Amanda Knox's grandmother, Elizabeth, or "Oma," Huff reads her most recent letter from Amanda, written for her in German, from prison in Italy.
Extended family rallies for Amanda Knox
Amanda Knox, the West Seattle native on trial for sexually assaulting and murdering her British roommate Meredith Kercher Nov. 1, 2007 in Perugia, Italy during her college studies there, spent her second birthday in Capanne Prison July 9. This time she turned 22.
Following the July 17 weekend, the court recesses until Sept. 14. A verdict is expected by October or November. Raffaele Sollecito, her former boyfriend she had met one week prior to the murder, is also on trial. Rudy Guede is currently serving 30 years in jail for the murder and was previously arrested for other break-ins and robberies. Amanda’s family, supporters, and defense team insists the right guy is behind bars, and acted alone.
Most of Knox’s extended family, including her aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandmother, lives within a three-mile radius in West Seattle’s Arbor Heights neighborhood. Her divorced parents, their spouses, Amanda’s sisters and half-sisters pride themselves in being one big functional family.
“We’re dealing with a divorced household and we’ve dropped any walls, if they were there, with the single focus of Amanda’s support and needs,” said Curt Knox, Amanda’s father, who has traveled to Perugia four times in 2009 alone to support his daughter.
Legal bills and traveling expenses are exploding as he searches for work, he said.
“We share everything with Amanda’s mother and her side of the family,” said Cassandra. “There are some disagreements some times, but we all come together to do what’s best for Amanda.”
She said Curt’s long absences are tough on their daughters, Ashley 14, and Delaney 10, Amanda’s half-sisters, as well as Amanda’s sister Deanna, 20, a college student.
“Curt missed Ashley’s and Delaney’s baseball games and winter programs,” said Cassandra.
“It’s hard talking about (Amanda) because it kind of hurts me. Sometimes I cry,” said Delaney, who competes with Ashley on the Arbor Heights swim team and performs a double flip off the one-meter board.
“Over there she is misunderstood,” said Delaney of Amanda in Italy. “I don’t want to hear, ‘she’s a devil, a murderer, and everybody hates her.’ I want to hear the day she’s coming home and that she’s innocent. That’s all I want to hear.”
“I think she’ll experience some kind of post-traumatic stress when she comes home,” said Cassandra. “I don’t think she’s ever going to have a normal life.”
“From Amanda’s point of view she has always gone through life trusting everybody,” said Curt. “She trusted the authority (in Perugia) and they turned on her. From the time they found Meredith the morning of Nov. 2 until the evening of Nov. 5 Amanda could have left Italy and come home. We asked her to, but she wanted to stay and help the police find Meredith’s killer. She couldn’t understand what was going on when they turned on her and interrogated her for 14 hours.
“We get asked all the time, ‘have you ever contacted the Kerchers?” Curt said. “No. I try to put myself in their shoes. They got the worst telephone call you can get as a parent. How would they accept our deepest condolences with our daughter still on trial for their daughter’s murder? I want them to know Amanda had nothing to do with it. Once Amanda is cleared, then I want to pick up that phone. What they’ve experienced is so much worse than what were going through. They’ve lost their daughter. We still have a chance with ours.”
“It’s wearing on all of us, said Elizabeth, or “Oma” Huff. Amanda is her oldest grandchild. Amanda’s mother, Edda Mellas, is one of Oma’s three children. Oma's other children include Michael, or "Mick," and Christina Hagge.
“I’m generally OK when I am amongst my family,” said Oma 71, who was raised in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hometown of Graz, Austria.
“It bugs me to be alone,” she continued. “I roll the thing around in my head and it chokes me up.”
Oma receives a letter from Amanda, handwritten in German, once every week or two. Oma translated the most recent letter, written close to Amanda’s birthday, excerpted here:
“… I woke up and made my own breakfast, green tea with honey, toasted biscuits, and a banana. I got dressed, went outside, took a little walk, listened to my radio, went inside. Mom, Deanna, Ashley, and Madison (Madison Paxton, a close friend from the University of Washington) came to visit me…We mainly talked about life…Even when they think about me they shouldn’t get scared or worried. We talked about school, work, friends. Deanna’s new Eskimo dog is really cute…I will now start my homework…Don’t worry. Be happy, because I’m sure I will soon come home. I am not afraid and you should not be either. I love you Oma always. Your Amanda.”
“This misinformation about the knife and DNA as evidence drives you nuts,” said Amanda’s grandmother, teary-eyed after reading the letter. "They put that out as an absolute. It’s so hard to get people to support this girl, just picking on her with any ugly thing they can find. She was the first recipient of the Manvel Schauffler Award at Explorer West (Middle School) for high achievement and character. That’s the real Amanda.” Manvel's son, Allen Schauffler was the KING 5 anchor and producer.
“She was always fired up to learn new things,” recalled Aurora de la Cruz, Amanda’s drama teacher at Explorer West who directed her in Annie and Fiddler of the Roof.
“For her it was not about competition,” de la Cruz continued. “She was fearless and did not let things get in the way of her learning. She was a dear person.”
“The majority of the press is now reporting more fairly than they did at the beginning,” said Chris Mellas, Edda’s husband and Amanda’s stepfather. But there are exceptions.
Best-selling author John Grisham plans to write a book about the case. He was quoted in an Italian newspaper, La Stampa, saying that while he believes Amanda is innocent, “She appears to be a stupid little girl.”
“What Grisham said has no bearing on his actual opinion, I think,” said Mellas. “He cannot look too one-sided while investigating at this point. Anyway, all these people talking book deals are going to have the same ending. And if there is a long, drawn-out appeals process, regardless of the verdict, this case could take three more years to conclude, and cost us three million more dollars.”
The Mellas family took annual trips to Lake Roosevelt and rented a houseboat until Amanda was jailed. Both the expense and her absence would be burdensome to continue the tradition they said.
“I would falsely be happy, overcompensating for being upset,” said Amanda’s aunt, Christina Hagge, Edda and Mick’s sister. “It doesn’t feel right when she can’t be with us even though she doesn’t want us to change what we’re doing.”
While Amanda’s loved ones are upset, some question Amanda’s often-photographed light-hearted smile in the courtroom and wonder why she does not appear upset.
“Photographers are allowed into the courtroom the first five minutes of the trial,” explained Amanda’s aunt, Janet Huff, whose is Mick’s wife.
“It is in those five minutes that Amanda first spots her family in the courtroom. We exchange smiles and that’s the expression the camera gets. Then the photographers are ordered to leave. But of course Amanda remains in court all day. And she is not smiling the whole time.”