SEATTLE (USA TODAY) - As always, waiting was the hardest part.
was waiting last month to hear the verdict from Italy's highest court on
her case, the sensational murder charges that had put the American
exchange student in prison for four years before an appeals court
reversed her conviction. Now back home, too anxious to stay in her small
downtown apartment, she went to her mother's house with her boyfriend
and best friend. Her father and stepmother stopped over.
They decided to pass the time by watching a movie, settling on The Hunger Games.
the story of a post-apocalyptic world didn't exactly calm her nerves,
"but it definitely was distracting, at the very least," Knox says
ruefully. The science-fiction film was forgotten when her lawyer called
from Rome at 2 a.m. with news all too real. The Court of Cassation had
ruled she would have to stand trial again for the 2007 murder of her
British roommate, Meredith Kercher.
"It had gone as we had not
foreseen and exactly as we had hoped against," Knox said quietly in an
exclusive interview with USA TODAY about her new book, Waiting to Be Heard, released today by HarperCollins. "It's just this thing that's laying so heavy on my heart right now."
It was the first sit-down, face-to-face interview Knox had done with a
reporter, followed by other interviews about her book with People magazine and ABC News' Diane Sawyer. An ABC special, Murder. Mystery. Amanda KnoxSpeaks, airs at 10 ET tonight.
dream, however distant, of having Kercher's parents take her to visit
Meredith's grave are on hold. Instead, she ruminates about returning to
Italy for the new trial - her presence isn't required - as a statement
of what is at stake for her. The coming courtroom battles in Florence
and Rome and, potentially, the United States may well stretch into
"I thought there was an end to the field of barbed wire,
and it's like it was just the hill," she says, fighting back tears. She
had reached "a crest" only to see more peril ahead before she finally
might clear her name, reclaim her life and move on.
to order a new trial came as Knox has returned to school at the
University of Washington, started a long-term relationship with a
musician boyfriend, eased the panic attacks she suffered in prison and
afterward, and finished a book detailing her experiences and what she
learned from them about perseverance and public identity.
WISH LIST: What Amanda Knox wrote in her journal
BOOK LIST: Various takes on the Amanda Knox case
INTERVIEW: Excerpts from Amanda Knox's interview with USA TODAY
COURTS: Legal case against Amanda Knox not closed
463-page book chronicles her version of a story that has transfixed
tabloid newspapers and cable TV on two continents. Italian prosecutors
portrayed her as a manipulative, promiscuous "Foxy Knoxy" who helped
kill her roommate when a sex-and-drug game went awry. She has become
instantly recognizable and notorious, lumped in a skit on Saturday Night Live two weeks ago with the Unabomber and the Menendez brothers.
portrays herself as a naive kid far from home who found herself
enmeshed in a spiraling nightmare, the victim of an errant prosecution.
Independent analysts have concluded that the microscopic DNA that helped
convict her and her former Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, was
mishandled and unreliable. She blames herself for misjudgments and
missteps, especially for signing a statement indicating she was at the
scene during the murder and implicating an innocent man. She says she
did so only after a long and abusive interrogation and quickly recanted
After an interview in her hometown that stretches for five
hours, it is hard to reconcile the prosecutors' picture of a depraved
murderer with the lithe, earnest 25-year-old trying to regain her
footing. She had left Seattle in 2007 as a college junior eager for
adventure and determined to learn a new language at the University for
Foreigners in Perugia, Italy. Four years later, she returned graver,
warier and fluent in the Italian she ended up perfecting in prison.
didn't cancel the long-scheduled session with USA TODAY despite the
unexpected bad news from the Italian court five days earlier.
is my way of speaking up for myself," she says. Doing the interview is a
chore to be endured, she says, but after the travails of the past few
years, "I don't dread a whole heck of a lot. The only thing that I could
really say is similar to dread is this waiting, and this not knowing
what's going to happen. Waiting was always the hardest part."
AN IMPISH SIDE
Her quirky manner and delicate beauty was
one reason Amanda Knox initially drew the suspicion of Italian
law-enforcement officials. Her photogenic face, catnip for the
paparazzi, helped ignite feverish coverage of her arrest and trial. The
author of one of the dozen books about her case wrote that she bore "an
uncanny resemblance to Perugia's Madonna." Shoulder-length brown hair
frames her oval face. She has blue eyes and a wide grin, though she
flashes it less often than she once did.
An impish side still
occasionally breaks through. During a photo-taking session at a local
park, she tries to loosen her staged pose using advice a photographer
friend once gave her. "Squirm!" she shouts at herself, jumping and
wiggling, then settling with a smile at the camera.
extended sit-down interview, though, she is contained, serious and
still. She pauses to ponder questions and audibly exhales in relief when
she finishes an answer. She responds directly even at times when her
lawyers (who weren't present) might have preferred a dodge.
Will she return to Italy for her retrial?
lawyers have said that I don't have to and that I don't need to. I'm
still considering it, to be honest," she replies. She has been turning
it over in her mind since the court decision. "It's scary, the thought.
But it's also important for me to say, 'This is not just happening far
away from and doesn't matter to me.' So, somehow, I feel it's important
for me to convey that. And if my presence is what is necessary to convey
that, then I'll go."
She added that she wanted to understand the
legal risks before making a decision. Now her lawyer, Carlo Dalla
Vedova, has announced that Knox won't return to Italy for it.
Her legal future is full of uncertainty. The Italian high court has
another two months before it's required to release a decision explaining
its ruling. The justices' reasoning will help shape the retrial at an
appeals court in Florence. That verdict, for conviction or acquittal,
could be appealed again to the high court.
In her worst-case
scenario - if the appeals court convicts her, and the high court upholds
that conviction - Italy could seek her extradition from the United
States to finish her 26-year prison term, set by the trial court in
The negotiations over that might become a diplomatic and
legal showdown that breaks ground in transnational law. "National
boundaries are counting much less today as we travel more, so we're
going to see more of this," Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz says.
"But we haven't seen a case like this" before.
For Knox, concerns about a conviction are, naturally, more personal.
always a possibility, is my understanding of the way it works, just
because there are human failings in a justice system," she says. "I
would hope that, should that ever happen - and I don't think it will -
people would still believe in me no matter what a legal system says when
it's wrong. That would be my hope. I don't know if it would mean they
would take me back to prison. I don't know." She pauses.
sincerely hope not, and I have a life that I want to live, I want to
have the right to live. And I guess the one thing that I can say is,
I've already confronted in my mind the thought that I would never leave
MAKING TO-DO LISTS
The night before her initial
conviction was overturned by an appeals court, Knox drew a line down a
page in her journal. She wrote side-by-side lists of what she would do
under the possible outcomes: if she was acquitted, if her 26-year
sentence was affirmed, and if she was sentenced to life in prison
If she could return home to Seattle right away,
she put eight items on a wish list, from getting an apartment with her
best friend - done - to repaying her parents and grandmother for the
loans and mortgages they took out to pay her legal fees. (The $3.8
million advance she got for her book has gone a long way toward
fulfilling that.) Now, a year and a half later, she has completed or at
least taken some steps toward each item on the list. She has been in a
relationship with her musician boyfriend, James Terrano, for more than a
If she had to complete her sentence, with the prospect of
getting out of prison when she was in her 40s, she listed eight other
goals, from graduating long-distance from the University of Washington -
"even possible?" she wrote to the side - to getting a better job in
She added three more items if she was sentenced to life
imprisonment with no possibility of parole. She would stop writing
letters home, she wrote, and she put question marks after two others.
"Ask family and friends to forget me?" And: "Suicide?"
prisoners had attempted suicide while she was there, some successfully
and others not. She knew the most reliable way to try, using a plastic
bag. "I have a great amount of respect for life and I always think that
no matter how bad situations get, you can always make something out of
it," she says in the interview. But it is possible to get to the point
of being "so sad that you don't even want to try."
"That is the
thing that I was scared of - that I would know intellectually that
there's something to glean out of life, but that I would be so broken
that I wouldn't care. I just wouldn't want to fight anymore."
next day, the appeals court set her free, prompting cheers from some in
the courtroom and boos from others. Experts appointed by the appeals
court had concluded that the DNA samples found on the purported murder
weapon and a bra clasp - the most important physical evidence against
Knox and Sollecito - were too small to be conclusively matched to
anyone. Some of the evidence had been mishandled and potentially tainted
(Other DNA evidence helped convict Rudy Guede,
now 26, of the murder; the Ivory Coast drifter and petty criminal is now
serving a 16-year sentence. Prosecutors argue Knox and Sollecito acted
in concert with him; the defense argues he acted alone.)
rushed back to the prison for her things. Guards returned the passport
they had seized four years earlier. "I didn't recognize my passport
photo," she writes in her book, seeing a picture of a "younger me" ready
to set off for Italy. "I felt sad to see her. I wanted to say, 'You
have no idea what's going to happen to you.'"
'WHAT DO YOU DO?'
These days, one of Knox's favorite
hangouts is a tea house near her apartment in the funky International
District in downtown Seattle, on the ground floor of the historic Panama
Hotel, opened in 1910. On this afternoon, the proprietor, Jan Johnson,
has brought out some snapshots that show the empty space before it had
been converted into a brick-lined retreat for tea and espresso.
is admiring the pictures when Johnson notices the reporter and
photographer trailing her. "What do you do?" she asks with friendly
curiosity. Knox, accustomed to encountering strangers who know
altogether too much about her, seems surprised at the anonymity. "I'm a
writer," she finally replies, smiling.
At the same time, though,
teenagers at a table are elbowing one another and pointing at Knox. A
girl snaps a photo on her cellphone, then shows her friends, giggling.
often wears glasses, in part because she became increasingly
nearsighted in prison and in part because it makes her less
recognizable. When she returned to classes at the University of
Washington, to her discomfort some students would take her picture in
class and post it on Twitter; that rarely happens anymore. In her
creative-writing class, she sometimes writes on themes drawn from her
days in prison, and it is no longer such a big deal to anyone, she says.
she first arrived in Seattle, she suffered nightmares and panic
attacks. Her family worried that she might have post-traumatic stress
disorder. She reluctantly agreed to see a counselor, who urged her to
talk about whatever she liked.
"I started talking about the
here-and-now, about the things that I went through, just the things that
I was struggling with - like I was disappointing the people I loved
because I wasn't the same person anymore," she recalls. "And I worried
and I feared that I was disappointing them by not coming back quite the
Suddenly she found herself weeping uncontrollably and feeling
trapped. She called her boyfriend, who picked her up. She never went
HOPING FOR CLOSURE
Knox insists she had no
involvement in this grisly crime against a roommate she describes as a
friend. She felt a natural kinship with her 21-year-old British
roommate, she says, both adventurous young women with divorced parents.
She disputes accounts that they didn't like one another. She says she
was shocked and shaken when Meredith's body, her throat slit and her
partially nude body covered with a duvet, was found in the cottage they
shared with two young Italian women.
At the time of the murder,
she says, she and Sollecito were at his apartment, watching a movie and
smoking a joint. ("Marijuana was as common as pasta" for her and her
friends in Italy, she writes.)
In her book, Knox walks through
each step of her interrogation and piece of evidence for her view of
what it means and, in some cases, how she says it was skewed by Italian
law-enforcement officials. Police and prosecutors devised a bizarre
theory of the murder and refused to be swayed, even in the face of
contradictory evidence, she says. At times she blames herself for
failing to understand what was happening - for not being as mature, as
smart or as strong as the situation demanded.
She hopes her book
"shows the growing-up-ness" of the experience, she says. She struggled
to stay calm and sane while held in the Capanne prison, fighting for her
freedom and leaning on the prison's Catholic chaplain, Don Saulo
Scarabattoli. She rebuffed sexual overtures from guards, she says, and
avoided provocation from aggressive and unpredictable fellow prisoners.
She knows there are those who will never believe she is innocent,
possibly including Kercher's family. Of perhaps two dozen books
published about her case, she has read only a few, including Meredith,
written by father John Kercher and published last spring. In it,
Kercher, a British journalist, describes Knox's conviction as hard-won
"It matters to me what Meredith's family thinks," Knox
says. "It does affect me - me, and the peace that I have inside." Tears
well in her eyes again. "I would hope, like, I really hope that the
Kerchers read my book, and they don't have to believe me. I have no
right to demand anything of anyone. But I hope they try."
hesitated to contact them. "I've always been afraid of just upsetting
them, and I feel like as long as there's question of my involvement in
Meredith's death, I don't want to impose myself on them." She had
thought that reaching out might be possible once Italy's highest court
had affirmed her acquittal.
Instead, their decision for a retrial
has become one more barrier. She will have to convince another court of
her innocence before the case could be closed. "It's this, this, this
field of barbed wire that I'm having to crawl through so I can finally
get to the side where, OK, we're finally on the same side" as the
"The ideal situation in my mind is that they could
show me Meredith's grave. Because it was like, I wasn't allowed to
grieve, either, and that would mean a lot to me." An hour later, she
raises the same prospect again when asked whether this episode of her
life would ever truly be over.
"I really want to go see her
grave," she says. "And right now I don't feel like I have the right to
without her family's permission. So that's something that I want to work
toward to get closure."
She is wearing a small gold necklace of a
dove. The chaplain gave it to her the night she was waiting for the
appeals-court decision that, it turned out, reversed her conviction.
gave it to me to remind me I am free, no matter where I am," she says,
touching it like a talisman. "I don't wear it always, but I wear it on
important occasions, and when I need to remind myself of that."