Several years ago, when Britney Spears’ meltdown was at its peak and couldn’t be avoided in the news, I did the shortest post in the history of the blogosphere. I titled it “My Thoughts On Britney Spears,” and the body of the post was blank.
Surprisingly, perhaps, I do have some thoughts on today’s verdict in Perugia acquitting Amanda Knox and her “boyfriend” of less than a week, Raffaele Sollecito. The story was simply irresistible, especially to a lawyer. I started reading up on it and, as it happens, I do have a strong opinion on the case. So here goes.
I think the conviction of Knox and Sollecito was an outrageous miscarriage of justice, driven by preoccupations on the part of the prosecutor, and maybe some policemen, that can only be described as medieval. There was no meaningful evidence against them. None. And–this is a fact that is often lost sight of–we actually know who killed Meredith Kercher. It was Rudy Guede.
Let me amend that. We know for sure that Guede raped Kercher, based on DNA evidence that, as far as I know, is undisputed. Beyond that, Guede’s DNA was all over the room where Kercher was killed, whereas DNA from both Knox and Sollecito was conspicuously absent. Now, it is possible that Guede raped Kercher, then vacated the premises, and someone else came along and killed her. But let’s apply Occam’s razor: it is virtually certain that whoever raped Kercher also killed her. So, where lies the mystery? The murderer has been identified. Moreover, Guede fled to Germany after the murder and called a friend, whom he told, among other things, that Knox was not in the house on the night of the killing. The evidence against Guede evidently was conclusive, and he was long ago tried, found guilty and sentenced.
This is where it gets medieval. Someone–I think the prosecutor–spun what can only be described as a fantasy. Not satisfied with Guede as the murderer, he imagined that Amanda Knox may have inspired the crime. He pictured a “sex game gone wrong,” featuring Guede, Sollecito, Knox and Kercher. Pause on that for a moment: Knox had known Sollecito for a mere six days at the time of the murder, and barely was acquainted with Guede. Sollecito had never met Guede. If you think it likely that that trio would have engaged in a “sex game” that turned into a murder, you move in circles very different from mine. Of course, the prosecutor speculated that the sex game was “drug fueled.” What was the evidence of drugs? The same as the evidence for group sex: zero. The prosecutor made it up.
The most bizarre aspect of this miscarriage of justice, perhaps, was that Guede’s sentence was reduced to 16 years, while Knox was sentenced to 26 years and Sollecito–the forgotten man of the story, who must wonder more than anyone what he did to be trapped in such a nightmare–got 25 years. How on earth did the prosecution justify this focus on Knox and Sollecito, in preference to the man whose DNA showed that he (and he alone) had raped Kercher? Simple: Knox was a “she devil,” whereas Guede was merely her tool–seriously! The evidence for this claim? There wasn’t any. This kind of fantasy is inconceivable in a modern court.
There were two types of evidence against Knox and Sollecito. The key evidence in the original trial was a knife that belonged to Sollecito. That knife had Knox’s DNA on the handle–no surprise there–and, allegedly, Kercher’s DNA on the blade. This and the bra clasp discussed below were the only things that ostensibly tied Sollecito to the crime. But there were huge technical issues with the tiny amount of DNA allegedly found on the blade, and the knife didn’t match either the bloody outline of a knife on Kercher’s bedspread or the wounds in Kercher’s neck.
Then there was the claim that a minute amount of Sollecito’s DNA was found on a clasp from Kercher’s bra. Unfortunately, the clasp wasn’t discovered until six weeks after the murder, lying on the floor of Kercher’s bedroom. The technical handling of all of this evidence by the Perugia police was appalling, and independent, court-appointed experts blew away the supposed DNA evidence in the appellate trial that was just concluded.
The second type of evidence against Knox–it didn’t really apply to Sollecito–had to do with her statements and behavior after the murder. Knox first drew the suspicion of Perugia’s police force when she turned cartwheels while waiting to be questioned after the murder was discovered. Kercher’s other friends were in tears, but Knox was turning cartwheels–the police found this suspicious, but some would say that while such behavior may be inappropriate, it is more consistent with knowledge of innocence than guilt. And does this remind anyone else of The Stranger, where the focus of the prosecution is not on what the defendant did, but on the odd way in which he reacted to his own mother’s death?
Knox made several odd statements to Perugia’s finest; she implicated a bar owner named Lumumba (no relation to Patrice, I assume) and talked about being in the house and hearing Kercher scream. But all of this was after 56 hours of questioning by the Italian police, with no lawyer present and only a dubious translator (at this time, Knox’s Italian was not as fluent as it is now, after four years in prison in Perugia.) 56 hours of non-stop questioning? That would never happen at Guantanamo Bay, and Knox was a 20 year old girl in a foreign country. I’ve heard it said that these musings were in response to a policeman’s asking Knox to imagine how the crime might have happened, but I haven’t seen a transcript (if one exists) to verify whether that is correct. In any event, Knox and Sollecito have consistently maintained their innocence. Is anything that Knox said sufficient to convict her, or anyone else, of murder? Certainly not.
In the end, the prosecution of Knox and Sollecito seems to tell us more about the prosecutor’s twisted psyche than about those defendants. The fact that Italian authorities were willing to let off the one man who they knew committed the crime more easily than the two fantasy defendants shows how twisted the criminal process became. Injustice can happen anywhere, but it is hard to imagine Knox and Sollecito, represented by competent defense counsel, being convicted in any American court. So I was happy to see them exonerated.