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Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Knox trial

I've been following the Amanda Knox/Meredith Kercher case for the past two years with sympathy and horror. In a nutshell, Knox and Kercher were roommates; Kercher was stabbed to death; Knox didn't do herself any favors afterward. But the evidence isn't strong enough; the extraneous circumstances and shocking tactics used by Italian investigators were pointed and manipulative. (The most disgusting? Telling an incarcerated Knox that she's HIV-positive, asking her to write down every man she's slept with, then telling her oops, we made a mistake and passing the list of men to the press.) I don't think Knox did it.

I won't go into the whole 'it's anti-American' rant coming from Stateside, or the fuzzy circumstances surrounding the case. But what resonates most with me is how alone Knox was in this whole ordeal. She was 20 when this happened; an exchange student from UW; a wide-eyed girl abroad for the first time, tasting the newness and embracing the curiosities and independence of living in another world. I've been there; had I been there at age 20, who knows the trouble I'd have got myself into.

When I moved to Prague I was 27, but still naive; I'd been lucky, growing up in the Midwest and living in places where I had good friends and good people around me. I went to Prague with this same attitude. You trust everyone. You just assume nobody would do anything weird, or put you in a compromising or dangerous position. At parties, you ignore the guys shooting up in the corner, you smirk at the guy puking in the kitchen sink, you don't ask when you see a friend kissing a girl you've seen soliciting herself on street corners. You roll your eyes if something seems dodgy, chalking it up to a 'cultural divide'.

My flat in Prague housed five of us. Great people, all, but one had a boyfriend who hobnobbed with the neo-Nazi crowd, one brought a different guy home every weekend, and the drugs and booze were plentiful. After I'd left, the guy who took my place brought a girl home one weekend, and everyone woke up to find their handbags, wallets, iPods, CDs, and even their pricey underwear gone.

One of the flats where I stayed in Lisbon wasn't much better; my windowless room was in the middle of a 1960s block of flats, and only one of the doors to the room locked. The owner was a weird Portuguese woman who kept large bags of hash in the cupboard; I often found residue of cocaine in our tiny bathroom. I ignored her until she began to invade my privacy, asking where I was, who I was with, etc. Then one night I came home to find her rummaging through my things, and I moved out without telling her the next afternoon.

I'm not sure I would deal well with the legal systems of any country I've lived in. I never spoke the languages well, never really understood the relaxed manner of the police and their selective interest in broken laws. I feel for Knox, for her bewilderment after her roommate was murdered, her inability to understand the nuances of Italian or the misreading that can happen when two people attempt to solve a problem in two very different languages. Had the police raided either of my former apartments, I would have been an accomplice. How would I have fared?

A young British girl is dead, stabbed in the throat. A gossipy, drama-loving Italian town has now put three people in jail for the same murder. Now, a 22-year-old American girl will be in jail for the next 26 years.

Maybe Knox saw it happen; maybe she heard it; maybe she found herself in a surreal moment that felt more like a horror film than Roman Holiday. She admits to smoking weed on the night of the murder; depending on her reaction to the stuff, maybe she thought it was a bad trip, that the murder was happening in her head, not in real life. But 20-year-old exchange students don't just stab their roommates in the throat. Especially girls like Knox, who did stupid things like any 20-year-old girl (I am so thrilled that the internet didn't exist when I was a teenager; YouTube never dies.), but certainly wasn't harboring fantasies of killing anyone.

I feel for Knox; I can't imagine the fear throbbing through her body when she heard the verdict last night. I can't imagine the heady whirl of the terror of the past two years as she tried to make sense of a night she doesn't remember well. It's a cautionary tale to everyone living abroad, on their own. Yes, it's freeing; you can be whoever you want to be. And so can everyone else.

1 comment:

Anna Kavalauskas said...

Kristin, I've been following this trial closely as well. I was relaying similar sentiments to a friend the other day. Living in a foreign country requires an openness and acceptance that can undoubtably lead to strange situations. I guess no one knows what really happened here, but it is troubling. I can imagine that most young people, especially those abroad, would agree.

Also, as a law student, the evidence I've seen is disturbing. In a kind of horrible way, I keep searching for more that maybe we haven't seen. Otherwise, the convictions still seem largely unexplainable.