Amanda Knox is being punished for being a whore.
Of course, the 22-year old Seattle native, convicted over the weekend to a term of 26 years in prison for the of the murder of her British roommate Meredith Kercher, wasn't a whore...just a young woman who was open about the pleasure she took in sex.
Yet, in the more than two years since Kercher's death, the perception of Knox as a "black widow," a rapacious sexual predator has expanded far beyond the boundaries of her known behavior.
Knox's sexual personae has been at the heart of the Italian's case from the first days of the investigation. Local police decided Kercher's murder was a drug-induced sex orgy gone wrong -- an attempt by Knox, her Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, and a third party first identified as local club-owner Patrick Lumumba and later as a drug dealer named Rudy Guede -- to force sex on the prudish Kercher.
It was Knox's seeming lack of grief over the brutal murder of her "friend" that first drew suspicion, and from there it was simply a matter of filling in the psychological and evidentiary blanks.
The portrait police developed of Knox and Kercher was that of The Bad Girl clashing with The Good Girl over Knox's purported habit of leaving her vibrator on display and bringing strange men home to their shared flat. From there, it seemed a natural leap to say that Knox and her friends decided to teach Meredith a lesson.
But to believe this scenario, one has to stretch the imagination well past the breaking point.
Virtually all the physical evidence points to a single murderer: Rudy Guede. In all probability, he broke into the house by smashing a window with a rock, attempted to rape Kercher, panicked and stabbed her in the neck with a knife, covering her with a bedspread and leaving her to strangle in her own blood.
(Guede, now serving 30 years in prison, told police that he and Kercher were attempting to engage in consensual sex when a bad dinner kabab came back on him. He maintains -- oh, colossal stroke of bad luck! -- that she was murdered by a second intruder while he was in the bathroom. He tried to resuscitate her, covered her with the duvet, then went to a disco to calm his nerves before fleeing to Germany the next morning. Remarkably, this is the best story he could come up with, and he's stuck to it for the last two years.)
No direct evidence puts Guede, Knox and Sollecito together before (or on) the night of the murder. Knox and Sollecito have maintained that they were at Sollecito's flat, watching movies, smoking pot and having sex while the murder was taking place across town, and no compelling evidence puts them elsewhere.
The DNA evidence is questionable. The prosecution says a knife found at Sollecito's flat had Amanda's DNA on the handle and Meredith's on the tip of the blade. Amanda had been all but living at Sollecito's for weeks, so her DNA could be expected to be all over the flat. The DNA on the tip amounted to less than 100 picograms -- a picogram being one-trillionth of a gram -- and many experts say this is just too small for conclusive testing. The knife itself was consistant with, but not a exact match, to Kercher's wounds.
Sollecito's DNA was allegedly found on the clasp of Meredith's bloody bra...but the evidence was improperly handled, and since Sollecito had also spent several nights at the flat with Amanda, it is possible that the DNA was transferred to the clasp in one of the common areas of the house -- like the bathroom -- days before the murder. Despite a scenario that involved Amanda inflicting the fatal wounds in the aftermath of a struggle, police did not find one hair, one fiber, one bit of Amanda's DNA in Meredith's room.
And Amanda's supposedly cold-blooded response to the murder? Ask yourself this: How much grief is appropriate for someone you barely knew?
Amanda and Meredith had been flatmates for just a few weeks, and especially after Amanda started dating Sollecito in mid-October, probably saw very little of each other. They had different friends and attended different programs at different schools in Perugia. Aside from being popular, middle-class, high-achieving young women, they had little in common.
There is no doubt that Meredith and her friends disapproved of Amanda's lifestyle, but did Amanda even know that? The two other women who lived in the flat say there wasn't any fighting or unusual tension between the two.
Certainly nothing to indicate that Amanda and her boyfriend -- neither of whom had a history of violence -- would hook up with a petty criminal they had seen around town, go to the flat, rape, torture and murder an acquaintance, just on a whim.
Since the convictions, there has been plenty of American tsk-tsking of the Italian justice system: a presumption of guilt, an unsequestered jury, a prosecutor under indictment for misconduct. This criticism is not entirely valid.
Our system is theoretically designed to better safeguard the rights of the accused, but there probably isn't a jail in this country that doesn't have at least one innocent soul watching life pass by while serving time for someone else's crime.
More often than not, that soul is black and poor and male, but it could happen to anyone who steps outside the boundries of what society generally agrees to be "innocent" behavior.
Amanda Knox was not sexually "innocent," nor was she ashamed or furtive about her behavior. She bragged about it, much like a young man might.
There is still a deep belief, not just in the U.S. or Italy but all around the world, that sexually-assertive women are amoral and that an amoral person can do anything....even kill. An Italian criminologist told the U.K.'s Channel 4 that, had Amanda been ugly -- i.e., sexually undesirable -- this case never would have come to trial.
She will appeal her case to the Italian courts. Her sentence will likely stand. With good behavior, she could be out in 15 years.