is quite a beautiful Umbrian college town, birthplace of Perugino
– duh – and home to Pinturicchio
. It's where they make those little individually wrapped chocolates called "Baci,
'' which means "kisses" in Italian. Just like bubble gum that comes wrapped in a comic, every candy comes wrapped in a smoochy quote. I bought my husband his wedding ring there, on our honeymoon, which is a whole other story.
But Perugia is also, alas, where a 21-year-old British student named Meredith Kercher was brutally murdered in 2007, a crime for which Kercher's young American roommate, Amanda Knox of Seattle, was convicted and sentenced
to 26 years in prison on Saturday.
There is little to no physical evidence
linking Knox to the murder, and much to suggest that she's really only in jail because Italian authorities didn't want to back down and admit that their original theory of the case was bogus. They insist that Kercher was killed in a kinky sexual "misadventure'' with Knox, her Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, and a drifter, Rudy Guede, who has confessed to the crime. In court, Knox was painted as a slut and referred to as a "little she-devil.'' In court, they asked jurors to consider imagined dialogue between the victim and her killers.
Italian prosecutors have a history of corruption – and more recently, of fighting corruption
-- and are regularly accused of pursuing various political agendas. While I was living in Italy as a reporter for the New York Times, I had exactly two dealings with prosecutors. The first was for a story involving a prosecutor
for Milan whose office was trying to pursue terror suspects after 9/11. I interviewed him over dinner, along with another reporter who had known him for years. We carefully went over what was and was not on the record, but after the story appeared, he called and, for whose benefit I never knew, loudly informed me that we had never met. I found this upsetting, to say the least, but other reporters laughed when I told them what had happened. They always do that, I was told; it's to be expected, and is all part of the deal.
The second story involved a case of homegrown Italian terrorism following a bombing in Rome. A long interview with a prosecutor in that case provided a wealth of information – but so many internal contradictions that I hardly knew what to do with it. Attempts to clarify even the basics seemed to confuse the man I was interviewing, who eventually asked me what I wanted the story to say. People take news in Italy with more than a grain of salt, my colleagues patiently told me. A lot of it is widely understood to be theatre.
Have these two experiences left me with a bias about the Italian justice system? Absolutely. But I think it would be hard to argue that the six members of the Knox jury who came to court draped, literally, in the colors of the Italian flag, were unbiased arbiters of the facts of the case. The sensational coverage of the crime would have necessitated a change of venue in the United States, where Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) issued a statement after the verdict yesterday:
"I am saddened by the verdict and I have serious questions about the Italian justice system and whether anti-Americanism tainted this trial. The prosecution did not present enough evidence for an impartial jury to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Knox was guilty. Italian jurors were not sequestered and were allowed to view highly negative news coverage about Ms. Knox. Other flaws in the Italian justice system on display in this case included the harsh treatment of Ms. Knox following her arrest; negligent handling of evidence by investigators; and pending charges of misconduct against one of the prosecutors stemming from another murder trial. I am in contact with the U.S. Ambassador to Italy and have been since the time of Ms. Knox's arrest. I will be conveying my concerns to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.''
Clinton would seem to be the perfect person to make sure that a young American woman isn't railroaded on account of her nationality and what those who know Knox see as made-up gossip about her sexuality. Yet when asked about the case Sunday morning by George Stephanopoulos, she said, "George, I honestly haven't had time to even examine that. I've been immersed in what we're doing in Afghanistan...I can't offer any opinion.''
That is especially disappointing given that Knox is only a few years younger than Chelsea Clinton. I hope the secretary of state will reconsider and find time in her schedule to look into the case.