Almost as soon as she was acquitted of murder by an Italian court, the papers were speculating about how much money Amanda Knox would make from selling her story. Today it’s been announced that she has signed a book deal with HarperCollins, reportedly worth $4m.
The trial of the 24 year old — who was convicted of the murder of her flatmate Meredith Kercher, imprisoned for four years, and then acquitted — transfixed the world.
Yet this will not be without controversy. Prosecutors in Italy are seeking to overturn her acquittal. Knox has so far shunned the limelight and has not spoken about her ordeal beyond an expression of gratitude after her release. While publishing a book gives her the chance to get her voice heard, it will also open the door for further media scrutiny.
She is by no means the first to profit from the public’s macabre fascination with crimes and miscarriages of justice – it is hardly surprising, given that those who have endured high profile trials will struggle to reintegrate into everyday life of employment.
Joanne Lees was driving in a remote part of the Australian outback in 2001 with her boyfriend Peter Falconio when they were flagged down. Falconio got out to investigate and was shot. Lees was tied up, but managed to escape, hiding for five hours in bushes before she was rescued. Although a man was convicted of the crime, many suspected her of the crime. She subsequently wrote a book in 2006, No Turning Back, for which she reportedly received £250,000. She was also paid £50,000 for a TV interview with Martin Bashir. Despite these financial earnings, she has struggled to leave the murder behind, telling a reporter in 2011, ten years after Falconio’s deat: “Peter’s family and I both feel it would be wrong to keep talking about it.”
Another young British woman who suffered a miscarriage of justice was Louise Woodward, who was 19 when she was convicted of the second degree murder of eight month old Matthew Eappen in 1997. The au pair was sentenced to 15 years in prison in a televised trial that was — like Knox’s — watched all over the world. On appeal, the charge was reduced to manslaughter and her sentence reduced to time served. Just as with Knox, as soon as she was freed, there was speculation about the book and TV deals she could do. Hello magazine reported that she had signed a $160,000 book deal. However, it was not so. Apart from an interview with Martin Bashir, she shunned the limelight, returning to university to study law. She now works as a dance teacher in Chester.
Despite intense speculation about the possible riches that awaited them, both of these women sought to return to normal life. At the other end of the spectrum is OJ Simpson, the former sports star who was accused of stabbing his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman to death in 1994. He was acquitted, although a civil trial later found him liable for the deaths and ordered him to pay $33.5m to the victims’ families. In 2006, it was announced that he had penned a book called If I Did It, which detailed how he would have killed his wife and her friend, hypothetically. Reportedly, the deal with News Corp — which comprised the publication of the book by HarperCollins and a television interview with Fox News — was worth $3.5m. Amid intense public speculation, the original release of the book was cancelled and 400,000 copies of it pulped. It was eventually published in 2007, with the amended title: If I Did It: Confessions of a Killer, with the word “if” reduced in size so it was not visible from a distance. Comments were added by the Goldman family.
If OJ’s book is a masterclass in how not to do it — cashing in on scandal in the most lurid way possible — the cases of Lees and Woodward show how difficult it is to balance the wish to set the record straight with the wish to return to an ordinary life.
Knox’s book, currently untitled, is scheduled for early 2013.