Murder Abroad: The Amanda Knox Story, as told by CNN

Edda Mellas in Murder Abroad

Before yesterday’s CNN special on Amanda Knox had been broadcast, the True Justice website and various commenters on the CNN website had made up their minds on the basis of advance publicity. What was on offer was basically an advertorial for the Knox family, who never agree to speak to anyone unless an agreement to throw balance out of the window is arrived at in advance.

Having seen CBS’s 2009 documentary American Girl, Italian Nightmare, in which Knox’s family also participated, I have to admit to sharing this misgiving. Examining and criticising the evidence against Knox is one thing but it should be acknowledged that there is actually a case against her, which wasn’t thrown together by chimpanzees and which led to her conviction after a lengthy trial. Once you go into denial in that regard, what you are doing is possibly something other than journalism.

Our CNN host is Drew Griffin, a sort of boil-in-the bag Patrick Swayze with a talent for imbuing even the most mundane sentences with a sense of drama and intrigue. Wherever he is obliged to mention courtroom evidence, though, he slows down a little and raises his pitch so as to indicate self-evident preposterousness. Fairly early on, he puts to rest any hopes I might have had of a serious analysis. “For the next hour,” he requests, “forget everything you know”.

Drew’s first task is a summary of the case. And what could be more objective than to tell this using a montage of archive footage and interviews with her family?

Then we move on to the period immediately following the murder. The most interesting moment here for me is a comment by Knox’s father Curt regarding her interrogation. A key claim made by Knox’s supporters has consistently been that the false account she gave, which led to her arrest, came at the end of a marathon interviewing session during which she was systematically brutalised and trapped. Curt told the Times in 2008 that this had lasted nine hours, with no interpreter, during which time she was struck and denied food and water (as I mentioned previously, this can’t have been more than two and a quarter hours).

Here, though, Curt claims something different. He says that Amanda had been questioned for 52 hours in total in the three and a half days leading up to her arrest. I doubt that, but let’s go along with it for argument’s sake.

I think it causes a problem for CNN’s version of the story. The way they are telling it, the police tricked Amanda in that last interrogation essentially by asking her to make up a story and then falsely representing that as a partial confession. She is quoted as saying in her statement: “I am very confused, I imagine what could have happened”. Here is the statement. Although it does contain the words “confused” and “imagined” (note CNN’s subtle change of tense), Knox seems quite certain that she went to flat with her boss, Partrick Lumumba, he and Meredith went into her room and Meredith started screaming. She seems to only be confused with regard to what happened after that.

Here’s the problem for CNN, though. We know the final interview was at Amanda’s request. On Curt’s account, this means that, having already been interviewed for nearly 50 hours, there was some reason Amanda wanted to be questioned further. But what could be left to say that hadn’t already been covered? Could it possibly be that Knox went into the interview room already knowing what she was going to say? I’m pretty sure that at least one of either the “52 hours” story or the “sneaky police” story has to be wrong.

Next, Knox’s parents and sister talk about her upbringing as various photos of her as a kid appear on the screen. It turns out she was normal and studious before she went to Italy. She even played football and took extra English classes at school.

So, having forgotten everything I knew, I’m left with the dreadful sense of an improbable juxtaposition. How can a nice young woman from an ordinary family have possibly committed such an awful crime?

Exclusivity is, perhaps, a fair enough excuse for this content, but there’s so much of it and the only sop to balance here is two blink-and-you-miss-it soundbites from Francesco Maresca, lawyer for the Kercher family. And I think this demonstrates a serious problem with what I’m watching. There is nothing wrong per se with allowing the Knoxes to advocate for Amanda. But it does seem to me to be wrong to marginalise – indeed, forget about – the contrasting view held by people who represent the victim of the crime.

We are, however, provided with an interview with the chief prosecutor in the Kercher case, Giuliano Mignini. Griffin tells us: “It was an interview he later appeared to regret”. I wonder if this began to happen as he noticed that, every time he spoke, a disembodied voiceover would interject to explain why his answer made him sinister.

The voiceover tells us that Mignini “admitted even without evidence he knew almost the moment he arrived and laid eyes on Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, they were involved in the murder”. But if you are sharp enough to listen to what Mignini actually says, you’ll notice the difference: “After the first few weeks we were convinced…”.

Later, we are informed by the voiceover that a homeless man called Antonio Curatolo had admitted to being “under investigation by Mignini’s office for heroin dealing at the exact moment he became one of Mignini’s star witnesses”. This seems to be to be a fair summary if by “Mignini’s office” you mean “the police” and by “exact moment” you mean 18 months later. But Mignini is not able to answer the claims of the voiceover, only the question put to him live, unaware of how it would be distorted. Was Curatolo induced to testify? No, says Mignini.

I think it would have been slightly more honest of CNN just to have gone ahead and given Mignini a CGI tail and horns.

There is also some comment from Greg Hampikian, a scientific advisor to the Knox family. We could have done with hearing more from him, I think. He says that he is “appalled” by the scientific evidence in the case, but he is not really given the onscreen time to explain why. He says a couple of thing that are probably edited out context and are a bit confusing. Firstly, he says that none of the DNA evidence matched either Knox or Sollecito, but Griffin has already told us about the DNA on the knife and the bra clasp. Hampikian then goes on to talk about the bra clasp (so clearly he does know about it) suggesting that it’s “all there is”. Again that’s just a bit confusing. What can he mean?

I’m constantly frustrated by how pro-Knox coverage shies away from the detail of the scientific evidence. I guess they think it is too complicated and boring for people, but I think the popularity of CSI shows that this is wrong. For me, the science is where the real talking-points are. If this documentary had allowed itself to go there, then maybe it could have avoided having to distort and misrepresent so much.

(Another obvious question to ask is: why didn’t CNN think to interview any experts not employed by the Knoxes?)

The last segment, just so we can be absolutely sure this is a propaganda piece, is given over to Simon Wiesenthal wanabee Douglas Preston, who talks about an interrogation he once suffered at the hands of Mignini. How long this lasted seems to be disputed, but Preston claims it could have been as long as two hours. Without an intermission, it seems. How Mignini sleeps at night after such brutal treatment is not discussed.

This gives rise to Mignini being given the chance to answer a question without being voiceovered, and he notes an obvious flaw in the Preston-Knox thesis. The idea seems to be that, because Mignini was able to charge Preston with a crime he didn’t commit (although it’s actually far from clear that he didn’t – and in actual fact the documentary skirts round the question of what Preston stood accused of), we can surely see how he might have pulled the same trick on Knox. But Mignini points out that he was not present at the interrogation that led to Knox’s arrest.

Final thoughts are given over to Curt Knox, who talks poignantly about the empty chair at family occasions. Maybe someday, Curt, you’ll get a chance to swap stories about that with the Kercher family.

There’s obviously journalistic value in being able to talk to the Knox family. I can understand why they wouldn’t want to be involved in anything that explores both sides of the case and I can understand the human interest in their perspective. But there’s a really offensive dishonesty to the film CNN have put together.


17 Responses to Murder Abroad: The Amanda Knox Story, as told by CNN

  1. RoseMontague says:

    We have three versions of the interrogation, one from the cops, one from Amanda, and one from Amanda’s family and supporters. I did some research on the times involved using both Amanda’s appeal as well as other accounts and came up with 17-25 hours of actual interrogation time versus just time in the presence of the police/investigators.

    I believe that she was exhausted, scared, and confused and that she felt certain that if she agreed with the cops it would be over and done with and she could go home. I have read a lot of confessions some true and some coerced. The devil is in the details. Most good confessions that stand up in court (true or not) contain details that only the real perp would know. Amanda’s confession of 1:45AM is seriously lacking any details.

    1.45 statement

    The details in this statement are seriously lacking. She says that Patrick is a “colored citizen” (does that sound like something an American citizen would say?), tall with braids and owns a pub. These details are not something only the killer would know.

    She said she smoked a joint and was confused (first time for everything I guess). The text message “see you later” somehow now means that they would meet immediately and go to Meredith’s where Patrick had sex with her and she vaguely remembers that he killed her. Wow, some really great details there. Nothing about a murder weapon, clean up, broken window, cell phones, footprints, etc.

    At this point the police call Mignini. What I believe happened is they read this to Mignini and he laughed his head off. He would have probably said what any prosecutor would say and that is that confession is weak, you need to get some details to make it believable, some detail that only a person involved would know.

    From Amanda’s testimony in court we hear that she was indeed pressed for details. Surely you heard a scream? OK fine, I heard a scream. Fine, we will write that down. When Mignini gets there they at least have a few details and the scream is one they will use in court.

    5.45 statement

    Wow, new details. She was in the kitchen, heard screaming and some thuds. That is some really fine details that only a person involved would know. Patrick spoke to here that morning, she was really afraid of him but she still spoke to him? Amanda acknowledges she repeated brings her hands to her head and shakes it? LOL.

    Again this statement is seriously lacking in detail. The cops should have quit then and let her go, realizing she just made the whole thing up. That is not a believable confession, nor is it even a a decent false accusation, in my opinion.

    • maundy says:

      Are you being serious, Rose?

      Imagine you are a police detective on a murder case. An eyewitness comes forward naming the killer. Do you:

      a) Waste no time in brining him in before he starts planning his next murder or gets on a plane to Rio;

      b) Ignore the eyewitness because you are not satisfied that her statement contains information that only someone involved in the crime could have known.

      Think fast, Detective Rose, the clock’s ticking…

      • RoseMontague says:

        Oh yes, I am very serious. A good detective can tell the difference between a real confession and one that is not. A good prosecutor as well. They believed it simply because they wanted to. As Giobi said she broke and gave us a version of events we knew to be true. What version is that? The only thing it could have been is Patrick. Amanda gave them exactly what they asked her to give them and they were blinded by their own perceived brilliance.

      • maundy says:

        Or, alternatively, Knox figured out that the police were looking at Lumumba so she decided that if she implicated him they would be bound to buy it.

        I definitely don’t rule out the possibility that Knox got the idea of accusing Lumumba from the police. This may have even happened in such a way that they effectively gave her the bullet to shoot him with.

        But there’s no good excuse for her decision to pull the trigger. That decision was hers.

  2. pensky says:

    I love your ironic tone as well as the content.

  3. Maundy,

    Here is what I would not do: I would not arrest the person named in the statement without so much as talking with him (asking him whether or not he had an alibi). I would not hold a press conference, telling everyone “case closed.” I would not take the three suspects on a circuitous route through Perugia’s old town. I would not inadvertently erase meta data on a suspect’s drive (times of file access), nor would I damage three drives. RoseMontague’s thoughtful comment deserves careful consideration and a reasoned response, not offhand sarcasm.

    • maundy says:

      Chris, I don’t think you need to have done much more than seen a TV cop show to know that a standard first question in the first interview after someone’s arrest is “Where were you at such-and-such time on such-and-such date”. That’s where investigation of someone’s alibi usually begins. The idea that police should launch a preliminary investigation to see if a suspected murderer has a viable alibi, all the while leaving him at large, just seems preposterous to me.

      I’m not sure why the other things you mention are relevant. I don’t know if “case closed” was really said or whether it is an internet myth. If it was said, then I agree that was not a wise thing to do. I don’t know anything about a circuitous route. What’s this about? And where do you get the information about erasure of meta-data? This is conspicuous by its absence in the Massei report.

      • maundy, please do not distort what I said. The cops could have questioned him, and then depending on his answers, they could have either arrested him or put him under surveillance. Once his alibi checked out, they could have ended the surveillance and gone back to square one (which would have been a far better plan than what they did). Instead, they held him for roughly a week after his alibi checked out, which is difficult to comprehend.

        Richard Owen (TImes 5 December 2009) wrote, “Edgardo Giobbi, the chief police investigator, who declared at the start: ‘We were able to establish guilt by closely observing the suspects’ psychological and behavioural reactions during the interrogations.'” Yet, police are no better than college students at detecting true versus false confessions, only more confident and more biased to presume guilt, according to research by Saul Kassin (“I’d know a false confession if I saw one,” Law and Human Behavior, 29 no. 2,2005) and colleagues. It is no surprise that Amanda’s photograph was hanging outside of his office within weeks of the arrest and long before conviction.

        The police erased the information on the previous date and time at which the Stardust movie file was accessed when they visited Sollecito’s apartment in the early morning of 6 November. It used to be that you could find this information at Perugia-Shock, but that blog was taken down. I am under the impression that other meta-data was also lost, but the best source of information would probably be Sollecito’s appeal. The case closed remark comes from the press conference on November 6th. You can find the recounting of the route through Perugia’s old town in Murder in Italy. I provided some citations to short film clips of the three arrestees pulling away from the police station and some information about sources at JREF. The subject was extensively debated there, with odeed and kermit taking a different point of view.

  4. sjc says:

    I read on another blog that the break in wasn’t even mentioned? is that possible? That’s a huge part of the evidence. To me that was the final nail for Amanda. It was staged and who else would have a reason to do it? That must mean they are scared of that subject.

    (sorry but I can’t bare to watch the program especially after reading the reviews)

    • maundy says:

      The break-in was mentioned in passing near the beginning, but not discussed at all. Drew Griffin draws on every sinew to place stress upon the word “believed” in the phrase “what police believed was a faked forced entry through the window”.

      Incidentally, there’s a transcript of the show here.

  5. CodyJoeBibby says:

    Why didn’t Amanda’s ‘confession’ mention the break-in at all?

    Surely the confession should have ended with something like ‘And then me and Patrick staged a break-in’.

    And by the way, young Americans in Europe like Amanda very often (incorrectly) refer to black people in Europe as ‘African-American’. They probably wouldn’t spontaneously say ‘ragazzo Africano’ or whatever was put into Amanda’s mouth.

    • maundy says:

      Hi Cody.

      In this version of her story, Amanda says she can’t remember anything after the murder. She does seem to confirm the police suspicion that there was no break in prior to the murder, but she has no recollection of anything that happened afterwards, until the next day.

      I don’t think she was speaking in Italian during most of the interview. Un cittadino di colore and il ragazzo africano are the phrases used in the statements to describe Patrick. The word ragazzo is pretty commonplace in Italian, and Amanda does use it in in her leaked prison diary. I don’t think how accurately these phrases translate the phrases she actually used is a major issue, though.

  6. CodyJoeBibby says:

    Pretty bizarre then, that the police would show up in massive force to arrest someone on the strength of this extremely vague statement.

    Why was the 1:45 statement in Italian in the first place? Why wasn’t it written by Amanda in English using her own words? Where is the tape of the interrogation leading up to the statement?

    • maundy says:

      I don’t think it’s all that bizarre, Cody. Clearly, yes, there is something not quite right about the two statements. But, if I were a detective reading them cold, I think I would put this down to the witness wanting to avoid implicating herself.

      I think, in Italy, witness statements will always be in Italian. I know that in England they are always in English, regardless of what language the witness speaks.

      You probably already know that there is no recording of these interviews. But even Knox herself doesn’t dispute that they reflect what she said at the time.

      • CodyJoeBibby says:

        No I don’t know that ‘there is no recording of these interviews’. Why wouldn’t there be? Recording the interview would certainly help alleviate any suspicions of undue pressure.

        Was this a witness statement or a confession made by a suspect? That doesn’t seem to be very clear.

  7. SleepyJean says:

    Yes, I think this post sums up the documentary. There’s things you’ve put in there that I didn’t notice at the time but it makes sense when it is pointed out to you. I don’t know if Amanda Knox is guilty or not guilty because I haven’t looked into it enough. But CNN went way too far in pushing the angle of the family. It may as well have ended with “I’m Amanda Knox and I approve this message”.

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