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Until this week, did you recall the name Rudy Guede? Quite possibly not. Or Meredith Kercher? The name of the 21-year-old British student raped and murdered in Perugia, Italy, 14 years ago is probably more familiar.
Now how about the name Amanda Knox, aka ‘Foxy Knoxy’? Chances are that you will not only know her name, but also the face of the slightly oddball American girl who was accused of murdering her friend in a “sex game gone wrong”.
Knox is so inextricably linked to the events of November 1 2007 that the New York Post ran a headline last year saying: “Man Who Killed Amanda Knox’s Roommate Freed on Community Service.”
The “man” in that headline was Guede, an habitual criminal who was convicted of murdering the “roommate”, Kercher and who, this week, has been controversially released from jail after serving just 13 years and six months of his 16-year sentence.
Yet the public fascination with Knox is so intense that it is her name that remains shorthand for the horrific crime, with that of her then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito – who also spent four years in prison before being acquitted by the Supreme Court in Rome – having become hardly more than a footnote. Even now photographers wait outside 34-year-old Knox’s house in Seattle, hoping to snap the first pictures of her with her baby daughter, named Eureka.
Little wonder, then, that she has called on the newly freed Guede to confess to the crime – which he has always denied, despite DNA evidence – and clear her name once and for all.
“Guede holds a tremendous power to heal others harmed by his actions. He has the power to tell the truth, to take responsibility, to stop blaming me for the rape and murder of Meredith Kercher, which a wealth of evidence shows he committed alone,” Knox wrote on Twitter this week.
So is it time for us to let go of our fictionalised version of ‘Foxy Knoxy’ and allow married mother Knox to reclaim her life, and her name? Where can she go from here?
According to Knox, “the controversy, not the truth, is what people care about more”, and the reason that controversy lingers on is that the Italian courts have never accepted Guede acted alone.
Guede – who was arrested three weeks after the murder and convicted in a fast-track trial – holds in his hands the ability to clear Knox’s name once and for all. The Italian courts could, if they wanted, apologise for the four years she spent in prison and the eight-year legal process in which she was enmeshed, but to do so would be to admit to embarrassing flaws in the country’s legal system.
Yet Italian prosecutors would not let go of a bizarre theory that detectives had formed from the off: that Kercher had been murdered because she refused to take part in a “sex game” with Knox and Sollecito. The pair were convicted of murder in 2009; in 2011 their convictions were quashed; in 2013 a new trial was ordered, then in 2015 Italy’s Supreme Court exonerated them for good.
Knox blames the police’s preferred scenario on a “misogynist fantasy” – one which so excited the public imagination that Matt Damon’s current thriller Stillwater is based on the Knox trial, and it also helped inspire new BBC drama Showtrial, both more than a decade on.
She did not, it must be said, help herself in the way she behaved after the murder: having implicated an entirely innocent local man, bartender Patrick Lumumba in the crime. She was photographed kissing Sollecito in public, which was taken as evidence of her guilt – though she insists that she did not, contrary to reports at the time, perform a cartwheel in the local police station. In her 2013 autobiography, Waiting To Be Heard, Knox admits that she is not good at “social norms” and accepts that her behaviour could have been misconstrued.
Nowadays, we are more aware of the sexist stereotypes that paint women as “she-devils” and “ice queens” – both accusations thrown at Knox during that time. Would she be treated differently now?
Her detractors (and it must be said that the Kercher family has never explicitly accepted she is innocent) accuse her of hypocrisy in asking to be left alone. She has, after all, written a memoir, given numerous interviews to newspapers, television and radio, hosts her own podcast, and has reportedly negotiated exclusive rights for pictures of herself with her daughter, born earlier this year to husband, novelist Christopher Robinson.
In her defence, Knox says that she needs the money to pay off her family’s huge legal bills, and that turning around her reputation by standing up to the critics – reclaiming her own story – is her only hope of freeing her daughter from the curse that follows her name. She could hardly, she has also pointed out, get a regular job given the press who still regularly follow her around.
She is in touch with Monica Lewinsky, whom she regards as a fellow victim of misogyny in the early years of 24-hour rolling news and social media; a woman who for decades was characterised as a guilty party despite being a young intern in thrall to the most powerful man in the world. A woman whose name is still used as shorthand for that scandal, rather than Bill Clinton’s. Twenty years on, Lewinsky has found a new voice campaigning against cyberbullying, in the same way that Knox now hopes to raise awareness of other victims of wrongful conviction.
Knox, then, does not intend to disappear, saying this week in response to those who suggest that she changes her name: “My name is not wrong, they’re wrong about me.”
“I am not Foxy Knoxy,” she insists – and it is this misinterpretation of her character that she wants to see off. The nickname, unearthed on her social media profile by a reporter, dated back to childhood and, she has always insisted, was given to her because of her wily skills as a footballer.
Either way, her rhyming epithet was irresistible to headline writers, and has come to define her in the public eye. In Britain it marked her out as a vamp; in Italy it was even more damaging, as the public associated it with fox-like cunning, the sort that would course through the veins of a murderer.
“The prosecution and the media crafted a story, and a doppelgänger version of me, onto which people could affix all their uncertainties, fears and moral judgments. People liked that story: the psychotic man-eater, the dirty ice queen, Foxy Knoxy,” she has said. Strangers who sent her lingerie and love letters were, she adds, taken in by the “cardboard cut out” character.
“Amanda’s out of prison, but she’s not out of the prison of public vilification,” her husband, Robinson, has explained.
Rudy Guede is the only person who knows what happened that night, but he says he “just wants to be forgotten”.
Unlike Amanda Knox, he is likely to be granted his wish.
Additional reporting by Claudia Rowan