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American Girl, Italian Nightmare

American Girl, Italian Nightmare 42:41

Produced by Joe Halderman and Doug Longhini

Amanda Knox, the 21-year-old foreign exchange student from Seattle, is today the most recognizable and hated woman in Italy.

Amanda has been on trial in Perugia, Italy since early January 2009, charged, along with her Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, with the murder of Amanda's British roommate, Meredith Kercher.

The case with tabloid claims of kinky sex, drugs and even satanic rituals is a murder-mystery sensation in Europe.

"You can't believe the hysteria, the anger against Amanda Knox. All my Italian friends think she's guilty," author Doug Preston tells 48 Hours Mystery correspondent Peter Van Sant. "This is a case based on lies, superstition and crazy conspiracy theories. It's a tragedy."

But Italian prosecutor Giuliano Mignini says Amanda Knox is a killer who slashed her roommate's throat.

Amanda's parents, Edda Mellas and Curt Knox, can't believe their daughter could be accused of this horrible crime. Now divorced, they have joined forces to support and defend their daughter.

"Amanda is doing her best to try and stay upbeat in a horrible situation for her," says Mellas.

"We're going to find out in the long run that Amanda had nothing to do with this and will be set free," says Knox.

Amanda's troubles began innocently enough on the morning of Nov. 2, 2007, when police found two cells phones that belonged to Meredith and brought the phones back to a house Meredith and Amanda shared.

"They found Raffaele and Amanda there in a worried and disturbed state," British journalist Nick Pisa explains.

Amanda says she had been trying unsuccessfully to reach Meredith all morning and was worried.

"Meredith's bedroom door is locked," Pisa continues. "And the door is broken down and inside is Meredith's lifeless body."

Meredith, 22, is found lying in a pool of blood.

"There were 47 separate wounds -- not 47 knife wounds, but 47 bruises, scratches, cuts, injuries on Meredith's body," Pisa explains. "There was evidence that she was, quite literally, fighting for her life."

The murder shocked the medieval hill town of Perugia, which is a center for foreign students. Pisa says that Meredith could not have been a more innocent victim.

"She'd fallen in love with Italy. So that's basically why this girl from South London, the youngest of four children, decided to come and study in Perugia," he explains.

On Nov. 1, the night of the murder, Amanda was supposed to work at a bar called Le Chic, but her boss, Patrick Lumumba, told her not to come in. Amanda says she spent the night with her boyfriend, Raffaele, at his apartment. Meredith went to a friend's for dinner.

"The next thing you know is Meredith left her friend's apartment, she walked back to her house around 8:30, 9:00ish. And that was the last we know - or the last time we know - she was alive," says Pisa.

Since Amanda and Raffaele were at the house when Meredith's body was discovered, the two immediately became important witnesses.

"She said they had a lot of questions for her because she was the first one that had come back to the house. And she wanted to help," Mellas says.

Investigators asked the couple to come back to the house the following day.

"We saw these two youngsters embrace, caressing each other - kissing - whispering into each other's ears and the impression was of complicity," says Italian investigator and 48 Hours consultant Paulo Sfriso, who describes the sight captured on video as unsettling.

"There's the image of them, of the two of them, kissing outside the murder scene. One's expectation would be for them to be in shock, in tears," Sfriso says. "Instead, they seem to be sharing a little secret between the two of them."

Then, four days after the murder, prosecutor Giuliano Mignini brought Raffaele and Amanda in for questioning.

48 Hours exclusively obtained the tape of Amanda describing to an Italian judge what happened to her that night.

"I was very tired and I was also quiet stressed out. They kept asking me the same questions... At a certain point… the police began to be more aggressive with me."

Amanda repeatedly told police that she was with Raffaele in his apartment on the night of the murder.

"They called me a liar. Then they started pushing on me the idea that I must have seen something and forgotten about it."

Police confronted Amanda with a text message she had sent her boss, Patrick Lumumba, the night Meredith was killed. Her message: "See you later." Police believed the message implied Amanda was planning to meet Lumumba back at her house.

"…they kept saying, 'You said this thing to Patrick. We know that you left the house. We know.'"

Amanda claims the aggressive questioning turned physical.

"I was hit in the back of the head by one of the police officers who said she was trying to make me - help me remember the truth."

Listen to Amanda's full statement | Read her statement

The truth that night, after 14 hours of interrogation, was a written statement that police had Amanda sign: "I met Patrick…we went to my apartment. Patrick had sex with Meredith. I confusedly remember that he killed her."

Within hours, bar owner Patrick Lumumba, Raffaele Sollecito and Amanda Knox were arrested.The night before the murder, Oct. 31, 2007, it was Halloween in Perugia, Italy. Meredith Kercher dressed as a vampire and went to Merlin's, a local bar.

Nathan Abraham worked there, and it was where he met Meredith.

"She was always the life of the party. Any time she smiled you just felt happy," he says. "She was your regular college student girl. She liked to hang out with her friends. She danced. She went out to movies."

So 36 hours later, when Meredith's nearly-naked body was discovered with her throat slashed, Abraham - and everyone in town - was shocked and more than a little frightened.

"The center was a ghost town," Abraham explains. "Nobody would go out. People were kind of scared… 'cause you didn't know who the murderer was."

When police arrested Amanda Knox, Raffaele Sollecito and Amanda's boss, Patrick Lumumba, everyone was stunned.

"The police were suggesting that there had been some sort of sexual activity in the house," says British journalist Nick Pisa.

Italian prosecutor Giuliano Mignini had a theory: the day after Halloween, Meredith Kercher was murdered at the end of a drug-induced satanic orgy gone very, very wrong. In fact, at one point, investigators thought a bloody handprint on a wall at the crime scene was some sort of satanic symbol.

"Amanda and Raffaele were intrigued by sex and violence. They sort of hung themselves out to dry a little bit by their blogs, by their Web sites," says Pisa.

On her MySpace page, Amanda called herself "Foxy Knoxy" and bragged about having multiple sex partners. A picture of her on the site taken at a military museum became ammunition against her. On Raffaele's page, he expressed a fascination with serial killers.

"I know the police have been looking at these Web sites and taking apart everything that these two have said," Pisa says. "To a certain degree, they haven't done themselves any favors by putting this stuff on the Web for all to see."

But there was nothing incriminating in Patrick Lumumba's life. Abraham describes Lumumba as "[a] very gentle and nice guy. To me, he's the most famous guy in Perugia and everybody loves him."

So when Amanda named Lumumba as the killer during her interrogation, nobody other than the police could believe it.

"He has a beautiful wife, and a beautiful baby," says Abraham. And, it turned out, Lumumba had an airtight alibi.

"I am in my bar, I was in the bar," he tells Peter Van Sant. "When I close the bar I make it home."

With no physical evidence linking him to the crime scene, police had no choice but to release Lumumba. Amanda and Raffaele stayed in jail.

Police were still convinced three people had killed Meredith.

Pisa says police found a fingerprint, but it didn't match with Raffaele, with Amanda or with Lamumba; however, it did match 22-year-old Rudy Guede, a local thief known to carry a knife.

"People knew who Rudy was," says Abraham. "We found out he tried to rob one of our bartenders, where he went into his house, had a little scuffle with a knife. He was one of those people you kinda - you knew him, but you stayed a little far away from him."

On Nov. 2, the day after the murder, Guede fled, taking a train north. Two weeks later, police tracked him down in Germany. He was arrested and returned to Italy.

Guede's story was pretty incredible. He told police that on the night of the murder, Meredith invited him to her house and they had sex, but he didn't kill her.

"His story does seem rather fanciful, that he was in the bathroom, that he came out and he found Meredith had been stabbed, and that some guy was running out of the room," Pisa says.

But Guede told police he couldn't identify the killer. Nor did he say anything about Amanda or Raffaele being at the house that night.

"I think they have five instances where he specifically was asked about Amanda. And he said, 'Yea, I know who she is. She was not there.' He repeatedly said she was not there," says Amanda's mother, Edda Mellas.

But after repeated interrogations, Guede all of a sudden changed his story, pointing the finger at Amanda and Raffaele, saying the two of them killed Meredith in a dispute over money. Prosecutors still charged him with murder. Their theory: all three were involved.

Guede would go on trial first.

"The trial sparked a great deal of interest both in Italy, the U.K., and the United States, as you can imagine," Pisa tells Van Sant.

The first trial, with a judge, but no jury, lasted several weeks. Raffaele and Amanda were there every day. Near the end, there was a surprise. Amanda asked to address the court:

"I want to stress the fact that I am innocent. Meredith was my friend and I could never have hurt her. I'm not the person that the prosecutor says I am."

"Once Amanda had finished her statement to the court, Prosecutor Mignini simply stood up and said, 'We are seeing crocodile tears.' He then went on to speak for nearly 5 hours and painted a very graphic description of what he says happened that night," Pisa explains.

An Italian magazine published drawings based on Mignini's story that a drug-fueled sex party turned into a bizarre satanic murder.

"The prosecutor said Raffaele and Rudy were holding Meredith down and then Amanda plunged a knife into her throat. And was the hand that led to the murder," Pisa explains.

In spite of the prosecutor's theory, Amanda and her family were still hoping that the judge would believe her, rule that Guede had acted alone and set Amanda and Raffaele free.

"I'm hoping that this particular judge will be able to really see the lack of evidence and she'll be released," says Amanda's father, Curt Knox.

Rudy Guede was found guilty and sentenced to 30 years. Then, the judge crushed the hopes of Amanda and her family. She and Raffaele would not be released and their trial would come next.

Amanda's mother is "terrified" by the judge's decision. "We've had to put our trust into this system," Edda Mellas tells Van Sant. "And so far, it doesn't seem to be working. I mean, we have to keep - continue to hope that something's gonna change. And it's going to work and she's going to be released. But it's scary.In early January 2009, what's being called Italy's trial of the century begins.

Prosecutors have told the six jurors that Amanda Knox is here because she, Raffaele Sollecito and convicted murder Rudy Guede together sexually assaulted and then murdered Meredith Kercher.

"You have a girl who naively believes that the truth will set her free," says Chicago private investigator and a 48 Hours consultant Paul Ciolino. "Amanda, in her childlike innocence, believes with her whole heart, 'I didn't do anything, why am I here?'"

Ciolino has been investigating this case for more than a year and says, "The perception is that it's a satanic ritualistic murder and that's what the public believes it to be. That's what these jurors probably believe it to be."

So who does he think murdered Meredith Kercher?

"Rudy Guede broke into her home. He raped her. He robbed her. He cut her throat. And then eventually departed the country the next day," says Ciolino. "And he left a trail of physical evidence. As soon as they had some fingerprints, they had him. Top to bottom, that's the case."

But prosecutor Mignini says he has witnesses and solid physical evidence proving that Amanda and Raffaele are guilty.

"That's the crux of this case - that all three were at the scene - all three of them were involved in the murder of Meredith Kercher," says journalist Nick Pisa.

Prosecutor Mignini says the murder weapon is a 30-centimeter kitchen knife. But the knife wasn't found at the crime scene, it was discovered days later at Raffaele's apartment.

"It's the sort of kitchen knife that you or I or anyone would have in their kitchen," Pisa explains.

Investigators couldn't find any blood on the knife, but they say they did find DNA; Amanda's on the handle and possible trace amounts of Meredith's on the blade.

"And they're saying that the wounds on Meredith's throat are compatible with having been made by a knife of this type," says Pisa.

But something doesn't add up. Police determined that a bloody knife left two faint impressions on Meredith's bed. They then drew outlines of those impressions. When the knife from Raffaele's kitchen is compared to those outlines, it doesn't match.

"That's the knife they want you to believe is the murder weapon, but it's not the murder weapon," says Ciolino. "It doesn't fit the outline on the sheets. If it was the murder weapon, it would fit the outline, if it was used in the murder."

Ciolino says if the knife doesn't fit, "You must acquit. It's really that simple."

But the prosecution says they have solid DNA evidence putting Raffaele in Meredith's room. "The house is searched again by the forensic team, and [a] bra clasp is found in the bedroom," says Pisa.

A bra clasp ripped from Meredith's bra is discovered near her body and on it, investigators say, is Raffaele's DNA.

48 Hours obtained videotapes shot by Italian police of Crime Scene Investigators in the house and asked forensic scientist Dr. Larry Kobilinsky of John Jay College to analyze their work. "It's very crucial that everything be done the right way. That's why we have procedures and protocols," he says.

Kobilinsky tells Van Sant that those procedures and protocols were not followed when it came to that bra clasp. Incredibly, it was left on the floor by the CSI team even though they videotaped it.

"Big mistake, should have been collected," he says.

Six weeks later, investigators returned to the murder scene. Video shows them picking up that bra clasp. It was then tested and prosecutors say they found Raffaele's DNA on it.

But Kobilinsky says the bra clasp was not properly handled. "There are mistakes that have been made. It should have been picked up right at the first time the crime scene team was there collecting evidence. The fact that it wasn't picked up means that we can now question whether it was controlled or not."

And when the bra clasp was finally collected, Kobilinsky notices on the video that, "we have people handling the item. It's placed on the ground, it's then picked up. No instruments are used to handle the object. There could be a transfer of evidence, a transfer of DNA, for example, onto that item by any of those individuals. So this was just not handled properly."

"Would you be comfortable, confident, if your life was on the line, that this evidence is reliable?" Van Sant asks.

"I would not want to have my life threatened - based upon an item of evidence that was collected six weeks after the event occurred where the chain of custody was broken and the reliability is in question," Kobilinsky replies.

And then there is the prosecution's star witness, Nara Capezzali. She says she heard "a big scream, a chilling scream" in the night and then the sound of running from her apartment across the street from the crime scene on the night of the murder.

She told her story to Italian television a few days later.

Reporter: Three different movements you heard?
Capezzali: Yes. Three different things. One went up, one went that way.

Prosecutors are relying on Capezzali's testimony to convince the jury that three people ran away from the crime scene.

Ciolino wanted to see or hear for himself. Capezzali's upstairs neighbor let him into her apartment to find out what he could hear.

With the apartment window closed, which is believed to be the case the night of the murder because it was a very cold night, 48 Hours Mystery asked some neighborhood children to run down the street.

Standing near the closed window as the children run down the street, Ciolino describes what he hears. "Right now I hear something. I heard something, but I couldn't tell if it was footsteps."

When Van Sant tells him that three people just ran down the street, Ciolino responds, "No, I didn't hear anything like that."

At the very least, the unscientific test raises questions about what Capezzali could have heard that night. And under cross examination, she said she couldn't even be sure of the date of the scream.

"Nara has no credibility. She don't know what she heard or saw. They don't have a credible witness in this case," says Ciolino. "This is part of the problem. This is why I am so agitated."

But the prosecution says the case is solid, still insisting DNA puts Raffaele and Amanda in the room, and that several witnesses put the couple together with Rudy Guede. But Ciolino says the three didn't even know each other.

"We got everybody's phone records. They all have phones. All right, let's see how many times they called each other, setting up the sex game, the orgy, the night of fun and sex and satanic rituals," says Ciolino. "Zero. Nothing. Big, big zero. Nothing. Nothing exists. There is no evidence that these three knew each other. They don't travel in the same circles. They're not buddies. It just didn't happen."

But this is Italy and Prosecutor Giuliano Mignini has his case.

"I'll probably get indicted in Italy for saying this. I don't care," says Ciolino. "He is ruining two lives of two kids who have done nothing. Are they guilty of participating in a murder? No. Planning a murder? No. Being at a murder? No. They're not guilty of anything. Nothing."It was Feb. 23, 2006, and mystery writer Doug Preston was living in Italy.

"I was walking down the streets of Florence one fine morning and my cell phone rang. 'This is the police. Where are you? We are coming to get you now.' And they hauled me in for an interrogation in front of Giuliano Mignini, who is the same chief prosecutor in the Amanda Knox case. He interrogated me, accused me of committing horrendous crimes, including being an accessory to murder, and demanded that I confess."

How did this best-selling author find himself in the crosshairs of Amanda Knox's prosecutor?

"I was gonna write a novel, a thriller," he says.

Preston's real life thriller begins in the hills just above Florence.

"I discovered that the olive grove outside of my house had been the scene of a horrific double killing, one of the worst in Italian history. And that's how I heard about the serial killer known as the Monster of Florence." So, instead of writing a novel, Preston says he decided to write about a real case.

"A serial killer murdered 14 people who were making love in parked cars in the Tuscan hills between 1974 and 1985. I wrote "The Monster of Florence" with an Italian journalist named Mario Spezi, who had covered the case from the beginning," Preston explains.

Their theory: a lone serial killer, stalking lovers in the Tuscan hills, got away with 14 murders. But Prosecutor Mignini had an entirely different idea.

Preston says, "Mignini's theory is that this was not a lone psychopathic serial killer, that this was a satanic sect that needed body parts for their black masses and satanic rites."

Preston and Spezi knew that theory was just ridiculous, but Mignini was convinced.

Why? For years, Mignini has followed the dark satanic conspiracy theories of an Italian blogger named Gabriella Carlizzi who feels she knows what happened the night Meredith Kercher was murdered.

"They had decided that to re-enact one of the many rituals in literature that are performed during Halloween," she says.

Carlizzi posted her satanic ritual murder theory on her blog. Mignini later presented it as fact during Rudy Guede's trial.

"He used her as a very important witness in the Monster of Florence case and now it appears that he's using her as a source for the Amanda Knox case," says Preston. "Now, where does this woman get her evidence? She speaks to a deceased priest named Father Gabriele."

Preston says Mignini, a deeply religious man, is a true believer of Carlizzi's satanic conspiracies. "He truly believes that Satan walks the land, and that he is engaged in a titanic struggle against satanic conspiracies that are behind many of the crimes in Italy."

Italian investigators and specifically, Mignini, had pursued the satanic cult theory in the Monster of Florence case, in spite of evidence to the contrary.

"Many completely and patently innocent people were arrested of the crime and some of them were convicted," says Preston.

Preston and Spezi's work challenged the satanic theory of the case. Mignini went after the authors, accusing them of falsifying evidence and even being part of the cult. Spezi was jailed.

"Well, I was arrested. I was in jail during 23 days here in Perugia," he says.

Spezi was locked up in the same prison where Amanda Knox is now held. And Preston, accused of being Spezi's accomplice, was hauled in for questioning in front of Mignini, Amanda's interrogator.

"About an hour into the interrogation, the questions became very pointed and they became very aggressive. And finally I said to Mignini, 'Wait a minute. Do you think that I have committed a crime?' And he said, 'Yes, I do.' And I said, 'Where is your evidence? Where did you get these theories?' He said, 'Mr. Preston, these are not theories. These are facts.'"

Preston experienced the same harsh interrogation techniques that were used on Amanda and led to her false confession and to putting her in jail in the first place.

"I'm a professional journalist I have a very good memory, I know what happened in that interrogation," he tells Van Sant. "They almost broke me down. I was at the point where I was terrified, my knees were shaking, I could barely walk and that was three hours - she's a 20-year-old girl interrogated for 14 hours using incredibly sophisticated interrogation techniques that break the Mafia.

"So, they got her after 14 hours to say a few weird and seemingly incriminatory things. Well, it means absolutely nothing. You could get anyone to say anything in an interrogation," he says. "I was sitting there thinking they've accused me of being an accessory to murder. They're going to lead me out of here in handcuffs. I will never see my wife and children again. That's what I was thinking."

Mignini released Preston without charge, and the writer and his family left Italy the next day. A judge later released Spezi, saying there was no evidence to hold him.

Mignini declined to be interviewed about the Monster of Florence case or Amanda's case. Preston, who now lives in Maine, says Mignini will never give up on Amanda.

"This prosecutor thinks he knows what happened at that crime scene. He is asserting that Amanda Knox is guilty. He knows it in his heart and he doesn't need any evidence," Preston says. "He is absolutely determined to see that she is convicted because his entire career rides on her conviction."It was October 2008, months before Amanda Knox' trial even began, that an Italian court found Rudy Guede guilty of murdering Meredith Kercher.

"They have a person that was responsible. There's no connection between Amanda, Raffaele and Rudy," says Amanda's mother, Edda Mellas.

But Guede's trial was only the first act in this continuing Italian drama. Amanda and Raffaele Sollecito's trial is now in its third month and Amanda is starting to show signs of wear and tear.

"These last few hearings, I have noticed a change in that she perhaps now realizes the seriousness of the situation," Pisa says. "And I think her demeanor has changed considerably from that that we saw at the beginning of the trial to now. …it suddenly hit her what's going on here."

Amanda's ordeal won't end anytime soon. This trial is expected to last into the fall.

"At some stage, we expect both Amanda and Rafaela to get the witness box, and to give their version of what happened that night," says Pisa.

Everyone expects Amanda and Raffaele to again swear their innocence. But Preston says it may not matter. He doesn't think Amanda can get a fair trial. "Public opinion is so against her that there will be an uproar if she's acquitted," he says.

Preston, who says he will probably never go back to Italy, is worried that Amanda will be there for a very long time. "I mean say goodbye to Amanda. She will return from her semester abroad a 50-year-old Italian woman after her 30 years in prison."

Curt Knox says he cannot accept that innocent people are sometimes convicted.

"I mean, having that as even a possibility, you just can't think about that. You just have to rely on the system understanding the facts, and seeing that she had nothing to do with this."

But the Italian system is allowing something unheard of in the United States. Prosecutor Giuliano Mignini is leading the case against Amanda even though he's been accused of breaking the law himself -- under indictment for a series of serious crimes, including abuse of office, obstruction of justice and illegally wiretapping journalists.

"I have no idea how a person who has been charged with crimes related to his work continues to work," says Mellas. "But that's the system over there. And when I ask they say, 'Well, he's not-- he's not guilty of anything yet.'

"It does seem rather odd that we have a prosecutor who is accused of abuse of power, and at the same time, he's the lead prosecutor in the in the Meredith Kurcher case," says Pisa.

"I think in the U.K. and in the U.S. we wouldn't get to that situation. He would be asked to step down."

No one expects a verdict in the case against Mignini for a long time. But if he is convicted, "he could face jail of two years. The Meredith Kercher murder trial will be over by the time a sentence is reached on Mignini," says Pisa.

A few months ago, Amanda turned 21 behind bars. Her mother was with her. "My birthday is the day after hers. And I was there at that time. So we held each other and sang happy birthday to each other."

Amanda's parents are praying their daughter won't have to celebrate any more birthdays in jail.

"You get to see her twice a week for an hour a day," says Curt Knox. "You get to hold her; you get to talk to her. But…"

"To watch them take her away - and then you have to leave her there," says a sobbing Mellas, is "unbearable."

Amanda Knox faces a maximum sentence of life.
If she's convicted of murder, under Italian law, there will be an automatic appeal.

Amanda was scheduled to graduate from college this summer.

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