MODENA, Italy — When Amanda Knox, the American whose murder trial riveted the world, landed at Linate Airport in Milan on Thursday, she immediately engaged in a familiar and uneasy tango with the news media.
Straight-faced and stiff-lipped, Knox dodged flashbulbs as a coterie of bodyguards kept the press at bay. She had returned to Italy to speak about wrongful convictions in her first trip to the country since 2011, when an appeals court in Perugia acquitted her of the murder of her roommate, British student Meredith Kercher.
But even as Knox shunned reporters last week, a videographer on her team was tracking her every move. And when Knox finally broke a self-imposed three-day silence on Saturday, at the Festival on Criminal Justice in central Italy’s Modena, she wept.
Knox told the packed audience that she was afraid “that I will be molested, derided, framed, that new accusations will be directed against me for telling my truth.”
“I know that despite my acquittal I remain a controversial figure for the public opinion, especially in Italy,” she added. “I know that many people think I am bad, that I don’t belong here. It shows how a false narrative can be powerful and undermine justice, especially when amplified by the media.”
Knox had been introduced by Guido Sola, a lawyer and one of the conference organizers, as an example of someone facing trial by news media, a victim of a “mass media lynching” whose guilt had been decided in the court of public opinion long before she appeared in an actual courtroom.
Her trial was a perfect case study for the conference. She had been accused with her Italian boyfriend at the time, Raffaele Sollecito, and an Ivorian-born acquaintance, Rudy Guede, of murdering Kercher on Nov. 1, 2007. The case ping-ponged around various Italian courts for years, until the country’s highest court definitively acquitted Knox and Sollecito in 2015. Guede is still serving a 16-year sentence.
At times tearful, at times defiant Saturday, Knox recounted her odyssey for nearly an hour, occasionally breaking down, such as while recalling an injustice or a kindness received. She blamed the news media, local and international, for not having dug deeper to reveal the flaws in the prosecution’s case — instead, she said, fueling the frenzy with stories about her purportedly salacious past.
“I was never a defendant, innocent until proven guilty,” she said of the public’s perception. “I was sly, a psychopath, dirty, a slut, guilty until proven otherwise.”
This warped version of her entered into the courtroom, compromising the result of the trial, she said.
The most important lesson she had learned, she said, was that it was easy for the public to distort defendants into monsters.
The three-day festival was organized by Italy’s Innocence Project and the Criminal Bar Association in Modena to discuss “complicated themes” on criminal justice, said Luca Lupária Donati, a law professor at Tre University in Rome and founder of the Italian Innocence Project. Judges and prosecutors were invited to attend.
Lupária said that the issue of wrongful conviction and miscarriages of justice was especially important “in a moment of populism, where the theme of the death penalty was rearing its head in Europe,” where it does not exist.
“It can take 100 to 200 years to achieve some legal rights but a day to lose them,” he said.
Knox’s case was particularly divisive, stirring passionate debate on her innocence in Italy and the United States. Hordes of news cameras and journalists followed the case as it bounced from court to court.
Since her return to the United States, Knox has been involved with the Innocence Project and has hosted a Facebook series and a podcast on true crime.