Amanda Knox might as well have faced a trial by tabloid. When the judge and jurors retire on Monday, Oct. 3, in Perugia, Italy, to determine whether she should be held responsible for the 2007 murder of her British roommate Meredith Kercher, they will be weighing more than just innocence and guilt. Is Knox a sinner or a saint? A Madonna or a whore? Which of her newspaper nicknames is the better fit: Angel Face or Foxy Knoxy? Depending on which resonates most with those sitting in judgment, Knox and her former boyfriend and fellow defendant Rafaele Sollecito could walk free or continue to sit behind bars.
In the years since the appeal began, lawyers from both sides have revisited evidence from the previous trial, in which Knox and Sollecito were each sentenced to more than 20 years in prison. Faced with a spiderweb of sometimes contradictory and often ambiguous evidence, tattered lab results and a motley assortment of half-reliable witnesses, the lawyers hung their closing arguments less on the facts than on the character of the accused.
In the hands of her prosecutors, Knox was a "demonic, satanic, diabolical she-devil." "Devoted to lust, drugs and alcohol," she cut into her roommate's throat as two men Sollecito and Rudy Guede, an Ivorian national who was convicted in a separate trial held Kercher down in a sex game gone wrong. In the vision offered by her defense attorneys, Guede was the sole killer and Knox was an innocent abroad: misunderstood, wrongly convicted, crucified, impaled in a public square, subjected to the most sinister of speculations. "You don't need to be an angel to be innocent," says Paola Severino, a lawyer and a professor of criminal law at Rome's LUISS University. "You don't need to be a devil to be guilty. But in the face of weak evidence, the prosecution and defense need to accentuate these qualities to convince [the judges and jury] of innocence or guilt."
As is typical in Italy, Knox's second run through the legal system is less like an American appeal than like a retrial. A new set of judges and jurors (called citizen-judges) has been tasked with reconsidering the evidence afresh and then deciding whether to uphold the original sentences, set the accused free, reduce her 26-year sentence or as per the prosecution's request extend the punishment to life in prison. Knox will address the court in Italian on her own behalf before the jury retires to make its decision.
The most important development in terms of evidence during the appeal trial was the rejection by an independent review of the DNA evidence linking Knox and Sollecito to a kitchen knife alleged to be the murder weapon and to a bra clasp picked up in a sweep some six months after Kercher was found dead in the apartment she shared with Knox. And yet, also unlike in the American system, in which jurors are sequestered during the proceedings and instructed not to read or watch anything related to the trial, in Italy those sitting in judgment are exposed to the full cacophony of tabloid judgments and television re-enactments, much of which was focused on the telegenic young Knox rather than her co-defendant, the son of a well-off doctor from southern Italy.
In the two years since the end of Knox's first trial, several books have offered outraged assertions of her guilt or innocence. Movies have gone into production. Headlines have done battle across the front pages of newspapers in Italy and abroad. Trial evidence tends to be dry, technical and, in the hands of a skilled lawyer, ambiguous. The facts, such as they were, paled next to the lurid impression left by a made-for-TV movie depicting Knox thrusting the knife into her roommate. Nor does it match up well against a book, like the one published by Rocco Girlanda, an Italian parliamentarian, who recounts his visits to Knox in prison and the friendly conversations he enjoyed with her. "I expected a girl that was all sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll," Girlanda told TIME. "Instead, I found a girl that was calm, mature, polite and very open to culture. From what I saw, I think it's impossible that this type of person, with such humanity, can have done what she's accused of."
Knox, of course, is neither saint nor sinner. Or perhaps more precisely, she's a mix of both. But most of all, she's a 24-year-old woman accused of murder, waiting to hear the judgment against her, while outside the courthouse, her family members are mobbed by journalists begging for quotes to spin into stories. As the two defendants wait to find out how they will spend the better part of the rest of their lives, it's worth remembering that the television cameras pointed at them and the notebooks open on the reporters' knees may have done more to shape the truth than they did to report it.