The Illinois Innocence Project will host Amanda Knox at a virtual fundraiser for the organization on Thursday evening in an event billed as “Guilty Until Proven Innocent.” Registration for the event closes at midnight on Wednesday, Dec. 9. Find more information about the event at illinoisinnocenceproject.org.
The Illinois Innocence Project, based at the University of Illinois Springfield, is part of a larger network of Innocence Project organizations throughout the U.S., which aims to free the wrongfully incarcerated and prevent wrongful convictions in the first place. The Illinois Innocence Project has helped release 17 innocent men and women in Illinois, including five in 2020.
In the nine years since Amanda Knox was acquitted on appeal after being wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for the murder of her roommate in 2007, Knox has cleared her name and now works as a journalist and speaker. Knox’s work for VICE News explored the “gendered nature of public shaming,” and is the host of two podcasts: The Truth About True Crime, and a new project called LABYRINTHS.
Knox’s 2013 memoir, Waiting to be Heard, details her experience with the Italian criminal justice system, including early missteps and eventually abuse in police and prosecutor conduct in the investigation into the brutal murder of Knox’s study abroad roommate Meredith Kercher.
Knox and then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were nearly immediately considered prime suspects in the murder, despite later mounting evidence — and later, even the conviction of another man for the murder. But law enforcement kept insisting Knox and Sollecito had been the instigators of the murder, and crafted false narratives and tampered with evidence to fit that narrative.
It worked at trial, and Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison in 2009. In 2011, Knox and Sollecito were acquitted on appeal, and in 2015 the Italian Supreme Court exonerated the pair.
Knox has made appearances for other Innocence Projects, and her 2011 appeal effort received assistance from the Idaho Innocence Project, whose director Greg Hampikian worked to prove the forensic results from the crime scene pointed only to Rudy Guede as Kercher’s killer, and did not place Knox and Sollecito at the scene.
Knox on her advocacy as a white woman for the wrongly accused in the U.S., where the majority of those failed by the criminal justice system are Black and Brown…
“Yes, I don’t look like and I don’t have the background of most of the people who are wrongfully convicted and swept under the rug by the criminal justice system. What is true is that in Italy, I was the other. I was the American girl who — there were a ton of stereotypes and misconceptions…there was a lot of prejudice I ended up facing in the courtroom.
…People feel comfortable being prejudiced against you in ways that they wouldn’t otherwise simply because you’ve been accused of a crime. That is what we see over and over again here in the United States, where it’s young men of color most often…”
Knox on egregious conduct by law enforcement and prosecutors, including abuse and coerced confessions…
“There are a million ways that a human being’s mind, when they’re in a vulnerable state, when they are scared, when they don’t understand what’s going on, when they’re faced with the impossible choice [of outcomes]…there are a million ways that any reasonable human being…would sign statements or start to think that they must be crazy because they are being treated the way that they are by these authority figures that we entrust with our justice system.
The impact that those people have in those people have in those positions is tremendous. And for people who are young, for people who are foreign or don’t speak the language, you are particularly vulnerable to that type of manipulation.”
Knox on what she defines as “prosecutorial tunnel vision” — when law enforcement gloms onto one particular narrative early on, allowing for basic human tendencies like confirmation bias to cloud their judgment on a case…
“This is human nature. I don’t think that prosecutors are different than any other human being…I don’t think you have to be maliciously intending to personally save face at all costs to come to believe your own narrative you’ve built up…
[Prosecutors’] conviction rates are often used as means for them to be re-elected. It would be nice if they had conviction integrity rates instead of conviction rates…There are a million ways we can incentivize human beings to do the right thing instead of just pursue guilt and conviction rates no matter what.”
Knox on early warning signs that the American media landscape is tilting toward the European-style tabloids that maligned her during her case…
“This is a global problem of journalism being incentivized by the number of eyeballs and clicks that stories attract, rather than the integrity of the story itself. If your headline grabs attention, whatever’s in the body of that story doesn’t really matter. And that is the problem of journalism today.
...The bigger story of the criminal justice system and wrongful convictions is so often overlooked. We spend so much time looking at these big, scandalous stories…and we don’t look at the epidemics of crime that are impacting communities — whole communities.”
Knox on explosions of COVID-19 in congregate facilities, including jails and prisons…
“We all know — it’s well known that healthcare in prison is below sub-par. But beyond that, there’s the mental health problem. I was able to survive prison and maintain the sanity that I have today largely because I was able to have visitations from my family members. If this pandemic had happened while I was in prison still and was unable to see my family…I don’t know what I would do.
…Healthcare workers and nursing facilities need to get that vaccine immediately. So do prisons because no one there has a choice. No one can do anything to protect themselves. We owe it to them because we are forcing them in that position. It is our responsibility.”