Photo left by Steve Shay
Last Oct. 3 West Seattle-raised Amanda Knox & her former Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were freed on appeal in a Perugia, Italy courtroom for the murder of her roommate Meredith Kercher. Left, Italian journalist Frank Sfarzo pictured recently at Salty's on Alki. His website, written in English, Perugia Shock, appeared when the trial began, and is still up. He was controversial as he believed in the innocence of Knox & "Raf" and freely criticized the methods of the prosecution and police handling the case. Pictured right, the moment after Knox & Raf were acquitted. Raf will speak on his new book at UW Sept. 25.

Amanda Knox & former boyfriend Sollecito: 1st year of freedom nears; Italian journalist remains supportive

Arbor Heights-raised Knox freed last Oct. 3. "Raf" will speak at UW on new book Sept. 25

October 3 will mark the one-year anniversary West Seattle-raised Amanda Knox was acquitted with her former Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, of the brutal murder of her British college roommate, Meredith Kercher, in Perugia, Italy. Ms. Kercher was stabbed to death Nov. 1, 2007. The trial grabbed both headlines and imaginations worldwide. It transformed those involved into unwilling celebrities trapped in a gruesome ordeal.

The first trial found Knox, Sollecito, and Rudy Guede, guilty. Guede was born in the Ivory Coast, and described by some as a career criminal and drifter. The appeal trial followed, and the murder verdict was overturned for Knox and Sollecito. Guede's guilty verdict stuck, and he remains in prison. DNA experts discredited original findings, and the judge discredited at a least one of the prosecutors' "star witness", a homeless drug addict who recently passed away.

Sollecito, who many call "Raf", posts photos of himself on his Facebook page from the Burning Man festival in Nevada, and from Manhattan. He is again in the news as he releases a book Sept. 18, "Honor Bound: My Journey to Hell and Back with Amanda Knox", co-authored by Los Angeles-based Andrew Gumbel who spent six years in Italy and was a Reuters foreign correspondent.

Gumbel told mediabistro.com, "Not only will the book leave no doubt about Raffaele’s innocence; everything Raffaele and his family have to tell, backed by previously unpublished documents in the case, suggests that his incarceration had almost nothing to do with the actual evidence but had another motivation entirely — to be revealed when the book comes out."

Sollecito is scheduled to speak at UW's Kane Hall Room 110, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $5 at the door, or free with advanced purchase of his book at the University Book Store.

Since Knox's arrival home her family requested that media give her space while she has quietly gotten on with her life. She also wrote a book, to be released early spring. During the trial media came from all directions including the "sensational" British tabloids with their salacious headlines, the more even-keeled New York Times, the West Seattle Herald newspaper and website, of course, and from one unlikely source, a stubborn, determined blogger, Frank Sfarzo.

While much Italian media joined British tabloids in "guilting" Knox and Sollecito, particularly during the first trial, Roman-born journalist, and assistant film director, Sfarzo, based 20 years in Perugia, made the case, in English, for their innocence in his blog, www.perugiashock.com. He frequently reported from inside the courtroom. The West Seattle Herald interviewed Sfarzo by phone in Perugia May, 2011, when trial prosecutors, irked by his reporting, forced his site to shut down. But he soon got it up and running again.

Now in Seattle, reporting for Italian magazines and creating a journalist organization, Sfarzo sat down with the West Seattle Herald at Salty's on Alki to share his memories of the innocent verdict. He has visited Amanda and he said she appreciated his reporting while in prison. He plans to meet Raffaele at the book talk. With the good looks of a young Al Pacino, and a quiet intensity, he said with a grin, "I am loved in the States, in Perugia not as much."

He suggested that some news directors in Italy might be concerned now that if they hire him, the police and the trial's prosecutors might hassle them. He said most news directors would welcome his work regardless, since "Cops have no power at all, especially when they are corrupted".

Sfarzo on tabloid journalism:

"During the trial the British tabloids copied what the Italian newspapers said. Then they added a little sex to the story. Many people in Italy didn't know that the tabloids in England were not to be taken seriously. They assumed because the reporting was British, what was printed was true. The tabloids are 'funny' in general. I enjoy reading their headlines for amusement.

Frank Sfarzo recalls evening of verdict:

"The night of the verdict I went to the courtroom with my press pass and tried to enter but they didn't allow me. I asked, 'Why can't I enter? I have a pass.' They said, 'Because we only allow one journalist per media (outlet) and your news director already came.' But I am the only one so I thought, 'Maybe it's not true what they are saying.' They asked if I should leave or should they kick me out and I said to kick me out so people could see. So a group of police kicked me out.

"My friends on CBS News, Doug Longhini and Sabina Castlefranco who report for both Italy and the United States said I could watch from the CBS-TV van. I had a perfect view of the verdict. They had several cameras inside the courtroom, one pointed on Amanda, another pointed on the judge, another on the audience. I could see better than if I was inside. One of the cameras was pointed on the courtroom entrance and I could see a police woman smiling and mimicking a cartwheel dance, (the 'dance' Amanda was criticized for doing following the murder at the police station,) while waiting for the verdict. I was thinking, 'Oh my God. They have no insiders. They don't know they are about to lose! They were a few minutes from their defeat, and they were still acting arrogantly. I believe they clashed with the real intelligence and integrity of the two 'real' judges, Hellmann and Zanetti.

"At one point the judge said, 'Acquit'. There was a crowd in the street yelling mean things so it was very difficult for me to hear the verdict. It was about midnight when all these drunk people, over one thousand, gathered outside the courthouse. When they heard 'acquitted' they yelled, 'Why? They are murderers! They paid the judge!' There was one girl yelling that they should go to jail, and I asked her why was she shouting these things and she said, 'An American girl called Meredith and her boyfriend Raffaele killed and English girl, Amanda Ka-naux.' She didn't know anything. They were all just yelling and didn't know the case at all.

"The prosecution has the chance to appeal to the Supreme Court (to overturn the innocent verdicts) so they are using this chance, in March of next year. It's only a technical thing, a formality. But who knows? It would be a disgrace if the trial started again. They would have to start from zero. It would be a waste of money, and they would be acquitted again.

"I am still the author of Perugia Shock. Now I get about 5,000 to 10,000 readers a day. It went up to 50,000 some days during the trials. I think I was saying exactly what was going on, nothing more and nothing less."

Recent stories on Perugia Shock include this May 10 headline, "STILL TODAY NOBODY APOLOGIZED TO AMANDA KNOX, RAFFAELE SOLLECITO AND TO THE ITALIAN PEOPLE WHO ARE PAYING FOR ALL THIS". From that article, "In the town in which the law is dead, everything is possible! (...) Come to Perugia, what a lovely promenade! And real criminals say another big thank you for bothering passers by while they hang out elsewhere!. And more honest people say “Farewell Perugia!”.

"If an American parent asks me, 'Is it safe to send my child to Perugia to study at their university?' I say, 'no'. I think it is very dangerous. The police can accuse you of anything and can put you in jail for no reason at all. That is what happened to Amanda, and I think they will now be seeking revenge for her freedom."

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