Yesterday I picked up from the library Nina Burleigh’s book “The Fatal Gift of Beauty,” about the trials of Amanda Knox. It’s an incredibly well-written, well-researched and balanced account, unlike some others I’ve read, including that horrible “Angel Face…” book which I read some months ago. I admit here before you all that in between the weekend fun with family I’ve been sneaking a few pages here and there, reading it with the added urgency that the case is on verdict watch and somehow I want to finish it before it is announced… I’m no crime fan, no tabloid reader, nor have I been following her trial that closely, but I do feel a certain affinity to her, to her family, as well as to the victim of this heinous crime Meredith, perhaps because I too once was a 20-year-old abroad with a world of possibilities before me.
…But mostly because my gut says she’s innocent. The sad thing is that she is, apparently, being judged with the same unscientific criteria, gut feelings which should never, ever, be a reason to put a person in jail or even, RIP Troy Davis, to death. “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” and it just doesn’t fit.
Oh, I know… Horrible things happen. Crimes are committed every day, terrible shocking crimes committed by people who seemed so incapable of such depravity. Why this sweet thing’s innocent 15-year-old face filled the tabloids several years ago when she, high as a kite, convinced her boyfriend to kill their drinking buddy, a homeless man, and to dump him into the lake in Central Park. I remember the horror of the events as described in the media at the time.
“They shared some beers – and something went wrong. The way police described it, Vasquez slit the man’s throat with a four-inch folding knife and, while Abdela urged him on, hacked off his nose and most of one wrist. Then, after they cleaned out the dead man’s wallet and burned his identification, they tried to gut the body and dumped it into a lake, hoping it would sink. Instead, cops found the corpse bobbing peacefully, under a full moon.” (Brad Stone, Newsweek)
But while this girl appeared innocent, a privileged white girl from the Upper East Side, in her case there were a thousand and one precedents, warning signs screaming to be heard. She was defiant and had a drinking problem, was kicked out of school, and just the week before the murder she was wait listed at a drug treatment center, etc., etc., etc.
Not so with Amanda Knox. With all that has been written about her there is no real evidence of anything other than some bad choices, obliviousness to the ways of the world and a lack of concern about how things might appear or be misconstrued. This has been, by all accounts, trial by tabloid, feeding the hungry masses who want to hear about this concocted she-devil, this whore who enslaved her meek boyfriend and who… bla bla bla. Ridiculous. Insulting to all women. No more was she these things than was Meredith Kercher, the victim forgotten in the sea of salaciousness, despite the fact that she too enjoyed a full life very similar to that Amanda has been vilified for.
Recently I read the transcript of an interview with Cambridge University professor Simon Baron-Cohen, whose book “The Science of Evil” addresses empathy and how the study of man’s capacity for it can, in some cases, shed light on why some commit acts of violence or cruelty. I was reminded of this article when I read, in Burleigh’s book, the following excerpted letter written by Amanda.
“A game I used to like to play was to see if I could make someone smile on the bus. Everyone who rides the bus usually has something on their mind and reflects with such intensity. Sometimes I saw the saddest faces. I would often see someone sitting on their own in their own intense sphere, and I would try to make them smile, either by smiling at them, or by more directly plopping myself right next to them and asking them how they were doing. As weird as that may sound. I’ve always thought it worth it to see someone smile. I’m in love with smiles.”
Indeed there are many descriptions of how Amanda Knox dealt with friends and family, with the challenges of her own life, and how forgiving and kind she was, empathetic indeed to seemingly all those she knew or came across. This is a girl who, rather than walk by a stranger sobbing in the street, would take her to have a cup of coffee and lend an empathetic ear, an expression few of us could match of care for another person. All attempts by the journalists who swarmed Seattle and Perugia to dig up precedents to the unimaginable cruelty of which she is accused were unsuccessful.
So yes, my gut says she’s innocent, and I’m hoping—perhaps with the same fervency that the tabloid-addicts have to see her burned at the stake—that she will be acquitted. Of course I could be wrong. I’m neither judge nor jury, none of us are. Imagine how our words, our cartwheels, our words scrawled in the journals of youth, our confusion, our mistakes, might be misconstrued if someone wished to paint a picture of us to fit their canvas.