Throughout the years she was incarcerated, Amanda Knox was portrayed by many Italians as a “sex-obsessed, heartless murderer,” thanks to her erratic behavior and changing story after her 21-year-old roommate, Meredith Kercher, was killed in 2007. The Associated Press reports:
Knox’s behavior in the hours after the killing raised eyebrows and continues to raise questions about why she would display such apparent disregard after her friend had been brutally murdered.
The American turned cartwheels and did splits at the police station as she waited to be questioned by police, according to investigators and Kercher’s friends during the first trial. They said Knox sat on [her then boyfriend] Sollecito’s lap, making faces at him, crossing her eyes and sticking her tongue out, while giggling and kissing him.
A lingerie shop owner testified that he saw Knox and Sollecito kissing and hugging in his shop the day after Kercher’s body was found. He said Knox bought a G-string and talked about having “hot sex” once the couple — who had been dating just a week — got home.
Knox explained her actions as the result of being someone who “tends to act a little silly” under stress.
Does this reaction to tragedy feel familiar? Of course it does. Recently acquitted murder suspect Casey Anthony acted in bizarre, ecstatic fashion after the death of her 2-year-old, Caylee, a fact that led many to question her innocence, even after a jury declared a lack of evidence required to convict her. Unlike Anthony, Knox was initially found guilty, the verdict of her first trial overturned this week resulting from a lack of physical evidence tying Knox to the scene of the crime.
Whether or not either woman is guilty of a crime, one thing is for sure: each woman’s good looks and overt sexuality factored into public opinion about their ability – or inability – to kill.
In her forthcoming book, “The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Italian Trials of Amanda Knox,” Nina Burleigh suggests that the reason Knox wasn’t privy to a fair trial the first time around is because Italian society still reinforces the Madonna/Whore dichotomy. In an op-ed for CNN, she writes:
Our obsession with female evil, our fascination with the possibility of a depraved criminal hiding behind a pretty face, drove the coverage of this case, eliciting innuendo as fact, and excluding at least half of the narrative…. Even as Knox returns to Seattle, people around the world, especially in Italy, will never be convinced she is anything other than a sexual psychotic who bewitched two men into killing for her in the name of lust….
Many forces abetted the confusion over this very simple if horrible crime, which was almost surely a robbery gone wrong. Superstition, shoddy police work, cultural and actual mistranslation were among those forces. The sexuality of the female at the center of the narrative was one of them.
It’s important to note – as Burleigh does – that “small-time break-in artist Rudy Guede, whose fingerprints were in the murder room, who never denied being there as Kercher was bleeding to death, has been convicted of murdering [Kercher] in a separate trial.” So, why then, do we feel that Knox is somehow still guilty? I think it’s because – like Casey Anthony – she changed her story during the course of the investigation. First Knox admitted to being in their shared apartment when Kercher died, now she maintains, “I did not kill. I did not rape. I did not steal. I wasn’t there.”
I understand Burleigh’s assertion that beauty can come at a price, but on the flip side, I think being attractive – being able to wield sexuality as a tool – can also help beautiful women get out of trouble in ways otherwise unattractive women might not be able to. It’s clear that because Knox and Anthony are both conventionally attractive, coquettish, even, their looks were not irrelevant or ignored during their trials. Even now, BuzzFeed is featuring a poll asking, “Who’s Hotter: Amanda Knox or Casey Anthony?” (As of this writing, Knox was well in the lead.)
While it’s true that the overtly sexual behavior these women displayed in the wake of the murders they were accused of made many think they were guilty, it’s also true that their angelic faces inspired others to maintain their innocence. To me, that reinforces the idea that accused criminals – male and female alike – are judged by their appearance, whether or not that works ultimately to their detriment or their advantage.
What do you think? Did beauty belie justice in either of these cases?