Amanda Knox Part 2: Behind the Cartwheel: Explaining Amanda’s “Strange” Behavior

by Martha Grace Duncan*
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In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.

Albert Camus[167]

Knox, it seems, spent four years in prison largely for a failure to grieve in quite the way that various middle-aged men would have liked.

Charlie Lyne, The Guardian[168]

As discussed in Part One, Amanda was found guilty of murder largely because of what others saw as her strange behavior, in particular, her failure to mourn her roommate’s death. Through a series of improvident and impulsive actions, she actually helped the prosecutor build his case against her, leading to two murder convictions, four years of incarceration, and over seven years in a legal limbo before she was finally exonerated.

Why she behaved the way she did is a question that has evoked much speculation. Was she simply naïve because of her youth and inexperience, as Amanda herself asserts in her memoir?[169] Was she self-destructive—one of the “pale criminals” described by Freud who seek punishment to alleviate the tension of unexpiated guilt?[170] Or were the police correct that the most compelling explanation of Amanda’s behavior was her involvement in the crime?[171] As the reader may have surmised by now, I believe the answer to the last question to be no. Amanda’s actions, however unseemly, can be persuasively explained by theories other than her participation in the murder. Let us now consider some of these alternative theories.

I. “A Mouse in a Cat’s Game”: Why Amanda Did What She Did


Having native or unaffected simplicity; ingenuous; artless; as, naïve manners; a naïve person.

Untaught; especially philosophically or scientifically uninstructed; unphilosophical; unsophisticated; as, nature seen from a naïve point of view.

Webster’s New International Dictionary[172]

  1. Presenting the Theory of Naïveté

Of all the reasons that have been proffered for Amanda’s bizarre behavior, perhaps the most commonly mentioned is her naïveté. Consider, for example, the following passage from Tom Dibblee’s review of Amanda’s memoir in the Los Angeles Review of Books: “Knox didn’t call the police when she got home from Sollecito’s because she was naïve. She was incapable of imagining a violent crime being part of her life.”[173] In the next paragraph, Dibblee asserts: “But Knox’s naïveté didn’t stop there. She believed that the police’s objective was to discover the truth, and that if she just acted like herself and told the truth, her innocence would be obvious to everyone around her.”[174]

In a similar vein, Nathaniel Rich also adduces naïveté as the reason for Amanda’s eccentricity. Writing in The New York Review of Books and Rolling Stone, he describes Amanda as “guileless almost to the point of aberrance,”[175] and “ever credulous,”[176] with a “childlike innocence”[177] and “callowness.”[178] According to Rich, Amanda failed to realize that she would “be judged by her behavior, her looks, and her nationality.”[179] Nor did she understand “that her faith in human nature was a dangerous fantasy.”[180] The importance that Rich attaches to Amanda’s “childlike innocence”[181] can be seen in the way he describes her memoir, namely, as a coming-of-age tale in which the “shattering” of her naïveté figures as the “central and most gripping narrative.”[182]

Not only professional writers, but also those who knew Amanda on a personal level, emphasize naïveté as a factor in the case. For instance, Amanda’s best friend, Madison Paxton, addressing Amanda’s prolonged failure to realize that she was a suspect, explains: “But she actually, genuinely, was that naïve.”[183] Similarly, Amanda’s mother describes her daughter as “oblivious to the dark side of the world,”[184] while her stepfather says that she was utterly lacking in “street sense.”[185]

Amanda herself, writing in her memoir, Waiting to Be Heard, about the reasons for her imprudent and ultimately self-destructive behavior, employs words such as “naïve,”[186] “stupid,”[187] and “childlike.”[188] For example, she states: “I was too naïve to imagine that the detectives suspected that the murder had been an inside job. . . . Now I see that I was a mouse in a cat’s game.”[189]

Later in the memoir, Amanda muses in the same self-critical vein about disregarding her Aunt Dolly’s warnings. She writes: “In retrospect, I understand that Dolly had a hunch I was headed for a train wreck. . . . I didn’t see these things as I should have, as foreshadowing.”[190] And again, remembering her surprise upon learning that the media had made her into a symbol of evil, she writes: “How am I still this naïve?[191] Her answer, “[a]t twenty, I still had a childlike view of people,”[192] seems to be a rebuke as much as an explanation. Perhaps most merciless of all is the passage she writes about her initial confinement in Capanne prison: “Looking back, I thought of how stupid I was in November 2007 when I’d first been arrested. I thought I was a special case and would be kept in prison for only a few days at most—for my ‘protection.’ But . . . I was not special. In the eyes of the law, I was a murderer.”[193]

Reading Amanda’s memoir for the first time, I was saddened to see this young woman, only twenty years old, whose superego had become so punitive, pitiless, and cruel that it even destroyed her illusion of specialness. As harsh on herself as her harshest critics, Amanda almost never looked back with compassion at the younger, less experienced girl she once was. The following statement, which she made orally at her first appeal, is a rare exception: “I think of how young I was then, how I didn’t understand anything.”[194]

  1. Challenging the Theory of Naïveté

Despite its popularity as an explanation of Amanda’s behavior, the concept of naïveté suffers from several weaknesses. One is its tendency to acquire a moralistic or judgmental tone, which tends to discourage a quest for understanding. Another is its superficiality. While posing as an answer, the concept of naïveté begs deeper questions, such as why Amanda implicitly trusted authorities, why she engaged in eccentric behavior without foreseeing the bad impression this would leave on others, and why she believed people could see through her antics to her true, innocent self. The concept of naïveté is also overbroad. It appears that at least three meanings are intended when people declare Amanda to be naïve: her credulity,[195] her belief in the “illusion of transparency,”[196] and her artlessness.[197]

To take up first her credulity, writers use naïve in this sense when they refer to Amanda’s reluctance to recognize that a heinous crime could have happened at the villa where she lived.[198] They also use naïve with this meaning when they write negatively about Amanda’s implicit faith in the police—her prolonged assumption that she was not a suspect, despite being interrogated over a five-day period, and her ready acceptance of the police officers’ assurance that she was being placed in custody not to prevent her escape but rather for her own protection.[199]

Related to credulity is Amanda’s belief that, because she was innocent, she could not be convicted, as long as she was true to herself. Writers who mean naïve in this sense may be alluding to Amanda’s stated belief that if only people could see her “real self,” they would know she was not guilty.[200] One illustration of this form of naïveté is her decision to wear a T-shirt to court so everyone could see she was just a normal person.[201] Another example is her insistence on having a face-to-face conversation with Prosecutor Mignini, against her lawyers’ advice.[202] If Mignini could only hear her account from her own lips, Amanda thought, he would have no choice but to recognize her innocence.[203] However, contrary to her expectation, Mignini controlled the encounter, turning everything Amanda said into further evidence of her guilt.[204] This certainty that one’s innocence is both obvious and protective is so common that it has been given a name in criminal law: “the illusion of transparency.”[205]

A third meaning that may be intended when people call Amanda naïve is artless,[206] or “unchecked by convention.[207] As Amanda wrote on Facebook: “I don’t get embarrassed and therefore have very few social inhibitions.”[208] Free from the filter of self-consciousness, she simply did whatever came naturally, indifferent to the reactions of others. For example, she had no hesitation about doing the splits or making faces with Raffaele in the questura, in full view of the police. It is notable that, in a different context, this third sense of naïve is sometimes seen as a positive trait, as in the phrase “a woman of artless grace and simple goodness.”[209]

Finally, the concept of naïveté is also inadequate because it can serve as a proxy for “lack of worldliness and sophistication.”[210] We see this usage in the following scene.

  1. At the Uva Bar Firenze with Professor Lucia Re—May 26, 2014[211]

I am sitting with an Italian colleague, Lucia Re, in the Uva Bar in Novoli, a district of northwestern Florence. Although far removed from my hotel in the picturesque city center, the Uva Bar is conveniently located near Lucia’s office in the law school at the University of Florence. I have arranged to meet with her primarily because of her expertise in criminal law, a field in which she has published three books before the age of forty.

Besides her career success, Lucia is fluent in several languages. She has cultivated opportunities to live in foreign cities, including Paris, where she spent four years on an Erasmus fellowship—the same fellowship that the British students in Amanda’s case were awarded to study in Perugia. She reminds me of my younger self and inspires me to recapture my adventuresome spirit.

After a few minutes of talk about the weather and our respective careers, Lucia and I turn to the subject of Amanda’s case. We are in the middle of discussing Amanda’s eccentric behavior after her roommate’s murder when Lucia volunteers that many American students matriculate at the University of Florence. “Often they become a problem,” she says, “requiring that we schedule extra faculty meetings to discuss what to do.” When I express surprise, she explains that American students “are more naïve than Italians. They don’t know how to behave or how their behavior is being interpreted. They don’t know who they are dealing with.”

“What do you mean?” I ask, feeling defensive. To hide my reaction, I lift my wine glass to my mouth and take a sip.

She has just bitten into her sandwich and motions for me to wait until she can swallow. While biding my time, I study the silk scarf she is wearing in a layered oval around her neck. Nearly every Italian woman I see is adorned with such a scarf, expertly draped to frame her face. Lucia’s is a black and white print that brings out her striking coloring—her dark hair and eyes, almost the color of ebony, and her pale skin, with just a hint of olive.

“You told me that you had never seen gypsies until you came to Florence,” Lucia reminds me, after finishing her bite. “The American students tell me the same thing, that they too have never seen gypsies.” I say nothing out loud, but it strikes me that this is not really naïveté, any more than it would be naïve if an Italian had never seen a Native American before visiting the United States.

“I have another illustration for you,” my companion goes on, warming to the subject. She tells me about a male student from the United States who started crying in front of her. It was the last day of class, and when she asked him what was wrong, he said that he was just sorry to leave Italy. According to Lucia, the student’s crying was shockingly naïve. “No Italian young man would ever do that,” she says. “Not in front of a professor!”

She seems so certain, but in my mind, I am trying to grasp why this was wrong, and why she considers it an expression of naïveté. I think of naïveté as an ingrained character trait, whereas this student may simply have been ignorant of Italian culture. In particular, the student may not have understood the Italian rules that govern the expression of sadness—rules that seem confusing to me as well. After all, Amanda was criticized precisely for not crying in public over Meredith’s death.

When we finish our lunch, I mention needing to buy more clothes for the remainder of my stay. Lucia informs me that a new H&M department store has opened up a few blocks away, and she graciously walks me there in the muggy heat. Upon reaching the store, she asks a clerk, in Italian, to call a taxi for me when I have finished shopping, but the large mall with its many exits defeats me in spite of her thoughtful gesture. I do not know where to wait for the taxi, and the driver—if indeed he comes—never finds me.

As I wander around, increasingly hot and anxious, wondering what to do, a young street vendor and her boyfriend offer to help. They call for a cab and call again when it fails to appear. At last, a taxi arrives and takes me back to my hotel in the city center. Everything has turned out all right. But that evening, at nine o’clock, when the last bells ring in the Duomo, I listen to the sonorous music through my balcony’s open doors and reflect that I am fortunate to be safely home. Perhaps somebody might view me, too, as naïve for so casually relying on the generosity of strangers, the vagaries of chance.

. . .

Having explored the weaknesses of naïveté as anything more than broadly descriptive of Amanda’s behavior, we must look elsewhere for more adequate explanations. When we do, one field of scholarship immediately beckons: the psychological literature on developmental stages, which I take up next.

II. “Through a Glass, Darkly”: The Role of Amanda’s Developmental Stage

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know [in full] even as also I am known.

First Corinthians[212]

  1. The New Paradigm of Emerging Adulthood

One of the surprising things about the literature on Amanda Knox is that writers have accorded her so little leeway based on her age. Had she been a mere three years younger, she would have been a minor, and her age might have played a significant role in her treatment under the law. Even apart from her legal status, as a seventeen-year-old, she would have been considered an adolescent in popular culture and might have benefitted from being seen as such in the Italian media. It hurt her that, being twenty, she did not fall within the period we currently think of as adolescence.

Yet, the phase of adolescence is a social construct, which lacks hard-and-fast boundaries based on age. Many social historians believe that adolescence was not even recognized as a separate stage of life until the end of the nineteenth century.[213] Moreover, its parameters have shifted through time. For example, G. Stanley Hall’s seminal work Adolescence, published in 1904, draws the upper age limit at twenty-four.[214] Using this threshold, we could view Amanda as an adolescent at the time of Meredith’s murder, without stretching the concept at all.

However, it may not be necessary to pursue this strategy. In recent years, some psychologists have proposed a new paradigm, a developmental stage that is neither adolescence nor young adulthood, but between the two.[215] They call this stage “emerging adulthood.” Spanning the years from the late teens through the twenties, this phase is thought to be characterized by the following features: intense identity exploration, instability, a focus on self, feelings of being in-between, and a sense of possibilities.[216]

Recent developments in the field of neuroscience corroborate the theory of emerging adulthood. At the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), UCLA, and elsewhere, scientists are now convinced that the brain does not stop growing after puberty, as was previously thought. Rather, researchers believe that the brain continues to develop until at least age twenty-five.[217] In particular, they believe that the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for impulse control and judgment, is among the last regions of the brain to mature.[218]

Applying the findings from the literature on emerging adulthood to Amanda’s case, two traits in particular are worthy of consideration for the light they shed on her supposedly bizarre actions in Perugia: intense identity exploration and a focus on self.

Let us consider first the trait of intense identity exploration. As we have seen, Amanda was judged severely by both the Italian public and the Italian legal system partly because she had acquired a reputation for licentiousness. This tainted reputation even gave rise to the prosecutor’s most enduring theory about Amanda’s motive for the murder: the sexual theory concerning the two roommates’ disagreement over Amanda’s alleged promiscuity.[219] Yet, according to her memoir, the random sexual encounters that characterized her early weeks in Italy were not typical of Amanda’s previous life, nor was she entirely comfortable with them at the time.[220] Rather, they were a deliberate donning of a new identity, an experiment she decided to undertake while far away from home;[221] they were in keeping with the intense identity exploration of emerging adulthood. For those who believe that promiscuity blighted Amanda’s character or gave her a reason to kill her roommate, the findings on this phase of the life cycle should give them pause.

Turning now to the trait of self-focus, the reader will recall that Amanda was often criticized for words and acts having to do with her physical and emotional needs. For instance, when the police were driving her to the villa, she complained of extreme fatigue and an officer chided her for thinking only of herself.[222] Another example occurred when all of Meredith’s friends were in the questura together crying and Amanda was sitting on Raffaele’s lap making faces.[223] According to her memoir, this was Amanda’s way of comforting herself, but it looked like indifference to the death of her friend. And of course, there was the time she stood up in the police station to stretch her aching back, a stretch that would culminate in the infamous gymnastic stunt.[224]

In ignoring the larger context to focus on the foreground of her own needs, Amanda again calls to mind the protagonist of Camus’ The Stranger, Meursault. In one scene, a meeting with the magistrate, Meursault tells us that he is distracted by the heat and large flies landing on his face and, as a result, is having trouble following the magistrate’s reasoning.[225] In another scene, the lawyer asks whether he felt sad during his mother’s funeral and Meursault responds that he was sleepy and tired on that occasion.[226] His physical needs, he adds, sometimes “got in the way of” his feelings.[227] As with Meursault, so also with Amanda: sometimes her preoccupation with her own comfort made her seem markedly eccentric and insensitive to those around her. But her actions can also be understood as expressions of self-focus, the egocentricity that characterizes young people still in the phase of “emerging adulthood.”

  1. Explaining Amanda’s False “Confession”

To the reader who has patiently followed my analysis thus far, one set of questions remains: Why did she confess to being at the scene of the crime? And why did she accuse an innocent person of killing Meredith? To many, this is difficult to understand. As Professor Richard Leo writes, “[M]ost people believe . . . that an innocent person will not falsely confess to police unless he or she is physically tortured or mentally ill.”[228] However, “[t]his myth is,” Leo continues, “completely false.”[229]

A landmark study published in the Stanford Law Review in 1987 supports the proposition that innocent people do confess.[230] In this study, Professors Hugo Bedau and Michael Radelet found that out of 350 miscarriages of justice, forty-nine were at least partially due to false confessions.[231] In fact, false confessions were the fourth most recurrent cause of these wrongful convictions, preceded only by mistakes in eyewitness identification, perjury by prosecutorial witnesses, and “community outrage over a crime.”[232]

Not all false confessions are alike. According to scholars, they fit into three categories: (1) voluntary; (2) coerced-compliant; and (3) coerced-internalized.[233] The first type, the voluntary confession, occurs when the suspect makes a false confession that is unsolicited, sometimes arising from mental illness or morbid guilt.[234] The second type, the coerced-compliant confession, manifests itself when the suspect, unable to bear the torment of the interrogation any longer, breaks and admits to the crime; however, in a unique characteristic of this type, the suspect often retracts the confession once the interrogation ends.[235] And finally, the coerced-internalized type occurs when the suspect becomes disoriented during the interrogation and ends up doubting her own memory and accepting a false story as true.[236]

Of course, these categories are ideal types; in practice, they may overlap, as seems to be the case with Amanda. In particular, Amanda’s confession, which she refers to as a “spontaneous declaration,”[237] appears to be a combination of the coerced-compliant and the coerced-internalized types.

As to the coerced-compliant type, she meets both criteria: succumbing to torment, and promptly retracting the confession following the interrogation. Consider, first, Amanda’s vivid description of the factors that caused her to “break.” “The pressure was greater than just being closed in a room. It was about being yelled at relentlessly by people I trusted completely, by people I’d been taught to respect. Everything felt bigger, more overwhelming, more suffocating, than it was . . . [T]hey kept telling me I was wrong”.[238] This led Amanda to sign two spontaneous declarations; specifically, she signed one at 1:45 A.M., [239] endured more interrogation, and then signed another at 5:45 A.M. [240] Hours after signing the second declaration—after being permitted to sleep and eat a meal for the first time since the day before—Amanda wrote a statement attempting to retract her confession.[241] She said: “In regards to this ‘confession’ that I made last night, I want to make clear that I’m very doubtful of the verity . . . [T]hese things seem unreal to me, like a dream, and I am unsure if they are real things that happened or . . . just dreams my head has made.”[242]

Besides showing the characteristics of the coerced-compliant type, Amanda’s confession also exhibits traits of the coerced-internalized confession, such as confusion and belief in the false story. Thus, she writes, “Nothing had substance. Nothing seemed real. I believed them [the police]. Their version of reality was taking over. I felt confused, frantic, and there was no escape . . . I could no longer distinguish what was real from what wasn’t.”[243]

But how does Amanda’s confession relate to her developmental stage? Studies show that young people are “over-represented” among suspects who make false confessions.[244] To be sure, many of these studies equate young people with adolescents,[245] a category that would exclude Amanda; however, it seems legitimate to extrapolate from studies of adolescents to emerging adults because the same explanations could well apply. For instance, one reason for the greater prevalence of false confessions among teenagers, compared with adults, could be that the former put more weight on the short-term impact of their decisions than on the long-term consequences.[246] Thus, if the police imply that by confessing they will earn the freedom to go home, this immediate benefit may cause them to comply when an older person might not. In addition, young people are more susceptible than adults to suggestion and pressure from authorities.[247] And finally, young people lack the life experience that helps adults make better choices.

All of the above characteristics could also be true of emerging adults because, as we have seen, some scholars now believe that brains do not fully mature until at least age twenty-five, and one of the last parts of the brain to develop completely is involved with impulse control and judgment.[248]

But we need not rely on extrapolation from studies of adolescents to attribute Amanda’s false confession to her youth. Consider, for example, an article entitled The Problem of False Confessions in a Post-DNA World, by Professors Steven Drizin and Richard Leo. In their study, they analyze 125 cases of what they call “proven false confessions”[249]—the “largest cohort” of such cases studied until that time.[250] Based on their analysis of this sample, they find that even “beyond” juveniles, “an age bias persists.”[251] More specifically, they write that “[t]he vast majority of false confessors are young adults in their twenties or thirties.”[252] Obviously, this is a class that would include twenty-year-old Amanda.

To summarize the argument of this subsection, Amanda’s false confession, like other acts she committed that were seen as bizarre, irrational, or inexplicable, may reflect not her guilt, but only her age.

. . .

I first met Amanda in March 2014. By that time, she was twenty-six years old and no longer in the early stages of emerging adulthood. Whether through the mere passage of time, with its concomitant brain maturation, or through the traumatic experiences she had endured in Perugia, Amanda had acquired better judgment, including an appropriate level of wariness when dealing with strangers.

While this change was, in general, a sign of growth, it certainly made my work harder. I was, after all, a perfect stranger to Amanda. So it was only after I had traveled to Perugia, spent time with her Italian supporters, corresponded extensively with Madison, and had dinner with Madison in Seattle that Amanda would agree to talk to me. Even then, she was cautious. The following scene shows how much she had matured from the twenty-year-old student who arrived in Italy trusting, blithe, and eager for adventure in the fall of 2007.

  1. At Breakfast in Seattle with Amanda and Madison—March 2, 2014 (a little over a month after the guilty verdict was reinstated by the Italian appellate court)[253]

It is raining softly as I walk across the Olive Way Bridge, above Interstate 5. Over one shoulder, I carry a heavy briefcase, over the other, my purse, while I pull my suitcase behind me. The bridge is long and bereft of people, so eerily desolate that I am relieved when it ends and I am back on city streets again. Veering northward, I follow East Olive Way up a steep hill, passing small establishments with friendly names such as Pie Bar, Stumbling Monk, and Pretty Parlor. After hiking for some ten minutes, I reach a small white and taupe brick buildin, with sea-green trim and a portico with the name “Glo’s” in emerald-green script above the door. A cluster of people waits outside. After giving my name to the hostess, I join those who are huddled under the portico; it is crowded but at least it is dry.

At precisely 9:30, Amanda and Madison arrive. Madison, whom I met for dinner just a few days earlier, pushes through the waiting throng and is about to pass right by me when I cry out, “Madison!” She gives me a hug and then gestures toward Amanda, who is standing on the sidewalk on the edge of the crowd. Amanda and I walk toward each other and embrace quickly before following the hostess to a table in the center of the warm, bustling diner.

It feels good to be inside, out of the dankness. As I remove my jacket and scarf, I notice that my companions are dressed casually: Madison in a crocheted orchid sweater and black denim pants, and Amanda in a pink knit cap, mauve shirt, and faded jeans. Their outfits are muted and plain, without prints or accessories. Apart from the tiny silver posts in Amanda’s ears, neither Madison nor Amanda wears any jewelry. I can’t help thinking that my niece in Santa Barbara, who is about the same age, would have been more stylishly dressed, but then she is “into” fashion. Besides, she has no need to be unobtrusive, nor does she live in Seattle where, as Madison has told me, it is genuineness rather than appearance that matters.

To look at Amanda now, I reflect, one would never guess that she was someone whose choice of attire had constantly hurt her in Italy, damaging her reputation and even her legal case. From the red panties she purchased the day after the body was found, to the T-shirt reading “All You Need Is Love,” to the red hoodie she wore to court day after day, her clothing was viewed as inappropriate—sometimes too flamboyant, sometimes too casual, but always as a sign of disrespect for the legal proceedings.[254]

A waitress in a black tank top comes to take our order. On her left arm she boasts a striking half-sleeve tattoo: an intricate picture of a black-widow spider and its web. Her arrival reminds me that I have not yet looked at the menu, but Amanda and Madison, who have evidently decided what to eat on the way, are ready to order; they request a small bowl of berries and a plate of eggs Benedict, to split between them. Not wanting to be distracted by eating, I order only coffee and fruit.

After the waitress takes our orders and leaves, a silence falls over the table. It makes me anxious, so I rush to fill the void, but my words come out sounding abrupt and awkward:

“How much time do we have?”

Amanda becomes visibly distressed. “Oh, is this going to be a formal interview?” she asks.

I back off quickly. “Oh, no,” I say. “It doesn’t have to be.” Disappointed, I remind myself that they never promised me an interview, only a meeting for breakfast. In fact, I am lucky to have this opportunity at all.

But Madison comes to the rescue by suggesting that I tell Amanda about my project. “You have told me a lot about it, but I think you should explain it to Amanda directly.”

Impressed by her sensitivity, I follow Madison’s advice, repeating in detail the cases I have written about in the past, which I hope to put into a book along with Amanda’s case. I say that I am interested in how we judge one another, especially when we condemn a person for not showing the proper feelings or the prescribed level of engrossment in a communal event, such as a death.

Amanda nods. She says she understands.

Madison turns abruptly, causing her long, tousled hair to swing in my direction. She speaks sharply. “Is Amanda going to be the only innocent one in your book?” she asks. “Because if she is, that’s not acceptable!”

I promise to include some innocent people, such as convicts who were eventually exonerated, in any book I write about Amanda. “I might do a study of the West Memphis Three,” I say, “or the Central Park Five. Actually, the Central Park Five would be a good comparison, since they also made false confessions.”[255]

Seemingly satisfied, Madison leans back in her chair.

I look at Amanda. “I think a lot of the people who judged you cruelly have forgotten what it’s like to be twenty years old,” I say. “When I was twenty, I accepted a free ride on the border between Venezuela and Colombia and narrowly escaped being raped.”[256]

They murmur expressions of concern.

I had not planned to talk about my close brush with rape, but it seems to have helped to build Amanda’s trust. I venture a delicate question: “Would you be willing to tell me about the morning when Meredith’s body was found?”

She takes a deep breath. “At the crime scene, Filomena and I were the only ones who knew Meredith, and Filomena actually saw into the room; I did not. She saw the blood in the room. She spoke Italian. I was going by what people were telling me, and I could not envision it in my own mind.”

Despite her earlier reluctance to be interviewed, Amanda cannot get the words out fast enough. She barely pauses for breath, and I am worried about my ability to commit her words to memory, so I ask if she would mind my taking notes. She agrees, and I push aside my breakfast, retrieve my legal pad from my briefcase, and begin to write.

Although I am obviously taking notes and Amanda is a celebrity, no one is paying any attention to us in the crowded restaurant. Perhaps they do not recognize her. Devoid of makeup, she is wearing wire-rim glasses and her pink knit cap covers much of her cropped hair. Although still very pretty, she looks quite different from the glamorous young woman with makeup and long wavy hair whose picture appeared in the news, night after night, some six and a half years earlier.

“I heard it was Meredith [who was dead],” Amanda continues, “and I heard it was not. Some told me there was a body in a wardrobe, some that it was under a blanket. I was in disbelief, trying to understand the situation, gathering facts. I was standing there dumbfounded, waiting; Filomena was hysterical, almost collapsing from emotion, mourning openly.”

Because Amanda leaves her conclusion hanging, I will wish later that I had said something to make the implications of her statement explicit. I could have said: “It sounds as though Meredith’s death wasn’t real to you, that you were in denial. And that would make sense. Your inability to see the body, or to obtain unequivocal facts, certainly could make it easier to be in denial.” But at the time, it does not occur to me to say these things; I am absorbed in scribbling notes, capturing my experience before it ends.

Amanda says that just as Filomena had facts more solid than her own, so also did the British students. By the time the British students were informed of the murder, through phone calls from the police, the information was “definitive,” she says. “They didn’t have all these conflicting facts that I had. That morning, I went into machine mode.” Falling silent, Amanda takes a bite of blueberries, then pushes the bowl of fruit over to Madison.

I am trying not to ask many questions, to let Amanda take the lead. Above all, I do not want to sound like I am judging her for decisions that turned out to be ill-fated, and so I never ask why she remained in Perugia after the crime. Luckily, of her own accord, she launches into a justification, contrasting herself with those who left. “For the British students,” she says, “going back home was not that big of a deal; they were on an Erasmus program and got financial aid. For them, it was a three-hour trip, like going from Seattle to frickin’ California.”

As Amanda scoops up the last bit of eggs with her fork, she pauses, and I take advantage of the opportunity to introduce a final topic: her text message to Patrick. I have read conflicting versions of this subject, some saying that her text, being a literal translation from English, would sound incriminating to Italian ears, others that even in Italian there was room for the meaning she intended—room to use “[s]ee you later” as a way to say goodbye.[257] I ask whether, as someone who is now fluent in Italian, she can clarify the matter.

Amanda gently takes the pen from my hand and drags my legal pad across the table, navigating through the debris of our breakfast. She spins the legal pad around to face her and begins to make a list, writing in a neat, girlish backhand just like the handwriting I had seen in her prison diary:

Ci vediamo.

Ci vediamo più tardi.

Ci vediamo più tardi. Buona serata.

Moving her finger down the list, she explains each variation: “This is the way a native speaker would say ‘See you later.’ This is what I texted. The “più tardi” got me in trouble, making it sound as if I were going to see Patrick that evening.” Amanda speaks in the patient tones of a good language instructor, and I remember that a love of languages is something we share. “But I didn’t end my message there,” she continues. “I added ‘Buona serata,’ which means ‘Have a good night,’ and that would only be used if I were not seeing him.”

“So the police just ignored the last phrase?” I ask, shaking my head.


When the waitress brings our check, the young women will not let me pay. “You paid for my dinner at Il Fornaio,” Madison objects. “Besides, you hardly ate anything.” A credit card passes back and forth between them so fast that I lose track of who owns it. They are like sisters, I reflect. How lucky for Amanda that she is not alone in her ordeal.

Upon leaving the restaurant, the three of us stay together, walking down the hill in the direction of Amanda and Madison’s bus stop while looking for a cab to take me to the airport. The rain, which is falling much harder now, taps steadily on the sidewalk. None of us are dressed for this weather, and we hunch up our shoulders against the dampness and cold. The sight of Amanda shivering in her thin jacket reminds me that she was also inadequately dressed on that November morning in Perugia when Meredith’s body was discovered.[258] In his memoir, Raffaele describes giving her his jacket and standing close to keep her warm.[259]

Together, we walk for some ten minutes down the hill. Over my protests, Amanda takes my suitcase and pulls it behind her. Periodically, Madison, having spotted a taxi, sprints ahead, but her attempts to flag it are always in vain. At last we arrive at a hotel, where numerous cabs are waiting. Before I clamber into one of them, both Madison and Amanda hug me goodbye.

In my office the next morning, I find a sweet e-mail from Amanda. She thanks me for my interest in her case and encourages me to write if I have further questions. It is signed simply “a.”[260]

Continue to Part Three: Explaining the Reactions to Amanda


* Ph.D., Columbia University; J.D., Yale University; Professor of Law, Emory University. An early version of this Article received the Judith Siegel Pearson Award for Nonfiction in 2014. I am grateful to the judges. Previous versions of this Article were presented at the Dipartimento di Giurisprudenza, Università degli Studi di Torino; the European University Institute, Fiesole, Italy; the Emory Law Faculty, the Emory Psychoanalytic Studies Program, and the Emory Workshop on Geographies of Violence. My thanks go to the participants. My thanks also go to Robert Ahdieh, Giulia Alagna, Cathy Allan, Flavia Brizio-Skov, Michele Caianiello, Elisabetta Grande, Joe Mackall, Stefano Maffei, Alice Margaria, Claudia Marzella, Gaetano Marzella, Colleen Murphy, David Partlett, Lucia Re, Bob Root, Elena Urso, and Liza Vertinsky. Deep appreciation goes to my research assistants: Stefania Alessi, Mary Brady, Andrew Bushek, Peter Critikos, Sarah Kelsey, Tess Liegois, Zishuang Liu, Mike McClain, Jon Morris, Kaylie Niemasik, Sarah Pittman, Faraz Qaisrani, Deborah Salvato, Shannon Shontz-Phillips, Anthony Tamburro, and Michelle Tanen.

[167] Albert Camus, The Stranger xix (Stuart Gilbert trans., 1971).

[168] Charlie Lyne, Judge Not: How Netflix Produced the Definitive Amanda Knox Film, Guardian (Sept. 24, 2016), [].

[169] Amanda Knox, Waiting to be Heard: A Memoir 102 (2013).

[170] See Sigmund Freud, Some Character-Types Met with in Psycho-Analytic Work, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud 309, 332‒33 (James Strachey trans., 1914–16) (describing “criminals from a sense of guilt”).

[171] See Rachel Brodsky, Amanda Knox Italian Police Bombshell: We Knew She Was Guilty of Murder Without Physical Evidence, CBS News (March 18, 2010), [] (citing detective Giobbi as saying that the “case was solved simply by observing Amanda Knox’s behavior”); Ian Leslie, Amanda Knox: What’s in a Face?, Guardian (Oct. 7, 2011), [ ] (describing detective Edgardo Giobbi, the lead investigator on the case, as saying that his suspicions were first aroused when he watched Knox swivel her hips provocatively at the crime scene).

[172] See Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language 1624 (2d ed. 1947).

[173] Tom Dibblee, On Being Off: The Case of Amanda Knox, Los Angeles Rev. of Books (2013) (book review), https://lareview/ [].

[174] Id.

[175] Nathaniel Rich, Amanda in Wonderland, 60 N.Y. Rev. of Books, (2013) (book review), [].

[176] Nathaniel Rich, The Neverending Nightmare of Amanda Knox, Rolling Stone 88, 93, (2011), [].

[177] Id.

[178] Id.

[179] Id.

[180] Id.

[181] Id.

[182] Rich, Amanda in Wonderland, supra note 175.

[183] Rich, The Neverending Nightmare of Amanda Knox, supra note 176.

[184] Id.

[185] Id.

[186] Knox, supra note 169.

[187] Id. at 383.

[188] Id. at 244.

[189] Id. at 78.

[190] Id. at 106.

[191] Id. at 244.

[192] Id.

[193] Id. at 383.

[194] Id. at 415.

[195] See Rich, The Neverending Nightmare of Amanda Knox, supra note 176.

[196] For a discussion of the illusion of transparency, see Thomas Gilovich, Victoria Husted Medvec & Kenneth Savitsky, The Illusion of Transparency: Biased Assessments of Others’ Ability to Read One’s Emotional States, 75 J. Personality & Soc. Psychol., 332, 333 (1998); Saul M. Kassin, On the Psychology of Confessions: Does Innocence Put Innocents at Risk?, 60 Am. Psychologist 215, 218 (2005).

[197] See Webster’s New International Dictionary, supra note 172, at 1624.

[198] See Dibblee, supra note 173.

[199] See Knox, supra note 169, at 136.

[200] See, e.g., Knox, supra note 169, at 229 (“If I just had the chance to present my real self to Mignini I’m sure I could change that perception. People could no longer say I’m a killer.”).

[201] See id. at 298–99.

[202] See id. at 229.

[203] See id.

[204] See id. at 236–40.

[205] See Kassin, supra note 196, at 218.

[206] For a definition of naïve as artless, see Webster’s New International Dictionary, supra note 172, at 1624.

[207] For a definition of naïve as “unchecked by convention,” see id. at 1500.

[208] See Rich, supra note 175.

[209] The American Heritage Dictionary 1198 (3d ed. 1992) (under synonyms of naïve); cf. Jane Austen, Emma 152 (George Justice ed., 4th ed., W.W. Norton & Company 2012) (1815) (describing Frank Churchill’s impression of Harriet: “He had never seen so lovely a face, and was delighted with her naïveté.”).

[210] For a definition of naïve as “lacking worldliness and sophistication,” see The American Heritage Dictionary supra note 209, at 1198.

[211] Interview with Lucia Re, Professor of Law, Università degli Studi di Firenze, Scuola di giurisprudenza, in Florence, Italy (May 26, 2014).

[212] 1 Corinthians 13:11‒12.

[213] See, e.g., John Demos & Virginia Demos, Adolescence in Historical Perspective, in 31 J. Marriage & Fam. 632 (1969). But see N. Ray Hiner, Adolescence in Eighteenth-Century America, 3 Hist. Childhood Q. 253, 254‒55 (1975).

[214] See G. Stanley Hall, Adolescence xix (1904). See also Katherine Dalsimer, Female Adolescence 115 (1986) (describing Jane Austen’s heroine Anne Elliot, who is nineteen to twenty-seven years old in the novel, as facing the challenges of “late adolescence”).

[215] See, e.g., Emerging Adults in America passim (Jeffrey Jensen Arnett & Jennifer Lynn Tanner eds., 2006); Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, Emerging Adulthood: A Theory of Development from the Late Teens through the Twenties, 55 Am. Psychologist 469, passim (2000).

[216] See Christian smith et al., Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood 15 (2011); cf. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, Emerging Adulthood: Understanding the New Way of Coming of Age, in Emerging Adults in America, supra note 215, at 3, 7‒14.

[217] See, e.g., Claudia Wallis, The Wild World of a Teen Brain, in Your Brain 62, 64 (Jeffrey Kluger ed., 2009) (citing Dr. Jay Goedd to the effect that the “best estimate for when the brain is truly mature is 25”); Robin Marantz Henig, What is it about 20-Somethings?, N.Y. Times Mag. (Aug. 18, 2010), [] (summarizing a longitudinal study of brain development by the NIMH).

[218] See Wallis, supra note 217, at 65.

[219] See, e.g., John Follain, A Death in Italy 344 (2011) (quoting Mignini’s closing argument in which he imagines Amanda attacking Meredith for being too much of a prude, or as he puts it “goody-goody”).

[220] See Knox, supra note 169, at 14, 34−35, 49, 58.

[221] See Part 1, supra note 14.

[222] See Part 1, supra note 84.

[223] See Part 1, supra note 610‒62.

[224] See Part 1, supra note 99‒104.

[225] Albert Camus, The Stranger 68 (Matthew Ward trans., 1989) (1942).

[226] Id. at 65.

[227] Id.

[228] Richard A. Leo, False Confessions: Causes, Consequences, and Solutions, in Wrongly Convicted 36, 37 (Sandra D. Westervelt & John A. Humphrey eds., 2002).

[229] Id.

[230] Hugo Adam Bedau & Michael L. Radelet, Miscarriages of Justice in Potentially Capital Cases, 40 Stan. L. Rev. 21, 57‒58, 62‒63 (1987).

[231] Id. at 23–24, 57‒58.

[232] Id. at 57, 60‒63.

[233] See Explaining False Confessions, 303 Brit. Med. J. 1087, 1087‒88, (1991) (identifying three types of false confessions); Saul M. Kassin & Lawrence S. Wrightsman, Confession Evidence, in The Psychology of Evidence and Trial Procedure 67, 76 (Saul Kassin & Lawrence Wrightsman eds., 1985) (same); Christine S. Scott-Hayward, Explaining Juvenile False Confessions: Adolescent Development and Police Interrogation, 31 Law & Psychol. Rev. 53, 55‒56 (2007) (identifying the second and third types of false confessions).

[234] See Kassin & Wrightsman, supra note 233, at 76‒77; Feodor Dostoevsky was deeply interested in this voluntary type of false confession, see generally Feodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment (1866).

[235] See Kassin & Wrightsman, supra note 233, at 77; Christine S. Scott-Hayward, supra note 233, at 55.

[236] See Kassin & Wrightsman, supra note 233, at 78.

[237] Knox, supra note 169, at 123, 125.

[238] Id. at 116‒17.

[239] Id. at 118.

[240] Id. at 125.

[241] Id. at 125, 127, 130.

[242] Id. at 132‒33.

[243] Id. at 117.

[244] Steven A. Drizin & Richard A. Leo, The Problem of False Confessions in the Post-DNA World, 82 N.C. L. Rev. 891, 944 (2004).

[245] See, e.g.,­­­­­ Saul M. Kassin et al., Police-Induced Confessions: Risk Factors and Recommendations, 34 Law & Human Behavior 3, 19 (2010); Christine S. Scott-Hayward, supra note 233, at 53‒54.

[246] See Elizabeth S. Scott & Thomas Grisso, The Evolution of Adolescence: A Developmental Perspective on Juvenile Justice Reform, 88 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 137, 164 (1998) (discussing how adolescents’ “temporal perspective” differs from that of adults).

[247] Megan Crane, et al., The Truth about Juvenile False Confessions, Insights on Law & Society (Winter 2016), [].

[248] See supra text accompanying notes 217‒218.

[249] Drizin & Leo, supra note 244, at 932.

[250] Id. at 891.

[251] Id. at 944‒45.

[252] Id. at 945.

[253] Interview with Amanda Knox & Madison Paxton, in Seattle, Wash. (Mar. 2, 2014).

[254] See supra Part I, 13, 21‒22.

[255] See Sarah Burns, The Central Park Five 193‒95, 204 (2011); Saul Kassin, False Confessions and the Jogger Case, N.Y. Times, Nov. 1, 2002, [].

[256] See Duncan, Beauty in the Dark of Night: The Pleasures of Form in Criminal Law, 59 Emory L. J. 1203, 1224‒25 (2010).

[257] See Raffaele Sollecito, Honor Bound: My Journey to Hell and Back With Amanda Knox 58 (2012) (saying that in Italian, as in English, these words can “simply mean ‘See you around’”). But see Nina Burleigh, The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox 194−195 (2011) (saying that ‘See ya later’ in American idiom doesn’t translate literally into Italian”); Barbie Latza Nadeau, Angel Face: Sex Murder, and the Inside Story of Amanda Knox 69 (2010) (saying that “in Italian, the same phrase generally suggests a fixed appointment”).

[258] See Andrew G. Hodges, As Done Unto You: The Secret Confession of Amanda Knox 111 (2015) (quoting Amanda’s e-mail in which she writes that she was “freezing” that morning).

[259] Sollecito, supra note 257, at 33−34.

[260] E-mail from Amanda Knox, to author (Mar. 2, 2014, 14:55 PST) (on file with author).