Amanda Knox on Reclaiming Her Identity: 'I Am Not a Murderer'
04/27/2013 AT 09:00 AM EDT
Cracking open a beer, Chris plays deejay while Amanda mouths the words to a rap tune, bobbing to the beat.
Then the Jay-Z/Alicia Keys song "Empire State of Mind" comes on, and something about it – maybe the references to a concrete jungle – takes her back. "Eminem and Michael Jackson were huge in prison," she says evenly. "I remember when Michael Jackson died. The entire prison wept."
And there it is, the shadow that – no matter how much ordinary happiness now fills her days – will forever separate this young woman from every other. Nineteen months after she and her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were released from prison in Perugia, Italy, their convictions in the brutal 2007 murder of Amanda's onetime roommate Meredith Kercher overturned on appeal, Amanda has painstakingly pieced together a new life.
Living on her own in a Seattle apartment, she is working toward a degree in creative writing at the University of Washington, spending time with James Terrano, her boyfriend of a year and a half, and reconnecting with the family that kept her going during her incarceration. "It's very joyful," says the petite 25-year-old, who comes across in person as smart, thoughtful and articulate. "The freedom that I'm most grateful for has to do with reclaiming my identity: I'm not a murderer."
She realizes, however, that much of the world, riveted by the high-profile case that presented her as a loose American girl who killed in a drug-fueled sex game gone wrong, has yet to be convinced otherwise – doubts recently given credence by Italy's highest court's decision on March 26 to overturn her and Sollecito's acquittals. (Though she has no plans to return to Italy for trial, years of legal wrangling lie ahead.)
"In the courtroom I was called a liar and a murderer and a demon; in the media I was called a weird, jealous whore," she says. "Suddenly I wasn't me."