Amanda Knox is now back at home in Seattle, APTN has pulled out its satellite truck, we’ve pulled the cables out of the courtroom, packed up our computers, and now I am back in Rome.
After spending six days in Perugia, I finally have a moment to write down some of my reflections on the last days of the appeals trial.
Some readers of this blog may be getting tired of the Knox story, so this will be the last post which will describe my personal experience covering the story, the background of the emotions, the media technicalities (how modern media techniques changed our coverage of this story), and some of the small details that didn’t make the headlines. I have given this post the title “Amanda Knox Reality Show” because, like many journalists who covered it, I believe it became just that, a show about Amanda Knox run in real-time on TV. Both her co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito, and the victim, Meredith Kercher, were nearly forgotten in all the attention on the young woman from Seattle.
The morning of the verdict the first AP television staffer was at the courthouse at 4:30 am to try to get us the best position in the courtroom when it opened at 8:45. He was 15th in line. NBC had sent their cameraman at midnight.
I bought the local papers and got an earful from the newstand owner across the street from the courthouse. He said he was making plenty of money from all us journalists buying 6 papers everyday but he didn’t want the business. He wanted the story done with. He wanted Amanda to go back to the States. I stopped a couple of people on the street to ask their opinion. One woman from Perugia named Angela Nardone got quite agitated and said ““We have had enough of it, we can’t take it anymore! I think both Amanda and Raffaele are guilty of murder.”
At nine Amanda’s mother, Edda Mellas, arrived. She was wearing a black dress and a Franciscan Tau Cross. Little aside here. I have video in my computer of Edda Mellas and her daughter Deanna in the courtroom on the day of the verdict in the first trial. They were smiling and snapping photos of each other as though they were in a museum in Italy, not a courtroom. This time Edda Mellas clearly knew what was at stake. Her somber dress said a lot. Interesting was also the Franciscan Tau Cross. St. Francis lived in Assisi, an Umbrian hill town not far from Perugia. He preached humility and simplicity. To me, Edda Mellas appeared on Monday to be a simple, humble mother desperate for her daughter’s release.
The trial was held in the Aula degli Affreschi, two floors below ground. On the back wall are two beautiful frescoes.
I joked with one producer that spending my days running up and down the three flights of steep stone stairs to get in and out of the courtoom beat any gym workout.
On Monday Amanda entered that courtroom, looking dreadful. She hung her head, her hair was straggly, her skin splotchy and a pale yellow. (Her parents told us she had not been eating or sleeping). She was wearing a baggy green shirt and a coat with a black hood.
The highlight of the morning session was when Amanda took the floor for the last time. Before she spoke, her co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito made a spontaneous statement. He was vague, wandering, and unclear. In the press room, journalists exchanged glances as he spoke, “what is wrong with him?” said someone. “Have they given him some medication to keep him calm?” said another. He did manage to make his key point though, saying “I have never harmed anyone, never in my life.”
Then it was Amanda’s turn. She stood up and delivered the most compelling, emotional speech of the trial. She was crying as she spoke, pausing to breath, grasping her hands in front of her. The entire press corps was riveted. She said in nearly perfect Italian, “I did not kill….I was not there….I want to go home, I want my life back. I don’t want to be punished and deprived of my life for something I did not do, because I am innocent.”
It was powerful stuff. I don’t know what the jury thought, but the press corps was blown away. “If she did kill Meredith, she sure is a damn good actress,” muttered a British journalist sitting near me.
Following Amanda’s spontaneous statement, the judge adjourned the trial, but before calling the jury to retire he made a warning to the court. He said: “this is not a soccer game, a terrible crime has occurred….now the lives of two young people hang in the balance….” and noted that when the verdict was announced, he did not want to see any “tifoseria” which means stadium fan behavior, in other words, no cheering for any side. Little did any of us know how well he had predicted what would happen outside the courtroom.
The jury then retired for deliberations. We were told that no verdict was likely before eight o’clock at night. We edited and wrote our morning stories, and a camera crew went to the prison. We got a tip the Kercher family had arrived to hear the verdict and would be giving a press conference. A crew rushed off to cover their arrival at the airport and do the press conference live.
I grabbed a quick salad with my colleague Paolo Santalucia who was coordinating the AP Television coverage. We sat in an outdoor cafe’ next to the tribunal. Behind us were dozens of satellite trucks lined up, their big round dishes pointed at the sky like the faces of sunbathers on a beach. The cafe’ was packed with agitated journalists on computers, cell phones and blackberrys, on the far side was a forest of camera tripods and light stands for the TV live positions.
After lunch there was a moment of calm. I called some friends who live in Perugia, Nicola and Francesca and they invited me to get a gelato with them. They treated me to a cone of stracciatella and caffe’ gelato and we wandered through the center of Perugia. The day was spectacular, cool and sunny and the historic center of Perugia with its churches, fountains and cobblestone streets is lovely, but the adrenalin was coursing through my system, and I could not remain calm. As we went to get the gelato I saw the two prosecutor’s (Mignini and Comodi) enjoying lunch at an outdoor restaurant together with the Kercher’s lawyer (Maresca). I had to stop to message Paolo to send over a camera crew to film them. “Need some shots to show how the prosecution is waiting for the verdict.” I walked on with my friends and my melting gelato. I saw a group of colleagues sitting at an outdoor restaurant. My friend, John Follain, the author of forthcoming book “Death in Perugia”, called me over to the table. He wanted to know what rumors I was hearing about Amanda’s departure if she were to be released. There were rumors of an American billionaire sending his private jet to the small Perugia airport, could it be Donald Trump?
I walked on with my friends and my ice cream. Then I got a call from an assistant to an Italian member of Parliament, Rocco Girlanda. Girlanda had just visited Amanda in prison. He was helping to make plans for her departure. He would give me an interview. With that, I left my friends, slurped down the ice cream and dashed out of town with a cameraman towards the Capanne prison where Amanda was waiting to hear her fate.
We did the interview by the side of the road that goes to the prison. Girlanda told me that he had just met with Amanda and she was sitting in the prison chapel by herself playing the guitar and singing. He said they were making plans to take her to Rome’s airport if she got off. I finished the interview, left the cameraman, Fulvio Paolocci, outside the prison and headed back to town. I had my lap-top computer on me and frantically edited in the car as the taxi driver swung around the curved roads back up into Perugia. It is a wonder I did not get sick. I finished the edit, and attached my phone-key card and began to transmit the video edit from the taxi while I was writing up the story.
I filed the story and twittered that an Italian MP had told me Amanda would take a plane from Rome. Clearly lots of journalists were following Twitter, within a half-hour CNN, Sky Italia, BBC and ABC were all asking me about that news that Amanda would fly out of Rome.
Back at the courthouse, there was no word on how the jury was doing, but the people of Perugia were gathering. Not only were there 500 journalists running around but a steady flow of curious on-lookers had developed into a crowd around the courthouse.
At 8pm the word came out that the verdict would be at 9:30 pm. Associated Press Television News together with Reuters TV had been chosen to be pool television camera on the verdict. A small group of journalists and photographers were also selected for the pool. APTN had organized to have two cameras, one on each side of the back of the courtroom. I was to stand next to one cameraman and use hand signals to indicate to my colleague, Gigi Navarra, on the other side of the room next to our other cameraman. We couldn’t use cell phones or walkie-talkies and we needed to be quiet and fast. It was important that the two cameras were always on different shots. We invented hand signals for “Close on Amanda” “Medium on Amanda” “Close on Kerchers” “Medium on Kerchers”, “Wide on courtroom”, “close on Judge”.
The journalists chosen to be in the courtroom for the verdict gathered in front of the courthouse door. Carabinieri military police and plain-clothesed police checked out the documents of the journalists, photographers, and camera crews. Then they lined us up and marched us in. We walked single file down the stair-case and then they stopped us there, each one on a step, against the wall, and told us to be quiet because the jury was still closed in a room nearby. It was hot in the stairwell and the journalists, camera crews and police were sweaty and smelly. We were all tense. To pass the time, Gigi and practiced our hand signals “close on Amanda”, “wide on judge” “medium on Kerchers” until we almost mixed ourselves up.
Finally they let us in the empty courtroom. Platforms, ladders, cables, tripods, microphones needed to be set up quickly. It didn’t take long for us all to start bickering about positions. The court clerk urged us to be quiet and respectful.
The families began arriving. Amanda’s family, Raffaele’s family, and Meredith Kercher’s family. Meredith’s mother Arline had come for the verdict with Meredith’s sister Stephanie and brother Lyle. Throughout this story, the Kercher family has demonstrated admirable dignity. The entire family – parents and three remaining siblings have been composed, thoughtful and respectful of all those involved. The Kercher’s quietly took their seats at the back of the courtroom and sat somberly awating the verdict.
Then the usual group of penetentiary police in their blue berets emerged, escorting a whimpering Amanda through the doorway. She was hunched over, trembling and crying. She took her seat and her lawyers tried to comfort her. I signaled to Gigi. “Close on Amanda”. My cameraman was Nick Dumitrache from Bucharest he zoomed in on Amanda.
Not to be trite, but the tension was so high in the courtroom, you could have cut it with a knife.
Amanda continued to whimper as we waited for the judge and jury. Nick kept his camera zoomed-in on Amanda. All of a sudden, Nick, his eye still in the camera’s viewfinder, reached over and gripped my arm, squeezing tightly. “What is it????” I whispered, alarmed. “Is the camera not working? Is it the audio??”
“No, no, that’s ok.” he whispered back, “I just can’t take it. They can’t convict her. They can’t do that to her.”
Just two nights earlier, at a crowded trattoria in Perugia, I had explained the whole murder case to Nick. We were at a long table of AP staffers covering the story, and I wanted to make sure my two colleagues who had flown in from Bucharest, Nick and Olimphiu, knew all the background on the murder case.
Only two days of following Amanda, and Nick was feeling passionately involved. Amanda seems to do that people.
The Judge then walked in and delivered the verdict. The Knox family was restrained. There were some small celebratory whoops, hugs and tears. Amanda totally broke down. Again the penetentiary police escorted her out right past me. She was sobbing desperately and the two police guards held her up as they got her out the door.
Once it was over, I made my last run up those three flights of stairs and emerged from the courthouse door to a shocking sight. The piazza was crawling with people and they were yelling “Vergogna” “Vergogna” “Vergogna”!!!! (Shame! Shame! Shame!). At a certain point they switched and began chanting “Meredith” “Meredith” “Meredith”. Clearly the crowd outside the courthouse did not agree with the decision. The Judge’s stadium prediction had been accurate.
Cameraman Gianfranco Stara and I tried to make our way through the crowd to get some interviews. We managed to catch Amanda’s defense lawyer Carlo Della Vedova. I had just told him a few days earlier that my daughter and his neice were best friends in the same 6th grade class. I think he took pity on this poor working Mamma and stopped to give me the following comment in English, “Amanda is looking forward to going home, to the family, to Seattle, she is thankful to the justice system that has rectified a mistake.”
From the courthouse, Gianfranco and I had to run join our crews who were waiting to film Amanda leave the prison. We were too late. When we got there our crews said she had already left in a black mercedes followed by a jeep.
Corrado Daclon of the US-Italia Foundation accompanied Amanda out of prison and the next day to the Rome airport. He later told me that as Amanda passed through the open-air area in the middle of the prison, all the prisoners from the men’s blocks on the other side yelled out the windows “AMANDA, AMANDA, AMANDA” and “LIBERTA'”, “LIBERTA'”. He said they were waving white cloths through the barred windows. Amanda, Corrado said, jumped for joy and waved back at them.
From the prison it was back to the courthouse for me and time to do my report for AP’s on-line video. I am sorry to say that my on-line version of the story – done at 2am is not as good as I would like it to be. But if anyone is interested, at least one can get a sense of the atmosphere I’ve described above. Here’s the link.
PERUGIA, THE DAY AFTER
The day after Amanda left, the Kercher’s held a press conference. APTN covered it live. I was once again impressed by their incredible dignity. They expressed their sadness and frustration with the decision. They wondered if the court has concluded that Rudy Guede did not act alone, and Amanda and Raffaele were not there, than who else did it. They said they will wait an hope. The Kercher’s are so well-spoken, articulate, and dignified. They teach a lesson to us all.
The city of Perugia I think can come out with its head held high. A terrible tragedy took place there, but it could have happened anywhere. The people of Perugia put up with the invasion of an ravenous international press corps crawling over their city and sticking microphones in their faces. But it is over now and the city continues to be a stunningly beautiful Italian hill town.
This morning, back in Rome, I was asked to appear on an Italian morning news show, Unomattina, similar to Good Morning America, to talk about the case. As I sat in the studio I watched a report just in of Amanda arriving in Seattle and getting a stadium-like welcome from her fans on that side of the Atlantic.
“Ah, ” I thought, “the Amanda Knox Reality show isn’t over yet.”
A FEW FINAL NOTES ON THE CHANGING MEDIA:
The media and ways of reporting continue to change dramatically everyday. This is the first story that I have covered where twitter seemed to play an important role. My colleague Barbie Nadeau was tweeting constantly from the courthouse. She explained to me that she was giving a blow-by-blow account of the trial (in 140 characters each) so that followers could feel like they were sitting in the courtroom. I asked her how she could follow a trial if she is constantly tweeting, and she said he uses tweets almost as notes to herself. John Hooper, correspondent for “The Guardian” and the “Economist”, was also a frequent courtroom tweeter. Many others participated as well: freelancer Andrea Vogt, BBC’s Daniel Sandford.. I tweeted a bit myself on the last days, with little background tidbits and atmosphere, and I noticed that my number of twitter followers immediately grew exponentially. Apparently #Amandaknox is a good way to get attention. Journalists were also using twitter to share information about the case such as: where was Amanda, when the prosecutors were having a press conference, what the kerchers were doing. It was like a bulletin board.
APTN now uses what we call a LIVE U which is looks like a backpack that you can attach to a camera and you dial a number and it will send out live images. I am not much of a technical expert but it apparently has the equivalent of four phone cards inside that allow the video transmission. The quality is obviously lower than what you get from a camera cabled to a satellite truck, but it is usable. You can also move very quickly from one location to another with a LIVE U. So, on this story APTN was able to use the satellite truck at the courthouse and keep the LIVE U at the prison so we could provide live TV coverage from two places at the same time without incurring enormous costs. All part of the Amanda Knox Reality Show.
FTP AND PHONE CARDS
This is less new, but it has changed the way I work. As I mentioned above, when I work in the field now, I always have my computer (MacBook) with me. When the cameraperson is done shooting something he hands me a P2 card, a little metal card about the size of a playing card. I download the images, edit them on Final Cut Pro and then transmit them using a phone key card.
Post in: Italiano
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.