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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.