Amanda Knox’s Lessons for Students Traveling Abroad

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Some important lessons for volunteers on digs

By: Nina Burleigh, Journalist, Author

On the night after Halloween, 2007, in Perugia, Italy, someone murdered British exchange student Meredith Kercher in her bedroom. Four days later, the Perugia authorities announced they had solved the case, accusing Kercher’s American roommate, Amanda Knox and two young men.

Corrado maria daclon - amanda knox

Amanda Knox leaves the prison in Perugia on a car with Corrado Maria Daclon, secretary general of the Italy-USA Foundation. Wiki Commons.

Knox spent the next four years in prison, before being acquitted, in a highly controversial case that has attracted a legion of online CSI amateurs, and confounded everyone else who has paid less attention to the case. The Italian judiciary recently re-convicted her, so, even if she doesn’t return to Italy, which she has said she will not do, her legal nightmare is far from over.

I spent a year in Perugia covering the sensational trial, and another year interviewing everyone involved, from the prosecutor to the cops who would talk, and the family members of the accused, as well as corresponding with Knox and a co-defendant.

I came to the conclusion that Knox was not guilty, and that a combination of bad police work, cultural misunderstanding and media misbehavior had created the perfect crime story storm.

Knox’s case has much to teach any American student planning to live abroad, because while she was not guilty as charged, she made a series of mistakes that got her deeper into the great briar patch of the Italian legal system.

The key tips are these:

Know the culture, and respect the differences. American students often assume that because everyone is nice to them in a foreign country, and parties and listens to the same music as they do in the dorm back at home, that their home-style behavior is acceptable. Usually, it is not. In Italy, for example, where “la bella figura” a standard of public decorum – is in force, Amanda Knox’s hippie-chick style seemed bizarre and, in highly conservative Perugia, even offensive. The police decided she was suspicious based on her penchant for public yoga moves, her bursting into song, moving around alone after dark, picking up different guys and generally being overly friendly and carefree. A small amount of homework about what young women in Italy do and do not do in public could have saved Amanda Knox a world of grief.

Do not assume you have the same legal rights you have at home. Because you probably don’t. Try not to break the law, but if you must interact with law enforcement, be prepared to deal with a system that does not resemble the American. After police found Kercher’s body, they immediately summoned every one of her three roommates, and the boys who lived downstairs in another apartment, to the police station. Not one of the other young people showed up at the police station without a lawyer or an adult – a parent, a teacher – in tow. Italians are very leery of their police force, which is highly bureaucratic and which operates without the Bill of Rights restrictions that apply to American cops. Even the most minor of legal proceedings can drag on for years, and Italians tend to avoid the court system if they can. Amanda Knox arrived at the police station alone, and when police called her back for further questioning on three successive days, she still came alone.

Know your consulate. Before you go into a country, register your arrival and whereabouts with the local consulate. Keep its phone number on your person at all times and use it if you are confused or in legal trouble, use it. If possible, go to the consulate and ask for assistance. Amanda Knox didn’t contact the nearest consulate in Florence, a short train ride away, even after her worried relatives suggested she do so. When Perugia police, wiretapping her cellphone, found out that her mother was on the way to Perugia from Seattle, they moved quickly to arrest her. Had Amanda Knox contacted her consulate immediately after Kercher’s murder, as did Kercher’s British friends, she would very likely never have been tried, because she wouldn’t have been questioned without a lawyer or adult assistance, if she was questioned at all.

2The Knox family’s legal and travel bills are now well into the multi-millions. When traveling abroad, an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure. Before you leave, buy and read my book, The Fatal Gift of Beauty. It is a good true yarn, people can’t put it down, and you will come away with an understanding of just how this celebrated crime’s true story was “lost in translation.”

Nina Burleigh is a journalist and writer. She is the author of five books including Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the Holy Land.

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12 Comments for : Amanda Knox’s Lessons for Students Traveling Abroad
    • Don Baker
    • June 11, 2014
    Reply

    Excellent tips. I also believe there was great bias from the investigation through declaration of guilt prior to any forensic analysis. I read The Fatal Gift of Beauty which was brilliantly written and gave the reader a real flavor of the Itslian culture and the key characters involved in this tragic case of brutal murder.

      • Harry Rag
      • June 12, 2014
      Reply

      Have you actually read the official court documents? Relying on a poorly-researched book that contains significant factual errors won’t help you to understand the reasons why Amanda Knox was convicted of murder.

    • Odysseus
    • June 11, 2014
    Reply

    For God’s sake Nina B. Drop your puerile “patriotism” and obsession with Knox’s “innocence” . She’s had plenty of opportunity to defend herself in court but it hasn’t convinced anyone. Now she’s facing a long time inside.

    In many US states she would apparently have gone to the electric chair on far less evidence. She should be thankful she’ll be locked up in a better prison than she’d ever encounter in her home country.

    Enough now please.

      • Niteangel
      • June 11, 2014
      Reply

      Absolutely not. In the U.S. she wouldn’t have been charged to begin with. There is absolutely no evidence, either physical or circumstantial, that she participated in the murder. All there is are assumptions built around the actual facts, which by themselves are not incriminating at all.

      • Samson
      • June 12, 2014
      Reply

      Odysseus, will you play a game where being wrong has consequences? I will post soon.

        • HelenaP
        • June 12, 2014
        Reply

        @Niteangel – I’d completely agree with you too if I had gained all my case information from the US media and the Knox family. Thankfully I have been following the case in Italian so I know there is plenty of forensic evidence against Knox which has been accepted by the Nencini court. You may feel that there is no evidence but the Italian court disagrees. If a US court ever saw the case against Knox, I’d argue that it would certainly hold a trial even if there is no conviction at the end. To say there is no evidence does Knox a great disservice. Even Knox herself admits there is evidence against her, she says that it is contaminated and a conspiracy against her but she doesn’t deny the evidence exists.

    • Niteangel
    • June 11, 2014
    Reply

    Thank you Nina! Great advices, hopefully most people will follow them.

    • Harry Rag
    • June 12, 2014
    Reply

    Nina Burleigh is ignorant of the basic facts of the case. For example, she falsely claimed in her book The Fatal Gift of Beauty that Meredith Kercher was born on 28 December 1986 and that Rudy Guede was born on 26 December 1983. If Nina had bothered to read the translations of the official court documents, she would have known that Meredith was born on 28 December 1985 (The Massei report, page 23) and Rudy Guede was born on 26 December 1986 (Judge Giordano sentencing report, page 2).

    Instead of relying on the official court documents, Nina has relied on Amanda Knox’s family and supporters for her information. It clearly never crossed her mind that Knox’s family and supporters are hardly objective and reliable sources of information. Without bothering to verify their claims, she has simply regurgitated the same old Friends of Amanda myths that have been widely propagated in the media e.g. Mignini claimed there was a satanic rite, the prosecutors painted Knox as a “she-devil”, Guede’s DNA was inside Meredith’s purse and Knox described a “vision” in her handwritten note to the police.

    If anybody wants to understand the reasons why Amanda Knox was convicted of murder, I recommend reading the translations of the official court documents and court testimony. They are available online at the Meredith Kercher wiki website.

      • HelenaP
      • June 12, 2014
      Reply

      Thank you for posting this comment. I really feel that if Nina actually read the case file then she would realise how off the mark her books really are. I imagine that even the worst murderer has a mom who still loves him/her; it doesn’t make them objective sources of information to be used by a so called journalist.

      • talqroqq
      • June 13, 2014
      Reply

      I read the Massei report and was convinced of their innocence after reading it. Every time I read so called ‘proof’ of guilt by those such as yourself I am further convinced of innocence, as there is always over-reliance on irrelevant details, details that DO NOT prove guilt. Even ‘confession’ and ‘false accusations’ are NOT proof of guilt no matter what you and others say. Your constant nit-picking of minor irrelevant details presented somehow as further ‘proof’ of guilt is always ridiculous and shows you up for what you are. What difference does it make what the birth dates were? Totally, completely, absolutely, utterly irrelevant.

    • Guille
    • June 17, 2014
    Reply

    So, in the title itself it says “volunteers on digs”, however the word dig, archaeology, excavation…

    From what I gather, the author seems to not need the publicity.

    So, I ask, what exactly is this article doing here?

    • Harry Rag
    • August 1, 2014
    Reply

    Feminist writer Selene Nelson has written an excellent article about the Amanda Knox case:

    http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1157346

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