Amanda Knox
Amanda Knox

Coercion of the Perugia Police and the False Confession of Amanda Knox

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Amanda Knox
Amanda Knox

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After several years of trials and retrials leading to the result that there is no physical evidence that Amanda Knox was present at the time of the murder of her roommate, Meredith Kercher, and the physical impossibility based on medical evidence for the prosecution’s time of death, all of which I reviewed here, and on which their house of cards is based, those who persist in believing in her guilt increasingly grasp at the so-called confession. However, the confession is not reliable, and in fact it is not even a confession, as I will review below.

The so-called confession can be explained by the illegal techniques used by the Polizia di Stato in Perugia in her interrogation and a knowledge of the science of memory and the psychology of coercion.

There is a large scientific literature showing that you can create memories through repeated and coercive questioning. An example is the classic study of Hyman and Billings in the field of psychology where people are interviewed over and over about an event that happened when they were young and spilled a punch bowl at a party. After repeated questioning they forget where they heard about the punch bowl and attribute it to themselves. It is called source amnesia. Amanda’s vague description of the memory, and then the realization once she had some distance from the cops that “her” memory was more real than “theirs” followed by a retraction is consistent with this. In the article by Hyman and Billings they write:

We conducted two experiments to investigate if college students would create false memories of childhood experiences in response to misleading information and repeated interviews. In both experiments we contacted parents to obtain information about events that happened to the students during childhood. In a series of interviews we asked the students to recall the parent-reported events and one experimenter-created false event. In the second experiment we varied the age at which we claimed the false event occurred. In both experiments we found that some individuals created false memories in these circumstances and in the second experiment we found no effect of age of attempted incorporation. In the second experiment we also found that those who discussed related background knowledge during the early interviews were more likely to create a false recall. Generalizations to therapy contexts are discussed.

Hyman, I. E. Jr and Billings, F. J (1998). Individual differences and the creation of false childhood memories. Memory, 6, 1-20.

Here is the way the police would do it. They found an African hair at the murder scene in the hand of the victim Meredith Kercher, went through Amanda’s phone (remember Italian police think murderer most likely flat mate), got the ci vediamo/see you later text to Amanda’s employer Patrick Lumumba (who is African) which they interpret as an Italian speaker would that they made a date for later, got some confusing data from Patrick’s sim card that he might have been in the area (he wasn’t). They interview Amanda’s boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito and get him to concede that it was “possible” that Amanda sleep walked right on out of his apartment when he was asleep (which is patently absurd), then they told Amanda that Raffaele wasn’t providing an alibi and that they had proof she was at the scene at the time of the murder (they had no proof, and she wasn’t). They then said rack your brain and imagine a scene with Patrick at the scene of the crime and gave her some examples. Some cops take the train up from Rome, and overall there are 12 cops, rotating, for an all night interrogation without a lawyer or independent interpreter, and violating international procedures for proper interrogation by not recording the session. She is stressed, and they say tell us what we need and you can go home. She is naive and thinks cops are the good guys cuz she watched too much TV. She wants to cooperate (remember the Italians knowing better lawyered up but she didn’t). They get her to sign a statement in what is essentially to her at that point a foreign language, and she goes home. Inadmissible in court. Next day she retracts. This coerced “confession” is ruled inadmissible in court by the superior court but in a loophole they read it during the trial anyway.


The fact is that these so-called “confessions” happen all the time. That is why there are strict rules about how interrogations should be carried out, to protect the innocent. In fact, as many as one quarter of the people exonerated with the advance of DNA and the help of the Innocence Project who were subsequently declared innocent and released from jail had offered one of these “confessions”.