US & Canada

Amanda Knox: Figure at the centre of a saga

In this Sept. 26, 2008 file photo, American murder suspect Amanda Knox, centre, is escorted by Italian penitentiary police officers to Perugia's court at the end of a hearing, central Italy
Image caption Amanda Knox is seen here in 2008 in Perugia's court

Amanda Knox served four years in an Italian prison for the murder of her British flatmate Meredith Kercher in Perugia in 2007, always insisting on her innocence.

In 2011, she was acquitted on the basis of DNA evidence but prosecutors successfully appealed and her acquittal was struck down.

In 2014 she was again found guilty in absentia after a retrial and sentenced to 28 years and six months in jail. The saga came to and end when Italy's highest court overturned the convictions of Ms Knox and her former boyfriend, Italian student Raffaele Sollecito in March 2015.

Amanda Knox, who had vowed never to willingly return to Italy, said she was "tremendously relieved and grateful" when the final ruling was announced.

'Mask of a murderer'

Meredith Kercher's body was found in her bedroom in the house she shared with Ms Knox and others in Perugia, an Italian university town where the two young women were exchange students.

Image caption Amanda Knox said she was not in the house when Ms Kercher was killed

Her throat had been slashed and she had been sexually assaulted.

Prosecutors argue that Ms Kercher was the victim of a drug-fuelled sex game gone wrong.

Both Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito denied any guilt, saying they were not even in the apartment that night, although they admitted having smoked marijuana and that their memories may have been clouded.

Rudy Guede, from the Ivory Coast, is currently serving a 16-year prison sentence for his part in the murder.

At her original trial, Ms Knox said she feared "having the mask of a murderer forced on to my skin".

The explanation offered by prosecutors and feverish media was that she was that most-loved of villains - the middle-class monster whose appearance hides a diabolical soul.

Her moniker in tabloids became "Foxy Knoxy", which was Knox's own name on her MySpace page.

One Italian commentator described her as having "the face of an angel but the eyes of a killer".

Image caption Meredith Kercher was discovered with her throat cut

A lawyer reportedly accused her of being "dirty inside and out", a "she-devil, a diabolical person focused on sex, drugs and alcohol, living life to the extreme and borderline".

'Inappropriate' reaction

Elements of her reaction to the murder and her lifestyle in Italy appear to have driven this determination to demonise Ms Knox.

As she waited to be questioned in a police station, she reportedly "did the splits and a cartwheel in one of the rooms", according to a senior police official, quoted by the UK's Daily Telegraph newspaper.

"I told them it was not appropriate," the official, Domenico Giacinto Profazio, later said in court.

Reporters who dug up her past life in Seattle found the University of Washington student had been fined in 2007 for her role in a drunken party that police were called to.

A picture was painted of a "party girl" who abused drink and drugs and had an active sex life.

It emerged that she had written a short story on a social networking site about a man who drugs and rapes a young girl. In it, one character remarks: "A thing you have to know about chicks is that they don't know what they want."

In letters to his father from prison, Raffaele Sollecito wrote: "The Amanda I know... lives a carefree life... Her only thought is the pursuit of pleasure."

But he added: "Even the thought that she could be a killer is impossible for me."

After his release, Mr Sollecito said they were no longer in a relationship and Knox had found a new boyfriend.

'Darkest times'

Ms Knox, 27, has been living back in her home city Seattle and working as a freelance reporter for small weekly newspaper the West Seattle Herald, her editor told The Guardian. She is also engaged to a musician.

A book she wrote, Waiting to Be Heard, was published in April 2013. The memoir is a vivid personal account of the difficulties of prison life in Italy, complete with claims about inappropriate behaviour by staff.

But in other documents written at the time of her incarceration, she was more sanguine about her experience, journalist Andrea Vogt wrote for BBC News last year.

Image caption The Knox family has paid huge sums of money in the fight to acquit Amanda

Around the same time as the book launch, she gave her first interview since leaving prison, to US broadcaster ABC, saying claims that she is a "she-devil" and "heartless manipulator" are all wrong.

"I was in the courtroom [in Italy] when they were calling me 'devil'," Ms Knox said in the interview.

"It's one thing to be called certain things in the media and then it's another thing to be sitting in a courtroom, fighting for your life, while people are calling you a devil.

"For all intents and purposes, I was a murderer - whether I was or not. And I had to live with the idea that that would be my life."

Her family have stood by her, reportedly spending huge sums of money on lawyers and publicists, as well as travel and living costs, during the fight to free their daughter.

They had helped fund their daughter's year in Italy in order to further her Italian, German and creative writing studies.

Another image of Amanda Knox at the time of the murder is that of a non-drinker and non-smoker, who declared her favourite pursuits to be yoga and backpacking.

This was a young woman who listed among her favourite films Shrek and The Full Monty, and who liked listening to The Beatles and reading Harry Potter books.

Image caption Ms Knox's memoir provides a vivid account of prison life in Italy

On a tribute website, family and friends wrote about the girl who excelled at sports and school plays; a "smart, fun, affectionate and loyal" person who bought sandwiches for homeless people and nursed sick friends.

Days ahead of the retrial in September 2014, Amanda Knox announced she would not return to Italy for the process.

She later wrote a five-page email, which was read out in court, insisting she "didn't kill Meredith" but was afraid to appear in person for fear of wrongful conviction.

After the final ruling on 27 March 2015, which ended her saga once and for all, Amanda Knox said that knowing she was innocent had given her "strength in the darkest times of this ordeal".