Amanda Knox Trials / Meredith Kercher Murder
*Below find dated updates on Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito 2014 conviction and 2013 appeals trial. Scroll down for previously posted links to documents, overviews, transcripts and other background. The most exhaustive collection of primary source documents in English is located at this informative wikipedia-style site.
UPDATE FEB: 18, 2014
MORE LEGAL TROUBLE FOR AMANDA KNOX, AS FLORENCE COURT INVESTIGATES ABUSE ALLEGATIONS
There has been a huge response to the cables I published below (scroll down to read) via my 2010 and 2012 FOIA requests. Several sites (both pro and anti Amanda Knox) published their own interpretations, as did articles in La Nazione and a few other Italian news outlets. Everybody had their own spin on the cables, and on that note, I feel it is important to point out that I have never maintained the state department was directly involved in the acquittal of Amanda Knox, nor have I seen evidence of such. That important turning point in this case swiveled on an Italian pivot. I made the FOIA request simply to fill in some blanks with documents that are part of the public record related to government and Congressional monitoring of the case. They are a neutral part of the public record, and can be interpreted in many ways. As the case has evolved, it has spawned a number of side spin off trials, manufacturing even more court documents. I am trying to keep track of them as well, but it is a big task and this site is not-for-profit, ad-free and accessible to all, so of course limited by lack of time and resources. I try to note big developments here with some context, but for day-to-day developments, it is best to follow my twitter feed: @andreavogt.
Regarding side shows, I note that there is a new development with a preliminary hearing court date now set for 9:30 a.m. March 20 to weigh whether there is enough evidence to request Amanda Knox stand for another trial, this time on continuous aggravated calumny charges, for her continued allegations of police abuse and coercion, both on the stand and outside of court, in her memoir and in public appearances. Given that she already faces a Supreme Court hearing on March 25 in which a prison sentence of 28.5 years hangs in the balance, this new court date smacks of legal bullying, and in fact I expect it will be delayed and heard after the Court of Cassation’s decision. On the other hand, many reputations have been damaged in the long and painful course of this divisive and high profile case, and this may an effort by Perugia and Florence authorities to set the record straight about the serious allegations of having been mistreated in Italy, by asking all parties to bring evidence and sworn testimony to the table in order to establish a transparent legal record on the matter. The preliminary hearing is set to be heard before Magistrate Anna Liguori in Florence.
UPDATE FEB: 13, 2014
NEWLY RELEASED EMBASSY CABLES SHED LIGHT ON STATE DEPT HANDLING OF AMANDA KNOX CASE
By Andrea Vogt
FEBRUARY 13 1 p.m. GMT
Newly released state department documents show the U.S. Embassy in Rome declared the Amanda Knox matter “Case Closed” in a cable to Washington just days after the American’s clamorous 2011 acquittal. The memo reveals wishful thinking on the part of some U.S. diplomats, who were only too eager to see the thorny case come to a clean close.
Embassy cables and government documents are not nearly as sexy as the glamorous clickbait of fiancès and fashion, but it is easy to forget this an ongoing international murder case still moving through the courts . . . and leaving a hefty paper trail behind in the U.S. and Italy as it slogs along.
This week, instead of biting into that juicy, tabloid peach and writing about Amanda Knox’s Valentine’s Day engagement plans, I’m instead publishing a new batch of public documents on the case, the fruit of tedious filings of Freedom of Information Act Requests over the course of several years.
For those willing to go to the trouble of finding them, there actually are many public documents available in Italy and the U.S. government databases on the Amanda Knox case. I have tried to link to some of those in this post. Of the 16 more recent U.S. records that my requests triggered, only 5 were released, and only 1 fully and without excisions. Those are published at the bottom of this post.
A bit of background for those reading for the first time: In the seven years that have passed since I began covering the murder of Briton Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy, and the subsequent arrest and conviction of American Amanda Knox, I have independently filed several Freedom of Information Act requests in an effort to clarify the role of embassy and state department officials (and those working on their behalf) in the prickly case. Many may view the cables as just routine bureacracy, which in large part they are, but I believe they are important documents to add to the public record for two reasons. First, they show insight into how American citizens in trouble abroad are supported (or not, depending on your viewpoint) by their government. Second, they contribute transparently to the established written government record, clarifying diplomatic aspects of the case that until now have remained hidden while the saga played out solely in Italian courtrooms and the media. The results of this second batch of FOIA requests were of particular importance due to the grave accusations being launched against the Italian police and members of its judiciary by members of Knox’s family, supporters and public relations team during the period of her incarceration. The question at hand: was Amanda Knox abused, mistreated or robbed of a fair trail in Italy? How closely was the state department monitoring the case and what did embassy officials do, or not do, as it evolved? The answer, first revealed in this first batch of embassy cables released to me in 2012 and dating back from 2007-2009, is that embassy and state department personnel actively monitored the case and provided aid from the very first days after her arrest. Other state and federal documents that I published back in 2010 (story available here) show how Washington State’s congressional delegation, namely Sen. Maria Cantwell, was also involved. This second batch of FOIA-requested embassy cables was released to me in late 2014 in response to another more extensive FOIA request made in 2012 (a two-year lag time is not ununsual for broad requests). I have redacted the cables to delete my own details and the names of state department reviewers, but all the blank boxes are state department excisions.
In brief, these new cables shows that the trend of close state department monitoring of the case was constant, with consular involvement up until the day (Oct 11, 2011) that the U.S. Ambassador Thorne in Rome sent a cable to the secretary of state in Washington D.C., officially declaring the matter “case closed.”
The communications are noteworthy because they bust a number of media myths about Amanda Knox’s release and immediate departure from Italy after her release in 2011, namely that the U.S. embassy did not receive her in the hours immediately post release for consular services, as she was traveling on a valid U.S. passport.
The other interesting point is that though the case was far from over in Italy, once Amanda Knox was off Italian soil, it no longer considered the case to be of interest. “With the verdict of Oct. 3 overturning Amanda Knox’s prior conviction, her immediate release from prison and her subsequent departure from Italy today, Post considers this case closed. THORNE.”
For American citizens abroad, it is a welcome reminder that the embassy works on citizens’ behalf, as are the four documents released with excisions that show Knox was regularly visited by consular officials every six weeks and brought reading materials. *It is worth noting that the only persons to publicly report to have regularly visited Knox in prison to bring her reading materials were those associated with the Fondazione Italia USA, namely Italian parliamentarian Rocco Girlanda and Corrado Maria Daclon, the two men also present with her in the car that drove Knox out of prison the night she was acquitted. Coincidence or are these the consular visits the cables refer to?
As soon as Knox was out of the country, the embassy declared “case closed,” perhaps not expecting that her trials would continue. Those who have followed the case know that the acquittal that prompted her release was later annulled in its entirety by Italy’s Supreme Court, which called for a second appeal trial to be held in a separate venue:Florence. That trial in 2014 upheld Knox’s conviction. In March of this year, the Supreme Court is due to give its final ruling on the case. It can either uphold conviction, or overturn the appeal and call for new trials or additional legal proceedings.
For the British and Italian authorities, and family members of Meredith Kercher who have patiently waited out the Italian legal system, perhaps the “case closed” cable jumped the gun. Once an American citizen is out of the country where he or she is in trouble, what duty does the embassy have to keep following legal developments that involve an American not physically in the country? Did the embassy re-open the case later once the Supreme Court quashed the acquittal or is it “out of sight, out of mind,” and once an American in trouble abroad is no longer abroad, the embassy in that country can effectively wash its hands of the matter? Is it still considered “Case Closed”? As the possibility of an extradition process hangs in the balance with the upcoming March 25 supreme court decision, the documents may provide some additional material for legal scholars to consider.
As the State Department letter points out, there are still 11 documents that fall under the umbrella of my initial FOIA request that have not been released that require further coordination. Based on the content of my 2012 request, I believe these may be documents relating to then Sen. John Kerry and the U.S. Committee on Foreign Relations, of which he was chairman from 2009-2013, and to which specific FOIA requests were made, and for which I have not yet received response.
I have scanned and uploaded the 2-page FOIA response and 5 released cables (Oct 2011, June 2011, March 2011, November 2010, September 2010) below:
UPDATE December 3, 2014
Those following the side trials that have spun off or become entangled in the Amanda Knox trial might be interested to know that the now infamous and often-cited abuse of office investigation against Perugia prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, which once made such big headlines in the U.S. and UK media, has officially resulted in no charges, and the investigation has been closed.
An initial conviction stemming from 2006 wiretaps and the Monster of Florence investigation was overturned and annulled in Florence on appeal. The court ordered that the case be transferred to Turin for any future investigation. Earlier this year he was acquitted of nearly all the accusations. The Turin court on Tuesday chose to shelve the last remaining question regarding the wiretapping of a La Stampa journalist earlier this week, ruling it was time barred.
The court’s ruling finally settles the long debated question of Mignini’s record: He has no abuse of office conviction, and there is no longer any active investigation into such allegations. The other protagonist, Mario Spezi, on the other hand, still has quite a few problems on his hands. His 2006 arrest eventually resulted in the high court (cassation) ruling No. 865/2013 deeming that the following crimes occurred: aggravated interfering with public investigation from Febuary 2004 to summer 2006, aggravated attempted judicial fraud between February and May 2004 and aggravated slander and defamation for naming Antonio Vinci as linked to the Monster of Florence homicides in 2006. For this last charge, Spezi could be held liable in civil court. But he will never be sentenced for any of these crimes, because after the cassation sent it back down for trial at the appeal level, the appeals court in Perugia shelved the case, ruling that the statute of limitations had passed for any further prosecution. And once again, true justice grinds to a halt, caught up in the gears of Italy’s slow and messy system. In the meantime, Spezi’s faulty thesis on the Monster of Florence case has landed him in court in several other jurisdictions, where ex-Florence homicide cop Michele Giuttari has been pressing forward with slander and defamation charges related to accusations made about him in his now discredited Monster of Florence yarn that Spezi and his American co-author, Douglas Preston made into a bestseller, pinning the blame on an innocent man in the process. And so the plot thickens. Giuliano Mignini was made into a convenient media villain when a high-profile American was being tried across the courtroom from him . . . on trumped up allegations that have since fallen unceremoniously to the wayside. Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, who Mignini initially prosecuted, await the decision of their final appeal before the court of cassation in March 2015.
UPDATE November 2, 2014
Seven years ago today, investigators found the brutally battered body of 21-year-old British exchange student Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy. It is disconcerting that so many years have passed and there is still not a final decision on who should be held responsible for her murder. One man, Ivory Coast national Rudy Guede, has been serving hard prison time since the murder. Two other suspects, Kercher’s American flatmate Amanda Knox and her Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, are still being tried in connection with the case. First they were convicted in the 2009 first instance trial in Perugia, then acquitted in the 2011 appeal in Perugia (those acquittals were later annulled and another appeal was ordered). Then they were convicted in 2014 after the second appeal trial in Florence, which brings us to today (link to the most recent court reasoning in English). When Italy’s highest court reviews these most recent Florence convictions on March 25, 2015, the case could finally draw to a close. Or not. In either case, it is far too long to wait for justice after such a heinous crime. And this is one of the rare points that all parties involved in this divisive and painfully public murder trial can agree on: Italy’s justice system needs reform that will unclog its court dockets and protect more vigorously against judicial malfeasance. In Perugia this weekend, many residents paused to reflect on the sad event that changed Halloween and All Saints Day holiday forever in their small Umbrian hilltop town. And once again, this year as with years past, Meredith’s friends and family paid their respects to her grave in Coulsdon Surrey, leaving touching messages – a poignant visual reminder that even with the passing of so many years, she has not been forgotten.
UPDATE October 8, 2014
Raffaele Sollecito and the U.S. based British writer Andrew Gumbel, who was the ghostwriter on Sollecito’s book “Honor Bound,” published by Simon and Schuster, have been ordered to trial in Florence over allegedly false claims about the Perugian prosecutor who secured convictions of Sollecito and Knox in the trial of first instance. The court order, signed by Florence judge Limongi and deposited in the Florence court clerk’s office September 18, sets a preliminary hearing for January 22, 2015 in Florence. It cites the addresses of two different Perugia attorneys as the legal addresses for Sollecito and Gumbel, who are not required to appear in court. The order for “rinvio di giudizio” lists specific offending passages in the preface and on pages 75, 101, 102, 146, 147, 176, 177, 178,n 185 216, 217 and 219-222. The 11-page order is in response to a complaint filed by lawyers on behalf of Prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, the original prosecutor in the Perugia case. A number of the claims refer to criminal abuse of office allegations that were thrown out by courts in Italy.
The January 2014 Florence appeal that resulted in confirmation of their convictions was handled by a different prosecutor named Alessandro Crini. Judge Alessandro Nencini, who found the two guilty, issued a lengthy reasoning report (scroll down to May 4 update for details) laying out the evidence and legal arguments that led to his decision. An English-language translation of that court document was released this week and posted online by an group of volunteer translators. It is available here: Nencini English Sentencing Report . (*please note the page 2 disclaimer about the document’s source). I obtained and read the original Italian language court document and having done a first read over this translation, confirm its accuracy.
Those convictions (and the 25 and 28.5 year sentences for Sollecito and Knox, respectively) are up for review by the 5th Section of the Court of Cassation March 25, 2015.
By the time the highest court makes what could be the final ruling on the case, nearly seven and a half years will have passed since Briton Meredith Kercher’s body was found brutally murdered in the flat she shared in Perugia with Amanda Knox, an American student from Seattle studying abroad in Italy. Kercher , from the Coulsdon district of South London, was 21 at the time. Knox and the young man she was dating at the time, Raffaele Sollecito, were arrested in the days following the 2007 murder, then convicted in the first instance, after a lengthy trial, in 2011. That conviction was upheld on appeal in Florence in February of this year. A prior acquittal in Perugia that resulted in Knox’s release and return to the U.S. was overturned and annulled by Italy’s supreme court, which ordered the appeal to be heard in a different venue, Florence. In an ironic twist of how history repeats itself when cases are drawn out over so many years, this Court of Cassation hearing is set for the same exact date (March 25) as the Court of Cassation hearing date in 2013 that resulted in the annulment of Knox’s acquittal. Judicial reform that would shorten the time it takes for cases to get through Italy’s clogged court system is one of the reforms Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has been pressing for in his “Unblock Italy” initiative. Court observers speculate that the more than year-long lag time between the appeal ruling the Court of Cassation review could be due to the fact that no-one is sitting in jail waiting for the Cassation to pronounce a ruling. Knox remains free in the U.S., though still occasionally snapped by paparazzi. Sollecito is still in Italy, but his passports were confiscated. But time has taken its toll on the united front the two showed in their joint defense early on. Over the summer, Italian gossip magazines closely chronicled an uptick in hostilities between the two camps, publishing a series of inflammatory tweets by a few of Knox’s more voracious followers. However the clamorous debates and navel-gazing that heats up the internet, big screen and opinion pages is unlikely to factor into the Cassation review, reportedly to be led by “relatore” Judge Paolo Antonio Bruno, who has been involved in a number of high profile cases in Italy (upholding convictions in the controversial Marta Russo murder and Lavitola bribery cases and ruling in 2012 against two dozen police functionaries for grave violence in the G8 “Diaz” case in Genoa).
UPDATE August 25, 2014
A full slate of court dates for the spin off trials stemming from the Meredith Kercher murder case in Perugia and the subsequent trials of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito are on the docket for the fall, along with the much anticipated Court of Cassation review of Knox and Sollecito’s own convictions in Florence earlier this year.
As that Rome court date nears (to be announced), expect a continuous spate of headline grabbing non-scandals similar in tone to those identifying Knox in CCTV images (not new or particularly significant) or linking Knox to a Perugian cocaine ring (also not new, nor particularly significant for the case, hence nary a mention in court). There is desperation in the air, with all sides maneuvering as push comes to shove at the Supreme Court level. The U.S. media it seems, is now content to watch quietly from the sidelines after many (especially the networks) all too eagerly swallowed the convenient “innocent American abroad” narrative, which guaranteed both access and high ratings, regardless of the messier, more complicated truth that has been unfolding in the courts.
The whole story, unfiltered, is being told in a must-see documentary about the case, “Amanda Knox: Colpevole o Innocente?” which airs in Italy Tuesday at 9 p.m. , exclusively on Discovery Italia’s crime channel, “Giallo,” on Channel 38 or Sky 144.
Widely considered the most definitive and in-depth documentary available on the Meredith Kercher murder case, the program’s successful premiere on the BBC3 as “Is Amanda Knox Guilty?,” pulled in more than 700,000 viewers according to The Hollywood Reporter. It has since been viewed more than 2 million times and broadcast in Australia and elsewhere in Europe. It was shot on location over the course of six years in Perugia, London and Seattle by an international production team based in Italy. I directed the film, and was privileged to work alongside veterans such as Executive Producer Steve Anderson and Producer Paul Russell, as well as an extensive Italian production and post production crew. Here is a short Q & A I did with Grazia Magazine about the making of the film, a Fact TV UK production, made for the BBC3 in association with NBC News Peacock Productions and Autentic, which is distributing the English-language original.
The documentary features fascinating, never before seen dramatic footage from inside and outside the trials and dramatic courtroom verdicts, interviews with key investigators, attorneys and experts on both sides, as well as a poignant appearance by the sister and brother of Meredith Kercher, who recall fond memories of Meredith and share their thoughts on their long wait for justice and closure.
Unlike much of what you may have seen on television about this case, this documentary tells the whole story, unfiltered. If you live in Italy and want an unbiased, professional perspective on how the case has unfolded over the past six and a half years, you should not miss this broadcast Tuesday night.
UPDATE JUNE 30, 2014
Amanda Knox’s biological parents, Curt Knox and Edda Mellas, faced a trial hearing in Perugia Monday on charges of defaming the local police with allegations in the international media (and reported in Italy) that their daughter was abused during questioning during the 2007 investigation into the murder of Meredith Kercher. The case Monday came before Perugia Judge Noviello, who opted not to hear witness testimony, but instead moved the case to Florence. This because the judge reportedly noted that the Perugia prosecutor was also potentially defamed, even though he did not make a complaint and is not a part of the case, nonetheless the judge ruled it should be handled outside the sphere of Umbrian influence. Amanda Knox was convicted on appeal in January in Florence, but still faces another trial there in the Tuscan capital – on charges of allegedly slandering the police (calumny) with false accusations on the stand, which in Italy is a more serious charge than just defamation\libel. The charges against Knox going ahead in Florence are more serious than those against her parents, which in all likelihood could end up being dropped because the statute of limitations will run out next year (in Italy, the statute of limitations for minor crimes is 7.5 years). One of the major inefficiencies of the Italian justice system, soon to face fresh round of reforms, is the fact that it can take cases many years to actually go to trial. This November will mark 7 years since Meredith Kercher was brutally stabbed to death in the flat she shared with Knox. Knox was convicted in the first instance in 2009 in Perugia and on appeal in January in Florence and now faces her final appeal in Rome’s high court, the Court of Cassation, later this year.
Also this week, Knox’s former boyfriend and co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito is holding a press conference in Rome in which Italian media have speculated he will raise questions about the alibi he and Knox have stood by until now — that they were together at his place the night of the murder –instead claiming he cannot remember if she was there the whole time or not. If he indeed changes his story so late in the game, however, it is likely to be seen as little more than a desperate hail mary pass as a final conviction looms. That such a drastic change in defense strategy is unfolding in the court of public opinion as opposed to a courtroom is highly unorthodox, but bound to generate a lot of attention and debate at home in Italy, where it is viewed as unfair that American Knox is less likely to be held accountable if her conviction is upheld, while Sollecito faces the very real prospect of hard prison time.
UPDATE JUNE 19, 2014
A very brief and initial outline of the appeals to the Court of Cassation. As time and travel, allows I will try to update and complete.
APPEAL TO COURT OF CASSATION BY RAFFAELE SOLLECITO
Document length: 331 pages
Request: that the sentence be annulled
Attachments: 57 documents attached, mostly transcriptions of consultants, witnesses and fragments of trial arguments.
Laws/reasons listed: 24 (nearly all reasons cited are based on Ar. 606,1:E) but the appeal also cites Ar. 627, 3 regarding the Guede statements; Ar 627, 3, E 628 for not proving presence of Sollecito “Locus Commissi Delicti” as well as not establishing a proper motive, in relation to that established with regard to Guede; and Ar. 627, 3 and 606, 1, E for lack of logic.
Reasons for appeal: 1. Uncertainty of Scientific Evidence 2. Accusatory declarations of Rudy Guede against Sollecito should not be deemed usable/allowed 3. Reasonable Doubt 4. Witness Reliability
“The trials lacked an adequate review of the “individual” role of Sollecito, generating instead a sense of his guilt due to the “power of attraction” to Amanda and because of her a “confession” made by her, which never mentioned him at the scene of the crime. 1a) That declaration should be used as a favourable element showing Sollecito was not at the scene of the crime, not as a piece of evidence that confirms his guilt. 1b) the DNA on the bra clasp is not reliable 3c) Request that findings by Vecchiotti and Conti be considered valid, including arguments that show an unreliability of the affirmations of forensic Police Biologist Patrizia Stefanoni, and specifically that the appeals court “illogically excluded the possibility of contamination of the bra clasp (p.317)
The appeal focuses heavily on the role of Rudy Guede, and which of his statements and depositions should have been legally allowed as evidence against Sollecito. Sollecito’s lawyers also make the argument that since a number of Guede’s statements were used against him, his lawyers should have had the right to a proper cross examination of Guede (in this part of the appeal, p 298, the three other European cases are cited: Kostecki v. Poland and Al-Khawaka and Tahery vs. UK and Yevgeniy Ivanov v. Russia)
However there is also the argument that Knox and Sollecito’s positions should have been separated. As an example, on page 64, cites Giulia Bongiorno’s reading of Knox’s statements to police, noting that Knox repeatedly says “I.” The appeal argues that Knox’s declaration to police at 1:45 a.m. should be usable by the Sollecito defense as an element of proof that he was not present. Specifically, there is attention drawn to the subject-verb agreement and the fact that Knox repeatedly speaks in the singular form: “I see Patrick” and “I heard Meredith scream.”
“Not even in the most dramatic phrase of the night between November 5 and 6 did Knox ever maintain that Sollecito was perhaps with her in Via della Pergola.” (p74-76)
That these statements could not be used as a defensive element by Sollecito is “the first and most relevant error committed by the court.” (p75)
The appeal also argues that Knox furnished Sollecito with an alibi when she said she left the house, telling her boyfriend she had to go to work, leaving Sollecito alone at home. And even if the court were to believe the strategy that Knox “exchanged one black man for another,” by blaming Lumumba when it was Guede at the scene, that still excludes Sollecito from responsibility. (p.76)
In conclusion, the appeal also notes that the range of the aggression against Kercher was between 21-22 and that Sollecito’s Macbook Pro shows that at 21:26 a multimedia cartoon “Naruto” was opened,which lasted 20 minutes, shows it was impossible that he was involved in the crime.
APPEAL TO COURT OF CASSATION BY AMANDA KNOX
Document Length: 120 pages
Request: Ricorso for 1) questions of constitutional legitimacy and 2) 11 reasons related to contradictions, illogic and deficiencies
Laws/reasons cited: Violation of Art. 606, B, E for contradictions, deficiencies and illogic in the reasoning, specifically:
1. lack of a motive.
2. merits of forensic science.
3. relation of the slander conviction with the homicide conviction.
4. mode of entrance into Via della Pergola and the footprint evidence.
5. Alibi and witness testimony of Curatolo and Quintavalle
6. Violation of observance of laws with regard to Art. 606, C with regard to documentation that had been declared not allowable for use in court.
7. Violation of observance of laws with regard to Art. 606, C with regard to allowing the sentence of Rudy Guede to be considered as evidence without the possibility of thorough cross examination.
8. Violation of Art. 606. with relation to Constitutional Art. 111, 2 and 238, for not allowing thorough cross examination of Rudy Guede, after he affirmed accusations against Knox and Sollecito in the first appeal.
9. Violation of 606, B, E, for using inexistent evidence (this refers to Nencini material error on page 321 when he discusses DNA of Sollecito found on the knife — Sollecito’s DNA was never found on the knife).
10. Violation of 606, E, B, with regard to ordinances that regulate court debate/ arguments, with specific reference to Sept. 30 (question of constitutionality) and April 17 (a clerical/material error stating Amanda Knox was born in Seattle, not in Washington).
11. Violation of 606, B: with regard to the sentence, since the slander charge is contested.
“This defense asks that the court rectify a grave judicial error, which includes the court of appeals, so as to permit the defendant Amanda Knox to re-initiate a normal and constructive life. ” pg. 115
UPDATE JUNE 18, 2014
Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito’s defense teams filed their final appeal to Italy’s highest court, the Court of Cassation last week. The defendants are appealing their conviction in Florence last January, in which the appeals court held up a murder conviction in the first instance and sentenced Knox and Sollecito to 28.5 and 25 years, respectively. While I have not yet analyzed the details of the appeals deposited in Florence, it is clear from an initial review that there is one very distinct difference from the prior trials: there is no longer a joint defense and the two teams’ legal strategies appear to be headed in separate directions. Sollecito’s appeal, which is much heftier, at approximately 300 pages long, argues that the two defendant’s positions should have been allowed to have been separated, giving examples of how some of the evidence related solely to her, and not to him. For example, his lawyers make the point that Knox, in her statements to police and the prosecutor, spoke consistently in the “singular” grammar form, not the plural, hence did not implicate the presence of others (i.e. him). Knox’s appeal, approximately one third the length of Sollecito’s, largely focuses on the merits and reliability (or alleged lack thereof) of the evidence used to convict. I will be reviewing clerk copies of both appeals in coming days and posting relevant excerpts of the appeal arguments here.
UPDATE MAY 24, 2014
As defense teams for Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito work separately on the final appeals of their murder convictions (upheld on appeal in January) a number of other spin-off trials continue.
Earlier this week in Florence, one of the defense witnesses in the first Knox/Sollecito appeal, Camorra turncoat Luciano/Lucia Aviello, was convicted and sentenced to 10 months for offending the judiciary (oltraggio), a charge most closely comparable to the U.S. concept of Contempt of Court. The magistrate who heard the case and found him guilty was Judge Agnese Di Girolamo. Kercher family lawyer Serena Perna and the Perugia prosecutor were among those called as witnesses in Florence, where the trial was held to avoid conflict of interest, since the offending outburst occurred in Perugia during Knox and Sollecito’s first appeal. The two were acquitted during that appeal, but it was later annulled by Italy’s Supreme Court for a series of judicial & legal oversights. A second appeal was held in a jurisdiction outside Umbria (Florence) and their convictions were upheld by Judge Alessandro Nencini. Knox and Sollecito remain free and continue to plead their innocence. A third man, Ivory Coast national Rudy Guede, is doing 16 years in Viterbo prison for participating in the group murder of Meredith Kercher in November 2007.
The Aviello contempt conviction stems from his bizarre outburst in a wild hearing during Knox and Sollecito’s first appeal back in June 2011, when he was called as a witness and claimed his brother (whereabouts unknown) was the killer. I was in court that day and filed this story for the Seattlepi.com, for those who weren’t following or need a refresher. Aviello, who had befriended Sollecito in prison, at one point had to be held back by courtroom guards as he snarled at prosecutors, yelling that they were a klan, accusing them of various skullduggery and pointing with a gesture authorities say is internal mafia code for a physical threat. As my story noted, even then, court observers were surprised that presiding judge Hellman did not step in to bring order to the courtroom. Aviello has a long history of courtroom lies & antics (including at least half a dozen other convictions) and it is probably not the last of the inquiries into the whys and hows he was brought to the stand by defense teams. Aviello claimed Sollecito parties had offered money and help getting a sex change operation he had been wanting in exchange for testimony that would exculpate Knox and Sollecito. He later recanted the bribe and refused to elaborate on the details. Another separate trial against him is ongoing in Perugia for slander (for the false accusation against his brother).
Once the defense teams have filed their final appeal documents in June, the Court of Cassation will set a date for a Rome hearing, likely in the fall.
UPDATE MAY 8, 2014
Last week, CCTV footage leaked to an Italian television show convinced many that Amanda Knox was near the murder scene when her alibi was that she was elsewhere. The footage–her or not– doesn’t matter. It is relevant only in the court of public opinion, unlike the Nencini reasoning report (scroll down to read about it in detail) which will have a concrete effect on the case. This week the Italian gossip magazine Oggi (traditional ally of Knox and Sollecito) published a favourable Q & A done with Knox in Seattle on her reaction (shocker: not a happy camper) and an update on her routine daily life (Studies, boyfriend, cats, walks, family visits and a novel in the works as part of her creative writing thesis). In the article, Knox opens up about her anxiety over the prospects of living what she calls a “double nightmare” of the “judicial error being confirmed and a extradition granted. ” And if definitively convicted but not extradited? “The United States would become my prison,” she was quoted as saying in Oggi. In the same issue, talk of plans in 2015 for a film on the Monster of Florence starring George Clooney. Clooney, according to Oggi’s headlines, will play a detective, but the rest of the cast “top secret,” with scripting still in preliminary stages. Police Friday arrested a 55-year-old plumber who lives with his parents in connection with the homicide of a Romanian prostitute, and possibly other attacks. The Monster of Florence? Or just a monster. Period. No shortage of drama in Florence these days . . .
UPDATE MAY 4, 2014
This was a pivotal week in the ongoing saga of the Meredith Kercher murder case and subsequent trials of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito. The fallout continues in the wake of the reasoning report issued by Florence appeals judge Alessandro Nencini explaining why he convicted Knox and Sollecito.
IN PRINT AND TV . . .
In the U.S., Knox made an exclusive appearance on CNN proclaiming her innocence and vowing to fight on in her final appeal to Italy’s Court of Cassation. In the UK, the victims family gave this lengthy interview in the Daily Mail, a must-read reminder of the agony they’ve endured (heartbreaking that Stephanie is preparing to wed without her sister as bridesmaid).
In Italy, nighttime talk shows this week were abuzz over this CCTV footage from a parking garage just above Via della Pergola scene of Meredith Kercher’s murder. The footage shows a woman Italian media speculated could be Amanda Knox near the crime scene the night of the murder, bringing into question her alibi. But is it her? I vaguely recall investigators reviewing all the CCTV footage and determining the others caught on camera were not identifiable as Knox. So is this a legitimate new clue or should the emergence of this “re-leaked” footage and its timing be suspect? I lean toward the latter. Perugia authorities should clarify.
THE “REPREHENSIBLE CONDUCT” OF THE EXPERTS
However those who may have the most explaining to do are Rome Professors Carla Vecchiotti and Stefano Conti, the two court-appointed independent experts whose scathing report of the forensic evidence in Knox’s first appeal (later annulled) led to her acquittal and release in 2011.
In his report released earlier this week, Judge Nencini does not mince words, alternatively describing their work reviewing the forensics “clearly in error,” “misleading” and even “reprehensible.” It is not the first time. She was also cited for clamorous errors in a previous murder case (Olgiata) in which forensic samples were mixed up. Nencini’s report is bound to amplify concerns already circulating within the Italian forensic community, and could possibly even trigger an investigation.
Over the course of approximately 50 pages of his 337 reasoning report, Nencini does a thorough analysis of all the court evidence, lab data and depositions by all the forensic consultants, and essentially debunks Vecchiotti and Conti’s report. He reveals that the two experts overlooked available data, altered the meaning of forensic police statements to fit their thesis, erred in their interpretation methods and falsely claimed the technology didn’t exist to test a small trace of DNA that was later successfully tested. If you are not interested in forensic minutiae, you can stop reading now.
The harsh Vecchiotti-Conti review begins on page 195 of Nencini’s report. The possibility of contamination so hotly debated by consultants and made credible to the point of being included in the independent experts’ written report actually “has no significance” in the criminal trial, he wrote, and was “misleading.”
He categorically rules out contamination. Even in the case of the bra clasp catalogued by police but only collected 46 days later, had Sollecito’s DNA been fruit of contamination it would have been found elsewhere and on other objects taken from the scene that day, such as on Meredith’s blue sweatshirt where Guede’s DNA was found, he wrote, not just on the tiny hook of the bra clasp. He notes records show there were no other items containing Sollecito’s DNA handled that day, ruling out making laboratory contamination. Nencini accepts there may have been professional lapses on part of the forensic police, but determines that none of those oversights were so grave as to have negatively impacted the forensic analysis with regard to the case. The absence of contamination is also proven by the records of negative and positive controls performed by much-maligned forensic biologist Patrizia Stefanoni. Those controls were done and had been referred to in court, but Vecchiotti and Conti overlooked this, claiming there was no record of them.
It was the responsibility of the experts to look at all the data available, Nencini said, but Vecchiotti and Conti did not. Their report cites no proof of negative and positive controls for contamination, yet Nencini found a deposition from one of the preliminary hearings in October 2008, where Stefanoni clearly said they had been done, and, in fact, examples of such were deposited that day. He notes that one of prosecution consultants requested and obtained that data and used it to rule out contamination. The fact that the two independent experts completely overlooked this data showed a “scarce attention was being given to the case documents deposited with the court.”
But there is more, Nencini writes.
The decision not to test Trace “I” of DNA that was later revealed to be a trace of Amanda Knox’s DNA on the kitchen knife where the blade meets the handle was an autonomous decision of the two experts that was communicated verbally to the consultants, but was not a joint decision of all the forensic consultants, as the experts suggested. Court records show the Kercher family and prosecution’s forensic consultants all maintained in September 2011 that the technology existed to trace the small trace and requested that it be done. That Professor Vecchiotti convicingly and repeatedly said it could not be tested was “clearly in error.” The Nencini court went ahead with the testing, and the RIS in Rome were able to get a reliable result, following all double amplification requirements and international protocols. Nencini notes that RIS officials as well as other consultants testified that the kit for identifying such a small trace of DNA was available on the Italian market back in 2011, but they were ignored. The trace should have been tested, Nencini wrote, and by reporting that it was impossible to do so, the experts contributed to an error of judgement by the presiding magistrate, whose ruling was eventually tossed. Nencini considers several pages of statistical and genetic analysis made by various consultants in both the first and second appeals. On page 221, he writes that “the behavior of Vecchiotti was “censurable” because before providing an imprecise report in a trial, she should have requested the controls documentation from the forensic police and only in the case of that data not being provided, come to the conclusions that she did.
So now what? Will Italian authorities investigate further or simply let the case march quietly toward a high court ruling at the end of the year? Will Knox and Sollecito bring in more consultants to appeal Nencini’s findings? The defense teams have 45 days from May 2 to deposit their cassation appeals, which means by mid-June the case files will be back on their way to Rome for review.
UPDATE MAY 1, 2014
The “motivazioni” reasoning report from Florence appeals judge Alessandro Nencini was released April 29, just a day before the 90-day deadline. This quick turnaround analysis in The Week was done within hours of its release:
I may be posting further reflection of key points (and typos) from the 337-page Nencini report here at a later date. To read Knox’s integral statement in response to the Nencini report, click on Amanda Knox 2014 4 29 Press Release issued to the media by Gogerty Marriott, Knox’s Seattle-based public relations firm.
UPDATE FEB 5, 2014
Below are the series of columns for The Week UK (I do not write the headlines).
My latest: The Week UK: Justice Revisited in Prime Time.
Column immediately post verdict: The Week UK: Knox is a convicted killer. The decision is (almost) final:
Column two weeks pre-verdict, predicting possible conviction: The Week UK: Amanda Knox’s Fugitive Fears: She’s Right to be Worried.
I have had many questions about the news of an inquiry into whether or non Judge Nencini acted inappropriately when he gave an interview to reporters after the Knox and Sollecito guilty verdict (to read, scroll down to transcript in update below). There is an investigation underway within the commission on the judiciary and it will have to take its course, like all formal complaints. Obviously “no comment” would have been wiser, although I personally respect the reporters for trying and managing to obtain some revealing comments. That’s their job.
But there is, as usual, a bit more to the story. There are some politics at play here as well. Nencini, an anti-mafia magistrate, once filed defamation complaint against Silvio Berlusconi for 2009 remarks criticizing a businessman’s conviction over illicit deals to build a high-speed rail link. Specifically,Berlusconi called the judiciary a “metastasis” that “applied the law like Moloch” (the Canaanite god mentioned in the Bible whose ritual included human sacrifice).
Last week, Berlusconi’s own lawyer, Niccolò Ghedini, announced he himself would be defended in one of the Ruby Heartstealer spin-off trials by no other than Sollecito’s lawyer, Giulia Bongiorno.
Yet Bongiorno, who is leading the charge against Nencini, was oddly silent when the first appeals trial judge, Claudio Pratillo Hellman, gave interviews to state-run RAI defending his decision to acquit. Politicized? Like everything in Italy. The flap over Nencini’s remarks won’t blow over easily, but I think it will, eventually.
UPDATE FEB 1, 2014
Italy’s most influential newspaper, the Corriere Della Sera, this morning has published a fascinating long interview with Judge Alessandro Nencini about his reasons for convicting Amanda Knox. The interview was done by one of the newspaper’s most veteran crime and investigative reporters, Fiorenza Sarzanini. Below is a rough translation. Click here to read the original.
HEADLINE: Amanda and Raffaele: The Judge Speaks
SUBHEAD: “I have children too; it was a huge burden.”
SUBHEAD2: “The defense had asked to separate the positions of the two accused, but Raffaele would not allow himself to be questioned.”
By Fiorenza Sarzanini
“I feel relieved because the moment of the decision is the most difficult. I have children too, and handing down convictions of 25 and 28 years for two young people is a very hard thing, emotionally.”
It is 10 am the day after the verdict and Justice Alessandro Nencini is in his office. The President of the Florentine Court of Appeals, which two days ago found Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito guilty of the murder of Meredith Kercher, knows that the decision will “open up new debate, especially in the media”, but that is exactly why he agreed to explain how the verdict was reached.
You deliberated in chambers for 12 hours. Was the judicial panel divided?
“The case files took up half of the room. There are 30 expert reports. The lay judges, who aren’t court staff, had to read all the documentation to reach a joint decision, as is expected in the appeals court. You have to review all the documents, think about them, and reason. We did that using all the time that was necessary, and taking into account the fact that the victim was also a young girl.
And then the decision was unanimous?
“I spoke of a joint decision. I can say that in all these months and in particular during the last session of deliberations, we carefully considered the gravity of a verdict that involves young people and their entire families. This is a case that has consumed many lives.”
Yours was a narrow path, the Court of Cassation had urged you to remedy the Perugia appeal decision that had acquitted the two accused.
“Not so, we had maximum flexibility. The only restriction was that in the case of acquittal, we would have to have give reasons based on logic. There was no other binding restriction.”
Not even with regard to the decision handed down in Rudy Guede’s case?
“Effectively the specifics of the case was this: there was a person already convicted via fast-track, and definitively, for concourse in the same homicide. The Court of Cassation was asking us to consider who participated and their roles. We could have said that the two accused weren’t there, and then provided convincing reasoning, but we did not believe this to be the truth.”
Why didn’t you question Guede?
“For what purpose? He has never confessed and even if we had called him, he had the right to remain silent. We didn’t think it was necessary. Rather, we felt it was important to study the other aspects more in depth. In fact we requested an expert report and heard witnesses about which there were doubts. That is the role of the appeal judges. In four months, we’ve been able to arrive at a result.”
Sollecito’s lawyers had asked you to split the defence.
“We’ll explain the point more in the reasonings, where we will explain why we rejected that request. In any case, Sollecito did not want to be questioned during the trial.”
And this influenced your choice to convict him?
“It is the defendant’s right, but certainly it removes a voice from the trial proceedings. He limited himself to making spontaneous declarations, saying only what he wanted to say, without being cross examined.”
Over the years, various motives have been speculated. What idea did you yourselves form?
“We convicted and we will explain it explicitly in our reasoning. For now, I can say that up until 20:15 of that evening, these young people all had different plans, then their commitments fell through and the occasion for this to happen was created. If Amanda had gone to work, we probably wouldn’t be here.”
Are you saying that the murder was just a coincidence?
“I’m saying this was something that unfolded between these young people. There may have been coincidences, and we’ve taken it into the reasoning. I’m aware this will be the most debatable part.”
Cassation demolished the acquittal. Will you as well?
“We are not going to mention it. We simply have to focus on the decision in the first instance (Massei) which we confirmed, on the facts.
And you don’t believe that there were errors?
“I didn’t say that. Some I believe there may have been and I’ll point them out.”
You convicted Amanda Knox, but didn’t issue any precautionary measures against her. Why?
“She is legally in the United States. At the moment of the offence she was in Italy to study and she went home after having been acquitted. She is an American citizen. The problem will arise when it is time to carry out the sentence. For now I don’t believe that such a measure wouuld have been necessary.”
So why then have you confiscated Raffaele Sollecito’s passport?
“It was the agreed minimum. In these cases such measures serve as prevention. We want to avoid that he makes himself impossible to find during the period of waiting for a definitive judgment.”
And you believe being forbidden to leave the country is enough?
“Yes, that seemed more than sufficient to us. If there are other developments later, we will consider them.”
UPDATE JAN. 31, 2014
- How to turn a murder rap into a train wreck. My analysis of the Amanda Knox verdict in The Week.
- Breaking: Raffaele Sollecito has been stopped near the Austrian-Slovenian-Italian border and had his passport and identification documents confiscated. ANSA news report.
Guilty. After 12 hours of deliberation on Thursday, presiding judge Alessandro Nencini and six lay jurors from Florence upheld the original court’s finding in the Meredith Kercher murder case: Amanda Knox and Raffaelle Sollecito are guilty.
Guilty of murder, carrying a concealed weapon, sexual assault, simulating a crime scene and slandering Patrick Lumumba. The court on Thursday ordered Knox to serve 28 years and six months, and Sollecito to 25 years. Their lawyers said they will press their case for innocence at the final appeal level – the Court of Cassation, which will be called to review the convictions later this year.
Sollecito’s passports were ordered to be confiscated so he cannot flee Italy. The passport confiscation was not requested for Knox because, the court said, she is legitimately residing in the U.S., where the measures cannot be applied
UPDATE JAN. 30, 2014
After years of conflicting trials in Perugia, the most critical ruling in the Meredith Kercher murder will unfold today in Florence. Amanda Knox is expected to wait out the verdict in her appeal at her mother’s Seattle home (likely with American television news networks present) while Raffaele Sollecito was in court with his father and a friend. Sollecito made no remarks upon leaving the courthouse in a taxi, surrounded by a pack of cameras. Meredith Kercher’s sister, Stephanie, and brother, Lyle, are also expected in Florence today for the court’s decision, expected in the evening hours. If acquitted, Knox’s long ordeal will finally be over. If convicted, the decision must be upheld by Italy’s high court before it is finalized and any possible extradition decisions would be made.
Jurisdiction in the high-profile murder case was moved from Umbria to Tuscany last March by Italy’s high court, the Court of Cassation, which annulled the acquittal citing errors and faulty logic, and ordered a new appeal to go forward in the Tuscan capital. In this column for The Week, I describe a few things that are different this time. But while the presiding judge is strict about not letting any antics unfold in the hearings, the story continues to take a number of bizarre twists outside the court. The latest being an exclusive interview given to Radar Online by a young American single mom named Kelsey Kay claiming she was preparing to marry Sollecito but got cold feet after being shown an odd prenuptial agreement and learning he had allegedly already been turned down by Knox. The site published photos of them together in Idaho, video of her telling her story, as well as screen shots of their heated text exchanges. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Another woman (this time Australian) claimed in a separate UK tabloid also claimed that Sollecito was striking up an online relationship with her at the same time. Sollecito has denied the reports, which seem conveniently timed to the verdict. Sollecito’s lawyer Luca Maori told the Italian news agency ANSA that Sollecito is considering suing the American for his father called “total falsehoods.”
The Kelsey Kay “extradition bride” allegations, repeated in recent days in the UK tabloids and in some Italian media outlets, reveal there no small amount of behind-the-scenes turmoil facing Knox and Sollecito at this crucial moment. But true or false, the stories are unlikely to have any impact on today’s decision, which comes after nearly a dozen court sessions.
UPDATE JAN. 20, 2014
Today was the last full day of debate in the Amanda Knox appeal trial in Italy (the first Perugia appeal in 2011 that resulted in acquittal was annulled by the country’s highest court, the Court of Cassation, which ordered this new appeal in Florence). The Sollecito defense finished closing arguments and the court heard rebuttals by the prosecution and the civil parties (lawyers for Lumumba and the Kercher family). Sollecito’s defense then completed rebuttals and Knox’s lawyers agreed to complete their rebuttals in the first hour of the final January 30th hearing, before the judge and jury retreat to the deliberation room for a verdict. That is advantageous for Knox’s defense, which will benefit from the full attention of the rested judge and jury on the 30th just before they go into deliberations than they would have than at the end of today’s long day of debate. Most of today’s arguments had been heard before, and Presiding Judge “No-Nonsense Nencini” (Niente Sciocchezzi Nencini) wasted no time brusquely cutting off lawyers on both sides when they strayed off course. The biggest news was the prosecutor’s request that the court decide on precautionary measures to make certain Knox and Sollecito serve their sentences if definitively convicted of murdering Kercher. Prosecutor Alessandro Crini noted that Knox has been in the U.S., for the duration of her appeal, while Sollecito has traveled abroad often. The court can request a variety of temporary measures on the 30th if they indeed convict (for the period while awaiting a final Court of Cassation decision) including confiscation of passport, house arrest or immediate arrest. The measures would likely not be applicable to Knox in the U.S., without some sort of formal extradition or restriction of movement request.
Another important moment in this last full day of debate, however, was the opening of Francesco Maresca’s rebuttal, in which he, for the first time publicly, suggested that the 2011 acquittal in Perugia had been somehow decided (and announced) in advance.
The papers the morning before the verdict were all expecting acquittal. Their family and lawyers were all confident of acquittal, he said. It is true, he went on, what Bongiorno said . . . that the crowd gathered outside the courthouse was agitated. But it was not because they wanted a conviction at all costs of the “perfect defendants” as she claimed. “Rather it was because there was a sense of scandal. They were scandalized because the acquittal had been preannounced.”
On the related question of Knox’s 2011 acquittal and who played a behind the scenes role, I have updated my ongoing inquiry into the undisclosed U.S. forensic defense aid of Knox with new transcripts and related letters. See link above or post below for more info.
With just 10 days until a verdict is expected, here’s my sense of how things are shaping up: The Week: Fugitive Fears: She’s right to be worried.
UPDATE JAN. 19, 2014
Today in a separate post I am publishing a lengthy update to my ongoing inquest into Amanda Knox’s secret U.S. forensic defense. This update includes court transcripts that reveal more details about the role of an American biology professor involved in Knox’s defense. The update also includes a letter of professional opinion (published exclusively here for the first time) written at the request of Knox’s American and Rome defense attorneys by a prominent American scientist who worked at the FBI Crime Lab in Quantico, Virgina for 25 years before going to the University of North Texas. To read the new update and view PDF’s of the transcripts and letter, click here.
Monday is the last scheduled hearing before the January 30th day of deliberations. On the docket is the closing arguments of Raffaele Sollecito’s Perugian lawyer, Luca Maori, and then rebuttals.
UPDATE JAN. 18, 2014
AMANDA’S EXCLUSIVE ITALIAN STATE TV APPEARANCE
Knox appeared in an “exclusive interview” on Italy’s TG1 TV Sette Friday night via Skype with anchor/journalist Emma D’Aquino, who covered the Meredith Kercher murder case in Perugia. During her appeal being heard in Florence, Knox has chosen not to appear in court, instead limiting her statements to an email sent to the judge and media interviews, last week with La Repubblica newspaper and this week with the Rai 1 program. Here is a rough transcript of the transmission. Knox spoke in Italian. Her clips were edited.
Journalist: You have always sustained you were the victim of a judicial error. How can you be so certain?
AK: Umm. There is certainty in the facts. It is clear that there is no evidence that I was there when it happened. I was not there. The prosecution is also based on the supposition that I am a monster. I am not a monster and I hope those watching tonight will see I am not like that, I was never like that.
Journalist (question about Meredith)
AK: I remember Meredith like a person . . . who gave me friendship from the beginning. She was always nice. She was the person to whom I could go home and talk to. She like to read, like me, she liked music, like me. But we had very little time together. I had little time with Perugia and little time with Meredith.
Journalist: It is a fact that in the room where the murder happened there is no trace of you, but what did you think when you saw the blood in the other areas of the house when you returned there? Weren’t you alarmed?
AK: I was alarmed. But I didn’t know what to think. I had never had that kind of experience in my life. I entered the house and when I saw the door open, I thought maybe some had left it open. I called out “is anybody here?” When I saw the blood I thought, look, that’s strange. But I never thought someone could have been killed.
Journalist (asks what AK thinks happened)
AK:Surely Rudy Guede was there that night. He was never in my house before, but his DNA was in that house and in that room. There is no other explanation. His footprints in the blood . . . These are facts . . I think he started to rob the house, then Meredith came home and . . . e’ scatinato (it went out of control).
Journalist (what are your recollections of being incacerated)
I remember fondly Don Saulo . . . I remember the friends I made with the other prisoners. I remember the abuse. There was a vice commander of the prison who always asked for sex. I was afraid. I kept thinking it is just confusion. It is just an error. Every day, every second, I waited to go home. But that door was always closed.
Journalist (on Raffaele)
He is a great guy. But he suffered from being close to me.
Journalist (on Lumumba)
AK: I was manipulated. I am very very sorry for what happened and I hope he will forgive me.
Journalist (on upcoming verdict)
I have my heart in my mouth (*an italian expression akin to being on pins and needles). I believe I will be acquitted. But if I am convicted, if this has to happen, I understand that technically I will be a fugitive. But I will fight for my innocence until the Court of Cassation. I hope for a just outcome.
UPDATE JAN. 15, 2014
For those keeping track of the various “sideshows” in the Amanda Knox case, a Turin court Wednesday definitively acquitted Perugia prosecutor Giuliano Mignini of three charges against him in connection to his investigations into the Monster of Florence case. The court shelved another three charges because the statute of limitations had expired. One abuse of office charge involving the wiretapping of a La Stampa journalist will be heard in court on March 18, but its statute of limitations appears to expire just days before, so it is unclear if the case will go forward. None of the matters relate directly to the Amanda Knox case, but they were often referenced by the prosecutor’s detractors. In a separate sideshow, the glossy gossip magazine “Oggi,” has a defamation hearing set for March 14 in Bergamo. There have been so many spin-off trials from the divisive Amanda Knox case, it is a challenge keeping track of the court dates.
Mignini, who investigated and prosecuted Knox in the trials held in Perugia, has not been present at the Florence appeal, which is being prosecuted by Florentine magistrate Alessandro Crini. The next hearing in the Amanda Knox appeal is set for January 2oth, when Raffaele Sollecito’s Perugian attorney, Luca Maori, will give his closing arguments, followed by rebuttals.
UPDATE JAN. 8, 2014
Defense lawyers Giulia Bongiorno and Luca Maori will give closing arguments on behalf of Raffaele Sollecito Thursday in Florence, starting at 10 a.m. While Amanda Knox has been the main focus of attention for most of the U.S. media covering this case, Sollecito has increasingly become the object of gossip in the Italian press, with tabloid magazines like Oggi regularly publishing snaps of him on vacation this winter in Santo Domingo. More recently several local newspapers in Veneto published speculation about a new woman friend and fellow University of Verona student with whom he had been hanging out with over the holidays in a small town near Treviso. Amore or amica? He’s not about to tell. At his last spontaneous declaration before the court Sollecito complained about his lack of privacy and pleaded with the jury to give him his life back. Tomorrow his lawyers will make the case for his innocence formally to the judge and jury. Expect fireworks from Bongiorno, famous for her captivating oratory and no stranger to high-profile cases — having cut her teeth as defense lawyer for former Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti.
UPDATE JAN. 3, 2014
Court hearing dates set for 2014 have changed slightly. As of Jan. 9, the dates are rebuttals Jan 20th, and verdict January 30th. The presiding judge may change the hearing schedule at any time depending on length of hearings or per requests by the interested parties.
UPDATE DEC. 30, 2013
Throughout 2013 I have been releasing various documents on the Amanda Knox case from my files that I felt could be useful for court observers. Some were fruit of old-fashioned public records requests I have filed, such as the embassy cables received through Freedom of Information Act request (scroll down to May 6 update to view) as well as the refusal from an American university to release communications and research related to its role in Knox’s defense (scroll down to Oct. 28 to view). Others, such as this flurry of communications between U.S. embassy officials and the Perugia prosecutor’s office, as well between the Congolese embassy and the prosecutor’s office, are a part of the official court case file (and were not provided to me by the prosecutor, members of the prosecutor’s office or any embassy officials). I felt it was important to publish these docs because they are part of the record of the earliest days of this case, and reveal what measures the various diplomatic entities were taking to protect their respective citizens. They are published here, unredacted, as they appear in the official court file. Among the interesting details, I noted that U.S. officials were in contact with the Perugia prosecutor’s office as early as November 6, while Lumumba’s consular visit did not come until November 15. Lumumba, Knox and Sollecito had all been arrested on Nov. 6., after she told investigators during her interrogation that he was the killer. She claims she was coerced, which police and her interpreter deny. She never told police Lumumba was innocent, but he was released after his alibi was later established and the DNA of another African national, Rudy Guede of the Ivory Coast, was identified at the crime scene.
Click on the link to view the Knox_Lumumba_embassydocs from early November, 2007.
UPDATE DEC. 17, 2013
The court hearing reserved for Knox’s appeal defense began with the reading of a letter via email from Amanda, reported here in the Messaggero and then widely picked up in the English-language press, claiming her innocence, alleging psychological torture during her interrogation and explaining why she was afraid to return to Italy. The letter via email was the only “new” aspect introduced Tuesday so it made all the headlines, but it actually occupied just a small fraction of the day’s arguments. Some of her arguments — such as the allegation that she was hit by police — were not repeated in court by her lawyers. Several Italian court observers viewed the letter via email as an “own goal” having witnessed the presiding judge raise his eyebrows in obvious annoyance at having to himself read aloud an email from Knox, who requested an appeal, but is refusing to attend it, for reasons she detailed. “Those who want to speak at the trial should come to the trial,” he said. He also declined to consider the letter a spontaneous declaration because, he said, he could not ascertain if she was the true author of the letter. “I’ve never seen her. I do not know her.”
After the email, Knox’s Perugian lawyer Luciano Ghirga made his closing arguments, followed by Carlo Dalla Vedova of Rome. Most of the discussion focused on two aspects of the case they felt are fundamentally lacking: motive and murder weapon. Below are short quotes/snippets translated quickly during court (not exhaustive). To read the Kercher family lawyer’s arguments, scroll down to yesterday’s notes. Sollecito’s defense will give closing arguments January 9. Rebuttals will be January 10. The court will retreat to deliberations January 15.
- There were four errors of methodology with the forensic analysis of the knife. And the quantification was done not with two runs, but just with one amplification. It was, as forensic biologist Patrizia Stefanoni said, “a make or break” run on the DNA.
- And the material on the blade? Is it blood or not blood? We see the analysis, the Combur test was done. Negative. There is no blood. Yet there is starch, right here (holding up knife) on this trace. What does that mean? That the knife was not subject to cleaning. It was in domestic use.
- The prosecution’s alleged motive for the homicide keeps changing. Evil for evil’s sake. No. Money? No? lack of cleanliness? No. The flush? No. She killed her without motive? No. No, It was necessary to have a motive. You need a motive.
- We have always contested that this was the murder weapon. One question – this is a 17 centimeter blade. Why did the knife only go in 8 cm when it was 17 cm long, without anything to cause resistance? Did you see that imprint on the bedsheet that was revealed by the forensic police? There is an outline of a knife. That knife could be the weapon that provoked the lesions in the neck. We ask you to reevaluate whether or not the knife in question is the murder weapon.
- We have always maintained her innocence, that she was not present at the scene of the crime. She cannot walk with her head held high, with this hanging over her thoughts. In the name of the Italian people, we ask for the acquittal of Amanda Knox.
CARLO DALLA VEDOVA
- This defense is very serene. We know she is innocent, and it is an awareness that grows with time, now we are even more tranquil.
- Today there are more doubts than certainties
- We don’t fall into the swamp of arguments that come from outside the trial. Meredith killed in this way is a loss for all. This is not a game where someone wins and someone loses.
- Regarding the motive: it was never clarified. In the end they had to reconstruct the case facts going from a toilet not being flushed to a fight and then Rudy Guede came in, she pulled a knife, we don’t know from where. The knife is not usable in this trial not because of the DNA, but because it is illogical. An assassin would throw away the knife. You don’t take the murder weapon home and put it in the drawer of your house.
- They have changed the motive 5 or 6 times. First it was an erotic game. Then hygiene. Then a fight between roommates. 5 Euros? A crime of such magnitude without an explanation? If there is no motive, you must acquit.
- One piece of evidence must connect to another. If there is no link between them, we are back at ground zero.
- We believe this was an enormous miscarriage of justice. I know this is a delicate matter. Some say “It is not possible that they erred.” I can tell you, from the simple point of view of a lawyer who has been involved from the beginning, it is absolutely possible.
- Re the interrogation: She is in shock. Anxious. There is a hurricaine of sensations and information. They two were separated in different rooms with agents going up and down telling them various stories, like “Raffaele has confessed,” and like the true professionals they are in the Questura of Perugia, they do this with a 20 year old American who is alone in Italy, with three weeks of Italian, and they try in every way to get a confession.
- Strange there is no video. Strange there is no recording. I have asked many times, why wasn’t anything recorded?
- Yet they go immediately to arrest Patrick Lumumba, without even asking his alibi. Wouldn’t it have been better to wait, watch, tap his phone?
- By mid-day case was closed and Amanda what does she do? This is a girl who was put under pressure, she arrives at a certain point alone and desperate and she takes a piece of paper and writes down her first statement. It is an attempt at a defense. She says she knows she did not kill Meredith.
- Re: Rudy Guede: There was no confession by Amanda, the shoeprint was attributed by error to Sollecito. So at that point they should have let all three go. The proof of the palm print was so strong, it changed radically the course of the investigation. Yet they remained stuck on the idea that Knox and Sollecito were involved. And from that moment it went awry.
- Re: HIV test in prison. *(here CDV makes a long account of the HIV tests in prison, with him claiming that two came back positive, then a third was done that came back negative. He detailed the traumatic impact it had on Knox and spoke of how she jotted down a list of sexual partners in her diary, which was later leaked to the Italian press, etc. At a certain point he is interrupted by the presiding judge who asks if there is a paper trail, if the prison’s medical certificates exist showing the tests were done and their results or if they were allegedly just referred to her verbally. “I don’t want there to be a shadow of a doubt on this point,” he says, noting that there are certain implications were being made. CDV said they suspected the tests were an effort to pressure her, but said he could not give a definitive answer about the medical certificates. CDV: “The certificates probably exist, but are inside the prison and were not released to us.” He said he based their information on Amanda’s word and writings. The discussion then ended and he went on with his other arguments.
- Three computer hard discs were ruined, fried by an electrical shock by the police. These are computers that might have supported her alibi.
- Curatolo is a witness with zero value, not because he is a clochard, but because his memories are confused.
- Guede’s position has been marginal and ambiguous, with letters that were instrumentalized to mitigate his position and take forward a certain judicial strategy.
- The fact that there is no certain time of death is problematic, as it is a fairly easy piece of data to analyze today. At 21:10 Raffaele and Amanda finish watching Amelie. At 22:13 Meredith’s cell connects to a cell tower at Parco Sant Angelo. 50 minutes is simply too little time for all of the scenario to unfold that the prosecution alleged.
- When we first saw the bra clasp on Nov. 2 it was white. 40 days later it is gray.
- When there is a doubt, when there is uncertainty, we have to stop. We have to raise our hands and say the trial has failed. We have to acquit.
UPDATE DEC. 16, 2013
(Direct, quickly translated quotes/highlights from court as civil parties (the Kercher family lawyers) made their closing arguments to the jury. Tomorrow will provide similar report for defense. If you disagree, take it up with the lawyers, but please don’t shoot the messenger. The translation was done simultaneously during court. Please signal if you note an error.) The Kercher family is expected to attend court for the verdict in mid-January. They were not in court today. Most chairs were empty. Giulia Bongiorno was also not in attendance. There was less than a dozen observers in the public area and you could count the journalists on one hand.
VIERI FABIANI for the Kercher family:
- You should take into consideration the judgments and sentences of Rudy Guede, who was convicted of killing Meredith along with others, others who have been identified as Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito. This is a fundamental point. And remember Amanda Knox was convicted of slandering Patrick Lumumba in first instance as well as appeal, but as the Supreme Court pointed out, the appeals court failed to make the very important link between the slander and the homicide.
- The death of Meredith Kercher brings up a series of emotions, sensations, it is something that has attracted international attention. Jury . . . are you going to judge with your hearts? You must distance yourself from your sentiments. Do not judge with your heart, but rather judge with your head, and with logic.
- The contamination is nonexistent. It is not proven, nor in the case files. And regarding the DNA on the blade, there is the possibility of 1 in 1 billion and 300 million that it does not belong to Meredith.
- Knox knows that the violence was done by someone of color, that’s why she blamed someone of color. She knows the victim screamed. She knows she was killed having her throat slit. The DNA and scientific evidence remains, but it becomes just an additional element.
- When we speak of a crime – we often say we need a motive. But whoever opened the door to Rudy Guede, what does it change? There were a series of contrasts between Meredith Kercher and Amanda Knox. The motive, or the lack thereof, is absolutely irrelevant. Because the voluntary homicide is proven. There was a progression of violence. Alcohol. Drugs. Fatigue. Stress. There could be 1000 problems that evolve into a punishment of the victim, because that is what we see in the escalation of violence that killed Meredith Kercher.
SERENA PERNA for the Kercher family:
- Aside from the fatal wounds, Meredith had many minor wounds. The cut on her left cheek is believed to be the first wound that was inflicted, and was that of a threatening gesture. There are 10 other bruises and lesions to the mouth and nose, done with the bare hand, as part of the process of suffocation process. Then there were three other major stab wounds on the neck.
- Meredith had no defense wounds, just two small cuts on right hand and one on her left finger (jury taking copious notes during Perna’s description of wounds). She was held back. How could so many lesions be made in so many different areas with different means – some with bare hands and some with knives – be made by just one person? Even Rudy Guede only has two hands.
FRANCESCO MARESCA for the Kercher family.
- I am going to ask you to forget a few things and remember a few others. Forget all the polemics outside the courtroom, forget the controversy stirred up by the Americans, and the media, the enormous criticism of the police and scientific police and of the prosecutors of Perugia. . . . . I invited you to forget the declarations of Raffaele Sollecito, who gave those statements upon his return from a vacation in Santo Domingo –where he is once again –while we sit here to judge a trial in which he is the accused. I ask you to forget the declarations of Amanda Knox about the mechanisms and failures of the Italian justice system, who thanks to this mechanism became famous and got a multi-million dollar contract for a book. She has public relations person. She has a website, something insupportable for the family Kercher, which takes donations for the victim. She . . . who is a suspect in the murder!
- Basta discussion of the contamination. The Supreme Court shut the door on this argument. Contamination must be identified. Yet it continues to be the leit motif of this trial.
- Basta this representation of a girl thrown into a situation bigger than her. Why was Amanda the only one stressed out by the behavior of the police? All the British girls were also questioned at length by police. And regarding her imagination, the defense’s own consultant, Prof. Caltagirone, testified that false memories were possible, even though Knox had no cognitive problems. Yet the famous statement she wrote on November 6 came at a time she had slept and was not under duress.
- Review the Knox’s Nov. 6, 2007 statement. The email to 25 persons she wrote Nov. 4. The times she asks “Why did Raffaele lie?” The intercepted prison conversations of Nov. 17 when Knox says “I was there.” Review Knox’s own testimony June 16, when she said there was no blood in the bathroom when she left the day before.
- Why was Amanda’s black lamp found near the bed of the scene of the crime? Why did she call her mother in the middle of the night in Seattle before the body had been discovered?
- The two pillars of this trial are the slander of Patrick Lumumba and the staging of the break in to simulate a rape and burglary. The window of Filomena’s room would have been a suicidal choice for a thief, as it was most exposed. Glass was on top of clothes. How did Sollecito know nothing had been stolen, as he told dispatcher? Also rock wasn’t in line with trajectory of broken window. Would Meredith have waited in her room for her aggressor had she heard a window break? Window was broken after she was already dead.
- In the bathroom where Rudy’s feces were found, there was no blood, footprints or other forensic traces found. If Rudy had simulated the theft, wouldn’t he have flushed away his “signature.”? Somebody else cleaned, but left his prints and evidence that pointed to him. Rudy, by the way, was acquitted of theft in his trials.
- For the whole night, the two suspects don’t have an alibi.
- Witnesses are reliable, but only is of relative interest.
- What is the motive that Meredith’s two telephones are stolen? If they were robbed, why wouldn’t the thief take computer, jewels and other items from Romanelli’s room? The phones were taken to delay the discovery of the body, to try to eliminate the immediate possibility that someone could hear the telephone ringing in Meredith’s room, without Meredith’s response.
- We have said many times that DNA doesn’t fly. But Sollecito does not fly either. The material left by Sollecito’s foot is abundant, otherwise it would not have been stamped so clearly. On this point the cassation sentence is crystal clear. There was a cleanup.
- 9 May 2009, when we talk of a metric and morphological match of Sollecito’s foot to the print on the bathmat. We know the Robbin’s grid is used to align the footprint. But defense consultant Vinci (he is a bit of a “tutto fare”) chooses a different point of departure for the measurement. Then he uses a program called “blended stretch.” The name says it all. Prof. Vinci in that way showed images purporting to show a compatibility with Guede’s foot. But there is no question that the footprint is compatible with Sollecito. The
stamp” of the foot in Meredith’s blood (not ink) on the bathmat is Sollecito’s and it nails him to the scene of the crime.
- Look at these traces: 23 (light switch) 24(sink) 76(bidet) 126(cotton swab box) 127 (sink). These traces include those where mixed DNA of Meredith and Knox were found. These traces extend the scene of the crime from the bedroom into the bathroom. Knox says when she left Via della Pergola 1 November it was clean. But the trace on the light switch is just blood of Meredith. It is only when the person rubs their hands in the sink that her DNA is shed and shows up along with the blood of Meredith. Knox washes her hands in the sink and then uses the bidet to wash her feet.
- Look at the traces in Romanelli’s room, 176 has just the profile of the victim and 177 which has profile of both Knox and Kercher, plus 178, 179, 180 with just profile of Knox and 184, in the corridor, latent prints which also had a mixed profile of Kercher and Knox. What I am telling you is that the crime scene is extended. The staging of the theft happened after the murder. That’s why we find Meredith’s blood there.
- If this had ever been the work of a single assassin, why would he have tracked blood back into the room of the break in? Rudy’s tracks are clear. They go from the body to the door. The other tracks lead to and from the staging of the break in.
- In what of the seven days prior that Sollecito and Knox knew each other, that Sollecito might have been over to the house three or four times, did Sollecito leave his footprint in blood on the bathmat?
- The independent experts Vecchiotti and Conti were incomplete and incompetent. They have had problems in other Italian trials, including Via Poma and the Consenza court (a judge rejected Vecchiotti’s expert opinion, which was challenged by others who found DNA evidence she had overlooked, changing outcome of the case). Their work was “fatiscente.”
UPDATE DEC. 6, 2013
There are a number of ongoing “sideshow” trials in the ongoing Meredith Kercher murder case that have unfolded as a result of various claims (and leaks) in the press. On Friday a court in Florence ordered Perugian blogger Frank Sforza to stand trial February 9, 2014 for defamation (Article 595 of Law 47, 1948) through the media. The case stems back to a blog post in which Prosecutor Mignini claims he was defamed when Sfarzo said he was “barricaded in the bunker,” along with, among others, drug dealers (who Mignini apparently takes a certain pride in prosecuting, not befriending). It is unrelated to another domestic incident that resulted in Sforza being forcefully arrested after a police call to the family home. In other news, an internal review by the National Council of Magistrates found no wrongdoing on the part of Manuela Comodi, for how public monies (182,000 euros!) were appropriated to create a 23-minute HD video and archival documentation materials for use in the first Knox trial, that resulted in conviction. But while the review found no wrongdoing on the prosecutor’s part, certainly the oversight bodies currently reviewing wasteful government spending should flag this as the kind of cost overrun for what it is: simply unacceptable.
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 ) 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.