It’s Hamlet without the Prince. And the fact that the re-trial of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito for the murder of English exchange student Meredith Kercher is taking place in the absence of Ms Knox – it began in earnest yesterday – paradoxically makes it more likely that justice will be done.
Amanda Knox was the main reason the first trial and the appeal gained so much attention. In the early stages it was sometimes her fault. Who will forget the day – Valentine’s Day – when she entered the courtroom in Perugia wearing a t-shirt emblazoned in huge letters with the words, ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE? Amanda Knox is described by her relatives and friends as clever, kind, impulsive, given to wackiness: riding her bicycle all over Seattle in the depths of winter without a coat. Jumping into a deep, icy puddle at the end of a soccer game, on a dare. Browbeating the head of her Catholic high school into setting up a gay-lesbian society – not because she was that way inclined but out of sympathy for a gay friend who she felt was marginalised at school. And if she stuck out on America’s West Coast as a hippy eccentric, the effect was magnified a hundred times in stuffy, medieval Perugia. Publicly snogging and cuddling her boyfriend hours after her flatmate’s murder? Doing yoga exercises in the police station? As Chris Mellas, her stepfather, told me in quiet exasperation, “There is a certain kind of decorum for certain situations which is required to be maintained. And Amanda is completely missing the boat on that.”
The effect in the earlier trials was perverse. Amanda Knox may not be one of the beauties of the age but there is a fresh-faced, forthright sexuality about her which had a provocative effect in the stuffy, inhibited enclave of the Perugia court. Her frank gaze and lack of make-up conveyed the innocence of the convent. Yet the court knew that she had seduced her virginal Italian boyfriend and that she was co-habiting and smoking dope with him in a way that wasn’t “innocent” at all. If she was capable of that, what more might she be capable of?
Yet, as the first day of the retrial yesterday indicated, imagination – the diseased imagination of the profoundly buttoned-up – was all there was to it. At the original trial the prosecution claimed to have found the murder weapon: a kitchen knife removed by police from Raffaele Sollecito’s kitchen. Forensic experts testified that Sollecito’s and Knox’s traces were on the handle – hardly surprising as they used it for slicing bread – while the DNA of murder victim Meredith Kercher was on the tip of the blade. But as was revealed in court this week, a fresh examination for the re-trial found no trace of Ms Kercher anywhere on the knife. What remains is an ordinary kitchen knife, chosen, as the cop at the first trial explained disarmingly, by his “investigator’s intuition”.
And as there is no other evidence linking either Amanda or Raffaele to the murder scene, the judges are face to face with the perverted imaginations of the people who put these modern innocents in the dock in the first place, and then in jail. A hideous wrong has been done. It is high time it was undone.