High Court To Rule On Meredith Kercher Case
Having closely covered the Meredith Kercher case since the young Briton’s murder in 2007, I’ve received a number of inquiries for background and details about Monday’s cassation hearing. A primer:
THE COURT HEARING
Court of Cassation will be in session at 10 a.m. Monday, with the Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito case expected to come before judges in late morning, and a ruling not expected until late evening. Neither is expected to attend. Members of the Kercher family may be present.
This crucial hearing marks a critical phase for one of Europe’s longest-running, highest-profile murder trial sagas. If Cassation upholds the appeals court acquittal, the case is forever closed and they are declared officially innocent at the highest and most definitive level of the Italian judiciary. That’s the outcome Knox is hoping for, as are her lawyers (one of whom, Luciano Ghirga, also celebrates his 68th birthday on Monday). If the court does not uphold the appeals court decision, there are a number of ways the decision can play out. The court could find fault in application of law, annul the appeals decision for acquittal, triggering an appeal retrial in Florence, which is what the Kerchers are hoping for.
Or, the court could just partially agree with any number of points in the various arguments that have been filed – they have wide interpretive berth in formulating their response.
The Perugia Procurator-General, Dr Giovanni Galati filed an 112 page appeal. It is in Italian, but for those who want to read an unofficial English transcript, there is a translation that was produced by a group of unpaid volunteers who lobby on behalf of justice for Kercher: Perugia PG Cassation Ricorso (English Version). The lawyers for the Kercher family have filed their own request to the Court of Cassation. That document is available here:Cassation Ricorso Kercher. Amanda Knox’s lawyers have also filed asking that her slander charge against Patrick Lumumba be overturned.
Prosecutors argued that Meredith Kercher was stabbed and left to die November 2007 by African Rudy Guede, Seattle native Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, her Italian boyfriend at the time. Guede was convicted in a fast-track trial in October 2008, and then has his sentenced reduced to 16 years on appeal. The Cassation court held up his conviction, but on the grounds that he commited the crime with others. Amanda Knox, Raffaele Sollecito were convicted in 2009, then acquitted on appeal in 2011, though Knox’s slander conviction for falsely accusing Congolese pub owner Patrick Lumumba was upheld. If Cassation upholds the appeals court decision, her case is closed. Knox’s defense attorneys have also asked for her slander charge to be overturned. If the outcome is fully favourable for Knox, it paves the way for her to seek compensation for unjust incarceration. If the court quashes the acquittals and orders a retrial of the appeal, it is back to the courtroom.
THE LEGAL ARGUMENTS
The prosecutors’ legal arguments focuses on 10 points of law they suggest were misapplied. The two main points being argued are 1) Misapplication of reasonable doubt: Prosecutors argue the appeals judges applied reasonable doubt to singular pieces of evidence when it was intended to apply to the case as a whole.
2) Appropriateness of independent forensic review: The prosecutor’s office and Kercher family believe that this DNA review should not have gone forward at the appeals level. But, if it were to be allowed, then the review should have been all-inclusive, with all the forensic evidence being re-evaluated, not just select pieces (the knife and bra clasp).
More specifically, there are several points about how Low Copy Number DNA should be handled in court and how the probability of contamination should or can be calculated. Prosecutors argue that “not excluding” that certain things happened is not the same as affirming that it did happen. In other words, if the DNA was fruit of contamination, there was a duty to prove it.
THE JUDGES INVOLVED
I’ve chosen to not name the magistrates involved in the case until the hearing opens Monday, but for those following closely, here is some brief background on the key judges with more prominent roles, based on information I have gleaned from Ministry of Justice documents and “bolletino ufficiale” or public bulletins required to publicly announce personnel changes and events in the judiciary.
The presiding judge is a 72-year old magistrate originally from Naples. Over the years he has dealt with some of Italy’s most high profile crime cases, including the Sarah Scazzi case, as well as the Cassation’s 16-year prison sentence confirmation to Anna Maria Franzoni in the “delitto di Cogne,” the first high-profile case to divide Italy among innocentisti and colpevolisti lines. According to Ministry of Justice documents, the relatrice in the Amanda Knox case is 57-year old female magistrate from Turin. The procurator general is the figure who has a prosecutor-like function and who presents the case to the panel and suggests what decision should be taken. In this case, the PG is married with two children, has been a judge since 1979 and worked for over two decades in Naples, including several years at the court of appeals there. He is known for his hard line against the clans of the Camorra. Dr. Giovanni Galati, the Perugia procurator-general leading the recourse of the appeal’s court acquittal ruling is also no stranger to high-profile cases, having worked in the 1980s on the case of Roberto Calvi, the Italian banker murdered and found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London in June, 1982
THE RUDY FACTOR
The Court of Cassation already made one related ruling in this case, that of Ivory Coast immigrant Rudy Guede, who is serving a 16-year murder sentence for Kercher’s murder, which was upheld at the cassation level. That ruling, however, also explicitly stated the court’s belief that Guede did not act alone, but with others. Will this cassation panel break from its colleagues and uphold the appeal, leaving Guede to serve time as the lone killer? Or will the cassation quash the appeal and send it to retrial so as not to have a conflicting sentence? If the former, the conflicting rulings could open up a possibility for Guede to seek a retrial.
THE SIDE SHOWS
A number of other investigations are quietly pending this cassation decision, including the Telenorba case in which images of Kercher’s corpse were broadcast on a Bari television station (which is being prosecuted), the defamation cases of Knox and her parents vs. the Perugia police, and the case regarding compensation for the publication of her prison diaries, which was partly overturned by the cassation court last October. In recent months, Perugia Prosecutor Giuliano Mignini has been quietly winning a number of important victories in the Monster of Florence case. It wouldn’t matter at all for the Knox case, had the group lobbying for her innocence not latched onto the Monster of Florence link to paint him as a crazed power-hungry conspiracy theorist. But since Knox was acquitted, the oft-cited abuse-of-office charges (and the trial) against Mignini were nullified in Florence. The Italian blogger that the Committee to Protect Journalists accused Mignini of harassing is knee-deep in legal trouble of his own on alleged defamation and domestic-related charges. Mignini’s biggest critic, Mario Spezi, who aided the Knox innocence campaign, has also suffered several court convictions in various jurisdictions related to claims in the Monster of Florence case, about which he wrote a much-lauded bestseller with American thriller writer Douglas Preston.
There was a major development in that case earlier this week, when a separate section of the Cassation court ruled that the decades- old Narducci case, which Mignini had been ridiculed for pursuing, be sensationally re-opened.
This gives new credence to his much-maligned theory that there had been a body swap and cover up in the death of the Perugia doctor alleged to be involved in the Monster of Florence case.
Mario Spezi is among those whose acquittals were overturned this week and who has been called by the high court to stand trial. Spezi’s alleged crime is calunnia, for suggesting Antonio Vinci was the real killer (his book marries this theory and it is the charge over which he was originally taken into custody in 2006). It appears there are still a few chapters to be written.
Spezi has one definitive defamation conviction from the 1980s, and in the last two years, courts in Perugia and Florence handed down other convictions. He also faces trials in Padua, Milan and Perugia: all related to allegedly false or defamatory declarations in the Monster of Florence case.
The big question Monday is, will the court rule to bring to a definitive end to the trials and tribulations of Amanda Knox? Or, like it has in the Monster of Florence case, will Cassation ask the lower courts to continue to search for the truth?
Anything is possible. Stay tuned.