Amanda Knox: the Jesus connection

April 28, 2011
Second Coming billboard

Photo by Amy Rolph, stolen from

The next trial date in the appeal of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito is set for May 21st. It’s an important date for them. The hearing is potentially pivotal, since the court is due to be presented with the results of review of DNA evidence in the case. How this goes could prove to be a determining factor as to whether or not the convictions of Knox and Sollecito are upheld.

But reports that a billboard in the centre of Knox’s home town of Seattle is advertising a different sort of Judgement Day, which could overshadow anything that happens in court. According to some website, Knox’s date with destiny will coincide with the date of the Rapture, when Jesus will return to Earth.

We already know from a truly astounding video, posted a couple of weeks ago, that Knox is innocent of murder according to no lesser authority than the Bible. And I think it can only be taken as some sort of sign that, according to their testimony, Knox and Sollecito watched the film Amélie, starring Jesus’ only direct living descendant, Audrey Tautou, on the day that Meredith Kercher was killed. It all adds up to something or other, in my humble opinion.

One thing that can’t be ruled out is that, in the event that key witnesses or court personnel are among the chosen few and are whisked into the air to be with their saviour, some disruption to court proceedings may be occasioned. A postponement is certainly a possibility.

I’ll keep you updated.

Bloggergate update

April 27, 2011
Frank Sfarzo

Frank Sfarzo

Last week I posted about a letter written by the New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists to the Italian President regarding the Perugian blogger Frank Sfarzo.

The letter alleges police harassment and intimidation against Frank, apparently orchestrated by Giuliano Mignini, chief prosecutor in the Meredith Kercher case. Frank, it seems, is awaiting trial on a charge of assaulting a police officer. But the crux of the story is that is looks like the police may also suspect him of some other crime.

I don’t think the central allegations made by Frank can be assessed without information about what this crime may be and what evidence there may or may not be against him. Because for the police to investigate a crime about which they have evidence does not constitute harassment or intimidation, provided, of course, they do not behave significantly differently to the way they would in the normal course of things.

Anyway, I thought it was time for an update on all this, mainly because the outcry that might have been expected in the international media has not really materialised yet (there was a blog post by the co-producer of the dreadful Amanda Knox documentary on CBS American Girl, Italian Nightmare, and that’s about it). Surely this is something that somebody should be writing about?

The True Justice website has stepped into the void with a detailed two-part rebuttal to the letter. This makes its case quite clearly and is well worth reading. But I don’t think you need to agree with everything they say point-for-point, or even generally share their views about the Kercher case, to put the letter next to the rebuttal and realise that the Committee to Protect Journalists ought to be asking itself some searching questions.

In particular, there’s something that True Justice imply fairly clearly, but which I feel the need to really highlight. The letter seems to have had a genesis which is somehow murky but also completely transparent at the same time.

Someone called Douglas Preston has harboured (or, possibly, opportunistically cultivated) a grudge against someone called Giuliano Mignini, a prosecutor in the Kercher case. This has its origins in the fact that, a few years ago, Mignini put Preston on a charge, probably with some justification, suspecting him of unethically and illegally conspiring to pervert the course of a police investigation. Preston has since attached himself to a campaign to undermine Mignini’s prosecution of Amanda Knox (which he is, of course, entitled to do).

I would suggest it is at least possible that Preston has ended up, somehow, talking to a representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists on behalf an adventurous but possibly reckless blogger, who is a key figure in the Free Amanda campaign. Because Preston is a significant donor to the Committee to Protect Journalists, someone from the aforementioned Committee agrees to write down everything he and/or the blogger says and, without asking any of the questions that really ought to be asked, faithfully turns that into a letter which is then published on the Internet.

In short, the Committee to Protect Journalists appears to me to have turned a trick in pursuance of someone’s personal vendetta. It really should hang its head and, quite arguably, its apparently gutless Executive Director, Joel Simon.

None of the above should be taken as meaning that Frank Sfarzo has no legitimate complaint. I couldn’t possibly know for sure whether he does or he doesn’t. But the point is that I doubt Joel Simon has any idea either.

There are quite a few items of information in the True Justice rebuttal that shed light into some of the gloomy corners of this affair. For example, Preston’s inexplicably warm attitude to Mignini in an interview a year after being charged by him. What’s changed since then? Has a bandwaggon turned his head?

There is also the fact that Frank actually filmed one of the incidents complained about in the letter and included the video in this blog post. In the letter, “several members of Squadra Mobile … approached him just outside the city court … and started to push and hit him”. This gives an impression that is totally different from what can be seen in the film.

In full view of dozens of potential witnesses to any police brutality that might take place, Frank seems to be pushed or pulled to the side by someone (not gently, and possibly by a police officer) after failing to heed a request not to shove his camera directly into the face of Meredith Kercher’s sister as she leaves court. Whether that was entirely necessary in order to protect her I can’t easily say, since I wasn’t there. You can watch the video and decide for yourself precisely how unfair it looks.

Note: A further update is here.

Further DNA analysis requested in Knox-Sollecito case

April 26, 2011

Stefano Conti and Carla Vecchiotti, the DNA experts from the Sapienza University of Rome who have been asked to look again at evidence in the case of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, have requested permission to “review further scientific data” before submitting their report, according to a bulletin from Umbria Left.

This may or may not mean a great deal for the case. A review of certain evidence – including DNA results from a knife alleged to have been used in the murder of Meredith Kercher, a piece of her bra and footprints at the murder scene, said to have been made in blood – was ordered in December by the sublimely named Claudio Pratillo Hellman, the presiding judge in the current appeal of Knox and Sollecito. It has already been confirmed that it has not been possible to redo the original DNA tests because the evidence has degraded in the three and a half years since the crime.

So what is it that the scientists are asking for? It would seem that they already have permission from Judge Hellman to undertake a full review of the records from the original testing, without restriction on what they look at or how they perform their analysis. So it may be that the request really just amounts to a bid for more time to conduct the analysis already planned. Or it could be that they have turned to the judge for more explicit permission covering an area with regards to which objections might have been raised either by prosecutors or defence lawyers.

It would seem possible, but less likely based on the wording reported by Umbria Left, that there is an intention to conduct new tests on the physical evidence which go beyond the bounds of repeating what has already been done, but which the scientists feel might be useful to the court. This is just my speculation, you understand – I have no idea what such tests might be.

It could be that they have asked for permission to take apart the knife and examine the inside of the handle. Judge Hellman has previously ruled that this would require express permission from the court. But it might be expected that the news report would mention this if it formed part of the request.

In any event, Umbria Left suggests, the existing deadline of 9th May for completion of the scientific review may have to slip.

I think this, probably minor, piece of news can mostly be taken as a further indication that the report of Conti and Vecchiotti, when it is submitted, will be thorough. Hopefully, thorough enough to either remove doubts about the testing previously undertaken under the direction of Patrizia Stefanoni or, if there are doubts, to provide clarity as to what they are.

Note: There’s an update to this post here.

Friends of Amanda Knox video: final thoughts

April 25, 2011

Scene from Friends of Amanda Knox video

Having watched two and a half hours of The Case for Innocence, I get the impression of a campaign that is no longer clear what its narrative is or should be or, apart from the obvious, what its objective is. Historically, it has focussed on shaping public opinion in the US, but some have said this has been at the expense of irritating people in Italy, whose opinion counts much more for Amanda Knox in her current situation.

Around the time of Knox’s conviction in December 2009, Friends of Amanda Knox, together with the PR firm hired by the Knox family, held sway to an impressive degree over coverage of the Meredith Kercher case in the US media. They worked hard at it, and they provided an angle on a story which key media outlets, having no-one to report from Perugia, might otherwise have struggled to cover beyond reporting the verdict.

In that context, little more was required of them than outrage and generalised criticism of the case against Knox. But the Italian justice system is notorious for moving at a snail’s pace and the passage of time has changed things. There have been books, websites and a TV movie. English versions of key court documents are now in the public domain. Knox’s supporters are no longer the sole custodians of her story.

Which puts the Friends in a new position where they can’t simply obfuscate and they really need instead to convincingly explain what is wrong with the case against her. A key difficulty for them is a lack of clarity about this.

Supporters of Knox may be reading this with incredulity. When you break it down, there are literally hundreds of things wrong with the case. Right? The prosecutors were warped and the judges must have been on another planet. How much more clarity is needed about this exactly?

This is the main problem with what I have been watching. Most people who count understand by now, at the very least, that there are two sides to this case and that important areas of contention, assuming there are any, must be narrow. We feel we know from experience that cases like this tend to turn on competing interpretations of key pieces of evidence. The idea that the prosecution was so inept that it is wrong on virtually every single detail and the court, for some reason, failed to notice this in every instance lacks plausibility. There’s a real need, in my view, to hone in on the arguments that are most likely to convince.

Or, to put it in public relations language, the campaign lacks key messages. At one time “Italy is backwards, there’s no evidence and just take a look at Amanda” served this purpose. Quite correctly, that approach has been dropped, for the most part. But something is needed to fill its place.

At one extreme, we have Paul Ciolino. Most of what he says is nonsense on a purely factual level, and its easily refuted. Most of what’s then left is just ridiculous. The prosecution case is based on claims made by an aristocratic medium who communed with the spirit of a dead priest? America can solve this by breaking off diplomatic ties with Italy and imposing a trade embargo? Who’s going to be bold enough to tell me that doesn’t sound nuts? And no, it isn’t sensible to dismiss apparently damning prosecution evidence as “fantasy” and imagine that will do.

Steve Moore seems to have come in for quite a bit of flack on the Internet – understandably, I might add – for his performance in the video. But I actually think he is nearer the mark than Ciolino, in some respects, in terms of communicating his message. His actual message is, for me, unconvincing. His theory that footprints said by the court to be in blood might actually be in bleach rests on too many assumptions (besides which, how does bleach come to contain DNA?). I don’t think there’s anything like enough convincing evidence of Rudy Guede being such a bad boy that we can discount evidence against anyone else.

I don’t feel he knows what he’s talking about, and it seems like quite a few people, with different perspectives, who are familiar with the case, agree. But Moore’s FBI background, sensibly or not, lends him credibility. If he can focus just a little more and avoid mangling what he is saying, then I think he is still an asset.

Just as an aside, I think I’ve spotted a pattern in Moore’s gaffe-making. He not only gets things wrong, but he manages each time to end up saying exactly what would be said by someone who thinks Knox is guilty. In attempting to explain away the “glass-on-top-of-clothes” element of why investigators concluded Knox and Sollecito had staged a burglary at the crime scene, he ends up giving a sort of garbled endorsement of the prosecution case. He tells us “defence lawyers are gonna throw a million things on the wall and hope that one thing sticks”. “When is a murder weapon not a murder weapon?” he asks. Isn’t that a line you would use if you were trying to mock the defence case? Maybe I’m reading a lot into it, but I wonder if Moore has himself lost faith and his brain is just getting exhausted trying to keep up the façade for an extended period.

Mark Waterbury‘s presentation is a lot better. Next to Moore and Ciolino, he seems the picture of measured rationality. More to the point, he actually gives the impression of having researched and thought through what he is saying. I can’t help wondering whether the whole video might have been a lot more powerful if he had also handled Moore and Ciolino’s respective briefs for them. I don’t think he lands much of a punch in his own presentation, because his whole argument basically boils down to “if the DNA testing was done wrongly, then the DNA results are not valid”. This stands to reason, but the unanswered question is whether the DNA testing was actually done wrongly. However, since the DNA evidence is currently being reviewed, we may well soon have an answer to that. If it goes the way Waterburg would like, then Friends of Amanda Knox may well end up with a very serviceable argument and a skilled advocate to make it.

I wonder how Mike Heavey‘s claim of “22 lies” told to the public by the police or prosecutors during the investigation might be developed. He lists three of them, but I don’t think these can really be called “lies”. One of them, though, was a claim that Knox was caught on CCTV, which turned out to be a probably doubtful interpretation of the footage. This seems to me to be validly criticisable. If very many of the 19 lies he did not disclose are similar to this, I think that could give a lot of people pause. Enough examples would be needed to suggest a pattern, and they would need to robust in the face of counter-claims. Crucially, on-record statements are needed, rather than rumours of unknown provenance. If you want to accuse people of lying, then be sure that the contents of your accusations are accurate, or it may bite you on the bum.

In complete honesty, I didn’t expect to actually become more convinced of the guilt of Knox and Sollecito after watching these presentations, but that’s what happened. Perhaps Friends of Amanda Knox might think about whether I am an unusual case in this respect. Assuming they are not about to quit any time soon, I think their message needs some urgent work. My advice to them is free of charge.

Friends of Amanda Knox video: Q & A session

April 24, 2011

At the end of the Case for Innocence event organised by Friends of Amanda Knox, there was a question and answer session chaired by Tom West of the Friends.

This begins with a question about the information, made public during the final appeal of her co-accused Rudy Guede, that Knox had told her mother “I was there” during an intercepted phonecall. But it seems the panel would prefer to discuss other things. Paul Ciolino dismisses it as “fantasy”, and talks instead about how the various problems with the investigation will soon become apparent. Then there’s some discussion about how none of this should be taken as criticising the Italian justice system.

Just as West is about about to move us on to the next question, Mark Waterbury interrupts him, referring to the question actually asked. He suggests that Knox could have been saying she was at Raffaele Sollecito’s flat, rather than at the murder scene. I think this is a little weak (what Knox said was: “All I can do is tell the truth, because I know I was there. I mean, I can’t lie about it. There’s no reason to.” – I don’t think this can be taken to refer Sollecito’s flat unless the flat had been mentioned, which it hadn’t). I would have preferred him to point out simply that this is consistent with what Knox had already told the police so, although it sounds dramatic, it isn’t really adding anything new. But at least Waterbury isn’t dodging the question.

Candace Dempsey questions the credibility of the sentencing report, because it also claims, in her view implausibly, that Knox had been carrying the kitchen knife she is alleged to have used in the murder around with her. I’m not sure where Dempsey is getting her information from, but you can fact-check her yourself by text-searching the word “knife” in the English translation of the report.

The second question is about the potential for US Government involvement in efforts to free Knox. Ciolino predicts that this will happen in the future, and seems to suggest that breaking diplomatic ties with Italy and imposing an embargo on its goods would be appropriate. But he warns that the Italians will “never admit they made a mistake”. I take this to mean he doesn’t think the current appeal will succeed, although Dempsey points out that appeals can and do succeed in Italy.

Then there’s a question about DNA evidence. It seems like the evidence is now too old to retest, so will prosecutors seek to rely on previous testing? The answer is yes. Confusingly, Steve Moore refers to an old saying that “defence lawyers are gonna throw a million things on the wall and hope that one thing sticks”. You’re not supposed to be slating defence lawyers here, Steve! He says that he has confidence that Judge Hellman, presiding over the appeal, will see things as they really are.

The next questioner says that he has previously heard Dempsey saying that witnesses in the case had been paid large sums of money by newspapers. He wonders why no-one else seems to have mentioned this. Dempsey says she wasn’t talking about witnesses, but about Patrick Lumumba, who has successfully sued Knox for falsely accusing him of the crime, and about students who had known Knox at the University of Washington. There’s then some discussion of how bad some of the newspaper coverage of the case has been.

Next there’s a question about whether Knox’s lawyers know all the things that the panel knows. Moore says that they do, although he says he doesn’t speak to them. Waterburg adds that the defence did make a comprehensive case at trial, it’s just that the decision of the court “turned logic upside down”.

This is followed by a question about why no-one in the police has blown the whistle on the investigation. Ciolino puts this down to the power exercised by chief prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, a “national hero” who has sent a lot of people to prison and is “not to be messed with”.

Isn’t the whole problem for Knox trial by media, and nothing really to do with the evidence? Ciolino says that the jury convicted Knox and Sollecito before the start of the trial, because of the media coverage. He adds that the fact that jurors are paid in Italy and typically work a number of trials means that they are too close to the system and are not impartial. This may be arguable, but I actually think the way the Italian system works may have the reverse effect. The relationship between the judges and the jurors (who are actually considered “lay judges” themselves) would surely tend to mean that directions to disregard evidence or to base decisions only on facts presented are more likely to be followed. In any event, I thought we weren’t criticising the Italian system.

In passing, Ciolino suggests that the fact that Knox and Sollecito met at a classical music concert indicates their innocence. Murderers, he says, go to see the Rolling Stones. Careful, Paul. It would only take one phonecall to Keith Richards’ lawyers…

He also scoffs that the prosecution got its theory from a mystic countess who had spoken to a dead priest. This is a reference to Gabriella Carlizzi, a controversial and rather eccentric writer and blogger who died last year. Soon after the murder, she blogged that Kercher had been killed by Satanists who wanted to give Giuliano Mignini a new case to occupy him so they could go about their business without having to worry about him investigating them. This is mentioned in later reprints of Douglas Preston’s book The Monster of Florence, but even he doesn’t suggest that it was taken seriously by investigators. I’m not saying that I know for sure that Mignini didn’t base his case on this blog, just that it’s a bit of a daft thing to suppose.

There’s a question about Italian media support for Knox. Dempsey says that there is some, but that Mignini has the power to ensure that journalists critical of him never work again. Moore says that he knows of some Italian police officers who believe Knox in innocent.

An audience member says that Knox’s supporters have had great success in the comments sections of blogs and encourages others to join. This gets a lot of applause and, I have to say, it’s a great idea, see you down there. Moore compares commenters who do no not support Knox to the Westboro Baptist Church.

The panel are ssked for their predictions as to the outcome of the current appeal. Waterbury says he thinks that Judge Hellman has made god decisions so far and so he is optimistic. Moore concurs. Ciolino says that in all cases of wrongful conviction “they drag it out to save face”. On the assumption that the DNA evidence will be thrown out, Dempsey believes that there is nothing else to the case.

The last question is about how Italy might be able to free Knox and save face. Moore says he is confident that, by the end of May, some individual will thrown to the lions as a fall-guy for the mistakes of the prosecution. Dempsey’s view is that the Italian authorities will simply admit their mistake and Knox will get a payout for wrongful imprisonment, on which optimistic note the session ends and she puts on her coat to leave.

Friends of Amanda Knox video: Paul Ciolino

April 22, 2011

Paul Ciolino

Paul Ciolino is a Chicago-based private investigator, straight from central casting, who became involved with Friends of Amanda Knox after he was hired by CBS to interview witnesses in the Meredith Kercher case for the documentary 48 Hours Mystery: American Girl, Italian Nightmare, broadcast in 2009.

He begins his presentation at the Case for Innocence event by talking about an incident that took place in 2006 between writer Douglas Preston and the prosecutor in the Kercher case, Giuliano Mignini. I’ve given my take on that in this post. To summarise, Mignini indicted Preston for conspiring to pervert the course of a police investigation. Preston fled the country and so he was not tried. He claims the indictment was harassment, but it looks likely to me that there may have been at least a prima facie case against him, so it may well have been justified. I don’t think any of this has much to do with the Kercher case, but maybe it’s fair enough to go into it if goes to a real question about the fitness of the prosecutor in the case.

Ciolino depicts Mignini as being irritated by newspaper articles written by Preston’s colleague Mario Spezi which are increasingly critical of his conduct as the investigator in the “Monster of Florence” serial killer case. Mignini, says Ciolino, was “nuts”, arresting everyone and anyone on suspicion the murders at the drop of a hat (it’s true that a lot of people were arrested in the case), including dead people (really?).

I’m not well-versed enough in the details of the Monster of Florence investigation to say for sure whether this is a fair depiction or not. What I can say is that Ciolino seems to be mistaken on a key detail. Mignini was not the investigator in the Monster of Florence case. I think Ciolino may have him confused with a different “nuts” investigator featured in Preston’s book about the case, Michele Giuttari.

Ciolino’s next point is about the paucity of DNA evidence relating to the victim at Raffaele Sollecito’s flat. For him, the natural thing for Sollecito to have done, had he been involved in the murder, would be to go straight home covered in the victim’s blood. Then, says Ciolino, “I’m gonna sit on my couch and I’m gonna use my bathroom”, transferring the victim’s DNA to the new location. Seriously. This is around 95 minutes into the video.

Like Steve Moore, Ciolino seeks to paint Rudy Guede (for Knox’s defence, the real, sole killer) as a known criminal. He refers to a burglary at the house of Cristian Tramontano, which he says was carried out by Guede. Whilst it is not unfair to mention this, it should also be said that Tramontano declined to give a clear and unambiguous identification of Guede in his trial testimony and that Guede had a clean criminal record prior to his murder conviction. For me, Guede is the only person ever likely to know for sure whether he burgled Tramontano’s home.

Even most supporters of Amanda Knox, although they may seek to excuse her behaviour, don’t dispute that she did tell the police, early in the investigation, that the murder has been committed by Patrick Lumumba, her boss at a Perugian bar, who was entirely innocent. This is hard to deny, because Knox put allegation down in her own handwriting. By sleight of hand, Ciolino avoids addressing this directly. He tells his audience that Lumumba was implicated because of a series of text messages between him and Knox. According to Ciolino: “Amanda doesn’t say ‘me, Patrick and Raff raped and murdered her’. That never happened.” Well, no, I don’t suppose it did. As Ciolino stresses, as if it somehow undermines the prosecution case, there was no confession.

Just as an aside, every time I see mention of how long Knox was interrogated for on this occasion, it’s different. I think the record is 53 hours, but Ciolino goes for 19. According to statements made at trial, Knox arrived at the police station at 10.30 pm, and she was still waiting to be interviewed an hour later. At 1.45 am, she was charged and then taken to her cell. That would seem to make the maximum length of the interrogation two-and-a-quarter hours.

According to Ciolino, the police failed, following the murder, to carry out inquiries with residents in a nearby block of flats, home to a witness who said she heard a scream, Nara Capazali. If this is true, then it’s a fair point that it would be a significant error in the investigation not to go door-to-door. Ciolino has spoken to Capzeli himself and, in his opinion, she is a “crazy woman”. It is this in particular that makes him “smell a bad odour about the whole case”. Now, I’ve nothing against hunches, as long as they are recognised for what they are. But is it really so strange that police in a murder enquiry would be at least willing to talk to someone (Ciolino says he doesn’t know if she testified at trial) who heard a scream, even if she is a bit “crazy”? To me, it just seems strange that Ciolino would be troubled about it. Almost as strange as the story Ciolino goes on to tell about the detective who believed Knox was guilty because she ate pizza.

Overall, I found Ciolino’s presentation the least convincing of the five given at the Case for Innocence event. I didn’t agree with the conclusions of Mark Waterbury, but I felt that he understood what he was talking about and was straightforwardly presenting his version of the facts. But I’m not sure how familiar Ciolino is with the facts in the first place. Is his confusion about Knox’s “confession” to police a deliberate ploy or just ill-informed? Is he under the impression that Mignini was in charge of the Monster of Florence investigation, or does he see this as an excusable lie to spice up the story?

I’ll post again soon with some general comments on the presentations taken as a whole.

Friends of Amanda Knox video: Mark Waterbury

April 21, 2011

Mark Waterbury

Mark Waterbury is an engineer and businessman from King County, just outside Seattle. He’s a key member of Friends of Amanda Knox, and has self-published a book on the Meredith Kercher case entitled The Monster of Perugia: The Framing of Amanda Knox.

Like Steve Moore, he begins his presentation at the Case for Innocence event with a somewhat unsatisfactory allegory involving animals. Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito are two canaries choking in a mineshaft of DNA evidence. This image seems to turn logic on its head. Instead of using the evidence to determine guilt or innocence, the proposition seems to be that, if the evidence seems to incriminate the canaries, this should only serve to alert us that there is a problem with evidence. Knox and Sollecito stand at the “cutting edge”, Waterbury says, in exposing the failure of modern forensics.

Waterbury thinks that DNA evidence is all well and good, but that it is open to abuse. The reasons for distrusting what has been presented in the Kercher case are, for him, common sense. A detailed understanding of the science is not needed. For me, that was disappointing to hear, because I think that, if there are any problems with the DNA evidence in the case, then the technical detail is where we need to look, whether it is easy to understand or not.

Waterbury looks in particular at evidence regarding the knife alleged by prosecutors to have been used by Knox to stab Kercher. Knox’s DNA was found on the handle and a tiny amount of Kercher’s was found in a notch on the blade. Knox’s DNA, he suggests, can be explained because it was her boyfriend’s and she had used it for cooking. Maybe that’s possible.

Regarding the victim’s DNA, he points out that the knife underwent a presumptive test for blood, using the chemical TMB, which was negative. For Waterbury, this makes nonsense of the DNA finding. But, even assuming the negative test definitively means that the material was not blood (given the tiny size of the sample, I am not sure whether or not this is correct), I can’t see why it doesn’t still make perfect sense. The knife, it is said, was used to stab someone in the neck. The prosecution claim that it was thoroughly cleaned afterwards. It may well be that this removed all trace of blood. But a tiny piece of skin, muscle or arterial tissue, invisible to the naked eye and caught in a notch could surely have been left on the blade.

Next, Waterbury turns his attention to the fact that the the DNA results were amplified. He tells a story (which, to be honest, I found quite difficult to follow) about a device designed to detect “a very unusual material” which, on one occasion detected a toilet instead. But I’m not sure what the moral of the tale is. Somehow, it seems that he is linking this to the idea that contamination may have been an issue with the DNA testing.

The lab tested various samples which contained Kercher’s DNA. The crux of what Waterbury says is that, because the sample from the knife was so small that it required amplification, traces left by earlier tests could have been left on the equipment and revealed themselves during the amplification, effectively giving a false positive. But standard procedures should prevent this. According to Patrizia Stefanoni, who oversaw the testing, these were part of her procedure and the risk of such contamination was zero. So, Waterbury has identified a theoretical risk, but Stefanofi denies that it is a real risk. I would be very interested to see an expert assessment of Stefanofi’s work. Was there some as yet uncovered flaw in her procedure?

Waterbury says that the prosecution refuses to release the results of her “negative control tests” (i.e. tests between tests to check if any stray DNA is present). I don’t think he is correct on this point. During the original trial, Judge Massei compelled the prosecution to release all of Stefanofi’s notes and they did so, albeit reluctantly. In any event, what does Waterbury imagine that the notes show? Did she write: “I found the equipment to be contaminated with the victim’s DNA but I went ahead with the test anyway”? That seems unlikely.

Whilst it may be possible in principle, as Waterbury suggests, that Knox’s DNA got onto the handle of the knife prior to the murder (how likely that is is a question for the court), I don’t think he says anything that provides a real challenge to the finding that Kercher’s was on the blade. And, since the knife was found at Sollecito’s flat, it remains incriminating for our two canaries. I can’t see how this problem can be evaded.

I think Waterbury has chosen well in terms of what he is focussing on. If there is something wrong with Stafanoni’s negative control tests then that would significantly aid the defence. But I can’t see any good reason to suppose there was, unless you subscribe to Waterbury’s “mineshaft” thesis (i.e. you know from the outset that there must be an error somewhere, it’s just a question of identifying it).

The competence or otherwise of Stefanoni’s work is currently being assessed in Rome as part of the current appeal. If there are any legitimate grounds to doubt that she found Kercher’s DNA on the blade of the knife, those should soon be resolved one way or the other.