Steve Shay
Amanda Knox's friends await her weekly phone call from prison in Italy.

Friends, family look forward to weekly calls from Knox

It is Wednesday night and an intimate crowd gathers around the kitchen table for dinner and conversation as it has every Wednesday night since October.

The core group has about a dozen of Amanda Knox’s University of Washington pals, her grandmother, and a medley of other family. Knox, 21, grew up with her sister, Deanna, 15 months her junior, in the Arbor Heights home with their mother Edda and stepfather Chris Mellas. Their father, Curt Knox, and stepmother Cassandra, live nearby, also in West Seattle.

Knox is on trial for the slaying of her 21-year-old English roommate Meredith Kercher, whose body was found on Nov. 2, 2007 at their home in Perugia, Italy. The trial started in January.

After a late dinner, the extended family leaves. But the college kids spend the night. That’s because every Thursday at 7:45 a.m. Seattle time Amanda is allowed her weekly call home from the Capanne Jail where she has been held for 16 months while her court case proceeds.

Because this particular Wednesday falls on spring break, some houseguests are out of town. However, Deanna, a busy Western Washington University pre-med student, was free of her usual class commitments. She has not spoken to her big sister in almost three months.

She explained Italy’s legal “ground rules” with the phone calls.

“Only five people are allowed to talk to Amanda,” said Deanna, while petting Amanda’s tuxedo cat Artimus. “Me, my mom, Chris, my dad, and my grandmother. I’m not sure why we were chosen and others were not, but that’s the rule. And the press can’t be here to listen.

“We put Amanda on speakerphone,” Deanna continued. “The rest of her family and college friends can listen to her, and she can know they are all here. She can say ‘Hi’ to them, but they can’t say ‘Hi’ back. They say ‘Hi’ without words by waving at the phone and lovingly blow kisses.”

“Every week here we don’t sit around sobbing,” said David Johnsrud, or “DJ,” Amanda’s former UW boyfriend, who remains a steadfast supporter.

“Christina (Edda’s sister) and her husband Kevin take absurdly good care of us when we’re here,” said DJ. “Kind of like my second family. They cook dinner for us. Most of us sleep in the living room. A couple of the others fill up Amanda’s and Deanna’s rooms. When Amanda talks (on the phone) she is really upbeat. The best we can do is be happy too, or she gets extra stressed out if she senses her family and friends are all falling apart. Amanda tries to cheer us up.”

“She’s really curious what her friends are doing in Seattle, our grades, how school is, whatever,” said Ben Parker, 22, a student majoring in political science, a drummer, and server at an upscale seafood restaurant. “I don’t think I’ve missed one Wednesday since we started coming every week.”

Parker said that before the approach of the trial the troupe came every once in a while.

“Then we started coming every week as a habit," he said. "I wasn’t supposed to come tonight but made it happen.”

Tyler Polich, 21, an architecture student at University of Oregon, visits his girlfriend at UW and joins the group as school allows. His girlfriend is one of Amanda’s best friends, but Italian law says she, like Edda, cannot speak to the press as she will be testifying in court on Amanda’s behalf.

“We’re not turning her into a saint,” Deanna said. “We even like to make fun of her like we do each other.”

Deanna and the others chatted light-heartedly well past midnight.

“Hey. I got better grades than I thought,” grinned Parker, checking his marks on a laptop next to the phone on the kitchen table.

The conversation went from grades to braids.

“Remember how Amanda would wear her hair in tight braids?” asked Deanna.

"Yeah,” laughed Parker. “And when she unbraided her hair, it looked real big and poofy.”

Added Deanna, “That’s when she’d go into her Julia Roberts impersonation.”

“Didn’t she used to sound like a dolphin when she laughed?” asked Polich.

“Yes,” Deanna agreed. “I teased her about it. Then once we were in the car together and I cracked up about something, and she said, ‘When you laugh, you sound like a dolphin, too.'”

One of the boys leaned over to pet Artimus who quickly leaped away onto the floor.

“He only likes girls,” warned Deanna, who wished she had more time with Artimus, and the phone calls, but enjoys Bellingham’s natural beauty.

“I like hiking up to Fragrance Lake,” she told the others.

“What ever happened to that video interview Amanda did of you in Austria?” Polich asked Deanna.

“It’s toast,” said DJ with regret.

“Most of it got fried on my laptop,” Deanna recalled. “It was real cute. She danced and sang in it too.”

The call came in at 7:45 a.m. Thursday morning, and friends and family gathered around the phone. Chris, Deanna, and Edda’s mother, Elizabeth Huff, spoke to Amanda. (Edda was in Italy to be with Amanda.)

“The call is 10 minutes long. Period,” said Huff. Amanda, Deanna, and her other grandchildren call her “Oma,” an informal German name for “grandmother.” She brings a cheery greeting card every Wednesday night for the gang to pass around the table to sign with well wishes, updates, and cartoon drawings.

After the call she said, “I told Amanda to keep her chin up. I like to give her a little ‘oomph.’ She told me about a book she found in the prison library that interested her by Heinrich Heine.”

Heine was a German Jew born on 1797 and well known for his romantic poetry.

“She then read me a poem she wrote in German about being a foreigner far from home," said Huff. "I helped her make some (language) corrections. I could relate, being from Germany.”

Huff’s husband Harley was born near Lincoln Park in West Seattle and served in the United States Army. They traveled a lot and settled in West Seattle in 1976.

“Edda and I are on the same wavelength,” said Huff. “We are holding each other’s hand. If we discuss Amanda’s situation too much we cry.”

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