Last week the Italian Supreme Court released a 74 page document outlining its reasons for overturning the appellate acquittal of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito for the 2007 murder of British exchange student Meredith Kercher. The decision reinstates their original 2009 conviction and orders a new appellate level review to be held in Florence. For now, the two remain free. The harshly worded opinion is so illogical and so poorly written that it defines a new low in a case that has been widely condemned by legal experts from around the world. The decision virtually directs the court in the upcoming trial to find the two guilty.
American experts have with only a few exceptions forcefully declared Knox and Sollecito to be innocent. They believe the crime was committed alone by a third person, Rudy Guede, who was convicted in 2008 and is serving a 16 year sentence. This is in stark contrast to the perceptions in Italy and the UK where many, if not most, people see the two as guilty.
Europe’s sleazy tabloid industry is all over the recent decision. One of the most notorious journalists covering the case, travel and dining columnist Barbie Latza Nadeau, could barely contain her glee.
Under Italian law the Court of Cassation, as it is known, is supposed to limit its scope to examination of whether Italian law was properly applied (points of law). It is not supposed to pass judgment on the quality of the evidence (points of fact). In painfully confused language the latest opinion disagrees with virtually every conclusion of the appellate court. The recent decision has even set off a war of words within the Italian judiciary. Over the last few days, Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellmann, who presided over the appellate acquittal, has openly criticized the Supreme Court ruling. In America, a recently retired judge from the Seattle area, Michael Heavey, has described the Italian Supreme Court’s actions as “criminal.”
Problems with the Supreme Court Ruling
In the Italian system the judge is a member of the jury and is required to author a detailed opinion several months after the verdict outlining the court’s reasoning for its decision. The “motivation document” as it is known is fully in the public domain. Trial transcripts and other court records are less available. Journalists and others can view them and quote excerpts but they cannot publish the documents in their original unaltered form. The result in Amanda’s case was an important public debate that was based on questionable journalism and Internet blog hearsay. The recent Supreme Court opinion is the third motivation document to be released. The two previous decisions relate to the 2009 conviction and the 2011 appellate acquittal.
A brief summary of the case: Amanda and Meredith were both spending their junior year abroad in the idyllic university town of Perugia and were renting adjacent rooms in a cottage on the edge of town. According to Perugia’s controversial prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, Meredith had died in a female led sex-game gone wrong. Amanda Knox, the photogenic then 20-year old from Seattle, had directed her two boy toys to rape and kill Meredith. To real experts the crime was tragic but not complicated. Sexually motivated homicides of young women in their prime are invariably the work of a troubled male. Once the scientific evidence came back it would point straight at a local petty criminal named Rudy Guede who had fled to Germany a few days after the crime.
Virtually every point made in the Italian Supreme Court (ISC) document takes issues with the interpretation of evidence. They justify their examination of points of fact by invoking a “manifest lack of logic” or violations of the “principle of completeness.” The reality is that the Supreme Court decision is simply a review of the evidence.
The Staged Break-in
One of the major disagreements at trial was what to make of the broken window in the room of Filomena Romanelli, one of the two other Italian women who shared the upstairs of the cottage with Meredith and Amanda. The defense believed that Rudy Guede had climbed in the window after smashing it with a rock from the outside. Prosecutors argued that Knox and Sollecito had rearranged the room in an attempt to divert attention from their own involvement.
Outside experts including two retired FBI agents, Steve Moore and John E. Douglas, have studied the crime scene photographs and concluded that there was no evidence of staging. Everything is consistent with the defense position that Guede had climbed in the window during a burglary of the apartment. For years there have been endless online debates about glass on top of clothes, grass that didn’t show footprints, the difficulty of climbing in the window, etc. In the end the single most important consideration is that Rudy Guede had been involved in a previous break-in of a Perugian law office where the entry was through an elevated window broken with a rock. His modus-operandi was all over the crime scene. Of this the ISC writes:
“The claim that Rudy Guede had previously trespassed by climbing walls of three meters from the ground, late at night, using large stones to break windows does not overcome the weakness of the arguments, since these are really conjecture, without dignity in a legitimate discourse focused on objective evidence that emerged in the process” P.47
Italian police had actually refused to come into court and testify about their investigation of Guede’s involvement in the Perugian law office break-in. Instead, the defense had had to rely on the victims themselves to describe the events. Italian authorities had good reason to fear cross examination or public scrutiny of their actions. Meredith Kercher would be alive today if they had properly investigated and acted upon these citizen complaints.
About a month before the murder, Guede had broken into a house in Perugia and threatened the homeowner with a knife during his escape. Police were called but did nothing. Then, only three days prior to the murder, Guede was caught inside a nursery school in Milan as the owner, Maria del Prato, arrived in the morning with two repairmen. When police arrived they found a laptop and cell phone in his backpack that they were able to determine had been stolen from a Perugian law office. When contacted by Milanese authorities, Perugian police simply requested that Guede be put back on a train to Perugia. At this point, only hours before the murder, police had definitive knowledge of three separate felonies by Guede yet they did not act.
Prior Knowledge of the Murder
One of the most bizarre aspects of the court’s decision is the attempt to revive the claim that Amanda knew things only the killer would know. The court writes:
“The call the young woman made to her mother showed a concern for a fact that, if she had been a stranger to the incident, she could not have known.” p.72
“It was however pointed out by all the English girls at the hearing on Feb 13, 2009, that Knox on the evening of Nov 2, 2007 had told them that she had found Meredith’s body in front of the wardrobe, covered by a quilt with a foot sticking out, her throat cut, and with blood everywhere. This contradicts Knox’s testimony of June 13, 2009 where she stated that she had seen nothing. The details given to her friends potentially demonstrate knowledge prior to the intervention of the police.” p.72
Amanda was present when the door to Meredith’s room was broken down but did not look inside the room. The British girls were not there. The door was actually broken down by a young man named Luca Alteri who was friends with others who lived in the cottage. He was the first to see the blood soaked scene and would later describe how the police officer behind him picked up the duvet covering Meredith so he could be sure she was dead. Luca described what he saw in Italian to Raffaele who passed it on to Amanda. While at the police station, Amanda was also told by a police officer that Meredith’s throat had been cut. What do they think? The young people who were ordered out of the house wouldn’t talk among themselves about what they had seen.
It also turns out that at the exact moment the door was broken down Amanda had just called her mother in Seattle. So what? There were police there with doors being broken down. A call to her mother in a tense moment doesn’t show she knew there was a body in the room.
Also bizarre was the court’s interpretation of the luminol evidence. Luminol is a valuable forensic tool for identifying small amounts of blood that might not be visible to the naked eye. Footprints compatible with Amanda Knox were identified in the apartment through the use of luminol. The problem is that Amanda lived there and had walked around in bare feet prior to the discovery of the body. The court believed that the prints were made in the victim’s blood and that a significant cleanup had taken place. The court writes:
“Following the use of luminol, it was shown that Knox, with her feet stained with the blood of the victim, went into Romanelli’s room leaving impressions exposed by luminol, some of which are mixed and biological traces attributable to Knox and Kercher”
“It was noted that these traces had been formed by blood diluted with water, which was considered highly demonstrative of the presence of Knox at the time of cleaning of the house from marks of blood of the victim.”
A number of substances such as household cleaners and some kinds of dirt can also produce a luminol reaction. Under International protocols a second confirmatory test using tetrabenazine is required to demonstrate the presence of blood. It turns out that these second tests were run with negative results. The prints tested negative for both the blood and DNA of the victim. In the original trial, the court had been misled about the tests. In sworn testimony forensic investigator Patrizia Stefanoni stated that the confirmatory tests for blood had not been run. She lied through her teeth. For more information please see this article by former FBI agent Steve Moore, The Luminol Lies available on the Injusticeinperugia website.
Britain’s legendary tabloid industry – The Daily Mail, The Mirror, and others — covered the story from day one, putting out salacious information that was often later proven to be false. Once people had made up their minds about the case, there was no going back. But perhaps the worst offender is a new kid on the block, The Daily Beast, an online publication founded a couple of years ago by Tina Brown, the woman largely responsible for the demise of Newsweek’s print edition.
Tina Brown’s favorite correspondent is Barbie Latza Nadeau, a Rome based journalist who grew up on a South Dakota farm. Barbie’s performance on the case has been a disgrace to American journalism. She is also the author of Angel Face: The True Story of Student Killer Amanda Knox, a trashy book about the case that has been universally condemned in its Amazon.com customer reviews. In her Daily Beast article about the ISC decision, Barbie writes:
“The appellate court dismissed the theory of multiple assassins based on the suspects in front of them, concluding that Knox and Sollecito showed no predisposition for murder so, despite any evidence, they surely could not have committed the crime. But Italy’s high court disagrees.”
Despite any evidence? Here is what the eminent FBI profiler John E. Douglas had to say:
“The facts and evidence in this case are abundantly clear to any legitimate homicide investigator: Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito are innocent of the murder of Meredith Kercher. Rudy Guede is guilty. End of story. And the longer the Italian authorities refuse to accept that, the more they will embarrass themselves and shame the standards of truth they claim to honor.”
Even stronger language was used by Seattle area Judge Michael Heavey. He writes:
“In an effort to save face the Italian Supreme Court joined the prosecution and police in Perugia who perpetrated these false accusations. The Italian Supreme Court has become criminals themselves. They continue the abuse of two good young people.”
The Italian Supreme Court is no stranger to controversy. Their “Honorary President”, Ferdinando Imposimato, thinks that the CIA had met with Osama bin Laden in the weeks prior to the 9/11 Attacks. In his own words:
“The 9/11 attacks were a global state terror operation permitted by the administration of the USA, which had foreknowledge of the operation yet remained intentionally unresponsive in order to make war against Afghanistan and Iraq.”
“On July 12, 2001 Osama bin Laden was in American Hospital in Dubai. He was visited by a CIA agent… This information was confirmed by Radio France International, which disclosed the name of the agent who met bin Laden—Larry Mitchell.”
It is not clear exactly what is meant by “Honorary President” but the failure of the ISC to distance itself from such crazy conspiracy theories is telling. Imposimato apparently served as a judge for many years but has never sat on the Supreme Court.
Another infamous decision back in 1998 earned the ire of the Women’s Movement. The court ruled that a woman who was wearing tight jeans could not have been raped because it would have been too hard for attacker to remove them. Since only she could take them off, the ensuing sex must have been consensual. Feminists were outraged and responded by creating Denim Day, held annually each April where women are encouraged to wear jeans to work.
More recently in 2009, the Italian judicial system came under fire for convicting six scientists for failing to predict an earthquake in the city of L’Aguila that killed 309 people. The scientific community was shocked; No one can predict an earthquake.
The world’s attention is now focused on the Italian judicial system. All countries, including the United States, make judicial mistakes. In the case of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito the Italian system has taken a wrong turn. The sooner the Italian people take a hard look at the performance of their judicial officials, the better.