Your Neurochemical Self

Getting real with a 200-million-year-old brain

Don’t Go to Italy

A modern-day witch trial in Italy needs your attention

I usually ignore sensationalist news, but the American girl convicted of murder in Italy is too close to home for me to ignore. My grandparents were from Italy and my daughter likes to go there. Could my daughter be jailed in Italy for “Satanic sex ritual” murder without evidence? Apparently so. I will stop going to Italy because of what they’ve done to Amanda Knox, and I hope my daughter will too.

Amanda’s roommate was killed by a man who is now in jail, but she is convicted of directing him, in tandem with her boyfriend of one week. Amanda fell under suspicion because she kissed her boyfriend while waiting on the street as the police searched her apartment, and because she did yoga at the police station. I would have done yoga if I were seventeen and interrogated by the police for hours and days without counsel. My daughter would have too. I would have turned to my boyfriend for comfort if my roommate had just been stabbed to death and I knew it could have been me if I had been home. My daughter would have too. Amanda's boyfriend kissed her in a non-sexual way during the long wait. The kiss was caught on camera and the news media played it over and over. The Italian prosecutor determined that the couple was rejoicing over their violent sex ritual.

See All Stories In

Have No Fear?

Living life for the thrill of it.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

The prosecutor controls the police investigation and all the evidence in the Italian legal system. This prosecutor was a man whose career was at risk due to criminal misconduct. He had achieved popularity by fighting "Satanic cults” before, and pursuing Amanda revived his career.

The real murderer was caught accidentally while Amanda had been jailed without charges. The young man had been doing home invasion burglaries with a pocket knife. His DNA was found inside the body of Amanda’s roommate and in the blood spattered all over the victim's bedroom. His bowel movement was in their toilet.

He was convicted, but Amanda was not freed. The prosecutor said he could not have done it alone. He persuaded a jury to imprison Amanda and her boyfriend for 30 years for aiding and encouraging the man who stabbed the victim (and got 16 years). No credible evidence links Amanda to the crime, but the conviction has just been upheld on a second appeal. Here is a thorough analysis of the case.

There has been no outcry of support for these two young people. The news coverage tends to focus on the lurid speculation and omit evidence pointing to the man who plunged in the knife. Why? I do not think journalists and opinionators believe in Satanic sex rituals. So why are they sacrificing Amanda Knox?

She and her boyfriend look “privileged,” while the murderer looks “underprivileged.” The murderer was African. Racism charges fly if you acknowledge information that “fits a stereotype,” even when the information is true. People tend to protect themselves from racism charges by pointing in other directions.

Fear is a natural, healthy response to a girl’s blood splattered all over her bedroom. I am not saying fear justifies racism. I am saying it’s just as wrong to hate people you perceive as privileged as it is to hate people you perceive as underprivileged. I don’t want my daughter to hate people who appear to have more than she has, even if everyone around her thinks this way. For the record, Amanda and her boyfriend were not “rich.” Amanda worked two jobs at age sixteen to save the money for her trip to Italy. But she looks privileged, and that’s enough to convict someone when you already feel the hate.

We aspire to objectivity, but our brains have a funny way of scanning for facts that fit our emotional truth, and ignoring facts that don’t fit. Emotional truths are neural circuits that your brain builds from early experience. These circuits tell you what is safe and what is not safe. It’s not safe to be charged with racism, so you have to find a safe way to make sense of the world around you. Blaming “privileged” people for your fears and frustrations is one way to do this. Repeating this thought builds a pathway in your brain that makes it easy to trigger the thought without much external input. You wire yourself to see evidence of oppression everywhere, and to skim past information that does not fit your emotional truth.

If you are willing to open your circuits to more inputs, here is a good source of information. And if that moves you to help, one way to do that is at AmandaKnox.com. I have no personal connection to this case apart from my lifelong assocation with Italy and with human beings.

Loretta Graziano Breuning, Ph.D., is the author of Meet Your Happy Chemicals and founder of the Inner Mammal Institute.

more...

Subscribe to Your Neurochemical Self

Current Issue

Just Say It

When and how should we open up to loved ones?