Updated 05:35 PM EST, Wed, Dec 17, 2014
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Amanda Knox Case: Knox Trial Created Tension for Seattle-Perugia Sister City Program

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Amanda Knox Trial
Amanda Knox, the U.S. student convicted of murdering her British flatmate Meredith Kercher in Italy in November 2007, arrives in court for her appeal trial session in Perugia October 3, 2011. (Photo : REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi)

The trial of Amanda Knox and the murder of Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy has cast a long shadow over the normally quiet city in Umbria.

But that's not the only place that's been affected by the city's bad press.

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Seattle, Wash., Knox's hometown, takes pride in its 21 sister-city associations, which are organizations that expose Washingtonians to the cultures of other cities around the world and create lifelong connections. Perugia is one of the sister-cities of Seattle, but the Kercher murder and the subsequent Knox trial has weakened Seattle's ties with the Italian city.

The 2007 arrest of Knox came right in the middle of plans to unveil the Seattle-Perugia Sister City Association's proud achievement, a sculpture called "Sister Orca," created by Northwest sculptor Marvin oliver, in a park in Perugia.

Knox's murder trial forced Mike James, the former president of the sister-city association, into serious damage control mode, according to The Seattle Times. "It's been a bit of a shadow," said James, a former Seattle anchorman.

Despite the bad press, he said the association focused on positive things, like "cultural kinds of exchanges."

Yet, James recognizes that the scandal put a veil of unease over the burgeoning relationship. "It was more than just juggling friendships," James said. "It was trying to keep the friendship going - separating the trial from the friendship."

James and other sister-city connections have tried to diffuse the tension between the cities while also helping Knox's family during their stays in Italy.

However, the tension between the two cities remains.

After Knox was found guilty in December 2009, Perugians celebrated while Seattleites fumed.

The verdict came a day after the Seattle Parks Department announced the naming of "Perugia Park," a small park on Capitol Hill. But Mayor Mike McGinn put the kibosh on the name; the park now bears the title "Summit Slope Park."

Despite the chilly relationship between the two cities, Perugia and Seattle had a 20th-anniversary celebration this past summer. Oddly, James said "we've had our best five or six years" as a sister-city organization since the Knox scandal began, "because we had to."

The sister-city program, which began in 1956 under President Dwight Eisenhower, also has relationships with Kobe, Japan; Tashkent, Uzbekistan; Bergen, Norway and over 15 other cities.

A moratorium was placed on new sister-cities in the 1990s, but the ban will soon be lifted, with South American cities being touted as potential fits.

Yet, maintaining momentum for the programs is difficult because of a lack of funds; there are state restrictions on "gifts" of public money for activities, such as hosting foreign delegations.

The committee is volunteer-run, and independent nonprofits are limited to $2,000 a year from the city, with additional money raised privately.

In addition to exchanges in culture, there have also been exchanges in aid through the sister-city programs.

There are cooperative programs among local governments and universities through which sister-cities help each other out during times of crisis. For example, Seattle sent emergency-response supplies to Christchurch, New Zealand after the 2011 earthquake that killed almost 200 people.

While public relations crises can also arise between sister-cities--like the major one between Seattle and Perugia--sister-cities do not have to sever ties.

James said that the Knox trial taught him to look beyond the current problems and focus on lasting relationships.

He said that in the end, the program is about "making friendships and exchanging ideas."

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