AMANDA KNOX and the deleted SMS
On the night of 1st November 2007 English student Meredith Kercher was murdered in her apartment in Perugia, Italy. Amanda Knox, her American flat mate spent the evening and night elsewhere with her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito. They came under early suspicion and were subjected to a lengthy and unlawful interrogation on the night of 5th-6th November. Together with African bar owner Patrick Lumumba, they were arrested for the murder and brought before a judge, Claudia Matteini, two days later.
The murder and the arrests created a world-wide sensation. At a press conference held by the police on the morning of the 7th the case was pronounced closed. However, as is widely known, Lumumba soon proved to be wholly innocent, having an unimpeachable alibi, and within weeks of the arrests he was replaced as the third perpetrator by Rudy Hermann Guede, another African. This development made no difference to the prosecution, which merely ‘switched one black for another’ and carried on as if nothing had happened, eventually securing murder convictions against all three. Knox and Sollecito were not freed on appeal until October 2011 and a prosecution appeal to Italy’s highest court is currently pending.
The conduct of the prosecution gave rise to grave cause for concern, featuring not merely serial and gross incompetence but also highly questionable evidence collection and destruction. Because Lumumba was freed early in the process, however, there has been little focus on precisely how he came to be implicated in the first place. A key part seems to have been played by an innocuous exchange of text messages between him and Amanda on the night of the crime. At the time, Amanda was making a little money by working two nights a week at Lumumba’s bar, Le Chic, in the centre of the town. The night of the murder was one such evening but around 8.20 p.m. she got a text from her boss telling her not to come to work as business was slow. She replied a few minutes later, in Italian, ‘have a good evening, see you later’ and then switched off her phone.
His text message was subsequently not to be found on her cell phone. I am trying to establish whether it remained on his and, if so, exactly what it said (which is important too). In this article I identify a number of reasons for believing the police themselves deleted the message from Amanda’s phone.
Amanda quickly became the focus of the investigation, a fact of which she remained wholly unaware when she accompanied Raffaele to the police station about 10.30 p.m. on the night of the 5th. The police had been snooping on telephone calls and checking cell phone records and thought they had discovered a critical pattern. Not only did they learn about the exchange of texts but also that Amanda had switched her phone off at about the same time that Patrick’s phone had been detected, at 08:38 p.m. precisely [La Republica 11 Nov 2007], in the vicinity of Meredith’s apartment. Early reports indicated the police were looking for a black man and Patrick was not only black but also acquainted with the victim. On the night of 2nd November he called Amanda while she was at the police station, a call the police must have noted and may also have listened to, and on the morning of 5th November he met her in front of the University, very likely under police observation, and asked her about the progress of the enquiry.
Amanda was interrogated from shortly after arriving at the police station until shortly before 6 a.m. the next morning. In that period, she signed two ‘confessions’ one timed at 1.45 a.m. and the other at 5.45. In the first, she said:
‘Last Thursday, November 1, a day on which I normally work, while I was at the house of my boyfriend Raffaele, at around 8:30 pm, I received a message on my cellular phone from Patrick, who told me that the premises would remain closed that evening, because there were no customers, and thus I would not need to go to work.
"I responded to the message by telling him that we would see each other at once; I then left the house, telling my boyfriend that I had to go to work.’
In the second, a rehash of the first but with many crucial differences, she said:
I am very afraid of Patrick, the African owner of the pub called 'Le Chic' on Via Alessi where I occasionally work. I met him on the evening of the first of November, after having sent him a message replying to his, with the words 'see you'
[Both translations by Komponisto]
So, in the second version, the content of Patrick’s message disappeared and with it the entirely innocuous context of the exchange. This is already a noteworthy and very striking fact.
At the hearing before Judge Claudia Matteini, Patrick and Amanda gave very slightly different versions of his message, the message itself by then being missing from her cell phone and the exact text clearly not being before the judge. Both were doing their best to tell the truth but the judge nevertheless took the least favourable view, saying:
‘ … and as regards the relevance of the text of the message that [Patrick] had sent around 20.30 to Amanda, there are discordances between what was referred to by [her] and what was affirmed by [Patrick]; in fact, while [she] spoke of a message by which she was advised that the locale would have remained shut and therefore she would not have needed to go to work, Patrick makes reference to having written to her that for that night there was no need of her attendance owing to so few customers.
This may appear to be a circumstance of little value when in reality it is not, being of itself a substantial difference between the two messages; it is probable that Patrick had had the intention, effectively, of not opening the locale, thinking that he might be able to spend the night with Meredith, and then, seeing how events unfolded, considered it opportune to open the pub to create an apposite alibi for himself.
For what reason Amanda would have needed to lie about the [reason for] her not having to go to work, the closure of the locale or the presence of few patrons, [nothing is] known, nor are there logical reasons for it, while a motivation much more consistent is to be found as regards [Patrick who], with the opening of the locale, created for himself an alibi for the evening.
Such [discrepancies] raise doubts about the actual text of the message even more when this is placed against the response that Amanda sent Patrick of the tenor “meet you soon”, a reply logically in reference to a closure of the locale in order to have a free night and a succeeding appointment.’
[Translated and punlished at PMF dot net]
Had the text itself been available, the judge could not have held that Amanda lied about her reason for not going to work and she would also have been faced with the incongruous fact that Patrick’s text did not, in fact, set up a meeting. In other words, the entire prosecution theory, which we know to have been incorrect and based on a nefarious meeting arranged by text message, would have lost a vital prop.
Who deleted the text from Amanda’s phone? At her trial, Amanda appeared to say that she did. Here, she answers questions from Lumumba’s lawyer, Carlo Pacelli [extracts below from professionally translated trial transcript]:
PACELLI: How did you come to decide to delete Patrick's message?
AK: I had a limited amount of space in my phone, and whenever I received a message that I didn't need to remember something for, I deleted them.
PACELLI: Why didn't you delete your own when you answered him?
AK: Umm, I'm not used to deleting those. I just delete the ones that I receive, I believe.
Aside from noting Pacelli’s unfair first question (‘when did you stop beating your wife’) it is significant that, in answering, Amanda does not say she deleted that specific message. Her answer is a generalisation about her usual practice which is not said by her to be invariable. Nevertheless, Amanda’s own testimony is usually given as a decisive answer to any suggestion she may not have deleted Patrick’s message and such was my own view also, until I came across this long and uninterrupted segment of the testimony:
AK: … the interrogation process was very long and difficult. Arriving in the police office, I didn't expect to be interrogated at all. When I got there, I was sitting on my own doing my homework, when a couple of police officers came to sit with me. They began to ask me the same questions that they had been asking me days...all these days ever since it happened. For instance, who could I imagine could be the person who killed Meredith, and I said I still didn't know, and so what they did is, they brought me into another interrogation room. Once I was in there, they asked me to repeat everything that I had said before, for instance what I did that night. They asked me to see my phone, which I gave to them, and they were looking through my phone, which is when they found the message. When they found the message, they asked me if I had sent a message back, which I didn't remember doing. That's when they started being very hard with me. They called me a stupid liar, and they said that I was trying to protect someone.
Note that this evidence is given without being directed by questioning which, as is well known, can be used to lead or direct a witness to where the questioner wants her to go. The evidence was given on 12th and 13th June 2009, more than a year and half after the event, plenty of time for memories to fade. Her recollection closer to the time is surely more to be trusted so it is significant that on 10th November 2007, only 4 days after the interrogations, she had a conversation with her mother, Edda Mellas, which, like everything else in the case, apart from the interrogations themselves supposedly, was recorded by the police. This is part of the transcript in which Amanda recalls her interrogation:
I said … that what happened was that everyone had left the room, at that moment one of the police officers had said: ‘I’m the only one that can save you, I’m the only one that can save you. Just give me a name.’ And I said: ‘I don’t know!’ And then they said, I said: ‘can you show me the message that I received from Patrick? Because I don’t remember having replied to him, and so they showed me the message and then I had said: ‘Patrick’. And then I thought of Patrick, of seeing Patrick, and so I thought that I had completely lost my mind, and I imagined him um of seeing him and ..
[quoted in the Galati appeal - translation by PMF dot net]
This is a clear statement from Amanda, made only four days after the event, that she was shown the message from Patrick. Her evidence at trial was to the effect she had completely forgotten the exchange of texts until she was interrogated, a fact which, though entirely innocuous, may well have heightened police suspicions. At no time had police enquiries focused overtly on Patrick so there had been nothing to prompt her recollection prior to the all-night interrogation. The fact she was able to include full details of the message in the first ‘confession’ thus lends further support to the idea that it remained on her phone at all times before being seized as evidence.
As noted, between 1.45 a.m. and 5.45 a.m. when Amanda traversed the same ground, but with certain crucial differences, reference to the text disappeared. Is all the above enough to infer that the police deleted it? In my opinion, it comes close, but there is more. The police, delighted with their achievement at solving the crime so quickly, promptly staged a press conference the next day at which Arturo De Felice, head of the police, said this, according to the Daily Telegraph, a reputable British newspaper:
"She crumbled. She confessed. There were holes in her alibi. Her mobile phone records were crucial."
He said Knox's claims that she was elsewhere had been demonstrated to be false. The police found text messages on her phone from Lumumba, fixing a meeting between them at 8.35pm on the night Miss Kercher died.
[Malcolm Moore, writing on 07 Nov 2007 - the article is online]
This inadvertent disclosure is entirely inconsistent with the story peddled to Judge Matteini and accepted by her as justifying preventive detention, itself a devastating blow to all three accused and a crucial milestone for the prosecution.
So to recap, the indicators are:
- the fact the 1.45 statement does not record that the text was deleted which, had it been true, would have been most useful to the police;
- the fact both the content of the text and the context of the exchange disappeared in the 5.45 document;
- De Felice’s inadvertent disclosure to the world’s press that they found text messages from Lumumba on Amanda’s phone;
- Amanda’s call to her mother in which she says the same thing
- Amanda’s trial testimony
I suggest these points, taken together, afford strong grounds for believing that, probably sometime during the night of 5th-6th November 2007, someone other than Amanda Knox deleted Lumumba’s text from her cell phone with intent to pervert the course of the enquiry and to the great prejudice of three entirely innocent people.
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