Belfast Telegraph

Murder is still a horrible crime even if the defendants look good

By Lindy McDowell

Meredith Kercher was a beautiful girl. She was 21 years old with dark, dancing eyes and glossy hair. She was clever and determined - she worked for months to raise the money to fund her year in Italy to study the language.

She was kind and much loved not just by her immediate family - her mother, her father, her sister and her brothers - but also by her many friends to whom she was known as just Mez.

Her mother Arline, who suffers from severe kidney disease, remembers her girl as "full of life. She loved music, she loved to dance. She was full of joy in her heart."

Meredith was murdered in Perugia in 2007. But in the years that have followed it is not her picture that instantly springs to mind when her horrific killing is discussed.

It is the image of her flatmate, Amanda Knox - Foxy Knoxy as she styles herself - the American student whose appeal against her conviction for the murder has attracted such enormous global coverage this week.

Amanda Knox may have been cleared of murder. But her despicable behaviour immediately after the savage killing of her flatmate, in particular her evidence against an entirely innocent man, her lies and her slander show her for the vile piece of work that she is.

Miss Knox is undoubtedly a looker.

She is rich and from a family with the clout to sustain, as they have done, an impressive PR campaign on her behalf.

But it is hard to escape the fact that it is primarily because Knox is female and good looking that this case has attracted such insatiable public and media attention.

Or that amid the acres of worldwide news coverage, Meredith Kercher, the victim, has been lost.

The verdict in the Knox appeal hearing this week was greeted with the sort of frenzy in the streets outside that would mark an Oscars award ceremony. Among the crowd was a supporter carrying a small statue of Amanda Knox cast in ceramic as if she was some latter day saint.

Or martyr.

Cameras flashed and crowds jostled for a better look as the defendants arrived. A pizza bar across the street was packed out as customers crowded round a television screening live pictures. Some jeered, booed and cried "Shameful!" as the verdict was announced.

Would the case have garnered even a smidgen of the coverage if Knox had been older and ordinary and male?

It's doubtful.

And let's be honest, this isn't just an Italian thing or an American thing. Locally would the case of Hazel Stewart have commanded such an avid audience had it not been for her looks? In fact we can even narrow it down in Stewart's case to that one memorable image of her tarted up for an evening out.

We don't think of murderers,or even those charged with the offence, as pretty people. Our brains tell us that, of course, attractive women can be criminal or killers. But somewhere deep down inside we're programmed to expect an almost cartoon vision of evil.

Charles Manson looked like a killer. Blonde hair, cleavage and high heels throws us. And, yes, it intrigues.

But should it be allowed to dazzle us to the point where we blank out the victims?

Trevor Buchanan. Leslie Howell. Those were the real victims in the Hazel Stewart case. But like Meredith Kercher they were eclipsed by the woman in the dock.

Meredith's poor family have carried themselves with such dignity.

But how much must it have piled upon their grief the circus that has surrounded - and will continue to surround - this case?

Their gentle, innocent girl has been all but forgotten. Foxy Knoxy looks set to make a fortune flogging her story.

To some extent interest in that story is understandable and human.

But when we lose sight of the victim - the real victim - it doesn't make justice look good.

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