Over the past 18 months, a growing and broad network of friends, scientists, lawyers and writers staged a vigorous campaign in the media and online on behalf of Amanda Knox. The guilty verdict, entered by an Italian court, was not for a lack of trying.
Over the past 18 months, a growing and broad network of friends, scientists, lawyers and writers staged a vigorous innocence campaign in the media and online on behalf of Amanda Knox.
The failure to win acquittal was not for a lack of trying.
The effort ultimately raised more than $100,000 to defray more than $1 million in legal and travel expenses the Knox family of Seattle has accrued. At least 10 scientists, volunteering their time, picked apart forensic evidence used against Knox. More volunteers, including University of Washington students, translated a Web site, www.friendsofamanda.org, into four European languages.
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And the campaign, based in Seattle under the name Friends of Amanda, attracted superstar defense lawyers, including John Q. Kelly of New York, lead lawyer for the Nicole Brown Simpson family, who offered assistance for free or below cost.
Through Seattle political connections, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell met with Knox’s mother, Edda Mellas, last year on her way to the Democratic National Convention. Cantwell soon sent letters to Italian officials, including President Silvio Berlusconi, and recently helped the Knox family connect with the U.S. ambassador in Rome.
“I am saddened by the verdict, and I have serious questions about the Italian justice system and whether anti-Americanism tainted this trial,” Cantwell said in a statement. “The prosecution did not present enough evidence for an impartial jury to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Knox was guilty.”
Knox, 22, was convicted on all charges and sentenced to 26 years in prison.
The verdict stunned many supporters.
But Peggy Ganong, a West Seattle translator who blogged about her skeptical view of Knox’s innocence claims, said the campaign waged on Knox’s behalf lapsed into “jingoistic and xenophobic” criticism of the Italian justice system.
“The implication was that Italian forensics are inferior to American forensics, and I think that’s just not true,” Ganong said. “The forensic evidence was a lot stronger than her supporters said.”
“We know this girl”
Support for Knox in Seattle began growing shortly after the UW student was arrested during her junior year abroad while studying in Perugia, Italy.
Knox drew supporters connected to Seattle Prep, where she went to high school and played soccer. They include Mike Heavey, a King County Superior Court judge, and Tom Wright, a screenwriter.
“We know this girl. We’ve known her for years. We know her character, and she’s innocent,” said Wright, whose daughter attended Seattle Prep with Knox.
Supporters, who organized a fundraiser in March, focused criticism on Knox’s characterization in the tabloid press as “Foxy Knoxy,” an oversexed American who’d gone wild. They also directed anger at the lead prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, who presented a now-withdrawn theory early in the case that Knox helped kill Kercher as part of an orgy.
The Friends of Amanda group has tried to sway media heavyweights, including Clint Van Zandt, a former FBI profiler and TV commentator, with criticism of Mignini and Italian police.
“I’m not sure I would have tried to indict the criminal-justice system in defending her,” Van Zandt said in an interview this fall. “That may come back to haunt them.”
DNA experts enlisted
During the summer, prosecutors released DNA tests on a knife that police had found in Sollecito’s apartment and was believed to have been used in the murder. Prosecution experts said the knife had traces of both Kercher’s and Knox’s DNA.
Elizabeth Johnson, an independent DNA expert in California, analyzed the report after being given a copy by Heavey, and came away appalled. The sample containing Kercher’s DNA was not blood but instead about 10 human cells. Such a small sample likely would not be allowed in U.S. courts as evidence of guilt, she said.
A letter signed by Johnson and 10 other DNA experts, criticizing the knife tests and another piece of DNA evidence, was circulated earlier this month by Friends of Amanda.
“My opinion is it’s a train wreck for justice,” Johnson said of the verdict. “It’s proof that witch hunts still exist.”
The Knox family said in a statement it would immediately appeal, and thanked supporters in Seattle and elsewhere.
Anne Bremner, a Seattle attorney who acts as a spokeswoman for Friends of Amanda, said the group would continue to press its case.
“All we’ve ever tried to do is show the other side. The evidence in this case — there was no evidence,” she said.
But Greg Hampikian, director of the Innocence Project at Boise State University and a co-signer to Johnson’s letter, said he expects some of Knox’s supporters to fade away because the appeals process is so grueling.
“The biggest difference between people who get out (of prison) and don’t are a group of supporters who stick with it,” he said.
Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or firstname.lastname@example.org