Mistrust Follows U.S. Student's Murder Conviction

An Italian jury has convicted American exchange student Amanda Knox and her former Italian boyfriend for the murder of her British roommate in 2007. The verdict stunned Knox and members of her family, who said the prosecution failed to prove its case. The trial has attracted wide media attention and pitted supporters of the American defendant against those of the prosecution. Host Scott Simon speaks with NPR's Sylvia Poggioli about the verdict.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Last night, an Italian jury convicted Amanda Knox and her former Italian boyfriend for the murder of her British roommate in 2007. The verdict stunned the former American exchange student and members of her family, who insisted the prosecution had failed to prove its case. The trial has attracted wide media attention around the world and pitted supporters of the American defendant against those of the prosecution.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli has been following the trial. She joins us from the university town of Perugia. Sylvia, thanks for being with us.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: And give us the details of the verdict and how they compare to what the prosecution had wanted.

POGGIOLI: Well, the prosecution had asked for Italy's stiffest sentence - life in prison - but the eight-member jury handed down a term of 26 years for Amanda Knox and 25 years for her codefendant, Raffaele Sollecito. They were found guilty of stabbing Meredith Kercher to death after a sexual assault. A third person, Ivory Coast drifter Rudy Guede, had already been tried in a separate trial and convicted to 30 years in prison as an accomplice in the murder.

SIMON: How did the defendants react when they heard this verdict?

POGGIOLI: Well, there was an audible shock when the verdict was read out. Knox broke into tears and she left the courtroom without looking back at her parents and siblings, many of whom were also crying. Her co-defendant showed no sign of emotion. Outside the courthouse the scene was rather nasty. There were a crowd of local youths shouting insults and assassins as the Knox family walked out into the glare of the TV cameras.

In a statement, the Knox family said the prosecution had failed to prove Amanda was present at the crime scene, and they also criticized attacks on Amanda's character in much of the media and by the prosecution. Today, the Kerchers, the family of the victim, expressed satisfaction over the verdict but said there's nothing to celebrate.

SIMON: Sylvia, I apologize if this gets you to crawl out on a limb, but in the hours that the verdict has been known here in the United States, there has been a succession of legal experts, American legal experts who must be - it must be said, who say this verdict makes no sense. What's your reflection there?

POGGIOLI: Yeah, well, you know, from a strictly American legal viewpoint, I don't think the prosecution succeeded in proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants were guilty. The evidence was mainly circumstantial. The defense argued that there was no motive, no confession, and the little forensic evidence that existed had been contaminated by sloppy police work.

And yet there's still many mysteries surrounding this case. Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito first landed in jail because of their lies and contradictory versions of events of the night of the murder. Knox first said she was in the house where the murder took place and heard Kercher's death screams, then she accused the Congolese native, Patrick Lumumba, of being the killer. He spent two weeks in jail before he was cleared.

And the defendants were unable to prove they were not at the house the night of the murder. One Italian commentator wrote: They became prisoners of their own lies.

SIMON: What's the effect of all the publicity, do you think, that this case has received in Perugia, in the British tabloids, and this country, for that matter?

POGGIOLI: I think it had a huge impact. It was sensationalized in print, TV and the blogosphere long before it came to trial, and the character of Amanda Knox was the focal point. She was depicted either as a wholesome all-American student or as a promiscuous drug-taking she-devil. There was little room for nuance.

The saint versus sinner images reflect in a way national stereotypes. We saw lots of cross-culture of misunderstandings. After a yearlong trial, I feel we're no better informed about what really happened the night of November 1st two years ago, and why.

SIMON: Sylvia Poggioli in Perugia. Thanks very much.

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