The verdict is in. One family is devastated. One family is elated. Two lives have been at stake for months, the third is a young soul who has been desperately trying to rest in peace. I’ve written about it over the years because I work in study abroad. As I was not in Perugia, in that house on that night, I did not feel that I could speak about the “truth” of what happened there. I write about study abroad. It is my passion and it was clearly important to both Amanda and Meredith. So, I lived my life but kept one eye on the news too.
I heard of this case in Fall 2007. The press reported that Amanda Knox, a study abroad student, had viciously murdered her housemate, Meredith Kercher. They showed and spoke of damning evidence. She confessed. She blamed a black man. She retracted and shifted her story. We saw images of her staring into a camera, deer in headlights. She smoked pot that night. She was a “party girl.” Her boyfriend was entranced. He liked knives. She liked sex. Photos indicated they kissed outside the house after the body was found. There was a manipulated photo indicating that Amanda went home and took a shower in a blood filled bathroom. They were “bad” kids.
A co-worker randomly quipped to me one day, within a few months of the murder, “I wouldn’t send my kid to Italy. They can keep you in prison without charges.” I paused, took a breath and told him that it was very rare that an American student in Italy would be imprisoned. This was not a common situation in my experience as a study abroad professional. Then again, most students who go abroad are not close to crimes such as this.
Those “bad kids” sat in jail. The “good kid” was buried in her home country. People mourned. She was a “good kid.” She studied hard, had lots of friends, called her mum daily. She was beautiful, vibrant. She was murdered on her study abroad program. Why do these things have to happen?
I caught the news here and there. Life marched on.
I watched the news reporting all sorts of tales of macabre, wickedness, lying, horror. Amanda and Rafaelle were eventually convicted. I will never forget the look on her father’s face when he pushed away the cameras that night in the streets of Perugia. He was expecting her to come home. The ticket was already purchased.
One day I caught the news of an ex-FBI agent stating that Amanda Knox was innocent. I wondered, who is this guy and why is he involved in this? He boldly announced that if Amanda needed a roommate, his daughter was available. Seemed shocking. How could he be so sure?
I started reading more about the case. More and more and more – from both sides, both perspectives. And then I had the opportunity to discuss it with that FBI guy, Steve Moore. I asked some questions. He wasn’t pushy about the information – just shared what he had researched and explained some of those hard to understand technical forensic issues to me (amounts of blood, typical crime scene evidence, contamination prevention, luminol, bleach, etc.) I pondered it all. I read more. I asked more questions.
I started working with Steve on safety and emergency planning in study abroad as part of the work I already do at Melibee. He has a solid background for this type of consulting and there is a desperate need for sharing information about how to prepare students, faculty and administrators in times of crisis. That was a separate discussion from the “Knox stuff.”
I’ve never asked Steve, nor did he request, to talk about his feelings about Amanda’s case on my blog. It was not part of my work except that I felt it was important to cite the case as an example of why students and schools need to be have sound and practiced safety processes and standards.
Today, with Amanda being permitted to go home, it is time for me to share my opinion on the case. I have had people email me and comment on the blog, implying that I’m a closet Amanda supporter and that I am disrespectful to Meredith’s memory because I work with Steve Moore.
So here it is – in my own words:
I thought Amanda and Rafaelle were guilty based on the news and extreme claims of bleach clean ups, DNA evidence and questionable behavior.
Then I learned about how some of these issues were being countered. I wasn’t 100% sure of what to think, as the only people who are 100% sure are those who were there. I was not there.
I thought a lot about it. I have worked with American students going abroad for nearly 20 years. I have met many types of students. Some go wild when they’re abroad – it is their first experience with freedom. Others hang in the “American ghetto,” spending time with only Americans. Most explore and play more than they may at home simply because everything is new, adventurous and exciting. And the ones who are usually very serious students and generally very “good kids” are the ones who want an immersion experience. Spend time with locals to learn the language, go to cultural events without prompting, meet the culture and language head on. They are not the ones who typically get in trouble. In fact, I am not aware of another case of an American study abroad student being accused of murder abroad.
And when I thought about it more, a girl going to Italy and smoking a little pot, kissing a cute Italian boy and sleep at his home, well, that frankly is not very unusual for a twenty-something American student to do.
But I didn’t share this with anyone. I wrote about how important it is for schools to have a plan for their students and to advise them, even if they travel independently, because of the extreme example of what happened to Amanda Knox and Meredith Kercher.
Eventually, when the DNA evidence was reviewed by outside specialists and came back with so many issues, I firmly planted both feet in the not guilty arena. I do believe that it is truly impossible for two people to walk into a crime scene and not leave a drop of evidence. No sweat? No spit? No hair? No blood? No footprint? No lint from their clothes? No saliva? It didn’t add up.
And all of that “evidence” about witnesses, a woman hearing a scream, bleach and such, specific motive…it all seemed to disappear.
I don’t know Amanda or Raffaele first hand, nor did I know Meredith. But I do know that two young people were put into jail before anyone bothered to test the evidence in full at the crime scene. And that should concern all of us.
That is my position on the matter. I hope that the Knox and Sollecito families will be able to move on with their lives. I hope that the Kerchers can find peace in their loss and in this painful process they’d had to experience.
And meanwhile, I will continue writing about how we, in academia, have an obligation to prepare students for what to do to protect themselves abroad.