Skip to main content

What Amanda Knox can and can't tell us

By Nina Burleigh, Special to CNN
May 7, 2013 -- Updated 2106 GMT (0506 HKT)
Appeals Court Judge Alessandro Nencini, center, reads out the verdict for the murder of British student Meredith Kercher in Florence, Italy, on Thursday, January 30, 2014. The appeals court upheld the convictions of U.S. student Amanda Knox and her ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito for the 2007 murder of her British roommate. Knox was sentenced to 28 1/2 years in prison, raising the specter of a long legal battle over her extradition. Sollecito's sentence was 25 years. Appeals Court Judge Alessandro Nencini, center, reads out the verdict for the murder of British student Meredith Kercher in Florence, Italy, on Thursday, January 30, 2014. The appeals court upheld the convictions of U.S. student Amanda Knox and her ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito for the 2007 murder of her British roommate. Knox was sentenced to 28 1/2 years in prison, raising the specter of a long legal battle over her extradition. Sollecito's sentence was 25 years.
HIDE CAPTION
The Knox-Sollecito retrial
The Knox-Sollecito retrial
The Knox-Sollecito retrial
The Knox-Sollecito retrial
The Knox-Sollecito retrial
The Knox-Sollecito retrial
The Knox-Sollecito retrial
The Knox-Sollecito retrial
The Knox-Sollecito retrial
The Knox-Sollecito retrial
The Knox-Sollecito retrial
The Knox-Sollecito retrial
The Knox-Sollecito retrial
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Amanda Knox publishes book, appears on TV five years after roommate was found murdered
  • Nina Burleigh: Knox does not come across as authentic and has nothing new to say
  • Burleigh: The man who knows the truth is in prison for the murder, but focus is on Knox
  • She was in prison four years, wrongly accused, demonized and endured abuse, she says

Editor's note: Watch Chris Cuomo's interview with Amanda Knox on CNN, Tuesday at 10:30 pm ET. Nina Burleigh is an author and journalist, a columnist for New York Observer and Elle Magazine and author of "The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Italian Trials of Amanda Knox" (Broadway, 2011), her fifth nonfiction book. She is also an adjunct professor at Columbia University.

(CNN) -- Having waited to be heard, Amanda Knox is finally speaking for herself. Five and a half years after her roommate Meredith Kercher was found murdered in the house they shared, the notorious American student has published her own book.

"Waiting to Be Heard" was released this week in conjunction with her first network television interview -- together a triumph of spectacle over substance.

But it could not have been otherwise.

Nina Burleigh
Nina Burleigh

This murder was transformed into tabloid entertainment almost from the moment the body was carried out of the house, in picturesque Perugia, Italy, the day after Halloween 2007.

Amanda Knox concedes being 'tone-deaf' in days after roommate's murder

Knox doesn't know what happened that night and is unable to provide us with a single new clue that could unravel the Gordian knot of police error, lies, national pride and xenophobic prejudice that turned a simple crime into an international mystery.

Since she cannot offer that, her debut provides one thing only: performance.

In her first television interview, she gave the same answers she has always given to the main questions about how she could have showered in a house with blood on a bathroom floor and faucet, and then, a few days later, named an innocent man as the killer.

But this time the answers came with close-ups of the quivering lip and brimming eyes.

Four million bucks can't repair having one's persona hijacked, remade into the likeness of a witch or a female Charles Manson, and broadcast around the world.
Nina Burleigh

All that emotion can't have distracted millions of viewers from the one thing that really matters: Who did it?

Knox has a terribly high hurdle in winning hearts and minds.

She must overcome the challenge that confronts anyone convicted of a gruesome killing and then released without a substitute defendant. Millions of people believe she got away with murder.

Her other problem is the one that's dogged her from the start. If you want to, you can look at her and think she is acting. In her first interview, she occasionally looked evasive, her gaze drifting away. To many people that reads as shiftiness, but it can also have any number of more benign causes, including disorientation, PTSD or the very understandable nervousness that any untrained person would feel at being interviewed by a major television anchor for a national audience.

Amanda Knox says her behavior was 'tone-deaf' after murder

Even in tears, she comes across as remote and cool. And years of coaching by attorneys still haven't prevented her from saying tone-deaf things such as expressing a desire to visit Kercher's grave.

She cannot -- and probably never will -- provide a coherent explanation for why she named Patrick Lumumba, a demonstrably innocent man, as the killer.

I've always believed, based on the available descriptions of what went on in the police station before she signed a "confession" putting him and herself in the house on the night of the murder, that the Perugia polizia wanted the killer to be a foreign man. After all, they were routinely arresting African, Arab and Albanian immigrants for drug and violent crimes that are increasing in what until recently was their homogeneous, walled Umbrian mountain town.

Amanda Knox: I had to accept my fate
Tacopina: Knox is 'stone-cold' innocent
Amanda Knox: I am not a devil
Toobin: Knox won't go back to prison

When they saw what they thought was an appointment with an African immigrant on Knox's cell phone, they screamed at and browbeat her -- without ever videotaping the interrogation -- until she gave in and agreed with them.

It's easy to envision that scenario if you believe, as I do, that all the evidence points to her innocence. It's harder to accept if you think she might have been not just callous and blithe in the weeks before the murder and the days afterward, but an actual killer.

Since she can't give us any real answers, was her book and her coveted interview worth all the money -- a reported $4 million -- and bated breath?

In the publishing world, the reaction was summed up by an editor I know: "That used to be presidential memoir money."

But she spent four years in prison, wrongly accused, and endured outrageous and blatantly sexist abuse at the hands of the Italians. Take the sickening episode, which she reveals in her book, of being stripped and given a gratuitous manual gynecological exam immediately after being arrested and before being sent to jail.

Four million bucks can't repair having one's persona hijacked, remade into the likeness of a witch or a female Charles Manson, and broadcast around the world.

Most of that money has probably gone to the lawyers anyway, a gaggle of men in suits, for whom greasing the wheels of justice -- even when that "justice" is really about upholding the honor of police and prosecutors who made big investigative missteps -- and getting paid take precedence over figuring out what actually happened.

If anything was left over, it went toward hauling a middle-class American family out the debt hole into which they plunged when they double-mortgaged their houses to defend their kid.

In the end, this tragedy is about two very provincial families, one from suburban Seattle, one from north London, who have no idea what happened and who will never get answers, no matter how much money gets thrown around, no matter how many television interviews are granted,or books written or even court reviews concluded. No, they won't get answers until Rudy Guede -- whose fingerprints and DNA were in the room, who is in prison for the killing and who has never denied being present while Kercher bled to death -- explains what really happened.

In the meantime, the lesson for those families and others like them seems to be keep your kids home and lock your doors.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Nina Burleigh.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1340 GMT (2140 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT