If you want to know the definition of the word "vitriol", Google "Amanda Knox".
Do. Try it. On Tuesday, the day of the publication of her memoir, Waiting To Be Heard , a search for her name generated 158 million results, including 56,000 news articles.
Some of the 56,000 news articles included: "Signs that suggest Amanda Knox is a psychopath" (theweek.co.uk); "What is it about Amanda Knox that so chills the blood?" (dailymail.co.uk); and "I'm proud of my one night stands and drug use, says Foxy Knoxy"
It has been almost four years since Knox and her then boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were convicted of Meredith Kercher's murder; and 18 months since that conviction was overturned and they were released. But the public's fascination with the case – or at least with Knox – shows no sign of abating. Of course, the publication of her long-awaited and well-written memoir this week is unlikely to help Knox slip into obscurity.
By way of contrast, Google “Rudy Guede”, and you’ll get a relatively modest 402,000 results, and 215 news stories. Guede, in case you’ve forgotten, is the only one with a conviction for Meredith Kercher’s death; the only one, in fact, whose DNA evidence was at the scene. He is currently serving a 16-year sentence for her murder.
But in the eyes of many of those populating the internet sites devoted to getting to the bottom of the case, and indeed to many journalists, “Foxy Knoxy” remains guilty – a conviction that was reinforced recently when Italy’s highest court overturned her acquittal and that of Sollecito, and ordered another trial.
Rarely has a murder case attracted so much interest around the globe, so much speculation, or so much naked vitriol. On one level, it is easy to see why that might be. When a photogenic English-speaking young woman dies a bloody death in a foreign country, the story is going to be explosive.
When the accused also happens to be a photogenic English-speaking young woman, and the circumstances suggest some kind of satanic ritual or sex game, it’s the equivalent of tabloid plutonium.
Never mind that the sex-game-gone- wrong storyline wasn’t based on solid forensic evidence, or indeed any real evidence: “We were able to establish guilt by closely observing [Knox’s] psychological and behavioural reaction during the interrogation,” said Edgardo Giobbi, the lead investigator.
According to Rolling Stone magazine, another police officer said that Knox "smelled like sex". Even a joke about how she would "kill for a pizza" was used by police against her.
By the time the holes in the prosecution case emerged (contaminated evidence; no physical trace of Knox in Kercher's room; lack of motive), it was too late. The explanation that Kercher had been killed by Rudy Guede – who had a history of break-ins; who left a bloody handprint on Kercher's pillow; and who fled the country after the killing – wasn't about to placate a mob that had its sights on Knox.
Much of the coverage that followed was vicious and misogynistic, played out first in the murkiest corners of the internet, and migrating from there into the mainstream media.
It was alarming how quickly a “sexually active woman” became a “sexual predator likely to be a killer”. Her nickname was Foxy Knoxy! She had sex with a stranger she met on a train! She did cartwheels in custody! She lied and blamed someone else! Of course she is guilty!
The simple, decidedly less sexy truth – that Knox was guilty of nothing more than extreme naivety – was just too dull by comparison. She didn’t do cartwheels. Her nickname referred to her prowess on the football field (the Knox who emerges in her book is so far from “foxy” as to be almost laughable. At school, she writes: “I was the quirky kid . . . I didn’t kiss a boy until I was 17.”)
Yes, she implicated an innocent barman, Diya “Patrick” Lumumba, and herself, but she was, by then, under extreme duress: she writes that she was exhausted; that police interrogated her all night, mostly in Italian; they yelled at her and slapped her on the back of the head.
“I would have believed, and said, anything to end the torment . . . my mind put together incoherent images.”
The reason so much of the public was desperate to believe in her guilt (yes, I’ve had those conversations over dinner, too) says more about us than it does about her. We were only too happy to swallow the lurid tabloid slurs because there is a part of us that remains fascinated and repelled by the idea of beautiful women as killers.
We also suffer, en masse, from a similar delusion to that of the policemen in Perugia: a deeply-held belief in our ability to infer things about people just by looking at them, or based on a few details about their past.
A girl who would sleep with a stranger she met on a train, so the collective bias goes, must be capable of pretty much anything.
The uncomfortable epilogue to this story is that Knox is now set to reap the benefits of that prurient fascination – to the tune of the $4 million she has been paid by Harper Collins for her book. Maybe that's only fair, when so many other people have made money from the case.
Whether it will help turn the tide of public opinion in her favour, as she hopes – she says she wants “to be reconsidered as a person” – is unlikely. Those who have already made up their minds about her won’t be swayed.
There are few real revelations in the book; there is nothing about the night of Kercher’s death that didn’t already come out in court. Meanwhile, the judge and jury of internet forums and tabloid newspapers are already seizing on lurid details about her sexual past, and the revelation that marijuana was “as common as pasta” in the house in Perugia.
On the other hand, the day before the publication of her memoir, a Google search for “Amanda Knox innocent” returned 1.2 million hits. By yesterday, it had climbed to more than five million.
Knox, I can't help feeling, will probably be alright. The woman who emerges in the book is resilient. She is not going to return to Italy for the trial, on the advice of her lawyers. She's back at college, she has a boyfriend and now she has some money.
The real victims in all of this are the Kercher family, who must now face up to the prospect of another trial, and who may never know with any certainty what happened to Meredith.