Jan. 31, 2014— -- The latest verdict from an Italian Appeals court finding Amanda Knox and her then boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito guilty of murdering her roommate Meredith Kercher may come as a stunning outrage to many Americans. But once you dig a little deeper, maybe, just maybe, some of the reasoning becomes a little less outlandish.
In the annals of high-profile injustices, the 26-year-old Knox is now often cited alongside the most indefensible miscarriages of justices this nation has addressed in recent years, such as the West Memphis 3, convicted on nothing more than inaccurate assumptions and a coerced confession; the "Scottsboro Boys," where the Alabama Board of Pardons and Parole finally, 82 years later, pardoned the last of nine black men falsely convicted of raping two white women in a racist rush to judgment; and Ryan Ferguson, who served ten years for murder, convicted on the flimsiest of testimony that was ultimately and completely recanted and discredited. Ferguson has even been in contact with Knox to offer his support.
Knox, who was initially convicted by an Italian court and served 4 years of a 26-year sentence, was released by an appeals court in Italy in 2011.That ruling overturning the verdict confirmed the strongly-held beliefs, or at least suspicions, of many Americans that this pretty, young American studying abroad was railroaded by a corrupt Italian justice system.
The appeals court, in harsh and unambiguous language, questioned the validity of the main forensic evidence based on the way it was handled and collected.
In the wake of the legal victory and her release, Knox published a book followed by a high-profile publicity tour where she portrayed herself and her then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito as innocent victims guilty of nothing more than failing to grasp the severity of the situation in which they suddenly found themselves ensconced.
A pair of maybe too-affectionate young lovers, ultimately coerced and deceived into making incriminating statements by ruthless Italian investigators, cruelly questioning a sleepless, young tourist in a foreign tongue. And it didn't help that the lead and seemingly overzealous prosecutor also faced charges for abusing his office in another case.
And so the story told on this side of the pond was clear: Amanda Knox was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But in reality, the question of where exactly she was that night and what she and Sollecito were doing has never been completely answered.
Once Knox was safely beyond the reach of Italian law, that nation's highest court reversed the appeals court ruling and called for a new trial, which to those back home in the U.S. just seemed like more vindictive and senseless suffering for these victims. And now the court sentencing Knox to 28 years and six months -- two-and-a-half year more than she had received after the first trial -- will just add fuel to the public fire over this case.
In Europe, on the other hand, there has long been far more sympathy for, and anger on behalf of, the victim Meredith Kercher. Many there were convinced that Knox and Sollecito were correctly found guilty of murder, and that they escaped justice based on Amanda's newfound celebrity status.
But there is another possible explanation and one that few on either side, particularly here in the United States, seem willing to consider -- that maybe, just maybe Amanda and Raffaele weren't involved in the murder but were in the house the night Meredith was killed. That could explain both their conflicting and seemingly irreconcilable statements as well as why their DNA wasn't found in Meredith Kercher's room.
One thing that seems clear is that the man serving 16 years for the murder, Rudy Guede, was present and involved in the murder. His DNA was found strewn throughout Meredith's room, on the walls, in the bathroom, and on the victim herself. His blood was also found mixed with her blood inside her bag and his bloody hand print was on her pillow. His defense would be laughable if the case wasn't so serious -- that he and Meredith had been having consensual sex that night, he developed a sudden and uncontrollable case of the runs, raced to the bathroom and put on a headset to listen to a few songs, which prevented him from hearing the horror suddenly transpiring in the room next to him.
Only after enjoying some deafening tunes while finding desperately needed bowel relief does Guede claim he returned to the room to find a dying Meredith lying in her bed -- her throat slit. In his most recent account, Guede claims he overheard Knox and Meredith Kercher arguing, heard a scream, emerged from the bathroom and was attacked by a male figure he could not identify. His conviction was hardly controversial.
But prosecutors initially argued that Guede, Knox and Sollecito likely engaged in some sort of drug-fueled sex game together in which Sollecito held Kercher by the shoulders from behind while Knox touched her with the point of a knife. They said Guede, an Ivory Coast national, tried to sexually assault Meredith. When she resisted, they theorized, Knox fatally stabbed her in the throat and she was killed. The problem with that theory, apart from its seeming absurdity, has always been that while Guede's DNA was ubiquitous, neither Knox's nor Sollecito's DNA was anywhere to be found in that room. . A newer prosecution theory suggests the murder came after the roommates fought with Guede involved.
Under either theory prosecutors relied on a number of controverted pieces of physical evidence: They said there was a tiny piece of Sollecito's DNA found six weeks later on Meredith's bra clasp, Meredith's DNA found on a knife at Sollecito's home, what may or may not have been a bloody footprint that may or may not have matched Sollecito and what appeared to have been Knox's DNA mixed with Kercher's blood.
While the mixed DNA sample in particular seemed particularly incriminating, Knox and Sollecito's defense teams at least placed into serious doubt the findings on each of those crucial pieces of evidence.
Without that sort of hard evidence it's difficult to see how any murder conviction can be upheld. The evidence that either of them were involved in the murder itself still seems flimsy at best. But that doesn't answer many questions that remain about the often conflicting accounts offered by both Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito about their whereabouts and actions that night. The pair now claim they were at Raffaele's house the entire night Meredith was killed on Nov. 1, 2007.
When Meredith Kercher's bedroom door (which had been locked) was knocked down at around 1 p.m. the next day, Knox and Sollecito say they were as shocked as anyone to see the bloody crime scene.
But that contention is far less clear-cut. Rather than being guilty of murder, maybe, just maybe the pair got themselves caught up in nothing more than a big, dangerous lie that led Italian authorities to find their accounts dubious and led them to wrongly suspect and accuse the two of murder.
One can understand those suspicions since both Sollecito's and Knox's accounts of where they were and what they did that night and morning changed many times, and some of that was not supported by objective evidence. In fact, Sollecito appears to have offered at least four different versions:
1) He originally told the police he was with Knox at her home on the day of the murder, and that he and Amanda went for a walk from her cottage before heading to his apartment for dinner. They watched a movie, he said, while making and eating dinner, spent the night on the computer and slept until about 10:30 a.m.
2) The next day he provided a very similar account to a reporter for the Sunday Mirror, but added that they went to a party before going back to his apartment (which would be a crucial detail).
3) When Sollecito was questioned by police he offered a new account: "Amanda and I went into town at around 6 p.m., but I don't remember what we did. We stayed there until around 8:30 p.m. or 9 p.m. At 9 p.m. I went home alone and Amanda said that she was going to Le Chic because she wanted to meet some friends. We said goodbye. I went home, I rolled myself a spliff and made some dinner, but I do not remember what I ate."
At about 11 p.m. he said his father called the house and Amanda had not yet returned. According to his statement, he spent the next two hours on the computer until Amanda arrived at 1 a.m. He also said, "In my previous statement I told a load of rubbish because Amanda had convinced me of her version of the facts and I didn't think about the inconsistencies."
4) In a prison diary, he seemed uncertain about that night's events, apparently stemming from having smoked marijuana at around 6 p.m. "[F]rom this moment come my problems," he wrote, "because I have confused memories."
He wrote that he presumed that he and Amanda had done some grocery shopping before returning to his home around 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., where they smoked more pot. He doesn't remember what time he ate, but was certain he ate with Amanda. He remembered surfing the Internet, maybe watching a film, and that his father called him. He thinks Amanda went out to a pub where she often worked, but didn't recall for how long. On the other hand, he remembered that she told him later that the pub was closed.
5) At the end of the 2011 appeal Sollecito again stated that Knox was at his apartment that night. While he repeatedly said he spoke to his father around 11 p.m., there is no phone record of that call and there was no indication of any activity on his home computer after 9:10 p.m., when a movie on the computer ended and it seems there was not even any interaction with the laptop at that time. Furthermore, at 5:32 a.m. experts testified that someone unsuccessfully attempted to play an MP3 file on his computer followed by two more failed additional attempts. The individual switched to iTunes and played an MP3 file.
If true, both he and Amanda did not sleep until at least 10 as they both have claimed.
If Sollecito's memory of what happened that night seems muddled, Amanda Knox's appears to have been no clearer. She initially told police that she spent the whole night with Raffaele Sollecito at his apartment, and repeated this in an email to family and friends a few days after the murder. "After a little while of playing guitar me and raffael went to his house to watch movies and after to eat dinner and generally spend the evening and night indoors. we didn't go out. the next morning i woke up around 1030."
Knox indicated that her memory of what happened at Sollecito's apartment that night was hazy because she had smoked marijuana. In two statements to police that were eventually deemed inadmissible, she pointed the finger of blame at bar owner Patrick Lumumba and placed herself at the scene of the crime. She later admitted that allegation against Lumumba was untrue, the result, she said, of undue pressure from police.
Putting aside the reliability (or lack thereof) of those statements, something important happened shortly thereafter. Knox was told Sollecito was not supporting her account of what happened. At that point, at 5:45 in the morning, after offering those different accounts through the night, she offered to write out a new statement in English. Knox seemed confused and uncertain about where she had been and what she had done.
It began with: "I have been told there is hard evidence saying that I was at the place of the murder of my friend when it happened. This, I want to confirm, is something that to me, if asked a few days ago, would be impossible. I know that Raffaele has placed evidence against me, saying that I was not with him on the night of Meredith's murder, but let me tell you this. In my mind there are things I remember and things that are confused.
She goes on: "What happened after I know does not match up with what Raffaele was saying, but this is what I remember. I told Raffaele that I didn't have to work and that I could remain at home for the evening. After that I believe we relaxed in his room together, perhaps I checked my email. Perhaps I read or studied or perhaps I made love to Raffaele. In fact, I think I did make love with him. However, I admit that this period of time is rather strange because I am not quite sure. I smoked marijuana with him and I might even have fallen asleep. These things I am not sure about and I know they are important to the case and to help myself, but in reality, I don't think I did much."
That seems to bolster her account but then she also appears to be preparing to incriminate Sollecito. "After dinner I noticed there was blood on Raffaele's hand, but I was under the impression that it was blood from the fish."
She then explains why her previous statements were unreliable: "In regards to this 'confession' that I made last night, I want to make clear that I'm very doubtful of the verity of my statements because they were made under the pressures of stress, shock and extreme exhaustion. Not only was I told I would be arrested and put in jail for 30 years, but I was also hit in the head when I didn't remember a fact correctly. I understand that the police are under a lot of stress, so I understand the treatment I received."
So she says her previous statements were unreliable and claims the language barrier made it even more difficult for her in those previous interviews.Fair enough.
Then she writes: "However, it was under this pressure and after many hours of confusion that my mind came up with these answers. In my mind I saw Patrick in flashes of blurred images. I saw him near the basketball court. I saw him at my front door. I saw myself cowering in the kitchen with my hands over my ears because in my head I could hear Meredith screaming. But I've said this many times so as to make myself clear: these things seem unreal to me, like a dream, and I am unsure if they are real things that happened or are just dreams my head has made to try to answer the questions in my head and the questions I am being asked. But the truth is, I am unsure about the truth and here's why:
1. The police have told me that they have hard evidence that places me at the house, my house, at the time of Meredith's murder. I don't know what proof they are talking about, but if this is true, it means I am very confused and my dreams must be real.
2. My boyfriend has claimed that I have said things that I know are not true. I KNOW I told him I didn't have to work that night. I remember that moment very clearly. I also NEVER asked him to lie for me. This is absolutely a lie. What I don't understand is why Raffaele, who has always been so caring and gentle with me, would lie about this. What does he have to hide? I don't think he killed Meredith, but I do think he is scared, like me. He walked into a situation that he has never had to be in, and perhaps he is trying to find a way out by disassociating himself with me."
She went on to repeatedly assert she knows she didn't kill Meredith. But how is it that neither of them could consistently say where they were and what they were doing only days earlier? Why is it so confusing? They would say the pressure from police got to them.
One thing that is corroborated is that a friend came to Sollecito's home around 8:40 p.m. and saw Amanda there. But they both also turned off their cell phones at around the same time between 8:30 and 9:00 p.m. on Nov. 1, something that was completely out of the ordinary for both of them. Why? So they wouldn't be bothered? Maybe. But the possible inconsistencies continue into the following morning.
At 12:08 p.m. Knox called her roommate Filomena Romanelli and apparently said that she was at their house but cell phone records seem to show she was likely still at Sollecito's home. She told Filomena about a break-in at the house and yet didn't notify the police. In her detailed letter home she says that at the point when she first went back to her house (at around 10:30 a.m.) she just assumed the door had been left open by one of her roommates, not a break-in. So if she had not been back at her house yet, as cell phone records seem to show, and was still at Sollecito's, would she have known about a break-in?
The pair was definitely at Knox's home around 12:30 p.m. on Nov. 2 because the Italian postal police showed up unannounced to inquire about and return Meredith's cell phone, which was found in the garden of a woman who lived nearby. At this point, no one had called the police and yet in her letter home two days after the murder, Knox claimed they called the police before the postal officers arrived. But cell phone records suggest that was not the case. And why wouldn't they have called the police as soon as they arrived if Knox had been so concerned about a break-in?
Maybe more important, in that letter home, Knox describes a panic that developed as she realized the house had been broken into.
"Raffael told me he wanted to see if he could break down Merediths door, he tried and cracked the door but he couldnt open it. it was then we decided to call the cops."
Phone records show that Sollecito called the cops at 12:51 p.m., after talking to his sister who had been on the police force.
Yet Amanda said "while we were waiting" for the police, the postal officers arrived. If that's not true, it leads to more questions about whether Knox and Sollecito were going to call the police at all if the postal police had not happened to come to the door.
One thing that may have been proven is that the crime scene was staged to make it look like a break in. There were no signs that someone had entered from the outside and the broken window glass strongly suggests it was broken from the inside. Who would want to stage the scene? It led police to think it was someone with access to the house. Could it have been that Knox and Sollecito were just trying to cover up the fact that they were there that night when Rudy Guede arrived?
There was also evidence that someone attempted to clean up the house after the murder -- and yet, if Guede was doing the cleaning, you would think he would have tried to wash away his DNA all over the scene or at least flush the toilet that he had used. It's possible that samples that appeared to have been of Knox's DNA mixed with the victim's (which the defense disputes) could have been the result of an effort to clean up the crime scene rather than involvement in the actual murder, as prosecutors allege.
So does all of this prove that Amanda Knox and Rafaele Sollecito were in the home the night Meredith Kercher was killed? No. And it certainly does not change the reality that the physical evidence linking them to the murder remains scant.
But it does at least explain why the police were and are suspicious, to say the least -- and provides some context in a case that most Americans view as cut-and-dry. The Italian authorities remain convinced more than one person was involved in the murder, but without any real motive, the evidence that either Knox or Sollecito were somehow involved remains very thin.
Amanda's written statement to police may say it all. She concluded with the line: "All I know is that I didn't kill Meredith, and so I have nothing but lies to be afraid of."
Maybe that is truer than she knew.
Dan Abrams is ABC News' Chief Legal Correspondent and Anchor of 'Nightline."
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story included a quote inaccurately attributed to Amanda Knox. That statement has now been removed. We regret the error.