SEATTLE - Attend a Rotary Club meeting anywhere around Western Washington, and you re likely to run into Michael Heavey of Seattle doing a presentation titled simply: Amanda Knox: The Truth.
Heavey gave the presentation to the Rotary Club of Seattle this week and began by doing a poll: So, raise your hand if you think Amanda Knox is innocent, he asked the audience of nearly 400 people. More than half of the audience raises a hand.
Heavey is a King County Superior Court Judge, but he insists he is not wielding the gavel at these events.
Whenever I speak about this case, I m speaking totally in my personal capacity, only, not my judicial capacity, said Heavey.
Heavey lives four blocks from Knox s childhood home in West Seattle. His daughter and Amanda were friends at Seattle Preparatory School, a private Jesuit high school on Capitol Hill.
They carpooled together for four years; they both graduated in 2005, he said.
But that connection doesn t fully explain Heavey s crusade to convince all who will listen that Amanda is innocent. In fact, he can t remember ever meeting her before she became a worldwide media sensation. He said he was shocked when she was accused of murdering her British roommate, Meredith Kercher, in Perugia Italy.
' The first thing I said was whoa! Then I said, That doesn t make any sense. '
Heavey said he soon learned there was no evidence linking Amanda or her accused co-conspirator, Raffaele Sollecito, to the murder.
Heavey joined a small group of supporters dedicated to countering what they termed the character assassination of the two young lovers.
That was our purpose, to get the word out that this was a frame up job, a witch hunt going on...literally a medieval witch hunt that went global with our modern media, said Heavey.
Heavey was invited to listen in when Amanda called home from her prison cell once a week. And the two exchanged letters.
I ve been moved by the articles about your Rotary Club presentations, Amanda wrote in one. What s a Rotary Club anyway?
And Heavey didn t just write to Amanda. He wrote protest letters to Italian judges and disciplinary authorities. He wrote them on official King County Superior Court stationary, knowing that he could get in trouble for trying to influence a pending case. Then he reported his own potential wrongdoing to a judicial oversight board and wasreprimanded.
He said he regrets none of it.
I m honored that I got admonished because it will be in the records of the Judicial Conduct Commission that Judge Heavey wrote letters to Italy to try to correct a very unjust situation, he said.
After that, Heavey wrote his letters on personal stationary.On May 11, 2011, he wrote a letter to President Barack Obama expressing outrage that the State Department failed to protect Amanda s rights as a U.S. citizen.
They saw her paraded through the streets like a captured animal....and they did nothing, said Heavey.
Heavey is no stranger to conflict. People describe him as passionate , controversial and quirky. Asked his reaction to those terms Heavey said with a smile, I think they re all true of me.
Heavey likes to push boundaries.
He became a mountain climber at the age of 59. Last August, on his fifth climb up Mt. Rainier, Heavey and his companions carried a sign with a message written in Italian.
Heavey said when translated into English the sign reads: History is waiting for you at the top. Free the innocent children, Amanda and Raffaele. Heavey took a picture of his climbing companions holding the sign, but decided not to release it to the media until after a verdict had been reached in the appeals trial.
Last October an appeals court in Perugia concluded that Knox and Sollecito were innocent and ordered their immediate release from prison. But, Heavey s crusade didn t end because he said that even in Amanda s hometown, some still suspect she was involved in the murder.
That is absolutely not right; to have an innocent person have this pall, this fog, surround her--that somehow she's a bad character and a murderer, he said.
Heavey said he s always surprised by the number of hands that stay down when he asks how many people in the audience believe that Amanda Knox is innocent. Heavey said that he will continue his presentations as long as people still want to hear what he has to say.
Heavey finally met Amanda last October. About ten days after she was released from prison and returned to Seattle, she dropped by his house to thank him.
Earlier this month, Raffaele Sollecito came too-for a small party at Heavey s home.
We were told by his (book) agent that no one could take any pictures, said Heavey.
But Heavey said Raffaele had a camera and asked someone to take a picture of the two of them. Later Raffaele sent Heavey the photo, who released it exclusively to KING 5 News.
Heavey said Raffaele hugged him and was extremely grateful. He was just grazie , thank you, thank you, thank you, said Heavey.
Everyone wore name tags at the gathering. In the photo, Raffaele s reads Raffa, and it has a little heart drawn next to it.