Friday, January 10, 2014

My Interview with Chris Mellas, Stepfather of Amanda Knox

Assisi, Italy (May 20, 2010)
by Wendy Murray 
& the International Journalism Seminar Assisi (IJSA)

Please note:
I learned after this interview that Chris Mellas was 27 years of age at the time he married Amanda's mother, Edda Mellas (who was 39) in 2002 when Amanda was 14. In the interview I asked Mellas about Amanda's early life, and now know he did not experience these early years as a member of the family. Some of the questions I ask reflect my misconception. 

In May 2010 the students participating in the International Journalism Seminar Assisi, led by journalist and author Wendy Murray, and part of the international study program at Gordon College (Wenham, MA), met with Chris Mellas, Amanda's mother's husband.

At the time of this interview, Knox was 24 year-old and serving a 26-year prison term in Perugia, having been convicted (with two others) of the murder in 2007 of her flat mate, Meredith Kercher. The Knox/Mellas family appealed the conviction and the verdict was thrown out a year after this interview. Since then the case was re-opened by the Italian court. Amanda's ongoing appeal -- which is the second stage of the original trial -- (taking place in Florence, Italy) is set to conclude and reach a verdict by the end of this month.

My team of students, working out of Assisi, Italy, met with Mellas on May 20, 2010. Below is an excerpt from this otherwise lengthy conversation. Mellas was interviewed by Wendy Murray.

How this ordeal has had an impact on you as a family? How has it changed how you live?

We look at what we were doing before this–I was getting ready to open up a restaurant, trying to get out of the IT business–and all that disappeared. Now, from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep, this is our first priority.

It is a crushing weight to know that everyone is looking at you. You’re always cringing, always wondering when the next article coming out. They’re talking about the family quite a bit.

Can you give us insight into Amanda’s upbringing?
Her parents were already separated when Amanda was born. Every other weekend she would visit her father who lived five blocks away. Everyone lives within walking distance and they constantly get together. I credit both [Edda and Curt Knox] for having such a decent relationship. There is never any nastiness.

Do you consider yourself as a father to Amanda?
I can’t say I ever really sat down and thought about it that way. We have a very open relationship. She can tell me anything. In fact sometimes I say, “nah-ah — too much information.” But I’m all right with the majority of it.

I spend the most time here [in Italy] because in my line of work [IT]. I can work from anywhere. I typically spend three-month blocks here and then get away for 6 to 8 weeks.

Tuesdays and Fridays she’s allowed to have visits for one hour. We sit at a table just like you and I are sitting.

How is she?
She’s still in the process of adapting to being there. Some days she’s fine, other days,  not. She’s a lot better than she was. It’s much less foreign to her now. The last time I visited her she was kind of so-so. It’s difficult for her right now because she feels like she is completely wasting her life away.

When you have something like this hanging over you it is hard to focus on anything. For the longest time she wasn’t even able to read a book. You can’t clear your mind and focus enough to do that.

Now she has to prepare for her next ordeal, her slander charge — the pretrial begins on June 1st. Slander charge is not a civil lawsuit. It’s a criminal lawsuit that carries up to six years.

You suggested you were concerned about Amanda going to Italy to study. Why?
I knew before she left [for Italy], when she was living with all her friends at the University of Washington, that on occasion she would smoke weed. She didn’t do it very often. I did tell her it was stupid. She hung out with “hippie people” and considered herself “very granola.” She loved camping. She was always out rock climbing. She was into the music of the 60s and 70s, and she went vegetarian. I taught her to play guitar a little bit and so she would sit around doing that. At the same time, in college, she did have boyfriends. When she came here it was more of the same.

But her number one thing is languages. She loves languages and is fluent in several. She wanted to add Italian. I was concerned about her coming [to Italy] and said [to Edda] that she’s a little naive. She’s not street wise. Rather than going to Rome or any of these places that are a little more tourist friendly, she decided to go to Perugia. Then, on top of that, she decided to go to the regular university there [the University of Perugia], not the university for foreigners. [University of Foreigners at Perugia]. It was a hundred percent immersion. Then on top of that, she decided she didn’t want to live in a dorm but was going to get a house off campus. [Amanda attended the University of Foreigners at Perugia.]

I told her she wasn’t ready for this kind of thing. I told her to go study in Germany because we have family there. But she said her German was already perfect. She’s a fairly driven person when it comes to that kind of thing. She said, “no, I want this.”

So in the end did you feel all right about her being here before November 1?
She seemed to have settled in pretty well. I was more concerned about her getting mugged. I gave her a can of pepper spray that she kept on her key chain. She complained a couple times in email about being harassed by guys coming on to her all the time. For girls, especially blond ones, it’s a common thing. But she was loving it here. She told us about Raffaele. She said he looked just like Harry Potter.

(Copyright©Wendy Murray, 2010, 2014. All rights reserved. No portion of this interview can be reproduced in any form–print or electronic–without written permission of the author.)

Read the raw transcript of the entire interview.

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