Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito: how Italian sentencing works

September 25, 2011

My post for today is about the rules governing sentencing for murder in Italy. Not unexpectedly, the prosecution in the appeal of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito today asked the court to impose life sentences on both of them. This would be a stiffer punishment than the 26 and 25 years, respectively, that were handed down in the original trial. But what are the chances the prosecution will get their wish?

Once again, I feel obliged to make it completely clear that I am about to pontificate about things that I am absolutely unqualified to address. But I’ve gotten away with it in the past. Please feel free to comment below if you think I have any of these details wrong.

It doesn’t seem that the prosecution are pursuing with any vigour the line they argued unsuccessfully at trial, that life sentences were appropriate because the crime was premeditated. The criterion they are focusing on now is provided by Article 557 of the Italian Penal Code, which allows for life imprisonment for murders carried out for “depraved or trivial reasons”. In other words, it applies in cases where a murder appears meaningless and purely sadistic. And this is what was suggested today by prosecutor Manuela Comodi. Meredith Kercher, she said, was “killed for nothing“.

Obviously, the question for the courts, in the event that the convictions are upheld in the first place, is how well this assertion fits the facts. If the way the original trial against Knox and Sollecito went and, to a lesser extent, the proceedings against their co-accued Rudy Guede, the judges will have a lot of leeway to fill in the blanks and decide precisely what motivated the murder.

But they also face the problem of what to do when it’s virtually all blanks. We can know very little for sure about precisely what happened in the minutes and moments leading up to the crime. But we can speculate. Perhaps Kercher was killed for reasons which, though it seems perverse to express it in these terms, might be described as something other than “depraved or trivial”. There’s some suggestion in the evidence, for example, of a row over money. Or maybe there really was no comprehensible motive for the crime. But when you just can’t be sure, can you really make someone a life prisoner based on a leap of imagination? My guess is probably not.

It’s worth noting, though, that a life sentence may not add much to the status quo when compared to the current sentences being served. Life doesn’t mean life in Italy and Knox and Sollecito would probably be eligible for parole in 2028. That’s the same date as currently applies in Knox’s case, and it adds only a year onto Sollecito’s current likely jail-time. It might, thought, cause a delay of a couple of years in terms of their so-called Gozzini rights, which will allow them, after a certain period, to get day release from prison in order to work and will also grant them generous supervised periods out of detention (it came as a surprise to me too, but it seems that, even if their convictions are upheld, Knox and Sollecito could potentially be back in their own beds for up to 45 days a year, conceivably starting within the next twelve months if they were to get a slight sentence reduction).

Which brings us to another obvious question. If they lose their appeals, could Knox and Sollecito still get reduced sentences? And, if so, how reduced?

The minimum sentence for murder in Italy is 21 years, by virtue of Article 575 of the Penal Code. However, just as life doesn’t mean life, it turns out that minimum doesn’t mean minimum. Articles 61 and 62 of the Penal Code set out a number of defined aggravating factors and a general provision that anything suggesting the reduced culpability of  a defendant can be presented as a mitigating factor, and the sentence adjusted accordingly. Amanda Knox’s many fans shouldn’t get over-excited, though, because it does seem like significant reductions in sentences for murder are rare, and really reserved for cases where there is a very significant issue about the responsibility of the perpetrator, such as low IQ. She won’t get it just for her charming personality.

At trial, Knox and Sollecito got 24 years each for the murder, with the addtional years of their sentence relating to staging a burglary, theft, carrying a weapon and, in Knox’s case, her false accusation of Patrick Lumumba. The 24 years took into account a lack of premeditation and acts which the court took to be slight signs of remorse (for example, covering the body after the crime) as mitigating factors, and the cruelty and sexual aspect of the crime as aggravating factors. I’m not sure that the appeal judges have an awful lot of room for manoeuvre here. Maybe a little, but it would seem hard to deny either that the crime was cruel or that there was a sexual aspect to it.

I also don’t think it is likely that the sentences will be commuted to anything less serious. Italian law does allow for crimes of unintentional homicide, but it’s clear that the facts of this case are not going to fit that. And it’s hard to see the court coming up with a scenario in which either Knox or Sollecito are mere accessories to the crime. Could anyone believe, for example, that they had nothing to do with the murder but took pity on Guede and decided to clean up after him? In theory, the Italian Criminal Code allows a reduced sentence if any one of the three can establish that they took part in the crime but didn’t intend the victim to die. But how can the court establish such a claim on behalf of someone who won’t even admit to being at the scene? It might even be supposed that either Knox or Sollecito got involved in a clean-up after the murder out of infatuation with the other. But surely they would have said so by now? Without evidence to support such a scenario, there’s nothing a court can do to help the dumbstruck.

One thing ought to be clear. The court will not reduce the sentences as any sort of compromise between guilt and innocent. If it has doubts about the convictions, they will  be overturned.

Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito: back in court for closing arguments

September 23, 2011

Photo: Mario Laporta/AFP/Getty Images

Today in Perugia, the appeal of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito against their conviction for the 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher entered its final stages as the prosecution began to sum up its case.

In the main, what they had to say seems to be just as might be expected. For them, all the evidence overwhelmingly points to the fact that the pair are – wait for it – guilty. First of all, Knox has no credible excuse for attempting to pin the crime on her ex-boss Partrick Lumumba. And the fact that he was present in court today can only have served to underline that inexcusability. What’s more, somebody tried to stage a burglary at the crime scene, and there is simply no-one other than Knox and Sollecito who could have had any reason to do that. In spite of criticisms of key pieces of DNA evidence in the case, the science remains sound. Knox killed Meredith Kercher with a knife belonging to Sollecito and Sollecito removed Kercher’s bra after she had died. Even if there were any doubt about that, at the crime scene their footprints were found in the victims blood at the crime scene, and Knox’s DNA was found intermingled with same blood. And the defence version of events – that Knox spent the evening of the murder at Sollecito’s flat, where they got up late the next day – is contradicted by the records provided by Sollecito’s ISP, not to mention two witnesses  who saw them in the vicinity of the flat during that period and who – despite the suggestions of the defence to the contrary – both gave reliable testimony.

Reports from Perugia seem to suggest that all this was fairly effective in its presentation. And, of course, it’s an important function of closing arguments that they serve to remind the court of the most salient details of the case and to outline the shape of the prosecution and defence arguments. But, slightly add odds with the way things might work elsewhere in the world, the judges and juror-judges in this case were empanelled ten months ago and have had all that time to digest reams of sentencing reports, trial transcripts and technical documents. By this stage, their impressions of the evidence, whatever those may be, are likely to be fairly settled and there’s no much that the prosecution – or, by the same token, the defence – will be able to tell them they didn’t already know. And it’s equally unlikely that any new perspective on the evidence can radically affect the outcome of the trial.

And so, the most significant part of what prosecutors had to say today (or, at least, the most widely reported) was more to do with the psychology of the courtroom. For some time now the bench has been its (rather occasional) court sessions looking out at the faces of the two defendants. For better or worse, there must by now be a fairly intimate relationship between Knox, Sollecito and the eight people who will decide their fates within the next couple of weeks. And the appellants don’t necessarily look like bad people. They are someone’s son, someone’s daughter. And, judging  by their recent appearances in court, Knox in particular seems to be suffering from the strain of it all. It might be inferred from today’s proceedings that the prosecution are concerned that a factor in their disfavour, not written in witness statements or DNA printouts, is the impact of basic human pity.

Prosecutor Giancarlo Costagliola bemoaned media coverage of the case which, he said, made everyone “feel like the parents of Sollecito and Knox” and urged the bench to put themselves instead in the shoes of the victim’s parents. That seems to have been the key message of the first day of closing argument, and it wasn’t put subtly. Just prior to the court going into private session to view images of her wounds, Costagliola’s colleague Giuliano Mignini recalled looking into Kercher’s eyes at the crime scene.

Later, he discussed the public relations efforts made on behalf of his quarry, alluding without apparent reservation to Joseph Goebbels. “Slander, slander, slander”  is how he characterised it. And anyone familiar with the case extra curiam will be aware that he feels himself to have been among the targets of such. It can’t be doubted that this was not a timid performance. And, at the end of proceedings, a more-or-less direct attack on the morality of the defence case: “Don’t let the black guy pay the whole price for this murder”.

Observers of the case who take different views will all agree that there has been a lot of inaccurate and misleading coverage of it. Personally, I’m more than fed up of reading that Kercher died in a “sex-game-gone-wrong” or that Knox only pointed the finger at Lumumba after hours and hours of gruelling questioning. That’s not really the point, though. The judges have access to the information they need so as not to be led astray by things they might read in the hairdresser’s. What the prosecution have tried to do today is make sure that the bench is awake to its duty to see through the spin on a more fundamental level. They mustn’t make decisions based on emotion or on the feeling that the case is perceived, out there in the world, as controversial or significant. And they’ve put in the mind of the judges the idea that public comment on the case is not independent of the defence.  “In 32 years in this profession” said Mignini, “I have never heard of television stations buying plane tickets for supporters of the defendants in exchange for interviews.”

It’s probably not a bad line to play, since the advice is so clearly correct. The defence are hardly going to come back with a plea for the court to ignore the evidence and focus on press speculation. And, with members of the Kercher family reported to be intending to be there for the defence summary next week, the prosecution must be hoping to usher in a change in the emotional dynamic of the courtroom. But, even if the prosecution have succeeded today in getting their message across today, the case will still hang on what the Sphinx-like judges have actually made of the evidence. Those dice are probably cast already.

Knox/Sollecito DNA battle – who won?

September 7, 2011
Giuliano Mignini and Carlo Torre

Prosecution advisor Giuliano Mignini and defence expert Carlo Torre in court today. Picture from

As courtroom debates over DNA draw to a close, tweets and early reports from English language journalists in Perugia covey a mood that things are going in the defence’s favour in the appeal of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito against their convictions for the 2007 murder of British student Meredith Kercher.

Maybe there’s some basis for this, but I’m unconvinced. One possible reason for taking such a view might be a misreading of the thing that’s hogged the limelight in reporting over the last 48 hours. Yesterday, prosecution expert Giuseppe Novelli criticised Carla Vecchiotti and Stefano Conti, the scientists who conducted a review of DNA evidence, for their decision not conduct a full re-test with regard to the kitchen knife alleged to have been used in the murder. According to Novelli, this could have and should have been done. It was an inexplicably missed chance to confirm the validity of the original testing.

Today in court, the prosecution formally requested further testing of the knife, but the request was declined. My impression is that some have taken this as a significant clue as to the thinking of presiding judge Claudio Pratillo Hellmann. But I don’t think it is. Whatever is between his ears, he was never going to accede to the request. Knox’s lawyer Luciano Ghirga objected in court that holding a second review of DNA evidence is virtually unheard of, and I don’t doubt that this is correct.

And re-testing wouldn’t have had much value in any case. If it had failed to find the DNA, that would not have excluded the possibility that there was DNA there at some point. And if it had found the DNA, that would not have excluded the possibility that it got there by contamination, as the defence have argued. The prosecution were sensible not to miss an opportunity to demonstrate with intent how confident they are about the validity of the evidence, safe in the knowledge that their bluff was never going to be called. But the inevitable rebuff means nothing.

It’s not easy to predict what the bench will end up making of the DNA evidence overall. That’s partly because the answers they are looking for are in the boring technical detail gone over by the experts in court, much of it obscure and most of it unreported. But, with regard to the knife, assuming they follow the explanations of the science they have heard in court, I don’t think the judges have much option but to accept that it is valid evidence.

Six weeks ago, it was another story. The possibility that the knife was contaminated was the ace in the defence’s hand. The DNA review said it was possible and it was not easy to see how any reasonable scientist could disagree. The quantity of Kercher’s DNA found was tiny and, unless everything was done extremely carefully, a tiny amount of DNA in a test can be the result of contamination.

There was never a real chance that this contamination could have occurred during the recovery of the knife, because this had happened at Sollecito’s flat, where Kercher had never been, and there is no good reason to think that her DNA might have been there. But the DNA review reported a lack of detailed information about how tests were conducted in the lab. So, unless the prosecution were able meet the burden of showing that everything in the lab was hunky dory, prudence dictated that the possibility of contamination there could not be ruled out.

That picture flipped in testimony on 30th July, when one of the authors of the DNA review, Carla Vecchiotti, was asked about the difference it might make if it could be shown that no material relating to the Kercher case had been tested in the lab during the six days prior to the testing of the knife. That could rule out the possibility of any of Kercher’s DNA being present in the lab in order to contaminate the knife. Vecchiotti said that six days was long enough for this to be the case. Perhaps tellingly, the defence don’t seem to have put forward any counter-argument to this.

Which means that the defence case with regard to the knife is effectively reduced to the proposition that the DNA sample was too small and some of the peaks in the printouts were below 50 RFU in height. It is what is sometimes referred to as “low copy number” DNA. But the argument is weak without the possibility of explaining a consequent risk. There’s no doubt that the sample is a match to Kercher and if there’s no possibility of contamination, who cares how small the sample was? And why should they? This line of defence seems to amount a plea to turn back the scientific clock. As DNA analysis has improved, it has become routine around the world (with the notable exception, until recently, of the US) for convictions to be based on tiny quantities of DNA. It happened in the Anna Lindh case, the Peter Falconio case and, in the UK, over 500 cold cases have been reopened using low copy number DNA evidence. The judges in the Kercher case ought really to treat the idea that the sample is too small in the same way they would treat a plea for a speeding ticket to be thrown out because it was printed in 6-point font.

Arguments regarding the clasp from Kercher’s bra, said to have had Sollecito’s DNA on it, appear slightly more finely balanced. The same principle as in the case of the knife would appear to rule out the possibility of contamination in the lab. But the judges fact a genuine dilemma when they consider the possibility of contamination at the scene of the crime. The prosecution point out that Sollecito’s DNA was only found in one other place in the flat, so it’s not as if the place was swimming in it. And there’s no real reason for it to be found in Kercher’s bedroom, which is where the clasp was recovered from.

But, whilst it may be true that the chances are not high, the question for the judges is how high do they need to be? That’s very subjective. They’ve been played a DVD showing various alleged breaches of protocol by investigators in handling evidence, such as failing to wear the right protective clothing and putting some of the evidence into plastic bags rather than paper ones. They also have to consider that the clasp moved across the floor of the bedroom between its discovery and its eventual bagging over a month later, by some means that has not been accounted for. These things don’t necessarily carry with them a huge increase to the risk of contamination. But the judges might just feel that the risk doesn’t need to be huge to be significant.

It also has to be acknowledged that, whereas there remains a considerable amount of evidence against Knox with or without the knife, the clasp is a fairly big part of the case against Sollecito. I don’t think he’s likely to walk free, but maybe it isn’t unimaginable.

And it seems that lead prosecutor Manuela Comodi has enough imagination to conceive of the possibility that the case may not go her way. On the one hand, this only seems like stating the obvious. But something seems wrong with any picture than involves a lawyer being candid with journalists.

Closing arguments begin on 23rd September.

Knox/Sollecito: Monday 5th September in court

September 5, 2011
Amanda Knox, 5/9/11

As is customary, here is a picture showing how Amanda Knox dressed for court today

Today’s court session in the appeal of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollectio doesn’t seem to have put any real dynamite under anything, but it does seem to have been interesting for a few reasons.

First there was a discussion about documentation of negative controls carried out on the items of DNA evidence currently the subject of contention. The controls are significant, because a lack of evidence of them was cited as increasing the risk of contamination of the evidence in the lab, in a scientific report by court-appointed experts Carla Vecchiotti and Stefano Conti.

The significance of these documents may be somewhat reduced now, since Vecchiotti has conceded that the chances of lab contamination are, after all, not high, because of length of time between the testing of the disputed evidence and any prior testing of other evidence related to the case.

According to the prosecution, the documents were filed way back in 2008 and Conti and Vecchiotti ought to have been able to take them into consideration, it’s just that they didn’t. The defence argue that the documents were not re-filed for the appeal and that it is too late to seek their admission now. Judge Hellmann decided not to decide, and instead deferred the matter. Presumably, he will ask for the documents if he thinks they still matter at the end of the current courtroom debate.

Most of the morning session was given over to a further cross-examination of Carla Vecchiotti, this time by Fransceso Maresca, counsel for the Kercher family. It seems to have been fairly important to Maresca’s strategy to depict Vecchiotti and her collaborator Conti as having submitted a report which criticised not just the evidence in the case, but DNA evidence in general. Of course, that’s something no court could stand for, so it’s probably not a bad strategy to go for if you think you can pull it off.

It’s not really an entirely fair allegation, in my view. The central thread of the DNA report, that there were reasons to worry about the possibility that evidence may have been tainted by contamination, was reasonable. It’s a thesis that now seems in danger of corroding like an unattended metal hook, but it was right to raise it. Vecchiotti’s vice is to not want this to happen and that seems to be something that Maresca preyed on in court today, as she strayed away from sound science and onto riskier, less convincing ground.

The best example of this was her suggestion that elements of her own DNA and even (oh, the theatre!) that of Judge Hellmann, in all probability, could be discerned in the DNA printout attributed as a mixture of the DNA of Raffaele Sollecito and Meredith Kercher. Undoubtedly, that seemed to her like a good way of getting a point across. But it isn’t science, it’s rhetoric and misdirection.

As I tried to show in this post, the thing about a mixed sample is that you can usually find indications of anyone’s DNA in the printout if you really want to and you don’t know what you’re doing. I know that, because I really wanted to find Casey Anthony’s DNA in the printout we’re talking about. I didn’t know what I was doing and – hey presto! – I found it. Sort of. What I couldn’t un-find, though, was every single one of Kercher’s peaks and every single one of Sollecito’s peaks, right there, plain as day.

In case you don’t get the point, write out the names MEREDITH KERCHER and RAFFAELE SOLLECITO on a sheet of paper. You will see that every letter of CARLA VECCHIOTTI is there, except for the V and one of the Cs. But that doesn’t mean her name is there.

To put it yet another way, elements of Vecchiotti’s profile, as well as elements of Hellmann’s, probably can be seen in the Kercher/Sollecito DNA printout. But that would be true of most prinouts from a mixed DNA sample. Vecchiotti has fallen into doing exactly what Maresca is accusing her of. She’s slipped from critiquing the evidence into a low-brow critique of forensic science in general.

So, Vecchotti’s claims in this regard are not only meaningless, they’re also disingenuous. It’s a big problem for her credibility if that’s as obvious to the bench as it is to me.

And if it isn’t now, it will be at some point, because she has provided team Maresca with a singularly memorable exchange to be recalled and lambasted later in the process. Be sure of it.

On the question of the presence of Kercher’s DNA on the blade of the knife, Vecchiotti repeated the line she reluctantly gave at the last hearing before the summer break. Yes, it’s a match, you could say, but it is from a very small amount of DNA and therefore not reliable. Again, I think this is going to look like obfuscation to the judges. But only because it is. What Vecchiotti isn’t able to clarify is in what way a small amount of DNA is not reliable. From a scientific point of view, it could give rise the possibility of a false positive through contamination. But we already knew about that. Or it could give rise to “stochastic effects”, false or missing DNA peaks. But it can be seen just by looking at the DNA printouts that no such things are present. They just contain Kercher’s peaks. Again, clear as day.

I don’t think she’s fooling anyone. But it’s the fact that she is trying to that is most damaging for the defence. You could say that her point-of-view appears to small to be reliable.

In the afternoon, Patrizia Stefanoni, lead scientist in the original investigation, was, in contrast, softballed the questions by prosecution lawyer Manuela Comodi. But first she gave a presentation explaining why Conti and Vecchiotti were wrong and she was right. The detail of that presentation probably will be considered important by the judges. Unfortunately, I don’t know what those details were, so I can’t enlighten you much.

Under questioning, she explained how good the procedures in her lab were (they handled samples from behind a glass screen, apparently) and how Conti and Vecchiotti had failed to take into account how standards had changed between then and now. How can she have been expected to perform to standards that had not been set at the time? How can she be expected to have acted in the way she might do with test kits that were not yet on the market?

She admitted that plastic evidence bags were used at the crime scene after investigators ran out of paper envelopes. And there seem to have been one or two interesting new facts. Did you know they used the household fridge at the flat for storing evidence before moving it on?

But that was the easy part for her. Tomorrow, she will face questioning from the defence.


A lot of reports today have focused on a letter written to the court by Meredith Kercher’s sister, Stephanie. I don’t have much to say about that, other than that this report is the one that seems to quote from it most extensively.

Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito back in court on Monday 5th

September 2, 2011

Amanda Knox

Amanda Knox during her last court appearance on 30 July

After a five-week break, the appeal of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito against their conviction for the 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher will resume on Monday.

We pick up where we left off, in the middle of discussions about the reliability or otherwise of DNA evidence taken from a knife, alleged by prosecutors to have been used by Knox in the murder, and from the clasp of the victim’s bra, said to have been removed from her body by Sollecito after she died.

That’s a debate that took some dramatic twists and turns before the court went on its holidays, and it may be that we have not yet reached the end of that twisty-turny phase.

At the end of June, two court-appointed scientific experts submitted a report re-examining the conclusions of the forensic work originally performed on these two highly important pieces of evidence. The report presented a clear argument that the results seen could plausibly have been the result of contamination, either in the laboratory or during the collection and handling of the evidence. During that collection and handling, they said, procedures fell below that which ought to be expected. Furthermore, not enough was known about procedures in the lab to be sure that contamination could not have occurred there, particularly in the case of the knife, because the amount of the victim’s DNA apparently found on the blade was so tiny that even a very small slip in procedure could have caused it to be present due to cross-contamination from samples of the same DNA previously run in the lab. They recommended that DNA from neither the knife nor the clasp should be considered reliable.

That hasn’t been the end of the matter, though. The prosecution, finding themselves suddenly playing the defence in a sort of play-within-a-trial, began their fightback in the last session before the summer break. Most significantly, lead prosecutor Manuela Comodi was able to get Carla Vecchiotti to agree that the amount of time that had passed between the testing of the knife and clasp samples and any prior testing related to the Kercher case had been sufficient so that it was unrealistic that any potentially contaminating DNA might have still been present in the lab. That seems to add up to a pretty impressive turnaround on the part prosecutors, since it may make questions about the standards applied in the lab irrelevant. Whatever they were like, it’s not possible to contaminate a sample with DNA which isn’t there.

It’s particularly significant in the case of the knife, because it was recovered from Sollecito’s flat and it is well-established that Kercher had never been there. It therefore seems unlikely that her DNA could have got onto the blade by any means in that location. If it can’t have been contaminated there and it can’t have been contaminated in the lab, then it remains reliable evidence. Not long ago, the knife seemed all but destined for the evidentiary trashbin. Not any more. But the defence may not yet have said all they have to say about that.

The situation is different with the bra-clasp, because that was recovered from the flat where Sollecito’s girlfriend, Knox, lived and he had been there numerous times. The prosecution are insistent that the chances of his DNA being on the clasp by contamination are too slim to be taken seriously, even if there were lapses in protocol at the crime scene. But the court has been shown a DVD of forensic work that went on there, which the defence hope will have demonstrated that this is not a safe assumption. I’ve only seen a few short extracts from that DVD, but I guess the big question is what the judges and juror-judges will have made of it. Will it have looked to them like a standard crime scene, perhaps with one or two forgiveable lapses of concentration on the part of investigators? Or will they have struggled to keep the Benny Hill theme tune from playing in their heads as they watched?

On Monday, further cross-examination of Carla Vecchiotti and her colleague Stefano Conti is scheduled, this time by Francesco Maresca, counsel for the Kercher family. He has expressed to the media in no uncertain terms his exasperation at the DNA report. For him, it was one-sided and incomplete. No doubt that’s something he’ll be repeating. He’ll also want to get his questionees to repeat the thing about contamination in the lab. But will he have anything up his sleeve that can do the same for the clasp as has apparently been done for the knife?

We can expect that questioning to be thorough, so there may not be time for much else. But, if there is, the court may here from personnel involved in the original forensic work. There may also be mention of Luciano Aviello, a Mafioso who previously testified that his brother had murdered Kercher, but has since said he was offered money for this testimony and he was lying. Aviello was never really a credible witness, so I don’t think this will have any impact on the appeal, but the court will want to get his retraction on record at some point.

There was a good article about the case in yesterday’s New York Times. The first thing that struck me about it was the title: “Mother’s Long Vigil for Seattle Woman Jailed in Murder”. I’m sure that must be the first headline about the case in nearly four years not to feature the word “Knox”, which may be a sign of how far out of the public consciousness the story has slipped. The second thing was a quote from Manuela Comodi apparently agreeing with me that the second most important element to the prosecution case, after the knife and clasp, is the evidence of a staged break-in at the crime scene.