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.