Casey Anthony and Amanda Knox: a tale of two exonerations

One pretty, young woman was vilified while the other was celebrated

October 10, 2011|Susan Reimer

Amanda Knox and Casey Anthony. Comely, 20-something, white women accused of horrible crimes, convicted by a salacious press but freed by the courts.

Yet Ms. Knox flew home from Italy to Seattle to welcoming ceremonies, tears of relief, and the warm embrace of family and friends, while Ms. Anthony left her Florida jail cell under cover of darkness and went into hiding out of fear for her life. She is estranged from her family and said to be without a friend in the world.

Ms. Knox was called a "Luciferina" and a "she-devil" and accused of participating in the throat-slashing murder of her virginal British roommate in Perugia, where both were exchange students, as part of some kind of crazed sex game.

Ms. Anthony, a single mother, was thought to have drugged and then murdered her 2-year-old daughter so she could resume the party life.

An Italian appeals court threw out Ms. Knox's conviction last week. A Florida jury acquitted Ms. Anthony. There were cheers and tears in Seattle as the verdict was announced on television. Women spectators fainted and shrieked in Orlando when the not-guilty verdict was read.

Photos of both women, sobbing with joy and relief at their vindication, made the front pages of newspapers across the country. CNN's legal scold, Nancy Grace, who had hounded Ms. Anthony nightly, declared — while participating on "Dancing With The Stars," no less — that Ms. Knox's acquittal was a "huge miscarriage of justice." As she did during Ms. Anthony's trial, she put forward her own version of the murder:

"She didn't wield the knife, but she was there. He [her boyfriend] did the deed and she egged him on."

Ms. Knox is expected to sign a million-dollar contract for her prison diaries. There is talk of a movie deal and the lecture circuit. The money is expected to pay for the $1 million in legal expenses incurred by her parents, a schoolteacher and an unemployed retail manager, and almost no protest has bubbled up over this.

Outcries arose immediately after Ms. Anthony's acquittal, demanding that she not profit a penny from her story. Where, and on what, she is living remains unknown. She is thought to be considering plastic surgery or leaving the country.

I am at a loss to explain such disparate responses to the vindication of these young women, except for perhaps two points of fact: the victim and the location.

Casey Anthony was accused of killing her own child, and there is a special place in hell for those who commit infanticide. Though the jury in her trial found the physical evidence inconclusive, her inexplicable, monthlong silence after her daughter disappeared was considered damning by the rest of the world.

Ms. Knox was also considered to have demonstrated the bizarre behavior of a possible sociopath after Meredith Kercher's body was found. She was filmed cuddled with her boyfriend near the crime scene. She did cartwheels and yoga poses during her long interrogation. She wore T-shirts with John Lennon lyrics printed on them in court: "All you need is love."

But Ms. Knox was arrested and tried in Italy — and we Americans are pretty territorial about our criminals, especially when they are our children.

As far as we are concerned, foreign governments are either bumbling or sinister when it comes to American defendants, and we quickly put Italy in the bumbling camp, with its misogynist prosecutors and their pompous histrionics for the sake of the press.

We'd like to believe that had Ms. Knox been arrested in this country, the facts — there was no apparent motive (emails showed the roommates got along fine), no witnesses that put her at the scene, no physical evidence survived scrutiny and Ms. Knox went to the police voluntarily — would have derailed any case against her early on. We like to think of our police as more like the crime fighters of "CSI" than the foolish Inspector Clouseau.

Amanda Knox and Casey Anthony emerged from jail, one to the embrace of her family and community and one hounded by death threats. It might not be fair, but in a society where the court of public opinion is nearly as powerful as the court of law, it might be inevitable.

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays. Her email is susan.reimer@baltsun.com.

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