The Digital Trial

NEW YORK – On October 3, an Italian appeals court overturned Amanda Knox’s murder conviction and ordered her immediate release from prison. In 2009, both Knox and her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were found guilty of the 2007 sexual assault and fatal stabbing of Knox’s housemate, Meredith Kercher. Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison. She served four years before being released.

The acquittal was based largely on the absence of credible forensic evidence linking Knox to the crime. The prosecutors had claimed that Knox’s blood was on the murder weapon. But their DNA testing turned out to be so shoddy that the appeals court felt compelled to reject it as unreliable.

Less discussed than the suspect DNA evidence is whether a graphic digital animation also contributed to Knox’s conviction. In his closing argument at trial, Perugian prosecutor Giuliano Mignini played a computer-generated simulation that showed an avatar-Amanda killing an avatar-Meredith. It ended with a gory crime-scene photo of Kercher’s body. The animation now seems to have been a mere fantasy, an animated version of the prosecution’s theory featuring Amanda Knox as a sex-crazed femme fatale, “Foxy Knoxy,” as the British tabloids called her, a “she-devil,” as many European journalists wrote, appropriating the prosecutor’s phrase.

In Italy, the acquittal triggered a wave of self-recrimination. Outside the courthouse, groups of onlookers shouted “Vergogna! Vergogna!” or “Shame! Shame!” Vittorio Zucconi, writing in La Repubblica, adopted a less accusatorial tone: “In the end, it was the trial of a different culture, a clash of cultures more than a legal case,” Zucconi argued. “The same girl whom prosecutors depicted as a she-devil starved for sex and orgies was, in inverse proportion, perceived in American public opinion as a chaste diva who fell into a hornets’ nest of inept, evil men.”