For nearly four years, ever since Amanda Knox was jailed on charges of killing her 21-year-old British roommate, her mother, Edda Mellas — who "can't remember what life was like before Amanda got arrested" — has grudgingly made Perugia, Italy, a second home.
PERUGIA, Italy — In the sweltering days of summer, the streets of this hilltop town echo with the conversations of world travelers here to explore its medieval and Renaissance palazzos or climb its steep alleys to catch a glimpse of the verdant countryside.
Edda Mellas would rather be anywhere else.
“I’m not here as a tourist, I’m here to take care of Amanda,” Mellas said on a recent muggy morning, sipping a glass of water in a downtown cafe.
For nearly four years, ever since her daughter, Amanda Knox, was jailed on charges of killing her 21-year-old British roommate, Mellas — who “can’t remember what life was like before Amanda got arrested” — has grudgingly made Perugia a second home.
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“Every summer, every Christmas holiday, every spring break, I’m here,” said Mellas, a teacher in Seattle. “Hundreds of sick days accumulated over 25 years of work, now gone.”
With an appeals court expected to render a decision on the case in September, Mellas is hopeful that the ordeal may be coming to a close.
Twice a week when she is here, she makes the hourlong authorized visits to the prison where Knox has been since Nov. 6, 2007. That was when she and her then-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, an Italian, were arrested and accused of the murder, five days earlier, of a British exchange student, Meredith Kercher, during a sex game gone wrong. All three were students here.
Since then, Mellas has been coming to Perugia to comfort her daughter, who appeared thin and wan during her last court appearance, on July 30.
But she admitted to another aim — to use the news media’s appetite for this tale as a pulpit from which to proclaim the innocence of her daughter.
“The media has been a curse, but it means that Amanda hasn’t been forgotten; she’s not rotting away,” Mellas said. “The day I don’t have to speak to another reporter or do another interview can’t happen soon enough. But if it means helping Amanda, then it’s something I will continue to do.”
That includes challenging news-media accounts of Knox as a party girl gone wild.
Knox, 24, and Sollecito, 27, were convicted in December 2009. She was sentenced to 26 years in prison and he got 25 years. Both are appealing.
Another man, Rudy Guede, 24, was also convicted in a separate trial and originally sentenced to 30 years — reduced to 16 on appeal — after his bloody palm print was found in Kercher’s room and his DNA was found on her body and on objects belonging to her. The three were found guilty of participating in a drug-fueled sexual assault on Kercher that ended with her death. All say they are innocent.
A salacious dramatization of the murder, along with pages of DNA analysis as well as other evidence — telephone printouts, computer logs, fluorescent bloodstain-revealing chemicals and a statement by Knox that investigators believe is compromising — are included in a 427-page report by the presiding judges explaining why the jury convicted the two former students.
Mellas does not believe a word of it.
“People say, ‘You’re Amanda’s mom; you’d be saying that no matter what,’ ” she said. But maternal loyalty goes hand in hand with her conviction that the prosecution’s case is unsound. “You love your kids, but no way would we fight the way we’ve been fighting if there was evidence that she was guilty,” Mellas said.
Earlier this summer, the family’s case seemed to be bolstered by an independent forensic report saying that key pieces of DNA evidence used to tie Knox and Sollecito to the scene of the crime were unreliable and possibly contaminated.
Defense lawyers say the findings seriously undermine the prosecution’s arguments, a claim that prosecutors reject.
The DNA “is just one element of the accusatory case,” one prosecutor, Manuela Comodi, said in a telephone interview.
So far, the trial has placed a considerable financial strain on the family.
Costs have been partly offset by a defense fund, and Knox has won a $58,000 lawsuit against an Italian media company after a court ruled that her privacy had been violated by the publication of medical and personal information. But no money has changed hands while the suit is being appealed.
The psychological and emotional upheaval also has been trying. “Our lives have been put on hold,” said Chris Mellas, who married Knox’s mother nine years ago.
Curt Knox, Amanda’s father, who was divorced from Mellas when Amanda was a small child, has also come here regularly, but work commitments have curtailed his presence.
Last year, Madison Paxton, one of Amanda’s closest friends, moved to Perugia from Seattle to be near her, and Amanda’s younger sister Deanna has come several times.
Both women left college so they could be free to travel.
“All kinds of people have been affected by her trial,” said Chris Mellas, who currently lives in an apartment in a small town in the Umbrian countryside.
They say the sacrifices they have made in the past four years will have been worth it if they can bring Knox home after the appeals trial.
The police and prosecutors “took a simple case and complicated it,” Mellas said.