Seattle author Candace Dempsey, who learned her crime-beat skills long ago as a summer intern for The Spokesman-Review, has grabbed hold of the true-crime story of a lifetime.
Dempsey, a Spokane native and West Valley High School graduate, has released her first book, “Murder in Italy: The Shocking Slaying of a British Student, the Accused American Girl, and an International Scandal,” (Penguin/Berkley, $7.99).
It’s the tale of Amanda Knox, the University of Washington student who was convicted in Perugia, Italy, of the “drug-fueled sex game” murder of her British roommate, Meredith Kercher.
In Dempsey’s telling, however, scant evidence exists that there was a “sex game” of any kind or that Knox (or her boyfriend) had any role whatsoever in the murder.
What does exist is a dizzying amount of conflicting testimony; an oceanwide barrier of language and culture; and a mountain of physical evidence against the third person convicted of the crime, Rudy Guede, a young drifter.
Dempsey turns all of this complex information into a compelling overview of a fascinating case. A freelance writer and magazine writer and editor, she began by blogging about the case and discovered that there was intense interest not just in Seattle, but worldwide.
“I actually became obsessed with the case and just started writing about it,” said Dempsey, who will read at Auntie’s Bookstore on Thursday. “I knew I had to write a book about it, because I couldn’t think of anything else.”
She made several trips to Perugia to cover the trial and interview figures in the case.
Dempsey does a particularly solid job of cutting through the sensationalism and wild speculation that ran rampant in both the Italian media and the British tabloid press. Some of that speculation, she writes, was fueled by the Italian prosecutors.
The case against Knox was based partly on her erratic and often unwise behavior after the murder. The most significant physical evidence was a speck of Kercher’s DNA on a kitchen knife found at Knox’s boyfriend’s house.
The speck was tiny – too small for a reliable DNA sample, writes Dempsey. Also, she says, no evidence existed that the knife was even the murder weapon.
Would the trial have turned out differently in the U.S.?
“We can make mistakes here, too – if you consider this a mistake,” said Dempsey. “I just tried to present the facts – not just what the police and prosecutors said.
“Having said that, the knife evidence, which is pinning Amanda to this crime, at least in the Italian mind, is so sketchy that I doubt that it would have ever been in a U.S. court. … I don’t think that many courts in the world would have allowed that knife in, because it’s so prejudicial.”
And then there’s the question that everyone asks Dempsey: Does she think Knox and her boyfriend were guilty?
“I always say, ‘I don’t want to spoil the mystery by (answering) that,’ ” said Dempsey. “I think the standard is ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’ … That’s supposed to be the standard in Italy as well. … And when a juror says, ‘It’s possible,’ then I have problems with that, because that’s not beyond a reasonable doubt. It means it could have happened.”
This story is not yet finished. Both Knox and her boyfriend will soon make two appeals of their convictions.
Dempsey thinks the first appeal, in Perugia, might result in reduced sentences. And she thinks that the second appeal, to the highest Italian court in Rome, might have a more momentous outcome.
“I think if she were going to get out (of jail), that’s where she would get out,” said Dempsey.
She will be following this story for at least another year – and possibly preparing a new epilogue for subsequent printings.
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