Amanda Knox: Auguries of Innocence

One observer's view of the Amanda Knox case

Month: May, 2014

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

 

 

A Dumb-Ass Case

There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

–Elie Wiesel

“This is a dumb-ass case”

–Tim Black

 

The latest “motivations” report in the Amanda Knox case has proven to be even more ridiculous than any of us could have predicted.

Some six years after the murder of Meredith Kercher, a plump, overbearing Florentine judge named Alessando Nencini has proclaimed to the world new truths about the case, a new motive for the murder, and a whole new weighting of the facts. He also misrepresents the court record and makes up new facts, seemingly on the fly.

It really can’t get much sillier than this.

I will not dwell excessively on my own history with this serial fiasco.  Suffice it to say that over the last four years I have spent spent more hours than I would care to count examining the case against Amanda Knox. Unlike the magi who control the Italian judiciary, I can’t absorb a complex truth by some curious process of “osmosis” (their word, unfortunately) that does not involve the use of my brain. I have been forced to analyze the evidence the old fashioned way–that is, piece by careful piece and with the assistance of voluminous background reading and whatever capacity for judgment I have developed over the years.

What I discovered, somewhat to my initial astonishment I admit, was that quite literally none of the evidence against Knox survives rational scrutiny. It is apparent that Knox no more killed Meredith Kercher than you did or I did or one of the Obama daughters did.

All along Amanda Knox and her supporters have suffered from the touching but ultimately debilitating belief that if the facts along with logic, science, technology and common sense were on the side of the defense, the defense should then prevail. We know differently now. We know that the case is not about evidence or a search for the truth–if, indeed, it ever was about such things. It is about a will to power. It is about protecting the reputation of powerful institutions and persons. It is about a young person having to be guilty because important people in Italy find it preferable to condemn the innocent than admit to grave, foolish errors.

In short, what could, early in 2008, have been an easily correctible mistake, has now alchemized into Italy’s version of the Dreyfus affair. But in this case it is the Italian courts, not military, that have become the enemies of justice and civilization.

In the entries that follow I will, from time to time and as the spirit moves me, offer a series of essays that convey what I have learned about the Knox case over the past four and a half years. These will be nothing more or less than one man’s considered view of events he has watched unfold for a long time.  I will perforce discuss what has accurately been called the “profound lack of evidence” against Amanda Knox.  But since it is my thesis that the case is not now about evidence I will employ a freer ranging critique that stresses the following themes:

  1. The narrative reconstruction of events put forth by the Italian courts is fundamentally absurd. In essence, we are being asked to believe in fairy tales.
  2. The alternative hypothesis–that Rudy Guede acting alone killed Meredith Kercher–is the only intellectually valid and respectable interpretation of the facts.
  3. The abridgment of Amanda Knox’s legal rights under internationally accepted principles of law has been far more egregious and prolonged than is generally recognized.
  4. The case has been characterized from the first by the destruction, withholding, and misrepresentation of evidence on a scale that simply shocks the conscience.
  5. The justice system in Italy is a unique, scandalous mess, completely unworthy of its citizens–a fact that has not escaped the notice of scholars, journalists, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and, of course, the many reform minded Italians who have tried to change it.

To these four themes or areas of inquiry I will add two others, which I confidently predict will become increasingly important as we move forward.

First, I intend to focus on what might be called the “Great Guede Coverup.”  Rudy Guede was in the midst of a crime spree when the murder took place, and all of the evidence points to him as the lone killer. Despite this, the authorities have sought at every opportunity to treat him gently while deflecting media attention from him and minimizing his role in the killing.

This rank insult to justice demands that we ask questions:

  • Why has the effort to railroad Amanda Knox been harnessed to an equally forceful attempt to protect Guede?
  • Is it true as some informed observers have suggested that Guede was a police informer?
  • What role is being played by the wealthy and politically influential Perugian family that adopted Guede, the “beautiful family” that he says continues to support him?
  • Is it possible that the police in Perugian police enabled Meredith Kercher’s killer by not taking him off the streets when they had the chance?

Back in the heyday of investigative journalism we might have had reporters asking and finding answers to such questions.

Finally, I intend to examine the role of an aggressive, well funded, technically sophisticated and highly motivated pro-guilt campaign, based in London, quite possibly with the ongoing, behind-the scenes support of the victim’s family. This group has attacked Knox supporters viciously and targeted reporters and editors at major news outlets in U.S., the U.K., and Italy. Sad to say, the campaign has met with at least some success. Careers have been damaged. Major news organizations have been suborned. And TV commentators have become confused to the point that they make highly absurd, rookie mistakes in their characterization of the evidence.

Too much as been made about the decision of Amanda Knox’s family to seek professional assistance in sorting through innumerable interview requests. Not nearly enough has been made of the Kercher family’s deep roots in London’s entertainment and news community and the family’s being well positioned to influence reporting and coverage behind the scenes.

And so we must ask some questions here too.

  • If, like Margaret Thatcher, Meredith Kercher had been a grocer’s daughter from Lincolnshire, would the coverage, especially in the UK media, have been different?
  • How active has the Kercher family been in using their media and social contacts to promote the view that Amanda Knox is guilty?
  • Is it ever possible for the family of a murder victim to behave badly?

I have few illusions about my ability to inspire the Knox haters to stop hating or the pro-guilt professionals to stop their disinformation campaign. I hope, rather, to reach persons of intelligence and good will who might find it useful to understand why an average, fairly well educated guy with no tolerance for violent crime could be so confident of Amanda Knox’s innocence.

Indeed, I cannot emphasize this last point nearly enough. If I thought there were one chance in a thousand that Amanda Knox were actually guilty, I would not be supporting her. 

I welcome fair minded, serious comments and/or inquiries, but bear in mind that comments will be moderated. As Judge Harry Roosevelt says in John Grisham’s The Client: This is my little private courtroom, and I make the rules.” 

~Lenroot Mays