“I am Amanda Knox” were the first words the 21-year-old Seattle native told the court in Perugia, Italy, where she is standing trial for the murder of her roommate, Meredith Kercher. Knox took the stand for Friday and Saturday as a “communal” witness for the prosecution, civil plaintiffs, and in her own defense. At times she was confident and secure; other times she sounded confused and distracted. She started her testimony in English, but after two hours switched to Italian, relying on the translator for help primarily with slang words like “bummer” and “laid back.”
First, she fielded questions from Carlo Pacelli, attorney for Patrick Lumumba, the Congolese man Knox accused of murdering Kercher during an interrogation shortly after the murder. Lumumba, who spent two weeks in prison because of Knox’s accusation, is a civil plaintiff seeking an undisclosed amount from Knox for defamation of character. In addition, authorities filed criminal charges against Knox for falsely accusing him.
“The declarations were taken against my will. They called me a stupid liar. They said I would go to prison for protecting someone.”
“Did you ever apologize to Patrick?” Pacelli asked. “No,” said Knox, passing up what seemed like a good opportunity to make the apology in front of the court.
“Did you ever offer compensation to Patrick?”asked Pacelli. “Who, me?” she laughed. “No.”
In the five months of this trial, the jury has heard a barrage of damaging testimony about Knox. Witnesses have portrayed her as a strange cartwheel performer with bad hygiene. Jurors learned about her vibrator and her sexual escapades, and her personal emails and handwritten diaries have become part of the prosecution’s dossier of evidence against her.
Knox’s testimony Friday was her first chance to explain both her accusation of Lumumba and her bizarre demeanor after Kercher’s body was discovered. Having suffered a virtual character assassination since she was arrested in November 2007, Knox succeeded in giving the jury a different view of herself as a normal young woman nothing like the shocking things that have been said and implied about her. “They are wrong,” she said. “I’m not like that.”
She has also criticized the police who interrogated her, accusing them of maltreatment and blaming them for making her finger Lumumba. Knox, who originally confessed to being at the scene of the crime and hearing Kercher’s screams, said the police put those ideas in her head. “The declarations were taken against my will. They called me a stupid liar. They said I would go to prison for protecting someone,” she said. “They hit me on the back of the head twice. I was very, very scared.”
When her own defense attorneys questioned her, Knox spoke about her positive relationship with Kercher and the other girls who lived in the house where Kercher was killed. She also described how she had been told that she had tested positive for HIV in the initial weeks of her incarceration. “I cried and cried,” she said after explaining that she had been tested twice for AIDS before being told the results were a mistake. “I kept thinking I was going to die. I was worried I would never have children.”
Knox was evasive when questioned about Sollecito, her co-defendant in the crime. She would not elaborate about their relationship, but she did testify that she relied heavily on him for help understanding Italian and for comfort during the days between the murder and her arrest. For the first time, she explained why she and her then-boyfriend seemed inappropriately affectionate outside the house on the morning Kercher’s body was found. “I was hugging Raffaele because I was cold. I was in shock,” she said. “I didn’t understand what had happened.”
The questions were tough but the day belonged to Knox. Amanda was unflappable on her second day of testimony, first fielding questions from prosecutor Giuliano Mignini and then from the kercher lawyer Francesco Maresca. Again she testified that she was under such pressure the night she accused Lumumba that she became confused and disoriented. It was not lost on those in the courtroom that the same young woman was now under enormous pressure defending herself against life in prison. "I don't know how to deal with difficult situations," she said. "I try to find the normalcy in a bad situation." Knox will not get another chance to testify in her trial but she will be allowed to make spontaneous declarations as her defense lays out their case. Next week Knox's mother Edda Mellas takes the stand. The trial will break July 18 for a two month break.
Barbie Nadeau has reported from Italy for Newsweek magazine since 1997. She also writes for CNN Traveller, Budget Travel magazine and Frommer's.