Lying criminals conundrum for Knox/Sollecito defence

Tommaso Onofri

Tommaso Onofri, murdered by Mario Alessi in 2006

The Meredith Kercher case is not one without its head-scratching aspects. But reports from yesterday’s hearing in the Amanda Knox/Raffaele Sollecito trial are particularly perplexing. Certain things happened, and it’s possible to say what they were. But why they happened and what they might mean is another matter.

One thing that took place is that Mario Alessi, serving life for the 2006 kidnapping and murder of a toddler, was called to give evidence, at the request of the defence. Alessi met Rudy Guede, convicted of Meredith Kercher’s murder in a separate trial to Knox and Sollecito, in Viterbo prison, north of Rome. His story is that Guede confided in him that Knox and Sollecito are completely innocent of the crime. Guede and an unidentified accomplice went to Kercher’s flat, having met her a few days previously, and proposed a threesome. She asked them to leave. Guede went to use the bathroom and returned to find his accomplice assaulting her. Guede duly assisted and, in the struggle that followed, Kercher received a cut to the neck. The accomplice then took the decision that it would be necessary to finish the job and, although this part is not quite clear from what I can make out, it seems as if it was Guede who then inflicted to fatal injury. Both then fled.

This is somewhat more believable than the story Guede told in court – that he had been on the toilet when an intruder broke into the flat, and emerged to find Kercher bleeding to death (the toilet part of the story is an understandable constant, because it had still not been flushed when police arrived at the flat the next day, so samples of Guede’s faeces presumably remain in a bag somewhere in Perugia). According to reporter Barbie Nadeau, the story was very convincing in court. Not having been there myself, I’m going to take her word for it. And Sollecito’s lawyer Giulia Bongiorno seemed to think that this was a “turning point” in the case. But we seem to hear that after every court date.

I don’t expect the judges and juror-judges to take the view that the case now turns on the question of which murderer’s story is least implausible. Their thought process is likely to start with the question of whether there is an reason to doubt what had been put to them.

Apart from the fact that, in Italy, Alessi’s notoriety very much precedes him, the prosecution wasted no time in informing the court that he is currently facing legal proceedings for volunteering false testimony in another case. That in itself would seem to oblige the court to ignore anything he has to say.

There were three additional prisoners brought in as witnesses to corroborate the story, but they don’t seem to have done that. One of them appears to have simply testified that his Italian isn’t good enough to have understood anything he heard in prison. The other two confirmed that Alessi had previously told them the same story, with one adding that he had also heard Guede say that Knox and Sollecito were innocent. But that’s just consistent with Guede’s official version, so it doesn’t really help the defence.

I think the court will also be wondering how Alessi’s version fits with the physical evidence. For example, if Guede and his accomplice entered the the flat as guests and fled immediately after the crime, how did it come to be that the flat had the appearance of having been broken into when the police arrived the following day?

What seems even worse for the defence is that yesterday they also called Luciano Aviello, a gangster also currently serving prison time. He claimed that his brother Antonio, a fugitive whose whereabouts are unknown, killed Kercher during a burglary. Antonio and his Romanian accomplice were supposed to burgle another house, but got the address wrong. Luciano subsequently got rid of the murder weapon and Kercher’s keys in order to help his brother out.

Aviello and Alessi can’t both be telling the truth. Their stories seem to be mutually undermining and the day may well just have been a waste of everyone’s time. So what are the defence playing at?

Well, I really can’t say I know. But one possibility is that this can be traced back to a lack of communication between the two defence teams and a lack of forward thinking by either of them. The attendance of Aviello and Alessi was asked for separately in the appeal applications of Knox and Sollecito respectively. And because Italy has vestiges of an investigative criminal justice system, calling them becomes the business of the court, not just the defence from that point. In the UK or US, the defence could just have dropped either witness without explanation but, in Italy, they possibly would have needed to justify that to the judge. And so maybe what happened is that they failed to come up with a surefire argument for discriminating between the two stories. Which is what they would have needed, because it would have made no sense questioning witnesses speaking for your own case having just lost an argument as to why they should not be called.

I’m speculating, and I’ll concede that a little knowledge of the Italian criminal justice system may be a dangerous thing.

The seemingly inevitable consequence of Alessi’s testimony is that the prosecution have now had their request for Rudy Guede to testify granted, and he will appear next Monday. This surely can’t be a consequence that the defence would have wanted, unless they seriously believe it likely that he will suddenly change his story at the last minute. And, although the prosecution will not get a free hand to ask Guede whatever they want, there must surely be a risk that they will find a way of questioning him that will end with him saying something that seems to incriminate Knox and Sollecito. Why didn’t their lawyers see this coming?

Of course, I could be mistaken and maybe there is some grand strategy at play here that I have failed to spot. But I rather suspect that what we saw yesterday is mainly some bad defending coming home to roost.

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6 Responses to Lying criminals conundrum for Knox/Sollecito defence

  1. Reingold says:

    You “rather suspect”?

    • maundy says:

      You think it’s clearer than I’m making out? You could be right. But I think it’s also possible that what looks to the eye like a shambles may make more sense in the light of things that have gone on behind the scenes.

  2. The Rector of Stiffkey says:

    How refreshing to find an intelligent blog on this fascinating case, even if written from beyond the grave by a convicted criminal.

    The defence may appear to be clutching at straws. One should not, however, underestimate la Bongiorno.

    By calling these witnesses the defence has provoked the prosecution to call Rudy Guede in order to ask him, under oath, whether he had ever met any of them or their hypothetical brothers. He will almost certainly deny doing so. That is not the point. (As everyone knows, it would be easy for both sides to go to the prison and assemble any number of witnesses who would freely testify that: a) Guede and Alessi had long and intimate conversations every day in that useful corner out of sight of the CCTV; or b) that Guede and Alessi could never have met each other as they were in different wings / belonged to opposing camps or whatever. Where is the prisoner who does not want a day in the sun? But I digress.)

    The point is, surely, that the defence actually wants Guede on the witness stand, and that the prosecution — which knows far more about what Guede has said outside the courts than the defence does — has conceded him. Perhaps they had no choice. Both sides are also aware that he is a very loose cannon.

    It will be interesting to see whether Guede has any legal representation during his appearance as a ‘witness’. If anyone can enlighten me as to whether he has any at the moment in this appeal, I would be grateful. Meredith Kercher certainly does, in he form of Avv. Maresca; but I am ignorant as to whether Guede has any representative in court. Possibly not: he has no money; and the lawyers who represented him at his fast-track (and thus in-camera) trial and subsequent appeal probably have no more mileage to make.

    BUT there must be numerous briefless barristers who, like the prisoners, would like a day in the blazing sun of this particular court. If one such should appear, acting ‘pro deo’, who will inform us whether he or she may be a chum of, say, Bongiorno, or of, say, Mignini.

    Local-boy Franco Sfarzo would probably have had an opinion about that. But he has been silenced; unlike Maundy Gregory who simply disappeared in Paris during WWII.

    • maundy says:

      Hi Reverend.

      It all depends on unknowns, I think, but your take may well turn out to be right. The main trouble I have with it is working out why the defence might actually want Guede to testify. It’s possible that they know something that is not widely know. But it can’t be that he might support Alessi’s tale, because if he did then he would be a defence witness. Plus it has been reported that he doesn’t. Like you say, if there is an intelligence gap between the two side, this is likely to be in the prosecution’s favour. So, if there is a real possibility that Guede might surprise everyone and turn the trial on its head, you would think the prosecution would know this and so would not have asked for him to be called.

      As far as I can see, Guede’s testimony holds out nothing promising for the defence. It seems most likely he will stick to his story. The court already knows what his story is, so that’s not going to make for significant testimony. But the defence must be worried that he will say something or other that is new. The outside possibility is that he will change his story to side with the defence. What then?

      I think it’s much more likely that the defence have just trapped themselves. With a fair wind, though, neither the prisoner testimony nor Guede’s will make the slightest difference to the outcome of the appeal.

      BTW Frank Sfarzo hasn’t been silenced. He’s still blogging, but I don’t get the impression he has the same access to the defence he used to. His take on this, offbeat as ever, has been to lionise the rapist and child-killer witnesses as campaigners for judicial reform.

  3. Margaret Ganong says:

    Your analysis makes the most sense to me. In any case, we shall soon see. I also agree that it is likely Frank Sfarzo has lost access to whoever was feeding him information. His most recent post was as disjointed and rambling as ever, but without the slightest tidbit of data.
    Personally, I wonder if his interview with Mignini as a person informed of the facts is not related somehow to the “assorted criminals” who testified. Between Aviello or Alessi, I would guess that it would most likely be Aviello.

  4. davey says:

    She bought bleach the day after the murder (ideal for removing DNA), French kissed her boyfriend in public and bought sexy underwear – hardly the actions of an innocent, and hardy the actions of someone in shock from the murder of a friend.

    Why did she say she was in the next room and heard the girls screams in her first statement? why did she try and frame the innocent bar owner? interesting the Italian police have closed their case and aren’t looking for anyone else. Will we ever find out what Guede said at his trial, the one that was held behind closed doors? I suspect Knox’s family paid Guede to come up with the convenient mystery person, and how a convicted criminal’s evidence can used at trail is beyond me.

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