Amanda Knox: Auguries of Innocence

One observer's view of the Amanda Knox case

Amanda at Loyola Law

Here’s an account of Amanda’s talk at the Loyola Law School from the perspective of someone who was actually there. It was one of those warm and wonderful occasions that stay with you for awhile.

Chicago is especially pleasant between Thanksgiving and Christmas. There are throngs of people in the streets and the trees in front of the stores on Michigan Avenue are dressed up in bright Christmas lights. It was an easy, pleasant journey down from where I live.

I got to meet Amanda and her mother and fiancé, but will spare them the indignity of being described by me except to say that they are very approachable, down-to-earth people. Amanda herself, is small, intelligent, and gentle of manner and to meet her is to realize how utterly absurd the accusations against her always were. The guilt mongers of this world are clearly suffering from a dread psychological disorder known as the British Tabloid Mind.

The event, a function of the school’s “Life After Innocence” program, was held on the 15th floor of the Corboy Law Center, a smart, new looking place just a few blocks off the Magnificent Mile. From the first it was apparent that Loyola had put a great deal of time and expense into the program and that it was going to be a very big deal. The conference room has a capacity of 170 and it was full to bursting. When a noted defense lawyer and her staff came in a few minutes late it was difficult to seat them.

The Dean of the Law School gave the welcoming address. An Illinois legislator was given an award. An exoneree named Jarrett Adams, who has since become a lawyer, talked about the aims and purposes of Loyola’s important effort to aid people who have been wrongfully convicted.

But the main part of the program was a conversation between Amanda Knox and attorney Laura Caldwell, director of the “Life After Innocence ” project.

Amanda spoke movingly about the challenges the wrongly convicted face upon release—dealing with anger and despair—learning to make decisions for oneself again—the need for financial and emotional support. She made a very touching reference to feeling both much older and much younger than her contemporaries. Older because she has been through more and has a settled sense of who she is. Younger because there is still a gap in her life from formative years having been taken away. And through it all she had the grace to recognize that, bad as her experience was, she was constantly meeting equally innocent people who had suffered more.

The program’s conclusion, when Amanda was formally inducted into Loyola Law’s group of recognized exonerees, was especially moving. A dozen or so of them approached the stage one by one, most of them towering over Amanda, to give her a big hug and a single red long-stemmed rose. Then the audience exploded into applause, and even though we were not supposed to take pictures, everyone moved in closer to do so. (Some official photos can be seen on Amanda’s own website).

Then it was off to the long lines at the book signing that followed.

The Loyola University Law School deserves a great deal of credit for sponsoring an event that was first class and professional in every way. It was very apparent that public recognition of the harm done was important to Amanda and the others. Nothing can bring back the lost years, but it was important to have a highly reputable organization recognize and memorialize the suffering caused by society’s failure. There is a big difference, I think, between being justly and unjustly convicted. The idea that if “you do the crime you do the time” makes intuitive good sense and a society that convicts justly appears rational and orderly. But every wrongful conviction is a descent into irrationality and evil.

By highlighting the fact that wrongful convictions occur far too often, and that the victims of it need to be recognized and supported, Loyola has provided a valuable public service and taken a step toward meaningful reform.  I have two modest proposals in that regard: 1) there should be far more serious consequences for prosecutorial misconduct than there are now and 2) we should establish a right of de novo appeal, at least in certain cases. Too often our appeals process is a grotesque kind of kabuki theatre where everyone smirks and winks and absurd, terribly unjust convictions are upheld.

I had the privilege of speaking to a number of exonerees during the luncheon and explained how I came to be there. They know full well—and, indeed, Amanda herself never fails to say—that she had advantages they never had. But they welcome her involvement because she is a fellow sufferer and because it gives visibility to a good cause.

One man who looked me in the eye as he shook my hand and said: “The help you offered Amanda was wonderful, but don’t forget the rest of us.”

I promised that I wouldn’t and I won’t

~Lenroot

 

 

A Eulogy For Joe Bishop

I had hoped in my first post of 2016 to write about the wonderful time I had in December listening to Amanda give her talk at the Loyola Law School. I will tell you about that before long—I promise. But I want to use this post to memorialize the passing of my friend and fellow innocence supporter Joe Bishop. He was, quite simply, one of the most extraordinary men I have ever met.

Joe loved his friends, hated injustice, and he stoutly maintained that God was having a particularly good day when He created Dartmouth College.

I researched the Amanda Knox case extensively just after the first conviction, and by early 2010 my conclusions were clear: Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito had nothing to do with the murder of Meredith Kercher. I then began looking for ways to help. One thing led to another and out of the blue one day I got an email from a man named Joe Bishop. He liked what I was thinking and writing about the case. He said he and a few others were looking to broaden support for Amanda and Raffaele and wanted to know if I was interested in helping.

So many innocence supporters have a similar story to tell. They knew Knox and Sollecito were innocent and wanted to help. But they didn’t know how. Then this man named Joe Bishop came calling.

The people we have come to think of as “haters” and “guilters” have never understood at all how things worked in the Amanda support group. They have conjured up this bizarre fantasy that an evil public relations genius named David Marriott was paid millions to spread fairy dust throughout the media, blinding journalists and their audiences to the reality of Amanda Knox’s guilt.

This was always arrant nonsense. Marriott played an important advisory role to the family as they struggled to sort out interview requests. But he and his firm had absolutely nothing to do with the grassroots effort. I know that for a fact. I was there.

The reason the pro-innocence movement ultimately became as big as it did was because of people like Joe Bishop. In fact I will hazard an opinion that few would dispute:

Joe Bishop was the single, indispensable person who made it possible for a local, Seattle-based support group to become national and international in scope. 

Others were important, of course, but Joe was the vital link between the early Friends of Amanda and the rest of us. He was our top talent spotter, recruiter, and strategist. He was an author, researcher, organizer, archivist and an indefatigable poster. He inspired and cajoled and smoothed over the inevitable disagreements and hurt feelings. He urged us always to be well informed and tough, but fair.

Joe was, in short, the visionary who showed us the way and the glue who held us together. And he did all of this while working full time in a demanding job that required international travel, and being heavily involved as well in alumni affairs at his beloved Dartmouth.

The last time I saw Joe was in Chicago, at the Loyola event. Afterwards, five of us supporters went out to dinner to savor what had been a wonderful day for Amanda. Dinner ended and, after the usual hugs and handshakes, we went our separate ways. Three of us headed for nearby hotels. Joe and another long-time innocence supporter headed for the trains. It never occurred to me then that Joe and I would not meet again.

Joe’s father was the eminent Yale Law professor Joseph W. Bishop, Jr. and Joe admired his Dad’s fierce intelligence, integrity, and commitment to justice. Well, the apple never falls far from the tree and I am as sure as I can be that this father would have been just as proud of this son.

Joseph W. Bishop—Joe—friend—fare…..thee….well.

~Lenroot

First Thoughts on Marasca

I can add a preliminary two-cents worth, while making it clear that I am awaiting a good translation of the Marasca report. What I have to say here is based upon press reports and upon comments by friends—both Italian and not—who have read the report.

There appears to be some mild confusion over the fact that Marasca let stand the finding that there had been multiple attackers and a staged break-in, while noting the slight possibility that Amanda “could” have been in in the vicinity at the time of the murder. A few not-very-bright commentators have noted–as if it were significant– that the judge also let Amanda’s calumny conviction stand.

But all this is nothing to the point and reflects an unfamiliarity with Italian legal procedure and/or the way legal opinions are typically expressed. Regarding the calumny conviction, it simply was not in Marasca’s power to reverse  since it had already been confirmed by a previous Cassation panel. Indeed, Amanda long ago appealed that conviction to the ECHR.

Marasca’s acceptance of the multiple attackers and staged break-in theories largely reflects the well known preference of Italian judges not to have judicial rulings in direct conflict with one another. The Guede trials had established as “legal truth” that there were multiple attackers and the break-in was staged, and Marasca did not want to contradict these findings directly. He felt it enough to observe that Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were not among the attackers and had nothing to do with the staging.

As for the hint of a suspicion that Amanda may have been at the cottage near the time of the murder, Marasca is merely repeating—without necessarily endorsing—a lower court finding. Marasca did not need to contradict a colleague to accomplish what we wanted to accomplish and so he didn’t.

It is important to step back a bit and see what Marasca did accomplish:

  • He annulled the conviction definitively without further possibility of review.
  • He states in the strongest possible terms that Amanda and Raffaele had nothing to do with the murder.
  • He eviscerates the prosecutor and police over the deplorable quality of the investigation.
  • He strongly criticizes the likes of Massei and Nencini for ignoring evidence that undercut their theories and, more generally, for not evaluating evidence in ways clearly established by Italian law.

In short, the subtext of everything Marasca says is that Guede, acting alone, killed Meredith Kercher. An American judge might well have felt free to state this plainly. A subtle Italian judge, operating in an environment where professional courtesy is important,  pays you the compliment of assuming you are smart enough to work this fact out for yourself following the clues he has given.

Of course, subtle analysis and intelligence is not the strong suit of the guilters or their allies in the press. But if you hear someone saying “Knox knows more than she is saying,” you are in the presence of a fool. You are also in the presence of a fool if you hear it suggested that we may “never know” what happened on that fateful night or if you it hear it suggested that there is an unacceptable contradiction between the acquittal and the multiple attacker theory.

~Lenroot

The Morning After and the Mornings After That

What a long strange trip it’s been.

After I posted that giddy piece the other night I poured a good shot of my favorite Barbados rum and settled back to savor the good news. Then, after a decent interval, I poured another, and in my bliss forgot altogether that the NCAA basketball games were on.

The next morning I watched Amanda, who never looked lovelier, give a classy and emotional statement to the press, her supportive fiancé at her side. Reportedly, Raffaele too is engaged. Endless trials and tribulations ending in marriage. It’s beginning to sound like something the Bard himself dreamed up.

I hope that in the days and weeks ahead the full significance of what just happened will sink in. What just happened was a vindication of Judge Hellmann and a complete repudiation of the foggy thinking and dishonesty exhibited at various times by Massei, Galati, Chieffi, and Nencini. Indeed, Gennaro Marasca’s court viewed this line of thinking as so pernicious that it treated it like a dangerous cancer to be radically excised before it metastasized.

This is great good news for the cause of justice, especially in Italy. No doubt old habits will die hard, but henceforth it will be harder for judges and prosecutors to just spin absurd theories out of their butts like so many berserk spiders. Their opinions and theories will have to be grounded in real facts and clear thinking. It seems very likely that Marasca and the other four judges  would not have taken such a radical step unless doing so was strongly supported by a majority of Cassation judges.

I would love to be able to say “I told you so” except I really did not predict such a dramatic turnaround–no one could have. I did predict that Amanda Knox would never go back to an Italian prison and I was more optimistic than some that the outcome would be acceptable. But these are different things:

It might be useful to review what the grounds for my relative optimism were:

  1. First and foremost, the fact of Amanda Knox’s innocence was trivially obvious to see, a real no brainer. It was, as an old professor of mine liked to say “a truth like a cow.” (This sounds better in German).
  2. It was equally apparent, and child’s play to demonstrate, that the trials that convicted her were about as far from being fair as it is possible to be in a Western democracy.
  3. The various convicting reports (Massei, Chieffi, and Nencini) were little more than serial intellectual embarrassments, filled to the brim with misrepresentations, falsehoods, speculation, and illogical, circular reasoning.
  4. Serious people in Italy, the U.S. and the U.K. were obviously aware that Amanda was innocent and that the varying rationales for conviction were absurd, even if such an obvious truths had somehow escaped the notice of more casual observers and the usual Dementors in the press.
  5. It was in absolutely no one’s interest to see this fiasco play out further and it was not unreasonable to hope that serious people might put an end to it.

I suspect that is exactly what happened. Serious people said “enough of this crap.” Did my own government have anything to do with events? I have no idea but I certainly hope so. A government that complacently allows one of its young citizens to be railroaded is pretty useless. But of course the major impetus for the reversal had to come from within Italy, from decent people who understood that Italy’s honor and reputation would be best served by a definitive acquittal.

Although good triumphed over evil in the end, we should not get distracted from the fact that this should never have happened. As I believe I said earlier, if Amanda Knox could be convicted on this sort of illusory evidence, then anyone can be can be convicted anywhere of anything.

Bad judges and a problematic system of justice in Italy was not sole source of injustice–not by a long shot. There was just a whole lot of lazy, biased, irresponsible journalism surrounding this case–by the tabloids, of course, but also by much more mainstream outlets like the BBC and Newsweek. Even my beloved New York Times went all wobbly at certain junctures, though Timothy Egan’s thunderous denunciations of the Perugian clown show were one of the things that inspired me to study the case.

I suppose I should say something about the Kercher family. Here I admit to being conflicted. I am a father and know that I can at best dimly imagine the magnitude of their loss. There is an old Irish saying to the effect that the death of a youngest daughter is a “needle in the heart,” and the power of that image gives me some sense of what they have been feeling since November 2007 and what they will always feel. But I also think it is terribly important at this time for them to speak out clearly and tell the world that they accept the verdict and that those who have attacked Amanda Knox in Meredith’s name should also.

In the end what I most want for the Kerchers is peace. But to achieve it they will throw off the veil of illusions in which they are wrapped and see the verdict as history will see it. There are villains in this story but none of them are named Amanda or Raffaele. Rudy Guede murdered Meredith Kercher, and he was enabled by the Perugian police who inexcusably failed to take him off the streets when he was arrested for earlier crimes. For the Italian authorities who persecuted Amanda Knox, the case it was never about Meredith Kercher at all. Beneath the smiles, the charm, the impeccable manners and the expressions of sympathy beat hearts as coldly calculating and self-interested as those of the Borgias.

As for me, I intend to enjoy the pastoral delights of spring in the north country and wonderful sense of renewal that they bring. I will not disengage from the case right away as there are a few issues that need resolution. But I am getting a sense that the media is rapidly losing interest. This is almost certainly a good thing. All Amanda Knox ever wanted was to be an ordinary young woman from Seattle. Well, she has that chance now and the world needs to step back get and out of her way.

I wish Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito well.

~Lenroot

 

 

 

DOWN GOES NENCINI!

If this had been a heavyweight fight it might have been called this way.

They are in the middle of the ring circling each other cautiously. Nencini looks a little flabby and the worse for wear. His handler Francesco Maresca was giving him an earful between rounds.

Now Nencini flicks out a weak left jab and Cassazione counters with a right over the top. He follows with a left to the body and another right to the head..

AND DOWN GOES NENCINI FROM A STRAIGHT RIGHT HAND DELIVERED BY CASSAZIONE.

HE IS FACEDOWN ON THE CANVAS STRUGGLING TO GET TO HIS KNEES!

A THOUSAND ANTS HAVE CRAWLED INTO HIS BRAIN!

THE COUNT IS SIX…………SEVEN……….EIGHT…………..

THE REFEREE IS WAVING HIS ARMS! THE MEN ARE IN THE RING! THE FAT LADY IS SINGING!

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN THIS FIGHT IS OVER!

TRUE JUSTICE WINS BY SPECTACULAR KNOCKOUT IN THE TWELTH ROUND!

As you can tell, I am giddy with joy. More in the morning.

~Lenroot

Happy New Year!

A number of you have kindly kindly expressed hope that I will keep writing about the Amanda Knox case in 2015.  Let me assure one and all that despite my failure to post recently I am alive and well and following the case closely.

In fact, I have written (but not posted) another extended piece, an anatomy of the exceedingly odd and confused habits of mind that characterize judges in Italy. Exhibit A for the moment is the lamentable Nencini’s extraterrestrial masterpiece. More people should read it because in so doing they would recognize immediately that they have entered the realm of science fiction, not compelling legal prose. Nencini creates a wonderful imaginative world that is quite unlike the world in which we actually live, a world with its own logic and technology and its own laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. And when he is not indulging flights of fancy, he is just plain dishonest.

Now, Nencini is admittedly not the brightest frog in the swamp. His foolishness, however, raises issues that go well beyond him.  For one thing the human damage is appalling.  For another, the dream of establishing universal human rights—the dream that led to Nuremberg Principles and the creation of institutions like the European Court of Human Rights and the International Criminal Court—depends utterly on our ability to define and defend the elements of a fair trial, as well as the reasoning that leads to valid interpretation of evidence. It simply will not do for judicial jackasses like Nencini to caper madly about, wallowing in logical absurdities, presuming guilt, cherry picking evidence, and insisting on eccentric interpretations of technology and science that do not conform to any known standards.

All this I might have said and more….

But but as we enter 2015 it feels like someone has deliberately let the air out of the tires of case and I am increasingly sure that Amanda Knox will never spend another night in prison. (I am less certain about poor Raffaele Sollecito who had the misfortune to be born in a country whose courts lack moral and intellectual seriousness).

I have no inside knowledge and base my opinions solely upon what is on the public record and what I know about human nature and institutions.  Amanda is by all accounts doing well. She graduated from the University of Washington and is earning a living as a writer. She is very much the law abiding, productive citizen she has always been. The idea of ripping this thoroughly decent young woman away from friends and family is grotesque and morally repellent, and any person with even minimal intelligence and decency knows this.

The critical things to understand is that the people who will be making decisions henceforth are of a much higher caliber than the deplorable types who created this mess. As filled with contempt as I am for the Italian courts, the same is not true of my feelings for the Italian people.  I am convinced that serious people in and out of the Italian government—as distinguished from the pagliacci who hold sway in the courts at the moment— know perfectly well that Knox is innocent and are working quietly to set things right. These serious people also know that Italian courts are an international embarrassment and a major drag on the Italian economy.

I am also quite certain that serious people in our own State Department and Department of Justice have reviewed the case and know full well that the latest trial was a face-saving joke and the conviction based on wild flights of fancy and zero evidence.  Since one of the most solemn obligations of a government is to protect its citizens, I imagine the U.S. has quietly conveyed its concerns quite pointedly to the government of Italy.

The Italian courts are so reckless, so out of control, and so driven by agendas that have nothing to do with justice, that it is impossible to predict what they will do.  This said, I believe there is a significant chance that Nencini will be reversed for selfish, internal reasons.  It is simply not in Italy’s interest to see such travesty escape into international venues with real judges—far better to bury it in-house.

If Cassation is reckless enough to affirm Nencini, then an appeal to the ECHR is certain and I am reliably informed that no extradition request would take place before the hearings in Strasbourg play out.  Since the defects in the Knox trials are precisely those that the ECHR has sanctioned Italy for repeatedly over the years, I imagine Amanda will get a very attentive hearing indeed.

Only in the unlikely event that the ECHR aligns itself with the forces of injustice would the question of extradition even come up.  Italy would have to make a request and our government would have to accept it. The former is far from certain, but a preemptive rejection by the State Department is likely on the grounds that Italy is treaty bound to conduct fair trials of American citizens not crude parodies thereof.

I won’t speculate about what might happen if an extradition case gets into the American courts because I am convinced that it will never get that far.  Amanda’s defenses are powerful and the government, fearful of bad publicity and a damaging precedent, will not risk trial.

I am not sure how the end game will play out. But I am as certain as I can be under the circumstances that things have changed and that serious efforts to put Amanda back in prison are essentially over.

So for now I am going to cool it and see what happens.  I’ll definitely post from time to time, but probably shorter, more topical pieces. Please don’t mistake my diminished output for lack of interest or commitment. I will do whatever I can do to protest this travesty of justice and expose the corruption and lack of decency and intelligence that led to it.

~Lenroot

Presuming Guilt and Manufacturing Evidence: A Primer for Framing the Innocent

We must also keep in mind that forensic science is performed, and testified about, by people – not by impartial, implacable machines. Like Procrustes, these people often have preconceived ideas – they have their own interests, and their bosses who may even possess a thought or two. They are part of a culture, and part of a political realm. Thinking of forensic test results as if they were produced in a manner that is somehow isolated from these realities is a fundamental mistake.

—Mark Waterbury

Real evidence is usually vague and unsatisfactory. It has to be examined—sifted. But here the whole thing is cut and dried. No, my friend, this evidence has been very cleverly manufactured—so cleverly that it has defeated its own ends.

—Agatha Christie

 

The presumption of innocence is critical to a fair trial, and a judge who presumes innocence will necessarily view the evidence differently than one who presumes guilt. Hence, my thesis:

Grave irregularities with the evidence in the Amanda Knox case are among the major reasons her trials have been manifestly unfair. The Italian courts presumed her guilty, not innocent, and because they presumed guilt, they sanctioned multiple serious evidentiary errors. 

Further, it is apparent that the Italian Supreme Court’s oddball requirement that lower courts think “osmotically” about the evidence was merely a coded way of saying “you must presume and find Amanda Knox guilty.”

What follows here is not so much new information as a repackaging of it with a view to challenging “common sense” skepticism about defense claims. I want people to understand that when Knox supporters like me suggest that the evidence was sliced, diced, marinated, and oh-so-lovingly cooked we have specific misdeeds in mind.

The Italian police and prosecutors, aided and abetted by biased courts, did all of the following:

  • They destroyed evidence
  • They withheld evidence
  • They misrepresented evidence
  • They did not follow-up on obvious investigative leads
  • They likely planted or otherwise tampered with evidence.

It is also clear that prosecution witnesses knowingly perjured themselves and that judges like Massei and Nencini, who presumed guilt from the first, did not make a good faith effort to understand testimony, nor were they open to the possibility of being influenced by it.

Let’s begin with an incontestable fact: the prosecution’s so-called “DNA evidence,” having been subject to international scrutiny, is now melting faster than the Wicked Witch of the West in the presence of water. I refer you to this site:

http://murderofmeredithkercher.com/prosecutions-massive-suppression-lab-data-violation-defendants-human-rights/

An intellectually rigorous type who calls himself “Diocletian” has exhaustively analyzed the DNA evidence to establish what we have, what has been suppressed, and, most importantly, what malign patterns lie hidden in a wilderness of confusing detail. The conclusions of research are so compelling that they are worth quoting verbatim:

  • The prosecution hid the results of early and decisive DNA testing excluding Sollecito as the sexual assailant, securing on improper grounds the pretrial incarceration of Sollecito and Knox (and Lumumba) to the severe prejudice of the defense.
  • The prosecution concealed the initial results for tests performed on the two key items of evidence , i.e., the kitchen knife (Rep. 36B) and the bra-clasp (Rep. 165B), and instead, produced only the results of suspicious “do over” tests (reruns), without disclosing the data from the initial tests or even the fact that the subsequent tests are “do overs”.
  • The prosecution concealed that the kitchen knife profile was generated within a series of tests for which 90 percent of the results have been suppressed, strongly suggesting the occurrence of a severe contamination event that the prosecution continues to hide.
  • The prosecution claims that contamination of the bra clasp was impossible, even though the bra clasp profile was processed during a series of tests for which there is documented proof of contamination.
  • The prosecution falsely portrayed the DNA lab as pristine and perfectly maintained, even though the lab’s own documents demonstrate that it was plagued with repeated contamination events and machine malfunctions that were known to the lab.
  • The prosecution has withheld the results from a massive number of DNA tests (well over 100), including probably exculpatory profiles relating to the sexual assault and the secondary crime scene downstairs.
  • The prosecution has hidden all of the records of the DNA amplification process—the most likely place for laboratory contamination to have occurred—including all of the contamination control tests for this process.

Realistically speaking, it cannot get worse than these indications of fraud and incompetence.  Now comes word that Peter Gill, a preeminent forensic geneticist in the U.K., has devoted an entire chapter in his new book to the trashing of the DNA evidence in the Knox case.

So, let’s play a game. What do Dr. Carla Vecchiotti (Italy), Dr. Bruce Budowle (U.S.) and Dr. Peter Gill (U.K.) have in common? Well, each is a highly respected forensic geneticist within his/her own country (Budowle and Gill are world renowned). Each has also reviewed the DNA “evidence” in the case thoroughly, and each firmly opines that it provides absolutely no reliable indication that Amanda Knox is guilty.

Unfortunately for the honor of Italy and its courts, problems with the evidence go well beyond the fraud and other insurmountable problems with the DNA. I’ll cite some of the more egregious examples.

 

Evidence that was lost, destroyed, or went missing

Suppressed Interrogation Tapes.  Although news reports indicated that the tapes of Amanda’s initial interrogation were being transcribed, they suddenly went missing, accompanied by a blizzard of the-dog-ate-my-homework excuses. The defense has consistently maintained that the tapes would reveal precisely how police bullied and manipulated Amanda into making false statements.

Destruction of Computer Hard Drives. The hard drives on four different computers were damaged or destroyed by police “experts.” Several drives were vital to the defense, including one containing photographs and video that gave the lie to speculation that Amanda and the victim did not get along. The police explanation as to how the drives were compromised was absurd and it is likely the damage was intentional.

Suppressed CCTV Video. Suppressed video from a strategically placed CCTV camera would, with a very high degree of probability, have conclusively established whether or not Amanda and Raffaele ever left his apartment on the night of the murder. Again, the various police excuses for not producing the video were contradictory and absurd—we didn’t check until it was too late—the camera was broken—the camera was turned the wrong way, etc.

Destruction of the Knife DNA. In a clear violation of accepted protocol, the knife DNA sample was improperly handled and, in effect, tested out of existence. It cannot now be reexamined by either defense or independent experts as would normally be required.

Destruction of the Bra-Clasp Evidence. The bra-clasp was accidentally-on-purpose stored in an entirely inappropriate manner with the result that reexamination by defense and independent experts became impossible. Given the well documented deceit and malfeasance associated with the clasp, it is hard to believe that the destruction was merely accidental.

 

Evidence that was misrepresented in court

Patrizia Stefanoni, the police technician, deliberately and seriously misled the court at least twice. First, her contention that there had never been contamination in her lab was, as is now obvious, a damnable, cynical lie. As we have just recently learned, and as she has certainly known all along, there was massive contamination in her little shop of horrors.

Even worse, Stefanoni testified that certain footprints revealed by Luminol were made in blood, even though the scientific tests she performed told her unequivocally that this was false.

A standard method for discovering hidden blood stains involves the preliminary application of Luminol followed by the retesting of areas of interest with tetramethylbenzidine (TMB). If and only if you get a positive reaction to both tests do you presume the sample may be blood, in which case it is sent to the lab to have the finding confirmed. You are never—literally, not ever— entitled to say a sample is blood absent laboratory confirmation.

Stefanoni’s testimony is a study in malicious deviousness. She claimed the prints were made in blood on the basis of the preliminary Luminol test alone, while hiding the negative TMB test and performing no true confirmatory test in a lab (or so she said). It is worth noting as well that the stains in question yielded no genetic material as blood would have done.

If Stefanoni’s testimony does not constitute perjury, I do not for the life of me know what would.

Rinaldi, the police print “expert,” surely deserves a place in this rogue’s gallery of perjurers too. Are we really supposed to take seriously the claim that he failed somehow to immediately recognize that the sole of Raffaele’s Nikes did not match the prints left at the scene? Surely, a true print expert could manage something so simple as counting concentric rings in a pattern.

The initial claim that the prints were Raffaele’s was easily proved false, indicating that Rinaldi is either completely incompetent or completely dishonest. It has to be one or the other and I am betting on the latter.

This is no trivial matter because there was never evidence against Raffaele sufficient to warrant preventive detention. In effect, Rinaldi bailed the prosecution out by lying to the court so that Raffaele could be jailed along with Amanda. The Sollecito family eventually discovered the ruse on its own, forcing the police to go back to an unsecured crime scene six weeks later, at which point the miracle of the bra-clasp “discovery” conveniently supplied an ex post facto rationale for keeping Raffaele locked up.

I mean please and by all that’s holy. What is it about the concept of dirty cops that you fail to understand?

 

Investigative leads that were ignored

The key example here is the frankly unbelievable decision not to test the semen stain. A defense expert discovered what appeared to be fresh seminal fluid smeared by Guede’s shoes—clearly indicating that it was deposited in his presence at the time of the murder. Yet, when the defense team asked the court to allow genetic testing, the prosecution and the victim’s family lawyer went berserk and moved heaven and earth to prevent it.

Stop, take a deep breath, and think about the full implications of this for a minute. You have a murder and sexual assault on your hands, and a top forensic scientist finds what he is convinced is a semen stain associated with the murder. But it was the prosecution, not the defense, that successfully fought to keep this obviously relevant evidence out.

Truly astonishing. In Italy, it would seem, legal proceedings are an exercise in hiding the truth, not searching for it. And the victim’s family appears to be motivated by something other than a desire to know who really committed the murder.

Here are other investigative flaws:

  • The coroner was not allowed to take the victim’s body temperature until well after the point where doing so was useless. Although the time of death can be accurately estimated from a number of other factors, the lack of normal precision allowed the prosecution to monkey around with the issue endlessly.
  • The police failed to identify and interview local citizens whose features are clearly visible at relevant times on available CCTV footage from a nearby parking garage. Some of these persons might well have proved to be useful witnesses.
  • The police failed to canvass the neighborhood during the days following the murder, but when a cub reporter uncovered two addled and completely unreliable witnesses many months later, the police accepted everything they said at face value and did nothing to verify their improbable stories.

If the aim is to uncover the truth about the murder, these flaws are inexcusable. If the aim is to hide the truth, they make a great deal of sense.

 

Absurdly biased evidentiary rulings

When the defense teams sought to have basic information released to them as well as permission to conduct additional testing, they got the Judge Roy Bean treatment every time—a “fair” hearing followed by the inevitable ruling for the prosecution.

For example, the defense requested the release of the electronic data files from the police lab. In theory, Italy requires full disclosure so this ought not to have been a problem. But in practice the initial trial judge allowed the files to be suppressed. The one judge worthy of the title—Judge Hellman—ordered their release and the police grudgingly produced some data (though by no means everything). Now, long after the initial flawed conviction, we are beginning to take full measure of the fraud and incompetence the police were trying to hide.

In a similar vein, the defense asked to send Amanda’s police-damaged hard drive to the manufacturer to see if photographs and video important to the defense could be retrieved. “No,” was the response.

The defense asked to have the critical semen stain tested. No. No.

The defense asked for audiometric testing to see if an elderly, highly confused witness could possibly have heard what she claimed to have heard through the sound-proof glass of her apartment. No, no, and yet again no.

And so on.

There was not a thing frivolous about any of these requests. All were highly germane and essential to the defense. All could have been quickly and easily completed at the defense’s expense. Yet, all were denied by biased, guilt-presuming judges on the flimsiest grounds imaginable.

 

Failure of the courts to fairly assess evidence

There are so many instances of flawed, bad faith reasoning in the Massei and Nencini reports that it is hard to know where to begin. Both judges presume guilt and both expose themselves as being completely undisciplined by logic, science, justice, or the requirements of basic fairness.

Nencini, for example, is so arrogant, and in such an unseemly haste to convict, that he simply cannot be bothered to get basic scientific details right. Now, thanks to his brilliance, the world knows that the multiple Y haplotypes found on the bra clasp came from the victim’s female friends!!

Then there is Nencini’s bizarrely dishonest treatment of the Luminol/TMB “evidence.” The fact that the TMB test was negative meant that the foot prints—whoever they belonged to—Amanda or someone else—were not made in blood. So what does guilt-presuming Nencini do to sustain the prosecution position? Simple. He ignores the TMB test altogether. He doesn’t know what to say—indeed there is nothing he can say—so he pretends the test never took place.

Or take the way Massei treats Rinaldi’s flawed presentations. In addition to numerous other sins, Rinaldi clearly mis-measured a Luminol print in the hallway, inexplicably revising its size upward to be “compatible” (o cara parola!) with Raffaele’s print. This mysterious finding was contradicted by defense experts who used advanced, technically sophisticated photometric techniques to establish that the print was too small to have been made by Raffaele.

Guilt-presuming Massei sided with the prosecution, of course, but for what reason we haven’t a clue. He simply assumes, without explanation or argument, that the implausible, unsupported conclusion of the police witness is correct, while the technically accurate and fully described measurements of defense experts are in error. He acts for all the world like the defense experts never testified.

Massei also has the maddening habit of noting major contradictions and flaws in the prosecution case without drawing the proper conclusions from them. After much fancy dancing around the point, the judge makes it clear that Raffaele made a critical phone call before the police arrived—not after as the prosecution maintained. But there is no sign that the judge counts this in favor of the defense.

Massei displays similarly odd mental habits in his handling of the cell phone evidence. The police examination of the cell phone records was at the level of a mediocre 8th Grade science fair project. The defense hired highly credentialed experts who, after consulting with cell phone manufacturers and carriers, produced a study thoroughly debunking prosecution claims. A fair judge, who presumed innocence, would have pitched the cell phone evidence straight out the nearest window. But Massei was hell bent on convicting and so all manner of foolishness ensued.

At one point he suggests that Amanda was lying about being at Raffaele’s apartment when she received a text because the cell phone tower involved did not reach the apartment. Just a few pages later we learn, to our great astonishment and confusion, that the self-same tower was, as a matter of incontrovertible fact, the tower that picked up a number of calls originating or received there.

Massei presumes guilt and therefore he finds guilt. He willfully distorts the evidence to find indications that Amanda left the apartment during the early evening and then lied about it later.  A judge who presumed innocence, on the other hand, would have conceded that there was not a shred of genuine evidence for any of this, and that, indeed, there was abundant evidence that Amanda and Raffaele were together in his apartment when the murder took place.

You can probably point to many other (and perhaps better) examples of manufactured evidence and the presumption of guilt. But this is enough. This is more than enough.

~Lenroot Mays

Of Fair Trials and Hangings

“Potemkin Village”:

A pretentiously showy or imposing façade intended to mask or divert attention from an embarrassing or shabby fact or condition.

(After: Prince Potemkin , who allegedly had villages of cardboard constructed for Catherine II’s visit to the Ukraine and the Crimea in 1787)

–Dictionary.com

 

We’ll have a fair trial followed by a hanging.

–Judge Roy Bean (attributed)

 

If I were an average observer with little knowledge of the facts, I would assume that Amanda Knox was probably guilty. Why would I think anything else?  Her trials seemed fair. Amanda had expensive lawyers and it certainly seemed like they were allowed to make motions, produce experts, dispute evidence, cross-examine witnesses, and make impassioned summations. The black-robed judges seemed appropriately pompous and judicious and seemed (if you were not watching too closely) to be fair and paying attention.  The judges were required to defend their decisions in what seemed to be painstakingly thorough opinions.

What’s not to like?

A whole lot as it turns out. For as you get to know the case well, you realize that what you have witnessed is about as a far from a fair trial as it is humanly possible to be. The actors played their appointed roles and strutted and fretted upon the stage, but the outcome was never in doubt. The courtroom drama was a facade–a Potemkin Village, if you will–in which the trappings of a fair trial were used to hide a shabby, dishonorable reality. The proceedings were never designed to get at the truth–they were designed to produce, if not a hanging, at least long sentences. They were, in reality, designed to protect reputations and national honor even at the cost of justice and the truth. As has been shown many times now:

  • The prosecution “case” against Amanda Knox amounted to nothing more than a series of high-decibel lies, misrepresentations, and irrelevancies endlessly repeated.
  • The prosecution narrative reconstruction (“theory”) of the case is fundamentally absurd.
  • The so-called “neutral” judges privileged the prosecution at every turn and in every possible way.
  • The various “motivations” reports by Judges Massei and Nencini and the Supreme Court of Cassation were, in reality, progressively more severe intellectual embarrassments.
  • The case against Knox and Sollecito exhibited the abuse of the preventive detention laws for which Italy has justly been sanctioned by various international bodies before.

This is all just for starters. Hard as it is to believe, there is a great deal more. The elements of an internationally recognized fair trial are well known and have been fully described. If the subject interests you at all, here is a document from 2000 published by the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, since renamed Human Rights First (HRF):

http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/wp-content/uploads/pdf/fair_trial.pdf

While this particular document is offered by HRF, close variants can be found any number of places. I list here only the elements of a fair trial that were most severely breached in the Knox-Sollecito case.

 

Elements of a Fair Trial

 

Pre-Trial

  • The right to counsel
  • The right to a qualified interpreter
  • Prohibition of incommunicado detention
  • The right to challenge pre-trial detention

Trial

  • The right to trial without undue delay
  • The right to examine witnesses
  • The right to a presumption of innocence
  • The right to a fair hearing before a competent, independent, and impartial Tribunal

 

As we will see, Italy violated every one of these important due process protections. And to these I would add two other generally accepted protections that were clearly violated:

  • The expectation of acquittal upon reasonable doubt as specified in Italian law, and recognized as an aspect of the presumption of innocence.
  • Full disclosure of evidence to the defense, and fair, dispassionate consideration of all evidence before reaching a verdict.

Let’s see how the treatment of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito looks when measured against the key elements of a fair trial, beginning with the pre-trial period.

  Right to Counsel

It is quite clear that this basic right was violated over a prolonged period of time. The claim that Amanda Knox was not a suspect before the night of November 5, 2007 is ludicrous on its face. Edgardo Giobbi, one of the lead investigators,  admitted in sworn testimony that her “odd” behavior made her a suspect immediately. Prosecutor Mignini ordered her cell phone bugged right after the discovery of the victim’s body. And the task force that awaited Amanda at the station house on November 5th was there precisely because they needed to break her before her mother and legal help arrived the next day.

What is not so commonly noticed is that the failure to provide legal counsel lasted for three days after Knox’s arrest, and also placed her at a considerable and unfair disadvantage. Between the time Knox was arrested on the 5th and the time she appeared before Judge Claudia Matteini on November 8, only the police had access to her. They continued to question her. They provided her with paper and writing utensils and encouraged her to “clarify” things. Although her writings were increasingly forceful in proclaiming her innocence, they contained insignificant variation in detail, which later became the basis for claims that she told lies and misled the police.

  Right to an Interpreter

Obviously and incontestably ignored–totally. No civilized country in the world would consider a hostile police investigator with a limited command of English to be a proper translator in a case like this.

  Prohibition of Pre-Trial Incommunicado Detention

This violation did not last long, but coming as it did during the critical initial phase of the investigative  it was highly significant and prejudicial.  While she was hidden away, Amanda had no access to her family and lawyers and thus no way to protect herself or to adequately prepare for the hearing that would determine if she was to be held in pretrial detention. The prosecution explored this unfair advantage shamelessly.

  The Right to Challenge Pre-Trial Detention

As with so much in the Italian system, the “right to challenge pre-trial detention” is merely a paper right, which corrupt courts roundly ignore. As a practical matter,  there was no way on earth a judge as compromised as Matteini was going to deny her friend and colleague, Mignini, the tool he so desperately needed. Nevertheless, you see how the multiplying effects of unfairness came powerfully together in the Matteini hearing. Because Amanda Knox was held incommunicado for a three-day period, and because she could not meet with her lawyers or her mother, and because she, a terrified twenty-year old, was encouraged to keep making additional statements, she was in effect denied any chance to adequately prepare for a critical hearing. She had to hope that Judge Matteini would apply Italian law honestly, and that, of course, was never going to happen.

Next, let’s see if the trials themselves met widely accepted tests of fairness.

  The Right to Trial Without Undue Delay

Anyone making the claim that this basic right was not violated is making a bad taste joke. Amanda Knox was held for almost a year without even being charged and then the trial itself took another year to complete.

  The Right to Examine Witnesses 

This critical right was violated, most obviously, in all things pertaining to the trial and “testimony” of Rudy Guede. Several TV talking heads have made the ridiculous mistake of assuming that Amanda Knox was convicted partly on the basis of Guede’s testimony  This is, of course, nonsense. Guede was tried in a completely separate proceeding. His version of events was insinuated into the Knox trials by means of various dirty tricks, but he never testified against Amanda directly and never at any time faced cross-examination by her defense team. Guede told such inconsistent stories, and told so many lies over such a long period of time, that even a minimally competent defense attorney would have torn him to shreds on the stand. The prosecution and courts knew this, of course, so they contrived to ensure that no cross-examination ever took place.

This key right was even more egregiously violated by the Supreme Court’s insistence that “facts” developed in the separate Guede trial–especially the finding that Meredith Kercher died at the hands of multiple attackers–must be held against Knox and Sollecito even though neither had legal representation at that proceeding.  As a condition of being allowed to take advantage of the benefits of an abbreviated trial, Guede was forced to stipulate as to the truth of the prosecution theory that he was just one of three attackers. It was the unholiest of unholy agreements based on mutual self-interest: the prosecution case was advanced by Guede’s admitting to the alleged facts and Guede himself was given a lighter sentence, partly because it was held that he was not solely responsible for the murder. Neither side had any incentive whatsoever to challenge the multiple attacker theory or seek the truth.

In the Knox-Sollecito trial proper, on the other hand, the issue was fully examined and all of the experts agreed that there was absolutely no way to prove that there were multiple attackers. Thus, in effect, the Italian Supreme Court has now ruled that a finding in an abbreviated “flash” trial, which was based on incomplete information, and in which witnesses were not thoroughly examined, trumps a finding in a full trial where the defendants had legal counsel and the multiple attacker theory was thoroughly vetted and found wanting.

  The Right to a Presumption of Innocence

Consider first that the Italian State Police put a portrait of Amanda up on their “wall of shame” tight next to a Mafia chieftain long before she was even charged. Events went downhill from there. I defy anyone to to review the record of this trial and show me instances where any judge other than Hellmann presumed innocence. Indeed, at every turn the convicting judges, Massei and Nencini–to say nothing of the deplorable fauna of Cassation–presumed guilt as their starting point.

In a previous posting I called “Down the Funny Stair” I detailed the absurdist fictions to which various judges had to subscribe in order to find Knox and Sollecito guilty. No one presuming innocence could ever indulge such childish fantasies. The lamentable Nencini’s fevered struggle with the issue of the alleged cleanup is another prime example. An honest, competent judge would have looked first to see whether there was any reliable evidence that a cleanup had, in fact, taken place. Finding none, he would not have felt so oddly compelled to identify the author of a non-existent deed. But Nencini presumes a priori that Amanda Knox is guilty, and posits the existence of a cleanup because otherwise he is forced to concede that there is no evidence of her at the crime scene. And so the poor judge dithers and blathers and burbles and quacks but in the end is utterly incapable of answering two basic questions:

  • By what exact means was this cleanup accomplished? 
  • When, exactly, is this cleanup supposed to have taken place?

On both points he obfuscates and insinuates without proof. He has no answers, of course, because it is physically and scientifically impossible for there to have been a cleanup and it is the height of foolishness to claim otherwise.

I would add that the closely related principle of acquittal upon a finding of reasonable doubt, was clearly violated in the Knox-Sollecito case as well.  Amanda and Raffaele’s lawyers have faced every piece of “evidence” head on and blown it to smithereens.  The prosecution has no confession,  no reliable witnesses, and every piece of physical evidence has been shown to be unreliable and contrived. Judge Hellmann, whose “motivations” document stands out as the intellectual high point of this whole, sad affair, found that there was not only reasonable doubt about the guilt of Knox and Sollecito, but that the evidence actually demonstrated their innocence.

Now less intelligent and honest judges claim to have found guilt beyond a reasonable doubt? As my countryman John McEnroe so famously said: “You cannot be serious.”

  The Right to a Fair Hearing Before a Competent, Independent, and Impartial Tribunal

In a strict, legal sense the courts that tried Amanda Knox probably were “competent” because they had jurisdiction. But it is hard to square the word “competent” with the verbose, bad-faith “motivations” reports by the convicting judges, all of  which were morally, logically, technically, and scientifically incompetent.

The judges capered about with the appropriate fig leaves, but their rulings and findings were never impartial.  The hearings on preventive detention were a joke for all the reasons I have previously mentioned. A person of good will who has read through the full trial record would never conclude anything other than that the trial was rigged from the start. No prosecution motion was so absurd but what it was granted, while reasonable and fair defense motions were routinely turned down. There was an almost willful failure by judges to properly attend to testimony. Nowhere is all of this clearer than in the way the shameful and shocking way that the courts handled the evidence.

  Full Disclosure of Evidence and Conviction Only Upon its Being Clear and Convincing

Unfairness related to the evidence was so pervasive and relentless that it shocks the conscience. It happened multiple times in multiple ways and was in fact so extensive that I have decided to dedicate my next post to this subject alone. Suffice it to say here that the prosecution (with the blessing of the allegedly “impartial” courts) did all of the following: they destroyed evidence; they withheld evidence; they misrepresented evidence; they did not follow-up on obvious investigative leads, and it seems increasingly likely that they planted or otherwise tampered with evidence as well.

I will explicate the spectacular unfairness of the treatment of evidence in my next post. For now, let’s sum up what we learned here. During the pre-trial period:

  • Amanda Knox did not have access to legal counsel during an aggressive and hostile interrogation and for a critical three-day period following her arrest.
  • She did not have access to a competent, neutral, and professional interpreter.
  • She was victimized by the strategic use of incommunicado detention, which advantaged the prosecution immensely.
  • As a result of the first three points, she could not adequately prepare for a key hearing on pretrial detention, which was, in any event, rigged.

During the trial:

  • Amanda Knox was subject to numerous, mind-boggling delays both before her trial started and after it began.
  • She did not have the right to examine witnesses against her on critical issues of fact.
  • She was presumed guilty, not innocent, and the principle of acquittal upon reasonable doubt was completely ignored.
  • Two of the three tribunals before which she appeared were tainted by bias, a lack of independence, and an inability to understand or attend to defense evidence.
  • The police and prosecution were allowed to engage in what can only be called fraud with regard to the presentation evidence generally.

Other than all this, it was a perfectly fair trial.

 

~Lenroot Mays

Injustice Italian Style

The Italian judiciary (which includes the public prosecutors) is a branch of the civil service. This particular branch chooses its members, is self-ruling, and is accountable to no one: a state within the state!…  Political and dishonest judges have an infallible method of silencing or discrediting opponents, political or otherwise. A bogus indictment, the tapping of telephones, the conversations (often doctored) fed to the press to start a smear campaign, a spectacular arrest, prolonged preventive detention under the worst possible conditions, third-degree interrogations, and finally a trial that lasts many years and ends in the acquittal of a ruined man.

–Count Neri Capponi

Why do only defense witnesses get sued?

–Amanda Knox

 

The first, second, and third thing I would say to someone new to the Knox-Sollecito case is that you simply cannot understand what happened in Italy based upon your knowledge of what goes on in courts in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, or almost any place else in western Europe, for that matter. Italy is another country; they do things differently there and justice suffers as a result.

In the next four posts I hope to provide an anatomy of the injustice visited upon Amanda Knox in this broken system. I look first at the crude tools that the Italian authorities use to beat down defendants and their families–through overly long trials, the abuse of preventive detention laws, and the regrettable tendency to investigate and indict critics.  In subsequent posts I will take on related subjects including:

  • The multiple, concrete ways in which the trials of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito have not been fair.
  • The shocking destruction, withholding, manipulation, misrepresentation, and manufacturing of evidence that began in Perugia and continues to this day.
  • The problems with the Italian system as identified by talented journalistic and legal observers.

Today, I hope to set the table for upcoming discussions by briefly describing some of the most visible flaws in the system.

Trial Length as War of Attrition

Meredith Kercher was murdered by Rudy Guede on November 1, 2007, when  Amanda Knox was just a few months out of her teens. As I write, she is few months shy of her 27th birthday. If things go “quickly” (and badly), her wrongful conviction could be confirmed before she is 28. If things go well–and that would most likely mean yet another trial at the appeal level and a final hearing by Cassation–then final resolution could be much further off.

The Italian system is like a powerful, slow moving glacier that destroys everything in its path–the defendants, their families, innocent bystanders, the family pets–everything.

Try imagining what this extended ordeal must have been like in real life. Even if they are acquitted in the end,  Amanda will have been robbed of  her young adulthood. Imagine further what the extended Knox-Mellas family has been through. They have had to try to keep up a viable defense for almost seven years in a foreign land, a continent and an ocean away from home. They have had to pay for lawyers, expert consultants, airfare, and food and lodging over an unconscionably long time.

I have no personal knowledge of the situation, but surely careers have been damaged, bank and retirement accounts drained, houses refinanced and all the while the glacier of Italian justice grinds on completely indifferent to the collateral harm. Doubtless, Amanda’s book contract helped some, but between taxes and previous debts the proceeds must be nearly gone by now.

And that is just the money aspect. The psychological and perhaps even physical damage has to have been enormous. Amanda and Raffaele have both spoken movingly about prolonged bouts of despair, made worse because of the suffering visited upon their loved ones too. At the end of the day, the defendants and their families are so weakened financially, psychologically, and physically that they lack the means and the will to fight–and that, I suspect, is exactly the point.  The state may or may not win in the end, but either way the defendants and their families lose. Heads I win. Tails you lose. Welcome to justice Italian style.

Abuse of Preventive Detention Laws

Like the excessive lengths of trials, Italy’s widespread abuse of its preventive detention laws has been the object of extensive criticism. In what follows, I am basically cribbing from Benjamin Sayagh’s excellent analysis of the misuse of these laws in the Amanda Knox case. You can read it here:

http://works.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=benjamin_sayagh

These laws, originally passed in the late 1970s in response to terrorist violence, allow Italian authorities to detain suspects for up to year while they are being investigated. Such laws are by nature extremely problematic because they lead to significant punishment in advance of conviction and, more than this, push the courts perilously close to prejudging the evidence. That’s why most counties have much stricter limits on how long you can be held before being charged. In the U.S., for example, most jurisdictions require that a person be either charged or released within 72 hours.

As Sayagh explains, preventive detention is acceptable under international law, if a country has sufficient safeguards in place to prevent abuse. In theory, Italy has such safeguards. But as the European Court and a UN Working Group have found, the protections that look good on paper are often cynically ignored in practice. Laws that were intended to combat terrorism, are routinely used in cases where they should never apply. The protections, in other words, are all a facade.

According to the letter of Italian law, preventive detention is only allowable in certain circumstances:

  • When the crime has great national importance.
  • When there are grave indications of guilt.
  • When releasing the defendant may allow him/her to escape prosecution, commit additional crimes, or destroy evidence.
  • When alternatives to imprisonment (e.g. the confiscation of a passport) is not feasible.

If one takes such legal “tests” seriously, it is apparent that the application of these laws was completely unjustified with regard to Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito.

  • Did the Knox-Sollecito case involve a national emergency? Obviously not.
  • Were there “grave indications” of guilt. No. Prosecutors filed a stunningly weak case at the 11th hour and 59th minute, long after preventive detention of was approved.
  • Was Amanda a threat to flee? Hardly. She could have left Italy and was urged to but didn’t.
  • Was Amanda a threat to commit more crimes, including murder? Ridiculous. There were no signs of criminality in her past that would justify any such assumption.
  • Could Amanda have destroyed or altered evidence? Again, ridiculous. She was locked into her story at that point and would have had no way to alter the physical evidence or the testimony of others.
  • Were there no feasible alternatives to imprisonment? Of course there were. Merely confiscating her passport would have done the trick–witness Sollecito now.

Reasonable people might well ask how and why Italy would choose to end run and ignore the significant protections provided by its own laws.

As to the how, the courts proceeded in the approved Italian way, through windy, overblown rhetoric and fact-free conclusory statements. Amanda, we were told, had a “negative” personality. She took lovers and could not control her emotions or her actions. And everyone knows that a girl so out of control is quite literally capable of anything–even murder. Further, Amanda was so diabolically clever that she was not only a threat to sneak out of Italy herself, but to sneak Raffaele out with her.

It is really about that simple–and that stupid. There’s not a shred of evidence to support any of this nonsense but there you have it. In the Italian courts, arrant nonsense too often rules.

As to the why, I should think it is obvious. Although the preventive detention laws in Italy may protect the public in theory, they are all too often used protect fellow magistrates with weak cases. It’s called “structural collusion,” and it means that judges allow their esteemed colleagues, the prosecutors, to get away with just about anything.

Amanda and Raffaele were in prison for almost a year before they were even charged. With them safely out of the way, the prosecutors were in a position to control the public narrative, and pressure (one might even say “torture”) the suspects psychologically in an effort to win a confession. They did both ruthlessly through leaks and deliberate cruelty.

Inside prison, Amanda and Raffaele suffered horribly, long before they were even charged. He was put into solitary confinement for months and harassed and mistreated to the point that he was having fainting spells and required medication. Amanda was told she tested positive for HIV and would need, as a routine public health precaution, to list her sexual partners. It was all a hoax of course. And after Amanda wrote down her modest list of names in her diary, Mignini and his minions promptly stole it and selectively leaked its contents–including the names of her lovers–to the public.

Can we agree that such conduct on the part of the authorities is deeply dishonorable and undermines justice? How is it remotely possible to take a system that allows this seriously, or treat it with anything other than contempt? It is a wonder that Knox and Sollecito could even talk–much less defend themselves adequately–by the time the trial started. That, no doubt, is exactly what the prosecution aimed for- defendants too damaged and demoralized to fight and press on.

You’re My Enemy? Then I will Indict You!

The headline is taken from a magazine article which detailed Prosecutor Mignini’s enemy’s list and his willingness to abuse prosecutorial discretion by indicting his many critics. As it turns out, the practice is not confined to Mignini.

Problems with the length of trials and the abuse of preventive detention laws have not gone unnoticed within Italy. But making an effective case for change requires real courage, because to point out abuse by the authorities is to risk becoming a victim of abuse yourself. The courts use fear to avoid critical scrutiny and reform.  The evidence of this is everywhere to be seen if you follow the Knox-Sollecito case closely.

A classic example occurred during the most recent trial. When Amanda Knox’s lawyer, Carlo dalla Vedova, mentioned the fake HIV test during his summation, he found himself rudely interrupted, bullied, and threatened from the bench. Judge Nencini had him to understand that unless he could provide proof –in the form of medical records–he was exposing himself to legal jeopardy. The judge was being utterly disingenuous, of course, because he knew very well that the police and prison officials who committed the outrage would never release incriminating information to the defense. But the message from on high was chillingly clear: they can do whatever they want to your client  in prison and if you complain you will face charges.

We have witnessed similar sorts of things go on so often that at this point it is almost numbing.  Here are just a few conspicuous additional examples:

  • Amanda is currently the defendant in another, related trial. Her “crime”? Making the entirely plausible claim that the police cuffed her lightly on the back of the head during her midnight interrogation in an effort to frighten and intimidate her. Interrogation tapes or video would have shed light on her claim, but, as we know, they famously and mysteriously went missing.
  • Amanda’s parents, Edda Mellas and Curt Knox, are currently on trial for no crime other than repeating what their daughter told them. They did so while they were at home in Seattle speaking with a British journalist who was writing a story for a British paper. Interestingly, neither the journalist nor the newspaper, both of whom were sympathetic to the prosecution, were included in the indictment.
  • Attacks on journalists and bloggers who were critical of the prosecution’s behavior in this case became so severe that the prestigious Committee to Protect Journalists felt obliged to write a formal letter of protest to the President of Italy.

I could go on at considerably greater length–indeed, I am not even sure I know how many “satellite” trials there are–but you get the point. And now that Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito have written books relating their experiences we can expect a new orgy of strategic litigation against the “enemies” of the courts. Already it has been announced that Raffaele and his co-author Andrew Gumbel are being targeted, and Prosecutor Mignini has expressed the view that charges must be filed against Amanda as well.

This could and probably will go on for years. In Italy, you see, they mangle you before trial through unwarranted pretrial detention. Then they mangle during a trial that grinds on for years. And if anyone complains,  or if any journalist investigates, well they do so at their own considerable peril.  If you complain, you may, in the most vicious of vicious cycles, find yourself facing endless litigation as each attempt to defend yourself leads to new charges.

And we are only getting started in our effort to describe why the trials of Amanda Knox have been unfair.

~Lenroot Mays

Down the Funny Stairs

Judges must beware of hard constructions and strained inferences, for there is no worse torture than those of the law.

–Francis Bacon, Sr.

Oh la.

Bump bump bump,

down the funny stairs.

–Richard Farina

 

The case against Amanda Knox has never been a search for the truth. Nowhere is this clearer than in the extraordinary “fluidity” with which prosecutors (and now judges) have changed their theories and facts. Prosecutors have now offered five different excuses for why the vital interrogation tapes went missing. They have revised the time of death upward into the zone of physical impossibility. They have offered five equally implausible motives for the murder. They have ignored the impossible-to-miss fact that key prosecution witnesses contradict one another.

Far from being scandalized by all this, the judges who have convicted Amanda Knox have accepted it calmly and with the greatest complacency. Facts are not stubborn things in Italian courts; they are infinitely malleable things, changeable at whim. Evidence disappears or is withheld. Theories that are advanced one day, disappear the next. Powerful, fact-driven defense arguments are simply ignored altogether.

It might, therefore, be useful to focus less on shape-shifting “facts,” and more on the absurd narrative framework that purports to hold them together. In focusing too much on the trees, we risk failing to note that we are being led into a vast, dark and forbidding forest, a forest full of strange sounds and grotesque, fantastical creatures and happenings.

When one steps back from the minute details of the case, it becomes immediately obvious that if you are to believe in Amanda Knox’s guilt you must enter the world of fantasy and willingly suspend disbelief on a massive scale. You must, in short, become a believer in outlandish fairy tales. Here is a starter selection of some of the extravagant absurdities and improbabilities to which you must subscribe:

  • You have, first of all, to believe that Amanda Knox left the comforts of Raffaele’s apartment on a cold November night for no discernible reason, and you must ignore the fact that no security cameras or remotely credible witnesses provided evidence that she had.
  • You must believe that Amanda armed herself for the occasion with a large kitchen knife carried in her bag, and you must ignore the fact that she was not in the habit of doing such things, that no one saw this happen, and that there is no physical evidence whatsoever that it did.
  • You have to believe that by some as-yet-unspecified agency Knox met up with Guede, though, again, no remotely credible witness or camera puts them together. You must ignore the fact that she had previously had only the briefest introduction to Guede, and that the prosecution failed mightily despite enormous effort to find any further association between them.
  • You have to assume that Amanda, a good student and athlete with no dark side or history of violence, could, without the barest hint of a plausible motive, butcher a lovely housemate whom she liked and esteemed.
  • You have to assume that Meredith died at least two hours later than established medical science says is physically possible.
  • You have to assume that Amanda cleaned up the scene of the murder so completely that no trace of her survived in the room where the murder took place–no DNA, fingerprints, hair, or traces of her clothing, etc. You must further ignore the fact that it is physically and scientifically impossible to clean a murder scene in this fashion without leaving evidence that you did so.
  • You must assume that though the victim was hemorrhaging liters of blood, Amanda somehow managed to avoid getting even the smallest drop on her person or clothes, and somehow managed to avoid disturbing the blood in a way that signaled her presence.
  • You have to assume that Amanda engaged in yet another masterful act of deception by staging a break-in, something she could only accomplish through a series of diabolically clever intermediate steps that include:
    • Bringing a large rock into the apartment, opening the window in the direction of the wall, and then hurling the rock through so as to simulate its having come from the outside.
    • Re-adjusting the windows, and then picking up bits of broken glass and throwing them across the room, precisely imitating the expected directional spray of a real break-in.
    • Moving shards from the rock that broke off when it hit the floor to a new spot that would suggest an entirely different entry trajectory, consistent with the spray of glass.
    • In an especially clever trompe l’oeil, grabbing the rock once again and rolling it into a shopping bag on the floor, thereby creating a touch of verisimilitude that would fool all but the most lynx-eyed Perugian detectives.
  • You have to assume that instead of simply disposing of the murder weapon as any garden variety of criminal might have done, Amanda took the bloody knife back to the apartment where she continued to cook and prepare food with it over the next four days (No ordinary ghoul our Ms. Knox!).
  • You have to assume that, instead of leaving the country like the victim’s friends did, or getting a lawyer as her Italian flatmates did, or even going to the American Embassy as her family recommended, Amanda preferred to play a grueling, 40-hour+ cat and mouse game with the police–a tactic so pleasant that it left her stressed and exhausted to the point that one officer asked her if she needed medical attention.
  • You have to assume that the small army of investigators who awaited Amanda at the police station on November 5, some of whom were on special detail from Rome, were there just for the fun of it and because they had nothing better to do on a cold November midnight.  You must further assume that the assemblage of this task force required no prior planning or authorization and had absolutely nothing to do with the fact Amanda’s mother was flying in the next day to take charge of the situation and assist her daughter.
  • You have to assume that when Amanda did “crumble,” she did not: a) confess or b) attempt to shift the blame to her co-perpetrators, but c) blamed an innocent bystander she had every reason to expect would have an iron-clad alibi.

Surely, and as we are sane, reasonable people, the most fitting and proper response to this speculative daisy-chain of contrived nonsense is humor–derisive laughter, to be specific. It is just a breathtakingly foolish reconstruction of events and only card carrying fools would believe it.

The prosecution’s clean-up theory and claimed time of death defy the laws of nature. The other elements are merely wildly implausible. Taken together they are the stuff of fairy tales, and about as far from reality and sound judicial reasoning as it is humanly possible to be.

Unfortunately, recent experience shows that fairy tales pass as sound reasoning in the osmotic swamps of the Italian courts. And what, you ask, about bedrock legal protections such as the presumption of innocence, prosecutorial burden of proof, the neutrality of judges, and acquittal when there’s reasonable doubt?

The answer is these protections do not exist in Italy when powerful interests will them to disappear.

By way of winding all of this up, let’s briefly examine the competing, alternative hypothesis that Rudy Guede, acting alone, killed Meredith Kercher. Where the case against Amanda Knox is a speculative disaster, the case against Guede has the simple inevitability of truth.

  • There is no evidence at all of Amanda Knox in the room where Meredith was murdered, but there is abundant and unimpeachable evidence against Guede.  It includes bloody palm and finger prints, bloody shoe prints, and DNA on the victim’s clothes, on her personal property, and in her vagina.
  • In the immediate aftermath of the murder, Guede left Meredith Kercher dying horribly and choking in her own blood as he went dancing at a club, where friends described his mood as being altered and his manner “rough and serious.”
  • Guede admitted to being at the scene of the murder and only began naming Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito as co-perpetrators after prosecutors offered a sweetheart deal that required him to do so. Previously he had maintained that Knox was not at the scene and that he did not even know who Sollecito was.
  • Where Amanda Knox remained in Italy without a lawyer, Guede fled to Germany. After he was tracked down there, someone paid for a politically well connected team of lawyers to accompany him back to Italy before he could be interviewed by the Italian police.
  • Unlike Knox, who had plenty of money, Guede was in constant need of funds, and the murder took place on “rent day,” a time when money was likely to be around because rent was paid in cash. The money that the victim had in her purse disappeared and the purse itself had Guede’s DNA on it.
  • Unlike Knox, who had no history of criminality, Guede was a one man crime wave during the weeks leading up to the murder. He was arrested multiple times and his criminal modus operandi foreshadowed many of the elements of the Kercher murder: he broke in through second story windows, helped himself to food, defecated in the toilet, stole money and electronic items, and threatened people with knives.

Now,  just a few short years after being the sole author of a heinous of murder, Rudy Guede is being allowed out of prison regularly in preparation for supervised release. He is enjoying the prospect of freedom even as two innocent young people are being hounded almost to the grave.

If you find yourself outraged and asking how this is remotely possible, you are well on your way to understanding the full infamy of the case. From the first, the effort to frame Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito has been linked to an equally determined effort to deflect attention from Guede and minimize the grave indications of his guilt.

We know for certain that this is so. What we don’t know is why.

~Lenroot Mays

 

 

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