The Meredith Kercher murder case has, if nothing else, brought a fascinating cast of characters into the full glare of the Internet. Most prominent is Amanda Knox, our “did-she-didn’t-she” heroine. Then we have the homeless, drug-dealing, anarchist eyewitness, Antonio Curatolo. There’s a host of talking-head sideshow compères, such as the confused Steve Moore, complete with irrepressible wife, and film noir gunboat diplomat Paul Ciolino. Let’s not ignore the chief prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, either “a sincere man and an honest and incorruptible judge” or “a prosecutor who just falls in love with conspiracy theories“, depending on what writer Douglas Preston (himself a leading light in this tragicomedy) has decided to believe today.
Frank Sfarzo certainly has a place in this pantheon. He’s an Italian blogger who first started to write about the Kercher case in 2007, soon after the murder. At first, his blog, Perugia Shock was dedicated to general musings on the case in Italian but, over the next year, he became convinced of the innocence of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito and was blogging exclusively in English. He also became friendly with the Knox family on their visits to Perugia, and so he became a source for inside information.
And not just trivial stuff. You want pictures of the knife? Frank’s your guy. Something about starch? Non c’è problema. A printout of Meredith Kercher’s DNA? Click here.
But it would be incautious to assume that Frank was always nothing more than a passive conduit for leaks favourable to the defence. Back in 2008, he leaked the phonetap transcript where Knox tells her mother “I was there”, a full two years before the mainstream media. He was also the first on the scene with the counter-argument: “there” needn’t mean “at the crime scene” – it could mean anywhere. That was one of the lamest, in quite a competitive field, to be put forward during the trial.
No, I don’t share Frank’s perspective on the case. But his blog, whilst frequently ludicrous and infuriating, was informative. It was also capable of being entertaining. Often intentionally so. Was it journalism? No, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth looking at.
It is fair to say that Frank didn’t always maintain good taste. Picking out a tracklist of love songs for Meredith struck some as a bit creepy, and his offhand comments appearing to defend the morality of grown men having sex with 14 year-old girls raised quite a few eyebrows.
But I digress.
His take on the case became more and more idiosyncratic as time passed. He wasn’t at all in step with the received wisdom amongst Amanda Knox’s supporters on the other side of the Atlantic. For example, he eventually took the view that the DNA testing in the case was sound. Because he had spoken to her himself, he believed that the testimony of Nara Capazeli, which went towards establishing time of death in the case, was reliable. He even began to drift towards the idea that not only Knox and Sollecito, but also their alleged accomplice Rudy Guede, may be innocent, an anathema to most Knox supporters.
This led his blog in an increasingly strange direction. If you are committed to the innocence of Knox and Sollecito but you have faith in the evidence that convicted them, where is there to go?
And so, most recently, Frank has begun to formulate his most bizarre conspiracy theories. Guiliano Mignini and his ever obedient acolytes in the police must have deliberately fabricated and planted the evidence. Why? Well, history tells us that police corruption is not inconceivable, the police in this case had the opportunity if they wanted to, and Amanda and Raffaele are innocent.
Unless you’ve been busy reading the news for the past month, you are probably already aware of how this story develops. According to what Frank is saying, some months ago Mignini filed a defamation lawsuit against him, but he says he is in the dark as to what the substance of the complaint is. One report suggests it may be to do with a claim that Mignini was in cahoots with a drugs gang. Who knows?
Anyway, Mignini’s above-mentioned arch-nemesis (depending on what day it is) Doug Preston seems to have then approached a US-based organisation called the Committee to Protect Journalists, to which he gives a substantial amount of money, asking them to help (do you really think so, Doug?) Frank by posting a character-assassination of Mignini on their website. They duly do so, adding claims of Frank twice being seriously assaulted for no apparent reason by the police. There turns out to be footage on the Internet (still – you might want to look into that, Frank) of one of the incidents, which shows Frank being a bit of dickhead and getting pulled to one side by someone who quite possibly has no idea who he is. The other claim is still unassessed by anyone.
Frank’s blog disappeared yesterday, according to him pulled by Google, who hosted it, as a result of Mignini’s lawsuit. This has been hailed as good riddance to bad rubbish by people who believe Knox and Sollecito to be guilty and, by others, as conclusive proof that the diabolical Mignini is determined to suppress the truth about the case.
So, who wins?
Unless the story gets a lot bigger so he can pick up some celebrity in the long-run, certainly not Frank. Knox’s supporters get some satisfaction in having something new to vainly wave in the faces of citizens of the wrong country. Doug Preston is a tiny step closer to destroying Mignini and may end up with some decent publicity if he’s lucky.
And what of Mignini? Well, there’s little doubt that he would be within his rights to have brought a defamation suit against Frank and, if he’s after more than just putting him temporarily out of action, he may well get it.
But Mignini’s real problem is a campaign against him emanating from the US. Shutting down one blog isn’t going to affect that at all. It’s just going to add more grist to the mill. Not only is Mignini a corrupt, maniacal madman, but he also doesn’t like it when people tell that simple truth in public. I think he’s made a tactical error in pursuing this.
The loss of Perugia Shock will take a little colour out of reading about the Kercher case on the Internet. But, worry not, it won’t stop the leaks. No sooner was Frank’s blog felled than the Seattle-based blogger Candace Dempsey got her first scoop on the case à la Frank (I’ll post thoughts on that soon-ish). Candace will be a safer pair of hands, I think, but given the possibly litigious way things may be headed, someone might wish to note that it may be easier to force an American to reveal her sources than it is a European.