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

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.

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

  1. chris7777 says:

    Maundy. Nice clear summing up and useful cultural references (Benny Hill). As we really are at the Endgame (really?) I think it’s time you stuck your neck out. Guilty? Innocent? Involved? (Guilty but not of murder to be long-winded)

    • maundy says:

      Thanks Chris.

      Sorry to be slightly boring, but I would say that the court hearings haven’t finished and who knows what might happen yet? One reason for being cautious is the different way appeals work in Italy. The court considers the whole case from scratch, but it only hears new evidence in areas where there is new evidence to hear and it chooses to (in this case we have the DNA report, testimony from one witness and the additional jail witnesses). Everything else will be covered in closing arguments only. So, although time-wise we’re approaching the end of the appeal, in terms of the evidence there is a long way to go.

      Based on what I know at present, I think it is most likely that the convictions will be upheld. There is a lot of evidence against Knox, and I don’t think it is realistic that the appeal will overturn all of it. Sollecito’s position is better, because the areas which have featured in the evidence phase form a fairly large part of the case against him. But, if he’s innocent and Knox is guilty, why isn’t he telling the court that he wasn’t with her at the time of the murder? That question, I think, means their fates are intertwined.

      Any day there’s a court hearing, though, who knows what might happen and what might make a difference to the odds?

  2. Maundy,

    Ms. Knox may herself have transferred Ms. Kercher’s DNA to the flat. In addition, Officer Gubbiotti was the second person to handle the knife after it was taken into evidence. Therefore, secondary transfer and contamination remain possibilities in my mind.

    • maundy says:

      Hi Chris. I don’t think secondary transfer stands a realistic chance in court, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it comes up in closing arguments (note that it is not something raised by C&V). Take a look at the literature review in this paper: “secondary transfer of full profiles was not observed but … on occasion minor peaks in some samples were observed” (note that the working definition of “full” appears to be six loci). And the conclusions here: “While secondary transfer of trace DNA is possible, the transferred DNA will be overwhelmed by the vector individual’s [i.e. Knox’s] DNA, or be a minor component in a mixed profile. It is extremely unlikely for the vector individual to inadvertently transfer only the first person’s DNA, without also leaving his or her own DNA in a larger amount”.

      Plus, you have the unlikely coincidence scenarios that have to be gone through to get there (Knox walks across town with Kercher’s DNA on her finger, walks straight into the flat, opens the draw and leaves the DNA on, of all things, the kitchen knife – how unlucky can one girl be?).

    • chris7777 says:

      Surely one of the defendants has already provided an explanation: MK’s hand was knicked by the knife in an unfortunate cooking accident.

  3. CJ says:

    The “evidence” of staged break in was refuted at trial, when retired police forensic officer Vincenzo Pasquali used video and ballistic measurements to tell the court the window was smashed from the outside and was not simulated, and it was possible for someone to enter the house through the broken window.

    • maundy says:

      Hi CJ. Pasquali’s video successfully showed that the window could have been broken from outside. But that’s all it showed. It didn’t address any of the evidence put forward by the prosecution regarding a staged break in.

      Pasquali also testified that he had to make a number of attempts before successfully hitting the window.

  4. The Rector of Stiffkey says:

    Do you happen to know whether this Appeal Court is able to, or indeed is obliged to, also consider the ‘motivazioni’ of the sentencing of Guede and Guede’s subsequent appeal?

    And if/when Knox-Sollecito appeal goes further to the Supreme Court in Rome, will the SC be able to call or recall witnesses, or does it have to content itself with the documentation from the two previous cases?

    • maundy says:

      Hi Rector. I believe they are able to consider any of the reports relating to Guede, but subject to normal rules of evidence. For example, they are not allowed to take into account Knox’s early witness statements to the police, even though these are cited in Guede’s appeal motivation, because they are legally inadmissible for this process.

      I think the SC can call witnesses if it wants to. But second appeals are on questions of law only, so they can’t recall a witness to see if they have something additional to say or to check how the witness comes across. I think expert witnesses can be heard at second appeal, but it is not usually done.

      I’m not a qualified expert on these questions, though.

  5. Rochelle says:

    Tremendous. To be sure.

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