Independent on Sunday, 2 February 2014
We have seen the fevered imaginings of a rank species of misogyny
The brutal murder of a young woman in her own bedroom by a sexual predator is horrible to imagine. But the case of the British student Meredith Kercher, who was killed in Perugia more than six years ago, has been followed by one of the most protracted and tormenting legal processes in recent history.
Last week, an Italian court reinstated guilty verdicts on the victim’s American flatmate, Amanda Knox, and her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, and yesterday the president of the Florence appeals court told an Italian newspaper the crime was the result of a series of coincidences. It might not have happened, said Alessandro Nencini, if Knox hadn’t changed her mind about going to work that evening. He admitted this would be the most “controversial” part of the judgment.
It’s worth recalling, at this point, that someone else was convicted of the murder five years ago. Copious amounts of forensic evidence implicated a young man called Rudy Guede, who left Italy after the attack and was arrested in Germany. He was convicted of sexual assault and murder in a fast-track procedure, and his sentence of 30 years was cut to 16 on appeal.
Most sex-attackers are men; Guede had Kercher’s blood on his hands and left other evidence behind; there is no incontrovertible evidence placing Knox or Sollecito in the bedroom; forensic evidence cited by the prosecution was discredited at their successful appeal in 2011. Yet the Italian authorities have stood by an idea formed in the immediate aftermath of the killing, which is that a woman must have been the prime mover. The case long ago become a circus, with some British papers gleefully hailing the return of “Foxy Knoxy” after Thursday’s verdict. At her original trial, this femme fatale supposedly had such power over two men who hadn’t previously met that she was able to persuade them to take part in a murder influenced by black magic.
These were the fevered imaginings of a rank species of misogyny. Their origins lie in the infamous history of Perugia, described as the “epicentre” of 15th-century witch trials. Both sides in the case made the link, with one hostile lawyer describing Knox as a “diabolical she-devil”. Five supposed “witches” were burned to death in Perugia between 1445 and 1501; their male “accomplices” were spared on the grounds that they had been bewitched.
Now the Florence court has replaced the black magic motive favoured in Perugia with a row between Kercher and Knox over a dirty toilet. First it was witchcraft, now it’s personal hygiene; if that seems a leap, the appeal judges haven’t deviated from the prosecutors’ original assumption in one crucial respect. They still seem to believe that a young American woman – not the man who left his DNA all over the scene – bears the greatest responsibility for a savage, sexually-motivated murder.