Lori Berenson May Be Lesson for Amanda Knox

For more than a decade, New Yorker Lori Berenson has lingered in stark prisons in Peru -- 3,629 miles from her family.

At the age of 27, she was sentenced by a hooded military tribunal to 20 years in prison for consorting with left-wing rebels.

Despite desperate appeals by her parents, vows that they would not abandon her until she is brought home, and intervention by the U.S. State Department and two American presidents, Berenson has been in prison so long she has created an entire life for herself.


She has married a fellow prisoner, and this year gave birth to a baby at the age of 40.

"I think what was hardest for me was the knowledge that she was being unjustly deprived of living fully in the prime years of her life," said her mother, New York University physics professor Rhoda Berenson.

Now the parents of Amanda Knox -- the Seattle college student who was convicted in Italy last week of murdering her British roommate -- are hoping that legal appeals and the State Department will prevent their 22-year-old daughter from serving out the 26 year prison sentence imposed by the Italian court.


If Knox serves her entire sentence, she would come out of prison at the age of 46.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., has made an appeal to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on behalf of the Knox family, but Clinton has not committed to taking up the case. "I stand ready to meet with anyone who wishes to discuss this case further," Clinton said Monday, hardly a battle cry.

Click here for complete coverage of the Amanda Knox case


The Knox family has much to learn from the Berensons. Both families estimate they have spent more an $1 million on legal and travel fees to defend and support their daughters. And both families have been consumed by worrying about their daughters' medical and emotional well-being.

The two women and their legal cases are very different. Knox was a 20-year-old college student studying in Italy who a jury says murdered her roommate in a spate of fury over repeated criticism of her character and an accusation that Knox stole rent money.

Berenson left MIT to follow her ideals in Peru, a country that in the 1990s had a record of human rights abuses.

There are limitations to what officials can do in these cases, and generally the U.S. respects the sovereignty of other nations, as seen in the Berenson case.

Pressure from Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, as well as an army of diplomats, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell and former presidential candidate H. Ross Perot, has so far done nothing to free her.

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., took an interest in Berenson's cause a decade ago and even visited her in prison.

"We broke records for the number of congressmen who signed letters," Rhoda Berenson, 66, told ABCNews.com.

Berenson was plagued with medical problems, many of which developed in her first two years at a frigid maximum security prison with no heat and running water at 12,800 feet above sea level near the Bolivian border.

She developed Raynaud's syndrome from the freezing cold and eye problems after long periods of darkness during security lockdowns, according to her father, Mark Berenson, 68.

"I've seen her age," Berenson, a statistics professor at Montclair State University in New Jersey, told ABCNew.com. "It was a miracle she could become pregnant."

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