Amanda Knox broke down in tears as she told an audience in Italy that she was portrayed as a “dirty, psychopathic, man-eating whore” during an eight-year legal process in which she was accused of murdering Meredith Kercher.
On her first visit to Italy since being acquitted of the 2007 murder of the British exchange student, Knox said many people had told her she was “crazy” to return.
She admitted that she was afraid of being physically attacked on the streets, “derided” and even re-arrested and thrown into prison, despite being definitively acquitted of the killing by Italy’s supreme court in 2015.
An emotional Knox, 31, dressed in a sleeveless pink dress, took to a stage in the northern city of Modena to address a conference about miscarriages of justice and trial by media.
“Many people think I’m crazy to come here, that it would not be safe. Even now, I’m afraid of being molested, derided, framed.”
But she said she was determined to tell “my version of the facts”.
She broke down in tears on several occasions and struggled to deliver her speech about her conviction and the four years she spent in prison.
Italian prosecutors portrayed her as a ruthless, sex-obsessed she-devil, a narrative eagerly picked up by British and American tabloid newspapers, she said.
“On the world stage, I was not the defendant. I was the dirty, psychopathic, man-eating whore. I was christened ‘Foxy Knoxy’. It was an absurd and false story. But it meant it was impossible for me to have a fair trial. The jury was corrupted.”
Ms Kercher, from Surrey, was 21 when she was found dead with her throat cut in the cottage she shared with Knox and two Italian women in Perugia, a hill-town in Umbria that is popular with foreign students.
A local drifter and small-time drug dealer named Rudy Guede was tried, convicted and sentenced to 16 years in jail for the murder, with DNA evidence linking him to the sexual assault and killing of Ms Kercher.
But suspicion also fell on Knox and her then boyfriend, Italian student Raffaele Sollecito – prosecutors said they had acted with Guede, knifing Ms Kercher to death after a sex game turned violent.
They were convicted and sentenced to 26 years in prison.
The convictions were overturned in 2011 and Knox immediately returned to the US.
In her absence, the acquittals were thrown out by an Italian appeals court, before being upheld by the supreme court in Rome in 2015.
“The truth is that Raffaele and I did not kill Meredith,” Knox said. “I had zero motivation to kill my friend.” She said she had been cast as “a monster”.
Her decision to return to Italy and address the high-profile conference was criticised by one of the judges who presided over one of her trials.
“If I was her, I’d stay silent, out of respect for the memory of Meredith and for her family. I would draw a line under the whole business,” said Claudio Pratillo Hellman, who led the appeal trial that acquitted Knox and Sollecito first time around. “I hope she doesn’t create too much of a fuss and that she doesn’t exploit the saga for economic gain.”
Speaking in fluent Italian, Knox said that during her time in prison she witnessed violence and drug-taking by other inmates and was crushed by fear, anxiety and loneliness.
She addressed the false accusation of murder that she made against Patrick Lumumba, a Congolese barman in Perugia who was arrested and held in custody despite having nothing to do with the crime.
She said that in the days after the murder, she was questioned for 50 hours over a five-day period.
She was not given a lawyer or a qualified interpreter and spoke Italian “at the level of a child”, having arrived in Perugia just a few weeks previously.
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Police insisted that she was at the scene of the murder and must have blanked out the details because of the trauma.
They seized on a text she had sent Mr Lumumba earlier that day, in which she said ‘See you later’.
She said she was brow-beaten into accusing him of the killing.
“I was alone, frightened, deprived of sleep and these were people in authority who were twice my age. I signed a confession but retracted it hours afterwards. They ignored me. For them, it was an orgy that went horribly wrong.”
Knox admitted that she remains “a controversial figure” and acknowledged that critics have said her return to Italy will only revive the trauma of the Kercher family.
Since her release, she has become a writer, journalist and commentator on crime, based in her home town of Seattle.
The family of Ms Kercher have chosen to maintain a dignified silence about the case and rarely comment about Knox or the outcome of the eight-year legal saga.