Was the Media Powerful Enough to Convict An Innocent Girl?

I tried to avoid writing this post because it scares me; however after one week of reading magazines and watching the news I simply have to comment on the PR that occurred during the Amanda Knox trial. For those who are unfamiliar, Amanda Knox was studying abroad in Italy in 2007 when she was charged with the murder of her British roommate, Meredith Kercher.

After being convicted, Knox’s charges were overturned last Monday, Oct. 3 because the evidence was proven to be too weak. Now this scares me for more than just the obvious “murder is scary” or “being innocent and put in jail is terrifying.” No, this story scares me because Amanda Knox and I not only share the same name, the same age, and the same college major, but we look chillingly alike and I was very close to studying abroad in Italy myself. Needless to say I have been following this trial very closely, but I digress.

I feel that this trial is a true testament to the power of PR. Knox’s trial was one of the most publicized and talked about in American history (even though all the action was happening over in Italy), and many believe that the media actually influenced the jury because the evidence was so incredibly weak. Consider some of the evidence the prosecution presented, and then consider how the defendants retaliated:

  • Confession/Alibi—The prosecution says that Knox admitted she was home when a bar owner killed Kercher. The defense says that Knox was held by police for 14 hours and was under duress; thus was forced to say something, and Knox was at her boyfriend’s apartment during the murder. This questioning was conveniently not videotaped.
  • DNA—The prosecution found Knox’s DNA on a possible murder weapon in her boyfriend’s apartment. The defense shows that analysts say the DNA was most likely violated, and there was not one trace of Knox’s DNA in the room where Kercher was murdered.
  • Witnesses—The prosecution questioned a woman who claimed she heard three people running from the crime scene the night of the crime. However, the defense later went to the woman’s house and discovered, through several reenactments, that her house was simply too far away to hear anything.
  • Motive—The prosecution says the two were arguing about money the day of the crime. The defense says this is no reason for a bright, intelligent young girl to commit such a horrific crime.

Although there is a lot more evidence to be looked at for those unfamiliar with the trial, these four pieces of evidence illustrate some of the reasons why the conviction was overturned because of lack of evidence. Yet, in my eyes this “lack” of evidence should have been seen right away. Sure, there is other evidence that makes you wonder, but is there any way the media could have swayed the jury’s vote back in 2007? I say yes.

There were plenty of press releases, Italian, British and some American, which painted the Knox trial as if it were a good scary movie. Magazines and newspapers would describe Knox as “angelic” and create stories about sex, drugs, and alcohol, and it did not hurt that those involved were young and good looking. The case had the elements of a Hollywood horror film, and the media took advantage. According to an ABC News story, Rome-based American reporter Barbie Nadeau described the media coverage as “completely out of line [and] almost like tuning in to the next episode of a reality TV show.” The media painted a picture of two young kids (Knox and her boyfriend who was also charged and acquitted) in love in Italy going on an adventure and getting out of control. After all, the most unsuspecting killers make the best stories, right?

Although during the trial Knox was portrayed as the “angel-faced killer with ice cold eyes,” the majority of media stations started to defend Knox after her conviction. In my opinion, this was done as yet another way to get people reading and keep the story going. The jury obviously changed their minds just as the media did when they overturned the 2007 ruling.

Now there is no way to know whether or not the media played a role in the decisions that were made in Italy, but if nothing else the power of the media sure got my attention.

As a side note: I think that it is also worth mentioning that the media somewhat ignored Kercher, the victim through all of the chaos. As exciting as the media may have portrayed this story, it is important to remember the girl who no longer has a voice.

Amanda DiSilvestro is a writer on topics ranging from public relations best practices to commercial vehicle insurance. She writes for an online resource that gives advice on topics including health insurance to small businesses and entrepreneurs for the leading Business Directory, Business.com.

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  • Wow, I knew about the case but not the details. Very compelling post!

    • I have been following this trial since the beginning. Normally, the jury is not supposed to know what the media is saying about the trial, but the hundreds of cameras and news anchors outside the courtroom after EVERY SINGLE hearing is simply hard to ignore. If it did not change the minds of the jury, I think at the very least it changed the minds of the rest of the country, and that’s pretty powerful!

    • Mollie128

      I didn’t know many details about the case either. It is scary how influential and self-satisfying our media is. Those four pieces of evidence were heavy and I’m surprised the case was overturned.

  • DENVER

    Excellent article!

  • KristinM

    Great article!  I was following the case as well, and felt that the media spin led, in large part, to conviction.  I found it interesting, as well, that after the conviction was overturned there were articles written questioning whether a sympathetic portrayal in the media post-conviction led to the reversal.  The influence of the media in this case (either way) is certainly undeniable.

    • Absolutely. However, this leads me to consider a few of the other “high profile” cases we’ve seen. I feel like the Casey Anthony trial may have had an opposite effect when it came to the medias role and the decision made. I suppose we will never know!

  • I wrote a piece on my blog (although not as wonderful as this one) about Amanda Knox as well. The idea that an innocent person was possibly placed in prison for a crime she may not have committed really frightened me. How can we be so sure of what we read, see, and hear in the media. How can a jury be so sure? I too, felt the media had a very strong presence here, and had they not, the verdict may have turned out much different the first time.

  • harryrag

    The English translation of the Italian Supreme Court report which explains why Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito’s acquittals were annulled can be downloaded from the Perugia Murder File website:

    http://www.perugiamurderfile.org/viewtopic.php?f=20&t=599