Amanda Knox: The Morality of True Crime and a Trial by Media

It should not be a surprise given the success of Making a Murderer in 2015 – in its first 35 days available to stream it had over 19 million U.S. viewers – that in 2016 Netflix decided to delve into the world of true crime again, this time releasing a documentary entitled simply Amanda Knox. It details the life of the eponymous Knox after she was accused and then convicted of the murder of her roommate Meredith Kercher in 2007, along with her boyfriend at the time, Raffaele Sollecito. The events occurred in Perugia, Italy, and the Italian policing and court system are shown in full view here, as Knox’s conviction is quashed, then reinstated, and then definitively quashed by the Italian Supreme Court.

The documentary follows and interviews four key people involved in the case; Knox, Sollecito, the lead prosecutor in the case Giuliano Mignini, and a British freelance journalist who covered the case, Nick Pisa. Although all four have radically different experiences and perceptions of the case, everyone’s testimony is left unaltered and unchallenged. This is incredibly effective, leaving the viewer with no doubt as to how the situation could have gone so awry. When four different people see a situation so differently, three of which were directly involved in the trial itself, it is not hard to see how the Italian court system could end up backtracking on itself several times.

An opinion piece in the Independent newspaper expressed dismay that Amanda Knox was exploiting her fame once again, and stated that the kindest thing she could have done after her release was to go home and get on with her life, out of respect for the Kercher family. Now, although the Kercher family are distinctly missing from the documentary, this is hardly surprising, they are unlikely to want to go over events that they have undoubtedly talked and heard about countless times. And the crucial point here is that Amanda Knox did not kill Meredith Kercher. She was wrongfully imprisoned, and as Knox has stated that she wishes to become an advocate for the wrongfully accused, taking part in the documentary makes sense. It does not exploit fame for the sake of money, it highlights an injustice that occurred. The opinion piece states that the documentary sensationalises it, as it is edited in such a way to keep the viewer watching. This is the point of a documentary though, to be viewed, and anyway, the film follows the case as it happened, the suspense was created simply by real life events that were quite evidently torturous for all involved. It did not alter or bend facts for the sake of sensation, it told the story.

Perhaps a wider debate into the reasons behind the popularity of true crime needs to be had, but Amanda Knox is not a film that sensationalises or exploits the events. It simply tells them as they occurred, and allows the people involved to give their insight into why certain events unfolded the way they did. More remarkable than the rise of a genre committed to telling the stories of the worst capabilities of a human being, is that in a documentary detailing a horrific murder, a journalist who covered the story manages to come off as the most thoroughly unpleasant person involved. This is in part due to the lack of information given on Rudy Guede, the man convicted of Kercher’s murder, but also due to the despicable actions of Nick Pisa.

Pisa worked the case for the Daily Mail, and when describing his feelings when he got a front page story detailing Kercher’s autopsy in the newspaper, he compares it to ‘having sex’. Tasteless, yes, but Pisa goes further to encourage the many who took to social media after watching the documentary to express their disgust at him and his actions. When asked if there was a trial by media conducted against Knox and Sollecito, he states that he was only reporting what he was told, and that he could not fact check everything, as he risked losing his ‘scoop’ to a competitor. This means Pisa saw it as better to be first and wrong, rather than second and correct. The important thing was speed, not accuracy when it came to his reporting.

It is also coy of Pisa to say he was simply reporting what he was told. He boasts of publicising the ‘Foxy Knoxy’ moniker that was widely used during the trial to demonstrate Knox’s supposed sexual promiscuity and lax morals. Knox puts it most effectively herself when in the documentary she states “The whole world knew who I had sex with: seven men! And yet I was some heinous whore: bestial, sex obsessed, and unnatural.” The reporting of the investigation and the trial was so heavily biased to Knox’s guilt that the Italian prosecutors working the case were accused of character assassination.

This errant reporting is the central issue of the film; hear the name Amanda Knox and you still think of the murders, of her public trial and the intimate details of her life that were irrelevant to the case. But Knox is innocent, her conviction has been definitively quashed, and this is what this documentary is highlighting; that Knox and Sollecito were caught up in a horrible situation, and served time in jail that they never should have. There is nothing wrong with true crime, however painful the situation, when it is attempting to uncover the truth, and publicise this to a wider audience. A trial by media has to be countered, to show that for every errant journalist like Pisa, there is another guided by integrity, by the drive to provide the facts, even if they are the last to do so.

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