Amanda Knox Appeal II / Meredith Kercher Murder
*Below you will find dated updates on Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito appeals trial for the murder of Meredith Kercher, beginning Sept 30 in Florence, including live updates from court. Scroll down for info on dates, locations, links to documents, overviews, transcripts and other background. The most exhaustive collection of primary source documents in English is located at the wiki site here.
UPDATE NOV. 29, 2013
If you are Italian, there is no longer any need to show your passport to fly to Paris. Unless, of course, you are Raffaele Sollecito. The day after a Florence appeals prosecutor requested a 26-year sentence for his role in the murder of Meredith Kercher, Sollecito headed to the airport. He was stopped as he tried to board an Air France flight from Florence to Paris when a police officer recognized him, according to this story in today’s Florentine daily newspaper La Nazione. According to La Nazione, Sollecito’s unexpected presence at the airport Wednesday caused a flurry of concerned phone calls and checks of his travel documents before he was allowed to board and the plane took off, albeit with a delay. The article speculated that Sollecito’s final destination might be Santo Domingo in the Caribbean, where he was watching his appeal from afar before returning to give spontaneous declaration. But by the end of the day Thursday, Sollecito’s father, Francesco confirmed in this media report in TGcom 24 that Sollecito was already back home with the family in Puglia. “Raffaele is a free citizen with his passport in order, which permits him to travel where he chooses,” he was quoted as saying, adding that Sollecito will probably again go abroad for the Christmas vacation, before returning to Italy for the final January hearings. A verdict is expected for January 15.
UPDATE NOV. 26, 2013
Florence Appeals Prosecutor Alessandro Crini Tuesday requested 30 years of jail for Amanda Knox and 26 years for Raffaele Sollecito after finishing 11 hours of tough closing arguments that stretched over two days, but revealed few new details, just a more coherent weaving together of evidence that’s been heard before. Noteworthy is the 4 years of jail requested for Knox for aggravated calumny related to blaming Patrick Lumumba for the murder. The request is particularly severe (aggravated) because, Crini argued, the calumny was not a separate stand-alone crime, but rather strictly related to the homicide. Remember, three years has already been given to Knox (time served) for a simple calumny charge that she was convicted on in the first instance, in her first appeal, and definitively by the Court of Cassation. This added one year requested by Crini for the “aggravated” (i.e. particularly serious or grave) aspect of the calumny was Tuesday’s unexpected twist. In the first instance, Knox and Sollecito were convicted of 26 and 25 years respectively. Florence, it turns out, might be even more hostile territory for the two than Perugia was. But of course the defense has yet to have its day and Giulia Bongiorno is a triple threat: a talented orator, politically influential and legally savvy.
In Perugia, meanwhile, the courthouse, cop shops and newsstands buzzed with news of the tough Florence request. Members of the Polizia Scientifica in Rome were also watching the arguments carefully, including Patrizia Stefanoni, the forensic police expert whose laboratory work has come under close scrutiny in all three trials (and is sharply criticised by the defense). Today Crini staunchly defended Stefanoni’s labwork, including her controversial discovery of Meredith Kercher’s DNA on the blade of the kitchen knife believed to be the murder weapon. Outside the courthouse, Sollecito’s father said he was “without words” and taken aback by the aggressive prosecution. Sollecito himself did not attend today. Amanda Knox’s lawyers said they had spoken with her client in the U.S., who was sorry to hear of the day’s developments, but vowed to “radically contest” every single point, like always. The civil parties, Meredith Kercher’s family and Patrick Lumumba, are expected to fully back the prosecution’s request. Their closing arguments are expected December 16th. Trial calendar update soon.
UPDATE NOV. 25, 2013
Razed to the ground. Faulty logic. Conjecture. Implausible. Unconvincing. A combination of inconsistencies. Large spectrum censorship of the facts. These were just a few of the scathing adjectives used by a Florence prosecutor to describe the acquittal decision in the first appeals trial that freed Amanda Knox in 2011. Appeals prosecutor Alessandro Crini wasn’t mincing words Monday in his terse closing arguments, which lasted seven hours and are expected to continue Tuesday, before wrapping with an sentencing request — possibly life. He urged the judge and jury to keep the Supreme Court’s 2013 mandate for a new trial in mind: to consider all the evidence wholly, in context, not separately piece by piece. He dismissed as “absurd” the lone wolf theory that the murder might have been committed by Rudy Guede alone, drew attention to fertile ground of suspicious “post factum” actions and behaviors, discussed the importance of witnesses, how to judge their reliability, as well as some of the forensic evidence (more on that tomorrow). He also reminded the jury of important narrative details and their context, like the fact that Sollecito told the Caribinieri in his recorded emergency call to authorities that there had been a break in . . . but when asked by the dispatcher, responded that nothing was stolen. How did he know? Police had not yet arrived at or checked the scene, and he was calling from outside. Those familiar with case heard little that was new, but the method with which he stitched together the evidence offered some “aha” moments for newcomers. Some casewatchers, including Barbie Nadeau in this Daily Beast piece today, suggested Crini was harder on Knox than on Sollecito, prompting speculation that the groundwork was being laid for options that could separate the judicial positions of the two. Such a development has often been speculated about, but never materialized. For six years the defense has always shown a united front. But there is one notable difference this time around: Sollecito is attending the trial, while Knox is not, preferring to remain in the U.S.
Insiders noted that some gravitas was added to the Florence prosecutor’s arguments by the presence beside him of veteran magistrate Tindari Baglione. Baglione became a judge in 1970 and worked as prosecutor in Florence for 14 years before moving on to Pistoia, then the Supreme Court. He returned to prosecute again in Florence (in the Court of Appeals) in June of this year. His presence in court is viewed as a gesture of support to Crini, a physical reminder that it is an institution–not just one man–asking for convictions to be upheld. Civil parties, including lawyers for the Kercher family and Patrick Lumumba, will give their arguments next, followed by defense arguments in December — likely to be equally heated. A verdict is expected in mid-January.
UPDATE NOV. 23, 2013
Monday and Tuesday the prosecution and civil parties will make their cases in the Florence court of appeals, which is currently hearing the appeal of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito. It is the second appeals trial in this case. The first appeal, which resulted in acquittal, was annulled by Italy’s Supreme Court in March 2013. The court remanded the case back down to appeal, in another jurisdiction outside Umbria.
On the eve of the prosecution’s case to the Florence court of appeals this coming Monday comes news that an internal review is being conducted of the appropriateness of of spending 182,000 euros ($240,000) in public monies to create a 23-minute high definition animated video used in the first Amanda Knox trial, in which she was convicted. The 23-minute high-definition video was approved by prosecutor Manuela Comodi, who curated the forensic aspect of the trial. Those in the video/tv/graphics business know HD graphics can be very costly, costing up to thousands of euros per minute. But $240,000? It simply seems too much. And Comodi is being asked to justify this expense to the National Council of Magistrates in December. But as with almost every story that breaks on this case, there is more to the story than meets the eye. A review of the facts shows it was an anonymous group of Perugia citizens who filed a denuncia (formal complaint) with the Umbria audit office regarding the costly video and who it was awarded to and why (worth considering: who were these anonymous citizens and were they in any way related to the media group who did not get the bid?). An important detail might be the fact that the invoice for video services incorporated a much larger documentation project that included the animated video, but also a number of other media services, including video recording of witnesses testimony and key court hearings and presentations. Prosecutors in Perugia apparently thought it necessary to have a master file of recorded trial testimony on file as part of the case record. Hence the price tag is for much more than just the animated video. For the record, the animated video shown on the final day of closing arguments, as I reported from court here and mentioned again in this more broad analysis of the trial, was not a particularly effective tool for making the prosecution’s case. The oversexualized cartoon reenactment featured badly-stereotyped avatars and seemed trivial and silly compared to the more compelling original testimony of police and witnesses, which jury members heard in the trial of first instance, but not in the appeal. A waste of money? Probably. But it would be interesting to see a solid cost analysis conducted of this entire trial (which has yet to come to a final conclusion). What did the prosecution spend to provide extra security, to transport of witnesses, to prosecute its case, including the video services bill? How much did Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito’s families spend on their defense and high-profile public relations efforts? On the consultants who were paid to show their faces in court, and for those who were paid (and worked feverishly) behind the scenes in Italy and back in the United States? One might argue those are very different costs — private vs. public. But is it possible that U.S. state or federal monies or resources were used for Amanda Knox’s defense as well? Is that public spending under scrutiny? How much money changed hands in this entire case in the last five years? Undoubtedly millions.
My view is that wherever there is the possibility for more transparency, be it in the secret U.S. defense of Amanda Knox or the potentially wasteful video animation paid for by Italian taxpayers . . . the details should be laid bare for all to examine.
UPDATE NOV. 6, 2013
THE NEW APPEAL
Italy’s supreme court annulled the acquittal of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito in March 2013 and ordered a new appeals trial. This situation is loosely comparable to the procedure in the U.S. called a remand.
The second appeal trial is now under way. On Wednesday, the RIS deposited their forensic report on trace 36i, a spot of DNA identified (but not tested earlier) on the kitchen knife alleged to be the murder weapon. “Cento Percento” (100 percent) said Major Berti, discussing compatibility. The RIS found that the DNA was compatible with Amanda Knox, and excluded that it was that of Sollecito, Guede or Kercher. Only a few questions were asked by attorneys and the judge. The judge asked why the RIS had done two amplifications of the DNA and not 3 or 4. RIS experts described that two is considered the minimum number of amplifications necessary, according to today’s forensic standards, doing less (or more) might have diminished the reliability of the results. The judge also asked about the age of the equipment used. The RIS experts responded that the forensic kit used this time has been commercialized in 2010 and available for use since 2011. At one point the judge stopped a line of questioning by Knox’s Rome attorney Carlo Dalla Vedova, who was asking why the RIS described Knox’s DNA as “fluids” when a prior expert had said the trace did not come from blood. Nencini said: That question was not put to the RIS by this court, it was not their job to determine that. The other experts’ reports are in the case files for everyone to read, he noted, adding: “We cannot put words in the mouth of this expert that were said by another expert.”
POSTSCRIPT ON THE KNIFE
In fact, the determination that trace 36i is Knox’s DNA profile is a finding that will be added to the full existing body of evidence in the case. At the end of the day, judge and jury will be tasked with considering the evidence & findings reported in a) the first trial: (Kercher’s DNA found on the blade and Knox’s DNA found on the handle of the knife) and b) the appeal (though the acquittal was annulled, the various reports introduced during the first appeal remain a part of the case file, including the report by forensic experts that cast doubt on the reliability of the first trial’s findings) and lastly c) this second appeal, including the RIS report that discusses trace 36i and the procedures used to arrive at the conclusion that the newly tested trace of DNA found on the point where the handle meets the blade belonged to Knox.
Bottom line? There are conflicting scientific reports about the reliability of the various traces on the knife. The judge will have to review all the reports and make a determination that is well reasoned and motivated. Will he decide that the new information made available this week further validates or further discredits the original DNA work done by the scientific police in Rome, which found the victim’s DNA on the blade of the knife? This is a key, unanswered question that will undoubtedly be the subject of hot debate in the closing argument hearings Nov 25-26 and December 16-17. But another key question is how much weight will be given to the knife at the end of the day? It is the murder weapon, but it is also just one of many pieces of forensic and circumstantial evidence being weighed by the court, which was given a broad Supreme Court mandate to look at the case wholly, not piecemeal. Sollecito clearly understands that, as he in his statement made a point in his statement of criticizing the other matters at hand: witnesses, motives (or lack thereof), footprints and the bra clasp.
Raffaele Sollecito gave a 17-minute statement to the court today in Florence, asking them to get the know the real him and pleading for his life back. Sollecito, who welled up with emotion toward the end of his remarks, sharply criticized the case that has been made against him, including evidence and witnesses, and said prosecutors continually changed the story as the years have passed. He said he simply wants live a normal life out of the spotlight, noting that it is difficult for him to look for work in Italy because he has become such a recognizable figure. It has gone on too long, he said.
Some quickly translated excerpts:
“They described me as the perfect, ruthless assassin. I am not this. When I lived in Perugia I was a reserved person. I was dedicated to my studies. I was very close to finishing my degree when all this happened. In the meantime I got to know Amanda Knox. It was my first real love of my life, even if I was a late bloomer.”
“I was thrown into jail overnight and put in maximum security. I don’t want anyone in the world to live through what I lived through. The whole life I had before this, I don’t have it anymore. It was all cancelled.”
“I never knew Rudy Guede and I barely knew Meredith. It does not make sense that I had any interest in taking part in the atrocious crime against a girl just 20 years old. This has been going forward for too many years. My life has been totally changed.”
“Today, I am before you and I am here to try to get you to know me and see the reality of this. After everything that I lived through, you can’t imagine how much it pains me to be here again and speak again in front of a court after all these years.”
“All this, had a dramatic impact, also at the psychological level. For me it is very difficult for me to look forward and be positive. I humbly request you to please look at the reality of this situation and to consider the immense wrong that has been done . . . . . . . . right now I have no life.”
Next hearings are Nov. 25 (prosecution) Nov. 26 (civil parties), Dec 16 (Sollecito defense) Dec. 17 (Knox defense). Rebuttals and Deliberations January 9-10.
UPDATE NOV. 1, 2013:
Today marks six years since Meredith Kercher was brutally murdered in the bucolic hilltop city of Perugia, Italy, while studying abroad. The quest for justice in the Kercher case has been a protracted and twisted tale, which has tragically magnified the quiet suffering of Meredith’s grieving family as the months (and years) drag on. The Perugia police investigation led to the conviction of Meredith’s flatmate, American Amanda Knox, and her Italian boyfriend at the time, Raffaele Sollecito, in 2009. A third man, African immigrant Rudy Guede, was convicted of Kercher’s murder (committed along with others) in a separate fast-track trial in 2008. His conviction was upheld on appeal and by Italy’s Supreme Court. Knox and Sollecito were freed on appeal in 2011, however the Supreme Court annulled that appeal citing legal irregularities and ordered a new one to go forward in a different jurisdiction — Florence. That trial began Sept. 30 and is expected to wrap up at the end of this year. The presiding judge ordered tests be be conducted on a trace of DNA that had been identified on the kitchen knife that was claimed to be the murder weapon. The trace was identified by independent experts in the first appeal (but never tested as was deemed too small for analysis). The judge asked that forensic scientists at the RIS in Rome use new, more sensitive equipment to analyse the DNA trace. At right, a picture of what was inside of the refrigerator in the university laboratory of the independent expert, including this crucial evidence, with a handwritten note warning “non buttare assolutamente,” which means “absolutely do not throw away.”
This time around, the presiding judge gave the DNA testing job to the Carabinieri RIS of Rome, known to be the best for CSI in Italy. The forensic scientists determined that the DNA in question was derived from “biological fluids” of Amanda Knox. Through molecular analysis, they excluded that it could have stemmed from Sollecito, Guede or Kercher. Next week, an appeals court in Florence will begin debating the 242 page report deposited with the court, which includes a 91-page forensic report on the “I” trace of DNA found on the kitchen knife believed to be the murder weapon, 85 pages of supporting analytic data and 66 pages from the court files. Raffaele Sollecito is expected to attend the hearing, while Amanda Knox remains in Seattle, and Rudy Guede is still only communicating with the media by letter, but giving no television interviews. The defense is expected to argue that the DNA result is nothing out of the ordinary, given possible domestic use of the utensils. The prosecution is expected to argue that there is no plausible reason for the Kercher and Knox’s DNA to be on the knife other than as part of the murder dynamic.
The key question is how will the judge and jury interpret the new DNA test results? UPDATE OCT. 30, 2013:
A bad apple is a bad apple. . .
Prosecutors in Perugia this week requested that the head guard who was in charge of Amanda Knox during her incarceration in Capanne prison, Vice Commander Raffaele Agiro’, stand trial for sexual abuse of a female officer who was briefly incarcerated in Perugia during 2007. According to court documents, prosecutor Massimo Casucci decided to require Agiro’ to stand trial after investigating what happened in the women’s section of the high-security prison of Capanne between December 2006 an January 2007. The first trial hearing is Nov. 19th. Specifically — the case involves the jail cell rape of an Italian woman who is now out of prison and working as a city cop in Milan. Agiro’ maintains his innocence. Amanda Knox was incarcerated in Capanne from November 2007 to the fall of 2011, when she was acquitted on an appeal, a decision later anulled by Italy’s supreme court. She is currently appealing again. She claims in her 2013 memoir that she was sexually harassed by Agiro,’ who she describes as having been obsessed with sex, often calling her up to his third floor office to question her, but then directing conversations toward sexual preferences, innuendo and other irrelevant matters. Aside from the question of Knox’s guilt or innocence as relates to the murder of Meredith Kercher, and aside from all the public relations machinations that have accompanied this case and the obsessive management of her image and story, I have always sustained that the specific written account of what Ms. Knox experienced in Capanne prison was credible. In my opinion, it was one of the few compelling (and perhaps truly genuine) chapters of her memoir. But why did her own attorneys, who she said she told about the harassment, never make a complaint? Will Perugia prosecutors pursue the matter now that another woman has come forward? Can she make a reasonable case against the prison guard, even though she has been definitively convicted of misleading investigators by blaming Patrick Lumumba for a murder he had nothing to do with? This factor will make it harder for her in the Italian courts, but still, I believe her harassment claims should be investigated and added to the standing court evidence in the case being built against Mr. Agiro’. For those interested, here is La Nazione’s story about the case against Mr. Agiro, by Erika Pontini: http://www.lanazione.it/umbria/cronaca/2013/10/30/973790-processate.shtml
It should be noted that the policewoman in question says she was emboldened to come forward in part by Amanda Knox’s expose’ of her harassment in prison.
It took courage for Amanda Knox to write about her harassment by Agiro’, who has since retired quietly from his job as vice-commander of the Capanne women’s ward. All too often in Italy, the corrupt bureaucrats are allowed to retreat all too quietly into retirement . . . leaving justice behind. I hope Perugia prosecutors pursue this. A bad apple is a bad apple.
UPDATE OCT. 28, 2013:
Is Amanda Knox’s defense really an economic trade secret?
Two Washington State congressional Democrats (Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Adam Smith) are reportedly hosting a congressional briefing on the Amanda Knox case this week on the eve of the 6-year anniversary of Meredith Kercher’s murder.
The congressional “expert panel” consists of consultants and volunteers who have been campaigning on Knox’s behalf. Those interested in an unfiltered perspective should spend some time reading the most complete collection of translated court documents at the wiki-type document drop site here: http://themurderofmeredithkercher.com/Primary_Sources
But if Northwest lawmakers are really serious about digging into the details of the Knox case, they should also be asking hard questions about the use of U.S. public taxpayer resources for her defense. My own Freedom Of Information Act requests –going back to 2010 – continue to be delayed or denied with regard to the use of state and federal resources for the international defense of Ms. Knox.
A team of Italian lawyers have represented the Seattle woman in Italian court since 2007. But there is also an American team of consultants and lawyers working behind the scenes in the U.S. to buoy her defense. At least one American university’s laboratories and resources were used to aid in Knox’s acquittal, which was later annulled by Italy’s Supreme Court due to judicial irregularities.
Yet Boise State University lawyers refuse to reveal the full nature of the correspondence and research carried out by BSU forensic biologist and nationally-known DNA expert Greg Hampikian, whose research is cited in Wikipedia and elsewhere as the main reason Knox was set free.
Shouldn’t a state and federally funded university be required to release records related to such a high-profile international case? Not according to them. Boise State University General Counsel Kevin D. Satterlee cited this as one of the reasons to deny my public records request to review the case:
“The product of Dr. Hampikian’s work on Ms. Knox’s defense constitutes unpublished information that is not readily ascertainable and has been the subject of reasonable efforts to maintain its private nature. Such information is of potential economic value and is thus recognized as a trade secret under Idaho Code 9-340(D)1.”
Yet despite BSU’s claims that the details of the research should be cloaked because it is an economic trade secret (BSU also argued it was covered by attorney-client privilege), Professor Hampikian has continued to discuss the case on the public speaking circuit in the U.S. in the two years since Knox was freed. He often tells his audiences “I know what happened,” while arguing Rudy Guede acted alone, though multiple Italian courts have consistently ruled there were others present. Since the high court in Rome annulled Knox’s acquittal and another trial is going forward in Florence, any congressional briefing on the case should include close scrutiny of Hampikian’s research and the true extent of American legal and academic involvement in the trial since deemed flawed by Italy’s Supreme Court. It is no secret that Hampikian has been feverishly working on the Knox’s defense. It was his own public declaration of “I know what happened” that triggered my initial curiousity about BSU’s exact role in the case, and led to my filing of the FOIA to see for myself. Having reported for years on higher education in Idaho in the ‘90s, I knew the state’s sunshine laws were broad enough that much of Hampikian’s correspondence on the matter should be available for open record review. I did not expect university lawyers to deem the Knox defense an economic trade secret. But nothing galvanizes a reporter like being denied information, so I dug a little further on my own. Here’s what I found:
Hampikian, who is director of the Idaho Innocence Project, began working quietly on Knox’s behalf in 2010, shortly after her initial conviction in an Italian court. He met several times with Knox’s family members, circulated a petition among the international forensic scientist community, and traveled with Knox’s family to Perugia as a new U.S. team was crafted to work on Knox’s appeal and aid her two Italian lawyers. Renowned Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Theodore Simon came on board, but it was Hampikian who led on forensics. In podcasts and presentations, Mr. Hampikian recounts a series of experiments he and his research team conducted in his Boise lab: Researchers collected Coca Cola cans that had been used by employees who worked in the BSU Dean’s Office. They also bought a cheap set of knives, still in the package from a dollar store. They then collected and tagged the cans and knives only changing gloves between every other piece of evidence. The result? One of the dean’s office employees’ DNA was unknowingly transferred from a can to a knife that she had never seen or touched. “That’s what happened with the evidence in the Knox case,” he was quoted as saying in one article. In conferences and events, he gives a power point presentation that is a mix of Forensics 101, police video of Italian forensic cops mishandling the bra clasp on the crime scene in Perugia, clips of himself on CNN and pictures of he and Amanda in Seattle and in Idaho, on a river rafting trip earlier this summer.
But even as Hampikian continues to speak publicly on the matter throughout the country, the request to review the paperwork associated with Hampikian’s actual involvement was denied. Under U.S. public records laws, and specifically Idaho open records laws, Hampikian’s public university email address should normally be subject to review as should correspondence related to experiments in which public laboratories and resources were used. The BSU records denial letter is a questionable interpretation of the law, sunshine law experts say.
“It is well-established law in Idaho that the work-related emails of public employees are public records, and it is surprising that the university would claim a professor’s emails constitute trade secrets or anything of the sort,” said Betsy Russell, president of the Idaho Press Club and Idahoans for Open Government.
Russell cited another “clear and recent example” of release of such records elsewhere in the state, citing the University of Idaho’s release of emails from its late professor Ernesto Bustamante, in response to public records requests regarding the Benoit-Bustamante murder suicide.
THE RHOADES ERROR: IDAHO
Hampikian is a prestigious professor with an unquestionably impressive CV, but a review of the cases he’s worked on also reveals a few high-profile mistakes. In Rhoades v. Arave, Hampikian was bought in in 2005 as a consultant for Paul Ezra Rhoades, convicted for the shooting death of Stacy Baldwin, Susan Michelbacher and Nolan Haddon in eastern Idaho in 1987. In 2005, Rhoades’ defense hired Hampikian to review an 18-year-old FBI report, in hopes of casting doubt on its reliability. Hampikian concluded that the old FBI report excluded Rhoades as the murderer. But a U.S. District Court later found that in his affidavit to the court Hampikian had misread one of the swab results, referring to the DNA subtyping as “sub 1-” instead of “sub 1+.” The court asked Hampikian to explain, and Hampikian submitted a new affidavit admitting the mistake, calling it a typographical error. The court pointed out that even if the state’s DNA evidence were eliminated, the other incriminating evidence still remained strong. In a 34 page ruling, the petition for writ of Habeas Corpus was denied. Rhoades was executed in Idaho by lethal injection in Nov. 2011. Ref: Rhoades v. Arave (CV 93-0156-S-EJL), March 28, 2007.
THE CHILD RAPE CASE: OHIO
In an Ohio case (State vs. Roberts) Hampikian conducted a DNA test on behalf of Bradley Roberts, who was appealing the conviction of 1993 kidnapping and rape of a 10-year-old girl in Sylvania, Ohio. The case was unsolved for many years, although evidence was collected. In early 2010, Sylvania detectives sent the rape kit evidence for analysis, citing advances in technology. A match came back to Roberts, whose DNA had been collected and entered into a statewide database because of previous convictions. Roberts was convicted. In 2011 his defense hired Hampikian, who argued that the DNA tests were insufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the appellant had committed the crimes against the victim. The state brought in Casey Agosti, a forensic scientist considered an expert in DNA analysis. Agosti determined the likelihood or someone other than Roberts matching that same DNA profile was one in 1 billion 197 million. The court then wrote: “Hampikian’s opinion letter referencing his interpretation of DNA tests performed by the state is framed with speculative conditions and conjecture. The conclusory opinion letter simply was not exculpatory. As such maintaining that the introduction of the equivocal Hampikian opinion letter would have altered the outcome of the case is likewise conclusory and not persuasive.” Roberts is currently serving a life sentence. Ref: State of Ohio v. Bradley W. Roberts (No. L-11-1159) March 22, 2013.
THE STOCKING STRANGLER CASE: GEORGIA
Hampikian was also hired by the defense of the Stocking Strangler Carlton Gary, who some believe is unjustly on death row in Georgia. Gary was convicted in three of seven rapes and stranglings of Columbus Georgia women in the late 1970s. Though Hampikian consulted for some time for free, in 2010, Gary’s defense team filed a motion asking the court to authorize paying Hampkian $200 an hour for his services (not to exceed $7,500).
Most American universities encourage their professors – especially attention-attracting ones like Hampikian – to do outside consulting, however academic institutions also have specific conflict of interest policies that prohibit institutional resources and labs being used for personal gain. I believe BSU needs to answer a few more questions about its role in this case. If the research was public and not-for-profit, then emails and written correspondence should be made available. If it was private, then how does it mesh with BSU’s conflict of interest and ethics guidelines?
This point has little to do with the guilt or innocence of Amanda Knox – there is an appeal trial underway and even once there is a decision, Italy’s highest court will still have to review it. The courts may or may not agree with Mr. Hampikian’s specific assertions about the forensics in the case.
However the fact that BSU lawyers interpreted Idaho law in a way to avoid revealing Hampikian’s correspondence on the Knox case strikes me as significant.
It raises the following questions: Do U.S. citizens have the right to know if public university resources, labs and funds were used (and how) to aid the defense of a private citizen accused abroad of murder, justly or unjustly? What are the parameters for this kind of advocacy? When should public universities be allowed to come to the aid of those imprisoned at home or abroad, who decides who gets help and who doesn’t, and how transparent should those university efforts be?
UPDATE OCT. 9, 2013
The new forensic testing of the knife ordered by Judge Alessandro Nencini at the start of Amanda Knox’s appeals trial in Florence is going ahead at the Caribinieri RIS laboratories in Rome. But how crucial will the results be to appeal outcome? If the DNA being tested matches the profile of either the victim Meredith Kercher or the other man already in jail for the murder, Rudy Guede, it is a very ominous sign for the defense. If more of Meredith’s DNA is found on the blade, it further confirms the prosecution’s assertion that the kitchen knife found in Sollecito’s flat was indeed the murder weapon. If Rudy Guede’s DNA is found on the blade, it confirms his story that he was stabbed in the palm by a knife-wielding attacker as he came out of the bathroom to see what all the fracas was about. Guede testified that the attacker said in Italian “Black man found, black man guilty,” before running out the door. He claims he found Meredith dying in her room and tried to save her, but, unable to stop the bleeding, eventually panicked and fled. Since Guede had never visited Sollecito’s flat, the prosecution would like argue that his DNA on the blade meant that either Knox or Sollecito brought the weapon back there after the murder and confrontation with Guede.
If, on the other hand, the DNA results are inconclusive, the forensic evidence could be interpreted as weakened and there is more likelihood of acquittal, partial acquittal or conviction on lesser charges, such as omicidio colposo (manslaughter), options that remain open to the court. The presiding judge in the case has made it clear he believes there is plenty of material already deposited in the court files (forensic reports, consultants’ analysis, debate and counter debate, transcripts, etc) for a fully informed and reasoned decision. How much weight is given to the new forensic results from the expanded testing of trace amounts of DNA on the knife remains an important hinge factor. The RIS in Rome will know the results very soon. But don’t expect any public debate until the results are presented before the court November 6.
For further reading, the most exhaustive online collection of English-language transcripts of court testimony and prior judicial rulings in the case is available at www.murderofmeredithkerchercom.
UPDATE SEPT. 30, 2013
FLORENCE – An appeals court judge in Florence ruled Monday to allow new testing of the kitchen knife believed to be the murder weapon in the murder of Meredith Kercher. On Friday, the Carabinieri (RIS) of Rome will be sworn in to carry out the forensic testing of low copy number DNA on the knife, known as “Trace 36-I”. It is a development welcomed by all sides of the case. The testing must be carried out in 60 days.
The court also agreed to hear testimony from mafia turncoat Luciano Aviello at Friday’s hearing. For more on him and why he matters, scroll down to the Sept. 18 update. And lastly, the judge agreed to allow photos of Sollecito’s hands to be submitted to the court. Sollecito’s lawyers had argued that since he bites his nails very short it would have been difficult to manage the bra clasp where his DNA was found. All the other arguments, including constitutional questions about the duration of the trial, were rejected by the presiding judge.
For more details on what unfolded in court, have a look at my piece in The Week, written from court in Florence and posted Monday afternoon.
UPDATE SEPT. 29, 2013
At last check, Amanda Knox had absolutely no intentions of leaving the familiar comfort of her safe Seattle nest, Raffaele Sollecito was trying to soothe his anxiety under the Caribbean sun at a beachside resort in Santo Domingo and the struggling family of Meredith Kercher were unlikely to make the trip to Florence for the upcoming appeal in the trial of their daughters’ murder, slated to begin here in the Palazzo di Giustizia in Florence Monday.
Now with a government crisis looming and Italy’s biggest story unfolding in Rome, will anybody be there? Lawyers for sure. Sollecito? Probably not until a later hearing. And a number of the 300+ journalists court officials were expecting in Florence are being redirected to the capital for a more pressing story: the possible imminent collapse of the current government. Don’t expect even that to stop the untouchable judicial arm from carrying out its duties. And from my early glimpse of things, Florence has a very different way of doing business than provincial Perugia.
There are no wooden crucifixes in this courtroom. No frescoes of the Madonna. Just the words “La Legge è Uguale Per Tutti,” across the front wall. The press are located in a small room at rear right, which looks directly into the courtroom through large picture window. There’s be less drifting in and out at will. Security officers managing the public and press say its “Doors Closed” at 9 a.m. Punto. Basta. For an overview of what’s expected to happen Monday, read posts below or check the wiki-style overview at www.murderofmeredithkerchercom, which has English translations of most of the key court documents and testimony, as well as short factual briefings on this 2013 appeal. Sooner or later this week, expect fireworks over how to handle additional forensics tests ordered by the Supreme Court, which took issue with the appeals courts’ partial and flawed interpretation of the science. With both sides crying foul on forensics, more testing should be welcomed by all. Also, as reported today by Barbie Nadeau in this piece in The Daily Beast, don’t expect Amanda Knox to be wholly absent — while she will not be in court, she will be on TV, in pre-taped sound bytes her handlers have been offering to highly-rated programs like Porta Porta and Matrix in Italy, as well as news shows in the U.S. and U.K. But will it make a difference in court? Stay tuned.
Update Sept. 25, 2013
What to expect in court as the Knox and Sollecito appeal begins Monday? As she has repeatedly told interviewers leading up to her trial, Amanda Knox will not be traveling to Italy to attend. Though reportedly traveling in the Caribbean, Raffaele Sollecito is expected to be present for his trial, according to comments his father made to the Italian news agency ANSA on Wednesday. The parents of Meredith Kercher, who have struggled with health issues, are unlikely to attend. Presiding judge Nencini, known for his no-nonsense “get on with business” style, is expected to make a decision Monday on whether or not to open up the trial for new arguments. Defense attorneys have submitted two documents and want debate reopened. The prosecution is hoping to keep the scope more limited. They support the Cassation’s suggestion to do new forensic testing of a low copy number DNA trace highlighted (but not further analyzed) by the independent experts appointed during the first appeal. For more on the logistics of the trial, skip down to Sept. 18 update. Italian speakers can read details about public and press attendance here at the Tuscany judicial site.
Side Show: Monster of Florence Twist
Italy’s Supreme Court — the Court of Cassation — this week released its reasoning on another high-profile ruling this year ordering a trial in the Narducci case. The mysterious death of Perugia doctor Francesco Narducci in Lake Trasimeno in 1985 is just one of the unexplained aspects of a bizarre 40 year investigation into 16 “Monster of Florence” murders, perhaps Italy’s longest-running unsolved serial killer case. The Monster of Florence case became tangled with the Knox case after those campaigning for her innocence began arguing that both cases were being pushed by the same rogue prosecutor. This year, two separate panels in Italy’s Supreme Court in Rome have sided with him on these high profile cases, ordering trials for both. Perugia . . . terre del mistero.
The Narducci case has been kept alive in the courts all these years largely by Narducci’s widow, Francesca Spagnoli, and Perugia prosecutor G. Mignini (who initially prosecuted the Amanda Knox case, but is now no longer involved). They believe Narducci was murdered, with his death then covered up to look like a suicide. The intricate cover up (including a bizarre body swap) allegedly involved dozens of people, some of them high-profile Perugians, as well as members of Narducci’s own family. The Supreme Court earlier this year sided with them, overturning a local Perugia magistrate’s decision to lay the delicate local case to rest. The Cassation judges gave a 21-page list of reasons why 20 individuals should stand trial for attempts to distort justice and cover up events related to Narducci’s death and his link to the Monster of Florence case. Italian journalist Mario Spezi is among them: on charges including attempted trial fraud (Feb-May 2004), interruption of public service (Feb. 10-11 2004) and calumny for accusing Sardinian man Antonio Vinci of the Monster of Florence murders. The accusation against Vinci led to Spezi’s initial arrest and was the pivotal claim in the non-fiction book he would go on to co-author with American bestselling crime fiction writer Douglas Preston. The theory was also part of a Dateline NBC program, during which Preston and Spezi arranged for Stone Phillips to interview Vinci off camera.
Ex-con Luigi Ruocco and ex-cop Fernando Zaccaria, shady characters who Preston and Spezi describe as helping them try to get their “scoop” at Villa Bibbiani, are also among those being called to stand trial. Spezi maintains his innocence. Preston is not named in the court reasoning. The chief inspector Michele Giuttari, who formerly headed the Monster of Florence murder task force, was recently re-instated to the police corps and is suing Spezi for defamation in multiple jurisdictions for his claims.
Update Sept. 18, 2013
The appeals court of Florence has set a schedule of hearings in the Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito appeal to wrap up in November, which means a sentence can likely be expected by the year’s end.
Hearing dates are September 30; October 4, 22, 23; November 6, 7, 26. Presiding Judge will be Alessandro Nencini, president of the a court’s second chamber, while the lateral judge is expected to be Magistrate Luciana Cicerchia. Click here for a short but factual briefing about the Florence appeal. There are also a number of useful court documents and trial transcripts available in both English and Italian, for background, on the new, easily searchable wikipedia-style site: www.themurderofmeredithkercher.com. One can click here to review the impressive list of primary sources, including the critical testimony of the footprint experts (Lorenzo Rinaldi and Pietro Boemia) who advised the court of first instance that footprints found in the corridor and bathroom of the flat likely belonged to Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito and had been made in Meredith’s blood, as well as testimony from other key witnesses.
Giuliano Mignini, who is a prosecutor in Perugia, no longer has a role in the case. Though six years have passed, and the jurisdiction is now Florence, interested parties from all sides have reason to hope that additional information might be shed on exactly what happened to Meredith Kercher the nigh t of Nov. 2, 2007 in Perugia. In the first hearing on September 30, the court will decide on a fixed schedule as well whether or not to accept any defense evidence requests, such as new DNA testing or witness statements. The prosecution has also made two additional requests to the court: 1) request for another forensic review of knife to see if a small third trace that was never tested before can be examined. Experts in the first appeal deemed it low copy number and rejected requests to test it. 2) request to hear testimony from Luciano Aviello.
Aviello, from Naples, was brought in to testify for the defense in the original appeal back in June 2011. You can read my story from that bizarre day of court testimony here. At the time, he claimed his brother was the real killer of Kercher. The prosecution brought in convicts as counter witnesses who said they had overheard prison conversations about a plot among other inmates to testify in exchange for money and benefits, such as reduced prison time. Read my story from that bizarre day in court here. At the heart of Aviello’s trial in Florence are likely to be the revelations by inmate Alexander Illicet from Serbia Montenegro, who testified that Aviello had agreed to pin the murder on his brother in exchange for 158,000 Euros – money Aviello desperately needed to pay for a sex change. Aviello himself later took back statements he made on the stand, saying he had been bribed.
Aviello is unlikely to be deemed a reliable witness, either for the defense, or the prosecution. But it remains to be seen, what, if any, new debate the Florence appeals court will decide to allow.
Meanwhile, both Knox and Sollecito have begun new media campaigns inside and outside of Italy. Sollecito, whose father is making the Italian talk show rounds, gave this exclusive video interview to a magazine columnist close to the Knox and Sollecito families for the magazine “Oggi” while in London. Knox recently was featured in a number of print exclusives to the very U.K. tabloids her family blamed for sensationalizing her case at the outset. She then did her own exclusive video interview in Seattle to the same Italian columnist. Knox will not travel to Italy for the appeal, while Sollecito is largely expected to attend. It is unclear if family members of the victim, Meredith Kercher, will be in attendance.
Update Sept. 9, 2013
As the second appeal of the Amanda Knox verdict in the Meredith Kercher murder case nears, readers of my ongoing coverage over the last six years have requested I publish original reporting and new developments on a regular basis here.
This week’s focus is on the one document that should be required reading for those curious about exactly how the next phase will unfold: The Italian Supreme Court Ruling (Court of Cassation) issued in Rome last March. It is now available in English here:
I read the original Italian document, released in June, but now an English translation has been made available by a pool of volunteers, lawyers and professional translators who follow and debate the case online. I have read both and can confirm the translation’s accuracy. The arduous task of translating the ruling into English allows all interested parties (on both sides of the innocence divide) to read, analyze and come to their own conclusions. This court document is essential reading for anyone interested in a deeper analysis of precisely what has unfolded thus far and where this complex story is headed.
For those who want just a brief overview, one of the main thrusts of the Supreme Court’s reasoning is its outright rejection of the lone wolf theory that Rudy Guede alone killed Meredith Kercher. The court specifically directs the appeals court to consider prior (and now definitive) findings in the Rudy Guede decision that there were multiple attackers and that the break-in was staged. The court also suggests keeping open various motives, more weight be given to Knox’s own written statements, and confirms the reliability of several witnesses essentially dismissed by magistrates Hellmann and Zanetti. On the forensic front, the Supreme Court states its belief that the footprints attributed to Knox, which contained both Knox and Kercher’s DNA, were made in blood. The court also found there was no evidence that contamination occurred.
The appeals court in Florence is not bound to accept the Supreme Court’s reasoning, however their scathing dismissal of Hellmann’s reasoning due to “numerous deficiencies, contradictions and manifest lack of logic” makes it clear they expect the Florentine court to provide a higher burden of proof than was presented in the first appeal in Perugia.
May 6, 2013
FACTCHECK: WAITING TO BE HEARD
In response to many requests in the wake of Amanda Knox’s newly published memoir, I am releasing a small, select portion of pertinent FOIA and case documents I’ve gathered over the years for public review. Some excerpts were first published here in BBC News Magazine and later referenced here in The Week.
Many documents are still pending release, as noted by This 2012 FOIA response from the Department of State, noting the longer than usual processing time because of its breadth (I have blocked out specifics). It has been in processing for over a year now. These embassy cables from 2007-2009 are among those released to me from the Central Foreign Policy Records database. I note some excisions, but cannot provide content details. This is clear: consular officials regularly visited Knox and tracked case developments. The following diplomats’ names appear on the cables: Ambassador Ronald Spogli, Deputy Chief Elizabeth Dibble and Ambassador David Thorne, U.S. Embassy Rome. (Thorne is brother-in-law of Secretary of State John Kerry, who in 2009 was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee). The questions are: Did Knox tell consular officers of alleged harassment? If they didn’t know, why? If they did, why were no formal complaints filed with the European Court of Human Rights, which has been monitoring prison conditions in Italy closely in recent years? I am also releasing two handwritten letters from my own case files (which contain both official court documents as well as documents I have obtained that were not necessarily entered into evidence) that Amanda Knox wrote to her lawyers from jail. The first letter ( First Knox Letter to Lawyers Nov9 )was written around noon on Friday, Nov., 9, just days after her arrest. The second letter ( Second Knox Letter to Lawyers Nov9 ) was penned a little over three hours later, to give more details. The letters reveal some discrepancies with the memoir. For example, in letter 1, Knox says she looked through the keyhole of Meredith’s locked door and could see her bed, with Meredith’s purse on it. In Chapter 6 of her memoir she said she tried to look through the keyhole, but saw nothing. In the letter she describes the “bathmat shuffle” in which she scooted on the bathmat with the bloody footprint into her room, then brought it back. This is not referenced in the memoir. In the letter, she says she and Raffaele were in the kitchen when Meredith’s door was broken down, but her description in chapter six of memoir makes no reference to being in the kitchen. She tells her lawyers the police “gave me time” to write a statement, while in chapter 11 of her memoir she says the police officer said “you’d better write fast.”
Now that Knox’s own detailed memoir has been published, it is timely for these other personal accounts to be added to the public record of documents available on this case.
After reading Knox’s description of the prison questioning in December 2007 (described in great detail in chapter 20 of Knox’s memoir), I went back and listened to the audio recording of that interrogation, which is part of the full case file. I recalled once interviewing the Rome lawyer who had described how the questioning had been halted when Knox began crying. Oddly, Knox chose to leave an entire person out of a scene (her third attorney) despite a very detailed description of all those present.
The third attorney who was present (and whose name is cited as being present on the audio of the interrogation) is Giancarlo Costa of Rome, who was one of Knox’s first lawyers and present at some of the first meetings, before leaving the case. I interviewed him once for this Seattle PI story. Odd that he’s left out.
And lastly, there were a few anecdotes from a lengthy recorded interview I conducted in Viterbo, Italy, with an inmate who was incarcerated with Amanda Knox at Capanne prison that I am releasing. Florisbela Inocencio de Jesus, originally of Brazil, stressed that she believed Knox was innocent, but said she did not believe that she was mistreated in prison because she was what they call “a privileged detainee,” who received regular visits from officials, including influential center-right deputy Rocco Girlanda, and his right-hand man from the Italy-USA Foundation, Corrado Daclon, both thanked by Knox in her memoir’s acknowledgements.
In the beginning, many inmates were jealous of Knox, because she had special birthday celebrations and was seen as getting privileges others weren’t given. But her popularity grew after she got a job working in the prison dispensary.
“We made our requests, the prison would do the shopping and then she would come around, cell to cell, with a guard, to deliver our personal items,” said de Jesus, recalling one particular episode when a time a lid to a pan she had ordered from the dispensary got left behind, and Knox argued with the guard about who had forgotten it.
“She wasn’t afraid to speak up to the guards. I think if she had been harassed, we would have heard about it immediately. Also because the Honorable Rocco Girlanda was always there, watching out for her, visiting her.”
Yet Knox writes about several inappropriate conversations and overtures by the male guard, a unexpected kiss from a bisexual cellmate and an unwanted embrace from a worker who entered her cell to repair a blocked drain. (The guard denies any inappropriate behavior, however he was accused of harassing a female prisoner before and has since retired). These anecdotes are highly plausible, and I believe, should trigger an Italian investigation of the claims, which, for reasons unknown, apparently went unreported by Knox’s own lawyers, who she claims in her book to have told.
FLORENCE – An appeals court judge in Florence ruled Monday to allow new testing of the kitchen knife believed to be the murder weapon in hopes of laying to rest doubts about the reliability of DNA evidence. On Friday, the Caribinieri (RIS) of Rome will be sworn in to carry out the forensic testing of low copy number DNA on the knife. Also Friday, the court agreed to hear testimony from mafia turncoat Luciano Aviello. For more on him and why he matters, scroll down to the <span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>September 18</span> update. Ihe appeals trial of U.S. student Amanda Knox and her former Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito got under way in Italy Monday, but without the stars of the show. Knox and Sollecito were originally convicted in 2009 of the murder of Briton Meredith Kercher, found stabbed to death in the flat she shared with Knox in November 2007. They were then sensationally acquitted on appeal, but that ruling was annulled by Italy’s high court in March, which cited faulty reasoning by the Perugia appeals judges. It sent the case back to court for a second appeal trial – this time in Florence. Knox is home in the U.S. and has said she has no intention to return to Italy for the appeal. Sollecito was snapped by photographers recently lounging on the beach the Dominican Republic, but his father and lawyers were present at the courthouse Monday. The parents of the victim, Meredith Kercher, were also not in attendance Monday, due to health issues. However the family submitted an emotional letter to the court explaining their absence and asking that all necessary forensic testing be carried out to clarify unanswered questions.”It has been the six most difficult years of our lives and we want to be able to seek closure and remember Meredith for the truly wonderful girl that she was rather than the horror that is associated with her,” the Kerchers wrote. “Nothing will ever bring our beautiful Meredith back and we will always hold her in our hearts and memories, but we need to know what happened and she at least deserves the dignity of truth.” One protagonist did show: Patrick Lumumba, the innocent Congolese pub owner who Knox originally blamed for the murder. Knox was definitively convicted of calumny by Italy’s high court this year for her false accusation of Lumumba. On Monday he said he was there because he still hasn’t received a dime and wanted to be a civil party in the trial, in hopes of someday being compensated. “Amanda should be here, but she is scared because she knows she has a responsibility,” he told reporters before the hearing. Defence lawyers for Knox and Sollecito requested new tests or debate on 15 different points, including additional forensic testing on the rock, Kercher’s pillow, plus reviews of cell phone and computer evidence. Prosecutors requested new DNA testing be carried out on the kitchen knife believed to be the murder weapon. Knox’s attorney Carlo Dalla Vedova called the sensational trial an anomaly that potentially violated Knox’s constitutional rights because it risked going on “indefinitely.” “Can a person be on trial their whole life? We have to ask if Amanda Knox is being treated equally under the law,” he said. The judge later rejected the constitutional argument. Prosecutor Alessandro Crini argued for a trial that was more limited in scope, with simply new testing on the murder weapon using new, more sensitive forensic equipment for analysing trace DNA. The Kercher family’s lawyer also opposed defence requests to re-open much of the debate. “We have heard hours and hours, days and days of this evidence,” said Kercher family lawyer Francesco Maresca. “These are just the same arguments, remixed just for you.” The judge apparently agreed, ruling that there was sufficient evidence for the court to do its work and finding additional debate unnecessary.