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An Interview with Candace Dempsey, Author of Murder in Italy

51dtvU3GVxL._SL500_AA300_.jpg Always intrigued by the Amanda Knox case, a few months ago we picked up Murder in Italy, released earlier this year. The true crime novel, which we called "a fascinating read", follows the investigation and conviction of Amanda Knox, Raffaele Sollecito, and Rudy Guede of the murder of British student Meredith Kercher. (More backstory on the book over at Crosscut). We recently spoke with author and Seattleite Candace Demspey on the process of researching and developing the book and the ongoing saga of the case's trial and appeals process.

Tell me a little bit about yourself and your experience as a journalist.

I’m a Italian-American writer whose life got sideswiped by the Amanda Knox case. Before I got pulled in, I’d been a magazine editor, a newspaper editor and a Web producer at MSN. I’d written for many newspapers and magazines, including The Chicago Tribune, and my travel stories had been published in many anthologies. I fully intended to do a travel book called “From Rome to Africa,” but once I began covering Amanda’s case, I couldn’t write about anything else.

Everything changed in November 2007. I’d just returned from the Rome to Tunisia adventure when I heard that British student Meredith Kercher had been murdered in Perugia, Seattle’s sister city. Amanda Knox, the main suspect, was from Seattle, my hometown. She was an honor student at the University of Washington.

All of that struck me as horribly ironic and sad. Because who hasn’t dreamed of Italy? Who wouldn’t want to study there? I’d dreamed of doing that myself, but I’m the middle child of seven children. I worked my way through college. I could barely afford my tuition, let alone anything extra.

Why made you so interested in the Amanda Knox case?

It’s a once-in-a century crime story. Sex, drugs, lies, videotape, money, beautiful young people. Characters that John Grisham couldn’t invent. Trial by media in Italy, the U.S. and the U.K. Paparazzi. British tabloids. Facebook, MySpace, leaked diaries, wiretaps, a prosecutor under indictment.

It reads like a novel, but it’s all true: Two lovely college students from two different nations dream of studying in a hilltop town and become roommates. Right after Halloween night, one roommate is stabbed to death; the other is locked up for killing her. Why? How? What does it mean? Who’s telling the truth?

The Amanda Knox case is a train wreck. I couldn’t look away. I still can’t.

When did you start covering the case?

Right away. I wrote about Meredith’s horrific murder on my blog and got a tremendous reaction from all over the world. But nobody wanted to talk about the victim. They only wanted to shout about this horrible Amanda Knox, aka “Angel Face,” “Foxy Knoxy,” “Luciferina.” The girl the Italians called “a huntress of men, insatiable in bed.” I didn’t know anything about Amanda Knox. Didn’t know anybody who knew her. But my readers wanted her lynched. They said it was too bad that Italy didn’t have the electric chair.

That made me curious. Who killed Meredith Kercher? How did Amanda Knox become the prime suspect? Could she possibly be innocent?

In those days Amanda Knox’s guilt was simply assumed, everywhere in the world. She was Meredith’s killer. Case closed. I wondered how we could be so sure. She was an excellent student and had no motive. No criminal record. She’d known Raffaele Sollecito, her boyfriend and supposed co-conspirator, only six days. Raffaele had never met Rudy Guede, their alleged co-conspirator.

So I started checking the facts. Murder in Italy grew out of that.

Can you give me a rough timeline of how the book came together?

In February 2008, I pitched Murder in Italy at the Whidbey Island Writers’ Conference. By then I had many sources in Italy and the U.S. and was working on the Amanda Knox case 24/7. At Whidbey I met thriller writer William Dietrich, a Pulitzer-prize winning investigative reporter, and he gave me tips on how to research a crime tale. He referred me to his agent, Andrew Stuart, who sold Murder In Italy to Penguin/Berkley Books.

Also at Whidbey I met Erik Larson, the author of The Devil in the White City, and he advised me to write Murder in Italy in chronological order, focusing on Meredith Kercher and Amanda Knox. That’s what I did.

Instead of just reproducing the courtroom drama, I used the testimony to weave a complete tale, a la Ann Rule of Seattle, my favorite crime writer. The book unfolds like a movie, starting with a happy Italian Halloween. I divided it into three acts, ending with Amanda and Raffaele’s conviction.

Were you ever concerned that you wouldn’t be able to get your hands on enough of the source material to research and write a book?

Never. Perugia is like a true crime store. Italians leak everything from autopsy photos to letters, diaries, videos, and wiretaps. All of those I used in the book, along with the courtroom testimony. I went to Perugia often, at great personal expense, and interviewed the key players, including prosecutor Giuliano Mignini. In addition, the suspects all kept Facebooks, MySpace pages. I interviewed Amanda’s family and friends, in Seattle and Perugia. I was in court when Meredith’s friends testified; I used their actual words in the book, never needing to invent or exaggerate anything. As one tabloid reporter said in regards to the amount of information out there, “It was a feast.”

In fact, my only problem was trimming the book down. My fabulous editor, Shannon Jamieson Vasquez, said I had enough for eight books. She’s Italian-American, had studied in Perugia, is fluent in Italian, and had edited many mystery books. She helped me decide what to leave in, what to take out. We had to delete fascinating tidbits that were “tangential to the plot.”

Is there a reason why you chose not to include a cross-reference or index in this book?

Murder in Italy is a true crime book. Jack Olsen’s Salt of the Earth and Timothy Egan’s Breaking Blue, two favorite crime books of mine, also lack indexes. That’s pretty typical of the genre. My book does have photos, a timeline and a detailed character guide. You always know who is who and what happened when.

I’m a big fan of what suspects and witnesses write down, what they say under oath, the closer to the actual crime the better. Memory plays strange tricks. Listening to gossip is fun, but if police floated a rumor but didn’t defend it in court, then it didn’t make it into my book. You can trust what I wrote, in other words. It’s all based in fact. I am quoting directly from the documents.

candacedempsey.jpg
Candace Dempsey
How long did it take you to research and put together the book?

More than two years. I started in November 2007 and finished after the verdict in December 2009. I was lucky because I got a book deal early on and had the luxury of working on the case night and day. I live in Seattle, where many events played out, and was often in Perugia. I was on the phone and email all the time. It was intense. And it’s not over. I’m continuing to blog about the case. I was in Perugia this summer. It was surreal to see Murder in Italy on sale in the Rome airport.

Can you highlight any notable mistranslations or cultural misunderstandings that have cropped up in this case?

Certainly the playing around with Amanda’s text message to her boss Patrick Lumumba on the night of the murder was the worst. For police to contend that “Okay, see you later, good night” actually meant “Let’s get together and kill my roommate” was a giant stretch. Then there was the translating of Foxy Knoxy, Amanda’s childhood name, into “Evil Fox” in court documents.

As for Amanda, far better that she’d never talked about her schoolgirl sex life in Italy. We spent hours and hours on Amanda Knox’s condoms, vibrator, and lovers in court, as if sex were “a gateway crime to murder,” to quote Murder in Italy.

And actually, Amanda Knox was no huntress. Only once did she have sex in the cottage, the police had to admit, and that was with a Roman student who was good friends with Meredith’s boyfriend. And we’d been told that Amanda entertained a cafeteria list of men.

Why was that glossed over in the evidence against her? She was portrayed as a sexual deviant.

Again, Amanda Knox talked freely about her sex life. That isn’t done in Italy, except among close friends. If you’re discreet, you get away with many things.

And her specifically being from Seattle?

Amanda Knox prided herself on being a free spirit. I adore Italy, but it’s not the quirky Northwest, where we “celebrate individual differences.” Italians strive to cut a bella figura, adhering to rules, maintaining a lovely image. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. That’s still good advice.

What are your thoughts on all the misinformation out there on this case?

The Amanda Knox case is tabloid heaven. Truth is the first casualty. Many people are making money out of trashing an American girl. Italian police leaked a lot of dubious information about Amanda in the early days and reporters just typed it up. Cops said that she called her alleged conspirator Rudy Guede before and after the crime, for instance, even though they knew he didn’t even own a phone. That information is still on the Web, uncorrected. Even the Times of London is guilty of taking dictation from Italian police and prosecutors. So when I read that Americans are unfamiliar with the prosecution case, I am incredulous. For a long time, that’s all they heard.

But Amanda and Raffaele and Rudy were convicted in an Italian court, regardless of what’s been reported, or written. And that public perception is still there.

Yes, Italians tell me two things: We have DNA on Amanda Knox. And she knows something—meaning they’re sure she was in the house when the murder happened. Maybe she wasn’t the killer, they say, but she was there.

Still, Amanda and Raffaele have two appeals coming. Public opinion could shift slightly in late November, when they get their first shot. Remember that Rudy Guede, their alleged co-conspirator, got his sentence lowered from 30 to 16 years upon first appeal. And she has a good chance of getting out on the final appeal.

I’d also like to ask you about this person Luciano Aviello, who has been reported as coming forward with information that his brother had confessed to Meredith’s murder.

Yes, Aviello is a jailed wise guy who claims that he hid Meredith’s missing keys and some bloody things for his brother. Well, who knows? Italian police could end the suspense by simply going to his house and checking out the story. But they don’t do it.

Why do you believe the police choose not to follow up this lead or otherwise seemed to have ignored certain evidence? An example would be the bloody shoe print you mention in your book.

That’s the fairness issue that the defense has brought up. Some of the prosecution “super-witnesses” literally seemed crazy, but the court “heard” them. It’s only fair to follow up on the same kinds of leads that might benefit the defense. And certainly the Italian police must have known that the bloody shoeprint at the murder scene wasn’t Raffaele’s. He wore Nike shoes with distinctive circles on the soles. They had no blood on them. All they had to do was count the circles on the bloody shoeprint and compare that to Raffaele’s shoes. Perugia police can count just as easily as the defense can. This is what Italians call being “fake stupid.”

That’s an interesting parallel to the Monster of Florence investigation as well, in terms of bringing in these...vagabonds to testify for the prosecution. Do you have any comments on the parallels between the two cases?

Prosecutor Giuliano Mignini plays the heavy in both the Knox case and the Monster of Florence murder investigation. In Murder in Italy, I compare Amanda’s forceful interrogation by Mignini to Douglas Preston’s frightening experience with the same prosecutor

Mignini is an interesting person in real life, bright, cultured. I’ve seen him on the Corso many times and I did interview him. He has a folksy manner. But watch out in court.

He’s fixated on group conspiracy crimes and has a fear of Manga comic books and other modern cultural influences. He demonizes female sexuality and is obsessed with the occult. His final arguments were of Salem-witch-trial ferocity.

What has the overall reaction been to your book?

I love it when people tell me that Murder in Italy reads like a novel. That means I’ve told a good tale, as well as done the hard reporting. I also like it when people come to my readings, have opposite ideas about Amanda’s guilt, and yet can have civil conversations. That never happens on the Internet, where everything is polarized and vicious. I’ve had husbands and wives disagree completely about the case and yet tell me that they enjoyed talking to each other about my book.

What would you recommend people read in terms of learning about or continuing to follow this case?

Ann Wise of ABC News is bilingual, was in court all the time, and does a fantastic job of staying neutral. Her stories are up on the ABC site. For ongoing coverage, I recommend my seattlepi.com blog, plus Perugia Shock by blogger Frank Sfarzo, a bilingual Italian investigative reporter based in Perugia. Sites created to support Amanda Knox include Injustice in Perugia, View from Wilmington and Science Spheres. I always read Corriere dellUmbria, Il Messaggero, Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica online.

And of course, I recommend Murder in Italy. I love it when readers email candacedem@gmail.com and tell me what they think.

Contact the author of this article or email tips@seattlest.com with further questions, comments or tips.

Comments [rss]

  • superman1946

    That Killer midget Amanda "Cartwheels" Knox and her murder asst. bestial porn lover , drug addled, pathological liar, and psycho Raffaele are as guilty as sin. These killing machines deserve to be put down like rabid dogs that they are.... Candace Dumpsy knows this, but she is making money on her stupid book....When Amanda and Raffaele get life sentences she can thank herself for making it possible by all her spinning of the evidence.

  • LondonSupporter

    Oh dear, Harry Rag, you really don't give up, do you. You must get a real buzz out of persistently attacking an innocent person.

    As you know perfectly well, the police checked Amanda's text messages, saw one to Patrick that said 'See you later' and jumped to the conclusion that this referred to meeting up to murder Meredith. This was clearly a preposterous assumption at the start. If the police were interested in solving the crime, rather than fitting people up, they would have immediately checked to find out where Patrick was on the night in question and would have confirmed that he had a rock solid alibi.

    Instead, they convinced themselves that there was a prior plan to murder Meredith and proceeded to bully a false statement (NOT a confession) out of Amanda, to give them a pretext for arresting Patrick when there was no real evidence at all. This is keystone cops policing of the first order.

    Of course, the large gang of police officers (not independent 'witnesses', as you call them) who abused Amanda in a foreign language claim that there was no duress. They would say that, wouldn't they.

    To say that Amanda lied repeatedly is preposterous and you know it. She was pressed over and over again to change her story and when that tactic failed, was told to 'imagine' what might have happened. This is a well known tactic used by oppressive regimes to extract false statements and is not allowed in most western countries. It is this 'imagining' that the police then used as a fake reason to arrest Patrick. As soon as Amanda was able to clarify this, she did so.

    She was treated as a suspect without being told as much and was refused a lawyer (her Italian flat mates got lawyered up straightaway because they know how Italian 'justice' can work). Because of this, her statement was supposed not to be used in the trial but was slipped in to the proceedings because of a parallel case that was inexplicably allowed to go ahead at the same time.

    Conveniently for the police, no voice recording of the interrogation has ever been released. Do you believe Harry, that there is no recording? If there is, why can't it be released? Perhaps, because it would confirm Amanda's account, not the police account. If the police version was true, they would have released it.

    John Reen (aka Evan Almia?) - can you really not read and understand English? Candace's use of irony is correct. It is you who does not understand what 'irony' is.

  • John Reen

    Ironic that someone who says she's an author doesn't know what "irony" is. As to her extreme bias with her faith that Knox is innocent, I can't be bothered to reiterate them...

  • Harry Rag

    @London Supporter

    You quoted the following from Injustice in Perugia:

    "It's called coercion. You can get anyone to say anything if you interrogate them for long enough, with enough people, without food, drink or toilet facilities and bash them on the head."

    Amanda Knox made her false and malicious allegation against Diya Lumumba when she found out that Sollecito had admitted lying and had stopped providing her with an alibi. She repeated this accusation on at least three separate occasions. She didn't retract this allegation the whole time Diya Lumumba was in prison.

    Amanda Knox was given food and drink on 5 November 2007. She admitted this when she testified at the trial.

    All the witnesses who were present when Knox was questioned, including her interpreter, testified under oath that she was treated well and wasn't hit.

    The judges and jury had to decide whether to believe the corroborative testimony of numerous upstanding witnesses or the word of a compulsive liar who had lied repeatedly. It would have been a very easy decision to make.

  • LondonSupporter

    Harry Rag, I suggest you read the following (from Injustice in Perugia):

    "Later in the morning of November 6th, 2007, Amanda hand wrote a letter explaining the interrogation.

    Amanda Wrote: "In regards to this "confession" that I made last night, I want to make it clear that I'm very doubtful of the verity of my statements because they were made under the pressures of stress, shock and extreme exhaustion."

    Amanda was very confused and she was scared. This did not seem to matter to the police. Amanda's illegal interrogation gave them the information they wanted.

    As soon as they got Amanda to tell them what they wanted to hear, they went out and arrested Patrick Lumumba with no further questions asked. As it turned out, Patrick was innocent.

    Amanda's statements about Patrick were completely unreliable. Amanda tried to explain to the police that her statements were made during a time of stress, shock and extreme exhaustion and she didn't believe them to be true. After all, she was only repeating what the Interrogators told her to say. At the time, the police simply didn't care."

    It's called coercion. You can get anyone to say anything if you interrogate them for long enough, with enough people, without food, drink or toilet facilities and bash them on the head.

    ______________________________

    Harry, you seem to be flip-flopping. You think she's guilty now, do you? On August 16th at the First Post website, you said she was innocent (quote):

    "I've reviewed all the information available about this case and I have no doubt Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito are both innocent and they will be acquitted following their appeals. For the facts and crime scene photos Google injusticeinperugia or for rubbish see perugiamurderlies/files

    Posted by HarryRag at 3:53pm on August 16, 2010"

    I suggest you look at the evidence again, with a clear head and come back when you have set yourself straight and apologise.



  • Nikas Onanoff

    Yes, and you know that's not true or you need spectacle,

    Look at Harry's name, the copycat version has the name;

    HarryRag

    but the Harry you are trying to make a fool of has a different identity and that is;

    Harry Rag.



    See it, space beteen the two words.

    yet, whether or not you see it yet, is not as bad as my idea that the very person imitating Harry in the first place may well be your kind self.

    You're a LondonJohn of course, one of those American breeds pretending to be British as though that might lend you some weight, Oh yes, I drink gallons of tea each day wot wot, I say, anyone for tennis.

    Now let me explain about Knox, erhum, by the way my father was Sherlock Holmes and every other male in the family were lawyers, but anyhow, Yes, Knox, or as we like to call her, Bambi's guru, tried t help the police after she'd accused an innocent man of murder, obviously our Bambi Guru, tried to solve the case in Italy, even though she had a busy schedule, now ain't that kind, anyhow, as I said, she had no drawers so went and bought a single string, it took her an hour or two to decide while the Manga porn, knife loving and collector thereof the last-named, watched with glee. Yes said Bambi's Guru, for we will have hot sex later.

    Sollecito, finishing his pizza using his flick knife as a toothpick, said (probably) well, what about that girl, and her candlelight vigil. Knox or Bambi's Guru probably said, Who, oh her, don't worry they've got Lumumba, I thought I'd better help the cops you know. And he can't say he treated me real well, he fired me goddamnit!

    Okay then said Manga Porn loving Sollecito, let's head back to my spread and wash the entire place with bleach again. Those dumb cops will never work it out that I didn't spend any time on my computer that night, they didn't even see I had a knife on me when I was at the police headquarters.

    How they laughed, they'd never been so happy!



  • Harry Rag

    London Supporter,

    I suggest you read the following sentence carefully:

    "Everything I have said in regards to my involvement in Meredith’s death, even though it is contrasting, are the best truth that I have been able to think." (Amanda Knox, 6 November 2007).

  • LondonSupporter

    Harry Rag - Candace has recommended blogs that are interested in truth and justice, unlike the ones you suggest. Many people think this trial was a disgrace, not just friends and family of Amanda and many people are taking time to try and right this wrong.

    Evan Almia - Irony is a rhetorical device used to highlight incongruity. It is ironic that Amanda dreamed and worked and saved so that she could travel to Perugia, yet her experience there has turned out to be a nightmare. If you take the time to study the case properly and dismiss rumour and unfounded slander you will see that Amanda and Raffaele are innocent.

  • Evan

    Ironic that someone who says she's an author doesn't know what "irony" is. As to her extreme bias with her faith that Knox is innocent, I can't be bothered to reiterate them...

  • Nikas Onanoff



    That's exactly the thing I noticed, tee hi hi.

    Talk about someone who likes to create an atmosphere of sensationalism when there is none, good lawd knock me sideways, with a swipe.

    Talking down to people or treating them in a condescending way, as Dempsey does, in order for her to try to gain some, doesn't quite cut the mustard. Dempsey fails to acknowledge what the presiding judge determined was relevant, when he, in a reasoned way, and not nasty patronising way, said that just because a man happens to be homeless does not mean that he has no ability to relay what he actually saw.

    To do what Dempsey does is simplistic at most and far from showing any substantive intellectual ability, what she does is try to make out the man is little more than a piece of vermin, he is, according to her no more than a piece of trash. But, what has the man done wrong except reveal what he saw, and revealed it absolutely unwillingly, he had no desire at all to get involved.

    To try to gain ground by standing on a person's head, is a sign of weakness, not strength and certainly not truth and honesty.

    If Dempsey truly had been interested in this case, she'd have perhaps been capable of showing more strength, more insight, more ability to reason things out according to intelligence while respecting the intellect of others but instead, she started using or misusing her blog, after she jumped on the murder case, as a way of gaining publicity, and actually started treating her blog that had before the murder been at no more than a standstill, as though it were a tool of the Chinese government, censoring it and allowing only what merges with her, already decided on take, all in line with what she intended to slant her book towards. At the time, I knew she was up to something deceitful, because her behaviour was sub-standard, accordin to recognised standards of journalism and ethics, she did not play straight when insulting people's intelligence by deleting posts that clashed with her own point of view. Only far later after someone discovered a link to her real activity and reason for it and her blog, the publishing of a book, did she admit that indeed, it was true, she had whilst running her blog, been busy with a book. It was also shown that even after one day of Meredith Kercher having been murdered, Dempsey altered her blog's direction and also already at that time took on the persuasion she stuck to, that Knox was innocent no matter what evidence was brought forward no matter what inconsistencies and contradictions Knox and Sollecito shared.

    In my view Dempsey needed a subject to write a book about and as soon as she saw the info on Meredith Kercher she grabbed her chance.

    I find that behaviour and intent dispicable to say the very least, especially when not being up-front about that factor at all.

  • Harry Rag

    Candace Dempsey has only recommended blogs that support Amanda Knox. The following websites aren't run by Amanda Knox's family or supporters:

    Perugia Murder File

    http://perugiamurderfile.org/index.php

    True Justice For Meredith Kercher

    http://truejustice.org/ee/index.php

    Lies Our Mothers Told Us

    http://missrepresented.net/blog/

    The English translation of the Massei report can be downloaded from here:

    http://www.perugiamurderfile.org/viewtopic.php?f=10&t=259

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