By Jeff Hoyt, For the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber
It’s the first question asked of everyone who moves to Vashon: “What brought you to the island?”
Artists come seeking inspiration. The stressed and harried point to respite and escape. Public figures or familiar faces hope for privacy.
Amanda Knox might answer with “all of the above.” She’s a writer and professional storyteller by trade, but Amanda is best known for spending more than a third of her life between the pages of the world’s tabloids, harassed by media on both sides of the Atlantic over a crime she didn’t commit.
Still living with the fallout from her wrongful conviction and imprisonment, Amanda and her then-fiancé Christopher Robinson felt that Vashon checked all the boxes as a place where they could plant roots and start a family.
“My dad was raised on Vashon and my grandparents still live here,” said Knox. “Growing up, I remember running around their apple orchard and collecting shells on the beach.”
Amanda and Chris bought a home on the island in 2019 just before the pandemic arrived. They’ve since married and had a baby girl.
“It’s been nice being part of a small community as opposed to singled out under a harsh, international spotlight,” said Knox. “I still don’t get out much, in part because I worry about being gawked at and judged, but this is mostly due to my own PTSD.”
When a recent New York Times article revealed that the Knox-Robinsons lived on Vashon, they decided it was time to step cautiously out of their self- and COVID-imposed isolation.
“We were trying to keep things on the down-low, but now — here we are,” laughed Knox.
The number of locals who rallied to her defense while she sat in an Italian prison greatly contributed to the good vibe they had about Vashon.
“Islanders helped start the ‘Friends of Amanda’ Facebook page,” she said. “They wrote extensively about the case and helped my family fundraise.”
She and Chris plan to pay tribute to that support in a future live episode of their podcast “Labyrinths.” Each episode begins with Amanda asking: “Feeling lost?” To which Chris replies: “Well, you’ve come to the right place.”
Fourteen years ago, Amanda Knox believed she was in the right place, fulfilling her dream of studying abroad in Perugia, Italy. Shortly after arriving she was offered a seemingly ideal living situation with a group of young students with whom she quickly became friends.
But on Nov. 2, 2007, the body of British roommate Meredith Kercher was discovered in her bedroom of the house she shared with Knox and two others. Kercher had been raped and brutally murdered. Even though the evidence pointed to a known burglar, Rudy Guede, the police focused their attention on Knox and her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito.
Guede, who fled the country immediately after the crime, was eventually convicted. Still, Italian authorities kept the spotlight on Knox. She was vilified in court and salacious stories about her alleged behavior were leaked to the press.
“What my case revealed is that public opinion really does influence judicial outcomes,” Knox said.
Following her conviction, Amanda served four years in prison before being acquitted on appeal and returning home to Seattle in 2011. In the Italian justice system, there is no double jeopardy, so over the next four years, she hovered in a state of legal limbo. Amanda tried to re-boot her former life while knowing she could be re-tried or even extradited back to Italy.
“I was hoping to go back to the life I had before Italy,” she said, “but what I discovered was that my old life no longer existed. The world had changed around me. I had changed. And I had to re-discover both myself and the world while I was still technically on trial. It was rough. I couldn’t plant roots. I didn’t feel comfortable making friends with new people. And the paparazzi were always right around the corner, waiting to pounce to see if they could catch me looking bad in any particular circumstance.”
After being re-convicted in absentia, Amanda was fully exonerated by the Italian Supreme Court in 2015.
Only a month later she saw a poster for a book reading by two men whose novel she had just reviewed for the West Seattle Herald. On a lark, she ventured out for the reading. One of the men was poet and novelist Christopher Robinson. A friendship was formed; nine months later she and Chris started dating.
Robinson has become Amanda’s staunchest defender, helping her navigate a world in which she still receives hateful attacks — and even the occasional death threat —on social media.
“Amanda, more than most other people on the planet,” said Robinson, “has had to develop a sense of self-worth and self-confidence that not only isn’t dependent upon the approbation of others, but that stands firm despite the deluge of hate. Merely being adjacent to that has given me wisdom about self-worth and identity and how to construct those things in a healthy way.”
The two are quick to call out “based on” or “inspired by” books and films that profit from Amanda’s experience while perpetuating multiple false narratives invented by her Italian prosecutors. It happened again last year with the film “Stillwater,” in which an American girl studying abroad gets accused and imprisoned for murdering her roommate, all while proclaiming her innocence, except that in this film, she actually is indirectly responsible.
“This is a problem because when the world keeps recycling the story, you don’t even have to name me for everyone to know that you’re naming me,” she said. “It’s exhausting and unfair, and I can ignore it and pretend it’s not there or I can look it in the eyes and stare the dragon down.”
That’s what she chose to do in a piece she wrote for The Atlantic:
“Does my name belong to me?” she wrote. “Does my face? What about my life? My story? Why is my name used to refer to events I had no hand in? I return to these questions again and again because others continue to profit off my identity, and my trauma, without my consent.”
In the decade since Amanda came home, she’s had to come to grips with the fact that the story with which she is forever linked continues to titillate and intrigue.
“Even after I was definitively exonerated, the impulse to ask ‘did she or didn’t she’ didn’t go away,” she said, “so I’ve been trying to put that question aside and define who I am based on the work that I actually do.”
Amanda has found purpose in recent years working on behalf of the Innocence Network, an international coalition devoted to freeing the innocent and preventing wrongful convictions around the world. She’ll talk about that project at VCA on Feb. 26, following a performance of Vashon Repertory Theater’s “The Exonerated.”
“I grew up never thinking about the criminal justice system,” said Knox.
“I just assumed bad people went to prison and that’s what prison is for, but in fact, it’s more complicated. The stories we consume in the media impact what happens in judicial cases. We’re all a part of this system and none of us are separate or above it. I feel like my role for the community is translating that experience for those who feel like it’s not interesting or accessible to them.”
In the meantime, Amanda and Chris are enjoying all things Vashon.
“Privacy, quiet, small town, artsy, weird, close to the big city, nature,” said Robinson, listing the attributes long-time islanders know well. “But it’s also the people. The kind of people who come here and stay are more likely to live interesting, non-traditional lives. Our kind of people.”
Amanda Knox will talk about her work on behalf of the wrongfully convicted following Vashon Repertory Theater’s performance of “The Exonerated” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 26, at Vashon Center for the Arts.
To hear Jeff Hoyt’s recent hour-long conversation with Amanda, search “Hoytus Interruptus” wherever you get your podcasts. Or, find it for the next week on the home page at voiceofvashon.org. Find out more and access “Labyrinths,” podcasts by Amanda Knox and Christopher Robinson, at knoxrobinson.com/labyrinths.