Amanda Knox collapsed in tears of relief when an Italian court overturned her conviction last week.
Yet there was someone else in the courtroom, Spokane native and author Candace Dempsey, who experienced her own degree of vindication.
“It was really spectacular,” said Dempsey, a West Valley High School grad and former intern at The Spokesman-Review. “I feel at peace about the whole thing.”
For months, Dempsey had been certain that (1) Knox didn’t do it, and, although this does not necessarily follow, (2) Knox would be acquitted.
Dempsey is the author of the 2010 book “Murder in Italy: The Shocking Slaying of a British Student, the Accused American Girl and an International Scandal” (Penguin/Berkley). She’s a freelance writer who first began writing about the murder on her Seattle true-crime blog. Dempsey soon turned it into a book project because, for one thing, she found it hard to think about anything else.
What she discovered shocked her.
“I just followed the rules of journalism,” Dempsey said. “If the police and prosecutors said something, I checked the facts. And there was just never any hard evidence against her.”
Oh, there was plenty of circumstantial evidence.
“Circumstantial being, ‘Amanda’s eccentric.’ ‘She didn’t cry hard enough.’ ”
There was only one piece of hard evidence that actually tied Knox to the murder, or to the murder room. That was the DNA evidence. Yet the DNA evidence was tiny, unreliable and not handled by accepted procedures.
Still, when Dempsey published the book in spring 2010, she did not come right out and say that Knox was innocent. She meticulously noted the implausibilities in the prosecution’s case and the extremely skimpy nature of the evidence. But she never said that Amanda Knox didn’t do it.
“People were saying, ‘If only Italy had the electric chair, she deserves it,’ ” said Dempsey. “And I was saying, ‘How do we even know she did it?’ ”
Dempsey said that, for her, the turning point came several months ago when the Italian courts finally ordered a rigorous, independent review of the DNA evidence – and then rejected it.
“When the DNA was knocked out, I have finally been able to say, ‘Yes. I know she is innocent,’ ” she said.
Still, there was plenty of suspense in the courtroom last Monday, partly because of the language barrier. London’s Daily Mail got confused and briefly reported that Knox was found guilty.
“The courtroom was afraid to react,” said Dempsey, who had one of the coveted press seats. “And then we heard the word ‘assolvo’ (acquitted).”
Dempsey won’t have much time to recover from jet lag. Her publisher has asked her for a new closing chapter for a second printing of the book.
“It’s due Monday night (tonight),” said Dempsey. “That’s OK. It won’t be hard at all.”
The verdict stills leave one question: If Knox didn’t do it, who did?
Dempsey believes she knows the answer to that, as well. One man, a petty thief named Rudy Guede, is in jail for the murder. His conviction was based on strong DNA evidence and was not overturned.
“Yes, I think he did it,” said Dempsey.
It has always, she said, “looked like a burglary gone wrong.”