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

by Lenroot

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:

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