Keeping family and friends in Perugia to be near Amanda Knox during her four years in prison has required tremendous sacrifice. And those involved celebrated as she was acquitted of murder Monday.
Since Amanda Knox first was locked up four years ago, a member of her immediate family or circle of close friends from Seattle has been in Perugia, Italy, almost continuously, to assure she saw a friendly face during visiting hours.
That has required a tremendous financial and logistical juggle, and the help of a horde of new friends. Thanks to a supporter who worked for British Airways, her mother, Edda Mellas, took cheap standby flights to Rome.
Mellas and Knox’s father, Curt, divorced and remarried, have taken out second mortgages, run up credit-card debt and drained their retirement funds. Knox’s grandmother took out a $250,000 mortgage to contribute to legal bills that far exceed $1 million.
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They eventually rented a small “agri-tourismo” — a farm house — outside Perugia and bought a beat-up car.
Their sacrifice was rewarded Monday with Knox’s appeal acquittal on murder charges for the brutal stabbing of her former roommate, Meredith Kercher. While a separate conviction for criminal slander was upheld, her sentence amounted to time served, and she was released from the Capenne prison about 90 minutes after the verdict.
David Marriott, a spokesman for the Knox family, said his best guess is that Amanda will fly out of Italy and arrive in Seattle on Tuesday afternoon or early evening. The family bought Knox a plane ticket before the verdict in 2009, but decided not to do that again.
As Knox’s family hopped continents and talked constantly to international media, an ad hoc group of defenders — many of them parents of Knox’s former Seattle Prep classmates — formed a group called the Friends of Amanda to debunk forensic evidence and counter what they contended were erroneous media reports.
About a dozen of the staunchest local defenders broke out in cheers, tears, whoops and hugs Monday as they watched the verdict from a suite in Seattle’s Fairmont Olympic hotel. Several had been up all night to watch Knox read an emotional statement about midnight.
With a dozen TV cameras clustered around, Tom Wright, the galvanizing force behind Friends of Amanda, expressed condolences to Kercher’s family and sympathy to Knox’s co-defendant and former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito.
“To Amanda herself, we say, ‘way to go, kid,’ ” said Wright, a Mercer Island writer and film producer. “We will welcome you with open arms and open hearts.”
The pledge for family and friends to always be nearby for visits required sacrifices.
Edda Mellas, a math teacher in the Highline School District, used her personal vacation and sick days as well as those donated by others. Her husband, Chris Mellas, worked remotely at his job as an IT manager.
Curt Knox lost his job as a controller at Macy’s but was hired recently by the Seattle Opera. He brought packages of Hamburger Helper on trips to Italy, growing tired of Italian food, according to “The Fatal Gift of Beauty,” a book on the case by Nina Burleigh.
Knox’s younger sister, Deanna, dropped out of Western Washington University and began working to fund her trips. Knox’s friend from the University of Washington, Madison Paxton, moved to Perugia, and several other UW classmates dropped in for periods of time.
Back in the United States, the Friends of Amanda collected about $80,000 in a series of fundraisers. Some people donated air miles.
The effort also drew an impressive array of scientists who were disturbed how Italian law enforcement analyzed DNA evidence that was critical to her conviction.
Greg Hampikian, a Boise State University law professor and head of the Idaho Innocence Project, and Mark Waterbury, a forensic scientist in Redmond, both worked to rebut so-called “low copy DNA” samples taken from a kitchen knife allegedly containing both Knox’s and Kercher’s DNA, which prosecutors said was the murder weapon.
“This took four years and thousands of people,” said Waterbury, who did not know Knox before her arrest.
As volunteers picked apart the science, another group of volunteers did battle with negative media accounts of Knox.
Her family remained silent for months on the advice of Italian lawyers, declining interview requests from The Seattle Times and other outlets, even as British and Italian tabloids inaccurately sensationalized her as hard-partying and sexually voracious, and described evidence later proved to be false.
The lead prosecutor pressed a theory that Knox, who had no criminal history, slashed Kercher’s throat while Sollecito and a second man, Rudy Guede, held her down.
The defense, meanwhile, said the evidence unequivocally pointed to a single attacker, Guede, a drug dealer who fled to Germany after the murder. He was arrested there, brought back to Italy where he was tried and convicted of the killing. His conviction was upheld on appeal and he remains in prison.
Anne Bremner, a Seattle attorney, described the effort as “turning a supertanker of bad information coming from leaks out of a closed proceeding.”
King County Superior Court Judge Mike Heavey, whose daughter attended Seattle Prep with Knox, went far enough in her defense that he was admonished by the state Judicial Conduct Commission. But he continued advocating, picking apart the prosecution case recently at regional Rotary and Chamber of Commerce events.
“The whole thing from the very beginning didn’t make sense,” Heavey said Monday. “There is no question of innocence.”
Knox’s supporters say she likely is going to disappear for several weeks after she returns, although perhaps not before a news conference.
That’s a good idea, said Margaret Ralph, the parent of Knox’s former Seattle Prep schoolmate and soccer teammate.
“Imagine being behind cement walls and bars for four years, and knowing you’re innocent,” said Ralph, wiping away tears in the Fairmont Olympic suite after the verdict. “I’m sure she’s wounded, but she has all this support from her family, her friends, her community. And she’s going to have to find a way to deal with the people who still think she’s guilty.”
The case became an international sensation, with at least a dozen books, a made-for-TV movie and a fleet of blogs, on both sides. Each side took their shots.
Those issues, however, were sidelined Monday, in favor of a celebration. Wright collapsed on the couch of the hotel suite an hour after the verdict. He’d been up for 24 hours.
“There’s going to be a lot of yahoo-ing in the shower,” he said. “Then sleep.”
Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605