boar and carafes of house red. I was halfway into my tripe when one journalist said, offhandedly, “I don’t even know any more if Amanda is guilty.” (It was an affectation of the journalists in Perugia to refer to the case’s principals by their first names, just as the most junior staffer in a Hollywood mailroom might refer to Brad or Angelina.) The statement surprised me, because this particular journalist had recently published a book that accused Knox of murdering Kercher in cold blood.

Also at the table was a charming British hack whose byline regularly appeared under “exclusive” reports about the trials. The British tabloids had been inspired by Amanda Knox to great rhetorical heights, even by their own formidable standards. The greatest hits, all of which would later turn out to be misleading if not blatantly false, included “‘MEREDITH DIES TONIGHT’: CHILLING TEXT MESSAGE PREDICTED STUDENT’S SEX MURDER”; “THE WILD, RAUNCHY PAST OF FOXY KNOXY”; “FOXY KNOXY ‘HELD MEREDITH DOWN DURING DEADLY SEX ATTACK’”; “Meredith Kercher ‘SAID …

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