BOSTON — Before Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were pronounced guilty late Friday night, the court of public opinion spun into an internet frenzy.
Virtual spectators raged in debate over the innocence or guilt of the American student from the University of Washington who was studying abroad in Italy, accused of killing her British roommate during a wild sex game.
On one of at least three Knox-related Facebook pages, opinion fell into two clear camps, often defined by the two sides of the Atlantic.
One side saw no solid physical evidence in the case and felt Knox was innocent of slicing the throat of her roommate, Meredith Kercher. The other side saw fire in the Italian prosecutorial smoke, and seemed eager to attack Knox’s character.
“Honestly, I don't think she really had nothing to do with it," said a Facebook contributor named Mark Anderson. "I think she's being wrongly accused because she's American.”
"She's guilty somehow," said another Facebook user identified as "Jack Del." "She looks like a snotty, bitchy, spoiled by life, princess.”
Tweets and posts ricocheted faster than users could hit “refresh,” and continued well after the guilty verdict was announced Friday night. Some maintained Knox's innocence even after she and her boyfriend had been declared guilty, while others thanked the Italian justice system for the job it did.
"Thank God they've got a justice system in place that seems to work," wrote Facebook poster "Brittany Sajbel," who described herself "as an American law student studying in Italy this summer." "Compatriot or not, with DNA evidence, I hope any country that can get their hands on you convicts you. 26 years is a blessing."
"WHAT EVIDENCE?" asked another, called Craig Lockett. "They labeled her a sex fiend and a drug user. Italy's criminal justice system is a joke."
Kercher, the victim, was a 21-year-old student from the University of Leeds in England, and one of Knox's roomates in their hillside cottage in Perugia, Italy, two years ago.
Kercher's bloodied body was found under a duvet in her bedroom in November 2007; Knox and her then-boyfriend, the Italian Sollecito, were charged with taking sex games that resulted in Kercher's death too far.
A third suspect, Rudy Guede, fled to Germany where he was arrested and extradited back to Italy. Guede, from the Ivory Coast, was convicted in 2008 in a fast-track trial.
The attractive and wholesome-looking Knox, who attended a study abroad program through the University of Washington, has spent two years in Italian jail. Her gender, good looks, lifestyle choices and nationality have been the fuel of a fervid debate about her innocence or guilt.
Some pondered whether a bias against Americans — and Americans lack of cultural preparation abroad — contributed to the campaign by Italian prosecutors.
"As a parent, you worry more about your child being a victim of crime, not of the justice system," said Rev. Chris Brdlik of Summit, N.J., whose daughter, Abby, will study abroad as a junior in Florence next year through Roanoke College in Virginia.
"I'm surprised that the prosecution's case is so weak," Brdlik said. "I'm really shocked that Italy's justice system is not nearly as fair as the United State's system."
Brdlik said he had hoped for acquittal.
Americans have criticized the differences in the Italian judicial system compared to the U.S. courts. The defense argued that little or no physical evidence pegged Knox or Sollecito as the assailants. The jury of six included four citizens, as well as two judges who weighed in on the decision.
"You send your child over to a foreign country, but if something happens and they get in trouble, who do you go to?" asked Abby's mother, Deb Brdlik. "It's not knowing what to do if something like that happens which scares me, not to mention that it's your own child.
"Abby will be living in an apartment in Florence with people she won't know. Who is she going to be rooming with, who will her roommates be having over? We don't know, we have no idea. You just wonder about people and their backgrounds. If something like this happened to Abby, it would be a nightmare."
According to the Institute of International Education, the number of Americans heading overseas to study rose by 8 percent in 2008, and increased four-fold in the past two decades. Open Doors 2009 reports the number of Americans studying abroad increased by 8.5 percent to 262,416 in the 2007-2008 academic year. Open Doors 2009 is published annually by the Institute of International Education with funding from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
"It's really scary to think about, especially when your daughter is living so far away from you," said mother Allison Leba of New Jersey. "It's even worse since she doesn't fully know the language and requires a translator. Having lived in a foreign country, it's clear that people look down on you when you don't know the language. They think that you are stupid. My heart goes out to the parents."
Editor's note: This story was updated at the request of Facebook poster "Brittany Sajbel," who noted that she plans to study abroad in Italy, but is not a current study abroad student.