On Monday, the appeal court in Perugia will hear the testimony of Rudy Guede, who is, along with Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, currently serving a prison sentence for the murder of Meredith Kercher in 2007.
Guede’s appearance follows claims made last Saturday by defence witness Mario Alessi. Alessi is serving a life sentence for kidnap and murder in the same wing of Viterbo prison as Guede where, he says, Guede confessed to him that he killed Kercher with an unnamed accomplice and that Knox and Sollecito are innocent of the crime. Guede has dismissed Alessi’s story as “the ramblings of a sick and twisted mind“, and his attendance has been requested by the defence so that he can give his account of what he did and didn’t say to Alessi.
Undoubtedly, Monday will see some cat-and-mouse between the lawyers and the bench as to how far from this narrow issue questioning is permitted to stray. But, even if the presiding judge keeps the upper hand, Guede’s appearance could have a sizeable impact. And, although a sting in the tail for the prosecution is not impossible, it looks like it is the defence who have most to lose, assuming they are not privy to some dramatic inside information about Guede’s private thoughts.
For one thing, the simple fact of Guede standing up in the courtroom and speaking, regardless of what he says, will be undermining for the defence. Their line is that Guede committed the murder without the involvement of Knox and Sollecito. In the original Knox/Sollecito trial, they painted Guede as a career criminal, stressing how little he had in common with the other two defendants. A criminal alliance between the three of them was just implausible, they argued.
Although it shouldn’t be, Guede’s race is a significant aid to this line of reasoning. Any Perugia news stand tells you why this should be so: immigration and the petty crimes of African and Eastern European migrants are a key concern of the local media. This is not a society at ease with its cosmopolitan side. Although he has lived in Italy since the age of 5, Guede is Ivorian by birth. He is, therefore, a natural candidate for stereotyping. But less so once you hear him speak: this is no dark-skinned savage. He is articulate and intelligent and delivers his words in a well-spoken local accent. In fact, although his birth certificate might suggest otherwise, he will come across as being as Italian as anyone else in the room.
Guede’s physique will also not go unnoticed. He’s was briefly a semi-professional basketball player and, as you’d expect, he’s got an athletic build. But he’s far from a hulk of a man. If he were, then maybe – just maybe – he could be thought of as a lone assailant, in spite of the opinion of forensic experts that multiple attackers must have been involved in the crime. The fact is though, that Guede is not the character that the defence would like him to be.
There is another side to him, though. When he was sixteen, his father returned to the Ivory Coast and he was adopted by the family of a businessman who sponsored the basketball team he was playing for at the time. It seems that Guede’s relationship with the family suffered because of their disappointment over his truanting from school. Gradually, he drifted into a life focussed on drugs and clubbing.
Although the defence portrait of him as a career burglar is pretty flimsy, it does at least confirm that he is not entirely clean-cut. A few months prior to the murder, Guede was caught by police in Milan in possession of a laptop and phone which had been stolen from a lawyers’ offices. Guede’s story was that he had bought these items from a stranger at Milan’s Central Station. On first glance, this might seem too convenient a story to be taken seriously. But a lawyer working for the firm, Paolo Brocchi, testified that Guede had turned up at the offices, uninvited, to apologise and tell him exactly the same tale, to the lawyer’s understandable confusion. This doesn’t seem like the behaviour of a hardened criminal, more like that of someone with some form of moral code.
Guede also either broke into or, according to his version of events, paid someone to give him access to, a disused Milan nursery where he slept overnight. But he didn’t actually burgle the nursery. Its owner testified that she thought he had taken a few coins from a cash-box, which maybe he stole for bus-fare. Hardly grand larceny, and the fact that he appears to have taken what he needed rather than fill his pockets again suggests, to my mind anyway, that Guede maintained some sort of concept of the difference between right and wrong.
But these incidents also show that Guede’s existence intersected to some extent with what we might think of as the low life. If you’re buying computer equipment from strangers at train stations and paying to sleep in buildings that don’t have a “hotel” sign on them, then clearly all is not entirely well. That’s important in terms of understanding Guede, but I don’t think it tells us that he is such a bad boy that we can reasonably lay the blame at his door and ignore the evidence against Knox and Sollecito. That’s a thesis that just doesn’t stack up.
I’m not, of course, defending Guede. His DNA was on the victim and his prints were found all over the crime scene. His decision to flee to Germany just doesn’t tally with the idea that he might be innocent. And, as with Knox, the version of events he constructed for police following the murder – essentially that he was chatting to Kercher, then found her dying after having visited the toilet – simply isn’t plausible. He must be involved in the murder, and he has no avenue of appeal left.
Which provides an obstacle for the court. It is unlikely that it will feel able to accept Mario Alessi’s testimony because, apart from the fact that it doesn’t seem to fit all of the physical evidence, Alessi faces trial for false testimony in another case. Guede’s rebuttal is likely to include his insistence on his innocence. But the highest criminal court in Italy says he is guilty, so the chances of any such story being taken into account by the court are practically zero.
If, on the other hand, Guede’s testimony dramatically incorporates a confession, then the court will be obliged to sit up and listen. That seems unlikely because he has not so far wavered from proclaiming his innocence. His testimony on Monday will not be the voluntary act of someone who has finally decided to tell the truth (whatever truth that happens to be) because, as a prisoner with no remaining appeals, his attendance is compulsory under Italian law.
It should be noted, though, that Guede has not been heard from in over a year. Maybe he has had time to think. Maybe being called to attend last week has caused him to make a momentous decision. If we do get a confession on Monday, that would be easily the biggest event so far in this appeal. And it could take a number of forms. Most obviously, he could do a u-turn and confirm Alessi’s story, or he could tell a story along the lines of the prosecution case, implicating himself alongside Knox and Sollecito. A boost for either the defence or the prosecution, respectively, which could have enough force to be decisive.
That’s not what I expect to happen, but Guede does have that degree of power right now if he chooses to exercise it.
Also on Monday a further hearing is scheduled in the trial of members of the Sollecito family and jounrnalists from the local TV station Telenorba, who are accused of conspiring to illegally leak material related to the trial, including footage of Meredith Kercher’s corpse.
The last hearing was adjourned because of objections that the alleged offences, if they took place, took place in Bari, and so the Perugia courts, it was argued, have no jurisdiction. This hearing will probably be taken up by arguments about that and, perhaps, a decision.
Although I have no information to suggest that it is so, I would guess that there is a possibility that the clash between to two court dates may lead to a postponement of the Sollecito/Telenorba hearing if it is argued that members of the Sollecito family are entitled to attend the Knox/Sollectio hearing. Just a hunch.