A tribute to Frank Sfarzo

Frank Sfarzo

Frank Sfarzo

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.


14 Responses to A tribute to Frank Sfarzo

  1. christiana says:

    Frank would do well to present his case to his friends in the various media. There appears to be no shortage of those who would be willing to help him advertise his plight and it would definitely be to his advantage to back up the recent developments with documentation.

    I think I like the writing of this blog.

  2. Ted says:

    Frank isn’t going anywhere. His blog will move to word press format by this weekend.

  3. Bruce Fisher says:

    Perugia Shock will not be silenced. The site is currently being formatted on WordPress. You can view the new blog here: http://www.perugiashock.com

    In your attempt at sarcasm you completely neglect to discuss free speech. You write as if this is all a game. The truth is a real live human being is being harassed in an attempt to silence him. I find it very interesting that the Anti-Knox groups claim to be attacked by those who want to silence them, they are always playing the victim, when a real attempt to silence someone occurs right before their eyes, they mock that person and say good riddance for the simple reason that they disagree with his message. What a bunch of hypocrites. When they come to silence you, there will be no one left to stand up and defend your free speech.

    • maundy says:

      Hi Bruce.

      Assuming Frank’s legal problems are as they are made out to be, obviously I’m not unconcerned for him.

      What I’m most worried about, though, is who he’s taking advice from. He should be listening to a lawyer, but it would be a tragedy if he is instead persuaded into a bid for martyrdom in the name of an intercontinental bitchfight. I don’t think that’s likely to be in his best interests.

      I can’t speak for anyone else, but I don’t mind reading things I disagree with. I would, though, draw a distinction between fair comment and libel. If Frank’s on the wrong side of that, then maybe you reap what you sow. It’s up to him how he proceeds, I guess.

      BTW, seems to me the site will look nicer in WordPress once it’s finished.

  4. CodyJoeBibby says:

    Re: your final paragraph. Are you suggesting Mignini would be able to force Candace Dempsey to either take her blog offline or reveal her sources?

    Mignini’s already tried to attack news sources in the US, and failed.

    • maundy says:

      Hi Cody. That was really just a throwaway comment. I don’t think Candace is anything like as reckless as Frank and I wouldn’t expect her to be getting sued by anyone any time soon.

      I’m not aware that Mignini has launched any actions in the US, but maybe there are things I don’t know about.

  5. Peggy Ganong says:

    As always, your take on unfolding events is global, intelligent and even-handed. I’m not sure I find Frank as consistently entertaining as you do, but to each his own.

    A few observations/clarifications:

    I can’t speak for everyone who thinks the first instance ruling against Knox and Sollecito was the right one, but I don’t think most of these people are necessarily delighted that Google has apparently pulled the plug on Frank’s blog – if indeed this is what happened. It would be helpful, however, for Frank the “investigative reporter” to do some investigation into his own case and let followers of the case in Perugia know what’s going on. Frank told CPJ that he learned in an email from Google on May 9, 2011 that a court order had been issued on February 23, 2011 and that from this court order he learned of a lawsuit filed by Mignini against him for defamation. Was the Florentine court sitting on the paperwork or something? Why was Frank arrested on September 28, 2010, during which incident he allegedly resisted arrest? Is there a relationship between the lawsuit and the earlier arrest? These and other questions remain unanswered, making it difficult to come to any conclusions.

    And on the entertainment side, you forgot to mention Frank’s “scoop” in the form of what he billed as an “exclusive” interview with Amanda Knox in prison. When that interview was published, rife with the usual grammatical and other errors, people started wondering what exactly he meant by “interview”. After lots of hemming and hawing and almost flirtatious obfuscation, which included Frank claiming that in a past life he had been a crime, theater and sports reporter, we finally learned that Frank had in fact not interviewed Amanda Knox, He had slipped written questions to an inside contact from the bowels of Capanne, who in turn had slipped these questions to Knox and then either reported her answers back verbally to Frank, who wrote them down, or wrote them down and then delivered them to Frank. Or maybe they were dropped on his ledge by a carrier pigeon. And by the next day, the biographical tidbit about the past life in journalism that Frank had let slip was quietly removed from the blog, presumably by the blogger. It reminds me of a line from an old Talking Heads song: “the less we say about it, the better, make it up as we go along…”

    • RoseMontague says:

      Thanks Peggy. It is a pretty inventive way to conduct an interview. I don’t really care if Frank was a sports reporter, cookbook and travel writer, food blogger, Film professor, or perpetual student. I enjoy the way he writes, errors and all. I also think he was a valuable resource for reporting on the events of the trial and although I don’t always agree with his opinions on the case, I think he gets it right much of the time.

      The real issue here is if he is being censored and/or harassed, threatened, and falsely charged in attempt to stifle his reporting and opinions regarding the Kercher case. I believe he is telling the truth.

      • maundy says:

        I don’t think Frank is telling the whole truth, Rose. For example, I don’t think it is plausible that Frank has had libel proceedings active against him since at least February but never knew about them or what the alleged libel is.

        But I do agree that the real issue is whether or not he is being censored or harassed. I think that if Mignini has been libelled and wants to bring an action against the libeller then he is perfectly within his rights. And I think no-one familiar with Frank’s blog would deny that it contains material which is less than perfectly cautious with regards to making weakly-founded claims of criminality.

        As with his last complaint, Frank avoids the central piece of information that is needed in order to tell who is in the right. Why has Mignini chosen to be so beastly to him?

      • Peggy Ganong says:

        I beg to differ slightly:
        It is true that the question is whether or not Frank Sfarzo being censored in an attempt to stifle his opinions on the Kercher case; the problem is that the only one making this claim so far is Frank Sfarzo. As you indicate by your own stated belief, this leaves people in the position of having no choice but to make or not make a leap of faith.

        Personally, I can find good reasons for not making that leap and will wait for more ample information in light of the troubling elements Maundy and others have already explained very well.

        It would be easy enough for Frank to answer the questions that are now floating around out there. So I’m content to wait for that to happen or not happen. It’s up to Frank.

        As for the interview I mentioned, you miss the central point: in this particular case, Frank tried initially to pass it off as a live interview and even used quotation marks. When questioned about it, he was quite coy and only came clean under extreme duress. An inventive way to conduct an interview? Sure. But if you want to be taken seriously as an “investigative reporter”, there are standards of disclosure that need to be upheld. And if you don’t uphold them, then you have to expect certain members of the public not to extend credibility to you automatically. This goes to the heart of why I won’t be making that leap of faith just yet.

  6. RoseMontague says:

    It will be interesting to go back to Jan/Feb again to review the comments. IIRC, Frank said Mignini wanted his source for some information and Frank was unable to remember. LOL.

    BTW, the article that Christiani posted at JREF would seem to indicate that blogs don’t have much in the way of protection under Italian Law that the print media may have.

    I saw the report about a claim of a drug connection as well and also saw one that indicated it was defamation by website that Frank was charged with. I have been following Frank’s blog closely but i don’t recall a comment about this. Does anyone else?

  7. Reingold says:

    I think the question with Mignini is, why is the lion acting like the lamb? I don’t think he’d bother with all this blog crap if he thought things were going his way.

  8. Rose says:

    I am not sure what quotation marks have to do with if it was a “real” interview or not. I could quote a poster but not talk to them. I have often wondered if the infamous Kate Mansey article that is referred to so often as an interview with Raffaele was really a real one or one that was very inventive like Frank’s. Nowhere in the article does she indicate that she actually spoke with him or conversed by phone or e-mail. Lot’s of quotes, however.

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