Most inappropriate Amanda Knox coverage

October 6, 2011

I just had to post this.

Oggi is an Italian magazine that has probably been Amanda Knox’s biggest media supporter in Italy during her appeal. This week’s edition naturally carries the news that Amanda is free. And, I’m guessing, the tiny circle you can see just above her name is the Italian guy.

But do you get the feeling that the people who do the cover and the people who do the cover-mounted gifts should talk to each other more?

Please Tweet for Meredith Kercher

October 6, 2011

Meredith Kercher

Stephanie Kercher has sent a message out asking if people would be willing to use this picture of her sister Meredith as their profile picture on Twitter, Facebook and any other newfangled means of communication they happen to be users of. You can do it for a few days or as long as you like.

You may be aware that the Kercher family are concerned about Meredith having become somehow lost in the media version of the story of her sad death. The idea is to give them reassurance that there are many people out there who have not forgotten about Meredith and who understand that the Kercher family’s search for truth and understanding remains as important now as it was a few days ago.

I’ll be changing my profile pic on Twitter to this photo, and so will a close friend and collaborator of mine. I hope you’ll join us.

Understanding the Knox/Sollecito verdict

October 4, 2011

For those who have been reading my blog (thank you, by the way) it will not come as a surprise when I say I am less then wholly satisfied with the today’s acquittal of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito. I’m very much with the unruly mob shouting “shame!” outside the courthouse this evening. In spirit, you understand.

I don’t even believe this is a case where a court has erred with two left feet on the wrong side of the fine line between technical and reasonable doubt. I’ll not go into the detail of the evidence, since, over the next few days, that will undoubtedly be done thousands of times with greater inaccuracy than I could ever achieve. But perhaps it suffices to give the view that it is such that no acquittal could have been possible under normal circumstances.

It won’t be possible to know how the decision of the court was reached until it publishes its detailed motivation report. But I find it hard to imagine how it will make sense. The disheartening expectation I have, which I think others will share, it that it will offer the reasoning of a court that has crumpled under the pressure of a public relations campaign. A humiliating day for Italy.

And, of course, a heartbreaking tragedy if you are able to spare a thought for the Kercher family. Tomorrow, one of their daughter’s murderers will fly home to ticker-tape and a small fortune. Another, like the drummer in successful rock band, will take a smaller share of the royalties, but the proceeds, taking into account possible government compensation, may still be enough so that he is at liberty to choose whether or not he ever wants to work in his life or not. Merdith Kercher’s death seems almost reduced to the level of a smart career move.

Today’s verdict will undoubtedly, however, be appealed. That’s more than a speculative exercise, since it does happen than people are acquitted at first appeal and then found guilty by Italy’s supreme court. But the focus of the second appeal will be much narrower, restricted only to questions of law and logic. Although that is construed fairly widely in the Italian system, what it means is that the decision of the appeal court can’t be corrected simply because it is wrong. It will have to be shown to be legally unsound before any evidence can be re-examined. Until the motivation report from the appeal is published, it is impossible to say what the chances of the prosecutors succeeding in a further appeal might be.

The case, because it has had such a high profile, may have ramifications in Italy for two reasons.

Firstly, even though the reasons for the decision will not officially be known for a few weeks, it can be assumed that the court has rejected entirely the forensic evidence provided by the police. That’s not a small matter. As in most European countries, forensic testing in Italy in centralised, so an implication of the verdict may be that the entire forensic science set-up in the country is simply not fit for purpose or, at least, it wasn’t at the time of the investigation. A modern forensic science service ought to be able to handle DNA evidence that, as in this case, comes from a very small sample or from an item that had lain in situ for some weeks without difficulty. The Italian police would undoubtedly claim that their forensic teams are as capable as any in the world. I’m not in a position to deny that. But, from a practical point-of-view, if the whole of the scientific aspect of a prosecution is capable of simply crumbling in court, it must be important to try to understand why that happened.

Secondly, reform of the judicial system in Italy is a very live issue, in no small part because Silvio Berlusconi stands accused of various crimes and so he has made judicial reform a priority. I think it is unlikely that Italian public opinion will be behind today’s verdict and it will be seen by many as an example of how Italian justice is far too lenient with defendants.

Personally, I think Italy should take caution before making too reactionary an interpretation of the Knox/Sollecito case. It may be fair to point out that Italian appeals can tend to be slanted so that the focus for live examination is selected aspects of the defence case, so that much of the prosecution case takes a back seat. And there may be some room for quibbling about certain evidentiary rules applied in the case (the exclusion from evidence of Knox’s false allegations against Patrick Lumumba, for example). But the decision today can’t just be about a systematic problem. The automaticity of appeals in Italy may indeed favour defendants. But, surely, a guilty person ought to remain guilty regardless of how may re-trials are granted.

If, like me, you’re disheartened by today’s verdict, then I don’t really have much to offer by way of consolation, except the observation that justice is not always done and that’s something we have to live with. And at least you know, next time you kill someone, to think about who is going to do your PR before you think about who your lawyer is going to be.

Raffaele Sollecito’s wager

October 3, 2011

Raffaele SollecitoMore likely than not, we are now less than a day away from a verdict in the appeal of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito against their 2009 conviction for the murder of Knox’s flatmate Meredith Kercher.

Later today, the two appellants are expected to give spontaneous statements to the court, so as to – quite properly – have the last word before the judges and juror-judges go away for their final deliberations. Undoubtedly, news headlines in the run-up to the verdict will cull some finely-crafted soundbite from Knox’s speech. But the thing to watch out for, which could actually have some influence on the subsequent decisions of the court, will come from her co-accused.

The narrative of the defence lawyers regarding the murder centres on the supposition that Knox and Sollecito were at the latter’s flat at the time of the murder. The basic assumption is that they provide each other with mutual alibis. However, things are not actually as clear as that at present.

Two days after the murder, before he was a suspect, Sollecito told the Sunday Mirror newspaper that he and Knox had spent the night at the flat, but only after having “gone out to party” with a friend of his. Then, two days after that, he told the police that he had spent the evening alone because Knox had “gone out to meet some friends”. “In my previous statement,” he said,”I told you a load of crap because she convinced me of her version of events and I didn’t notice the inconsistencies.”

Those inconsistencies might seem awkward enough to explain. But a potentially thorny problem is that, although it might be assumed that Sollecito now agrees with the version of events as told by his lawyers, he has at no stage made that explicit to the court. So accepting the alibi is not straightforward.

When he addresses the court, assuming he does, he has the opportunity to set the record straight and shore up the alibi. But doing so may be problematic from another point of view.

There’s a perfectly viable logic by which the court can uphold Knox’s conviction whilst overturning Sollecito’s. That could happen, because there is simply less evidence against him, particularly if the bench decides it can’t rely on the famous bra-clasp evidence. And, as things stand, the problem of why he would vouch for Knox in a scenario where she is guilty and he is innocent doesn’t arise because, strictly speaking,  he hasn’t actually done that.

So, Sollecito and his legal team are in the horns of a dilemma. Should he stand up and corroborate Knox’s version of events? Or should he continue to exercise his right not to talk about it?

I honestly can’t say which he will do or which would be in his best interests. However, if he decides to address the issue, then he may be tying his fate to that of Knox. So if it does happen, it is probably a sign that Sollecito’s lawyers do not believe an accquittal for Knox to be unlikely.


Since this may be my last post before the verdict and since I can tell by the look on your face that you are dying to know, here is the best I can do in terms of a set of predictions.

Firstly, I don’t think anything at all can be ruled out altogether. However certain I or anyone else might be, there is no accounting for the fact that courts sometimes make decisions which appear irrational, either because they are or because the court has much better access to all the information than anyone who takes it upon themselves to commentate.

However, I think it will be an astounding result if both Knox and Sollecito are freed. Given that so many others are less certain, you might think I’m being bold. But you should consider three things. Firstly, a lot of what you have read about the case is made up. Secondly, there is a lot of evidence. Considerably more, as I attempted to show with this post,  than a murder conviction necessarily requires. And the various strands of evidence are independent of each other, so that there is no likely house-of-cards effect whereby the judges can pick up on something neglected by the lower court which changes the whole picture. Thirdly, without exception, the various explanations (at least, those which have any degree of coherence) of how Knox and Sollecito might be innocent, whether they are found in the media or on the Internet, share one thing in common. Even if they do not say it out loud, they always carry the implication that our unfortunate heroes must have been actively framed. One of the Sollecito’s lawyers,  Donatella Donati, was even brave enough to hint at that possibility in court this week. But it is just not a thesis that the bench can possibly entertain. Could the famous Italian sense of pride (rolleyes) have overridden all sense of normal morality in that way without anyone ever breaking rank? Not in the real world.

Sollecito’s chances of an acquittal are slightly better than Knox’s, just because there is less evidence against him. As I said above, this could be influenced by what he says in court today.

Apart from the basic question of innocent-or-not-so-much, as I suggested in this post, I think a significant increase in the sentences is unlikely, but I think a slight reduction is 50-50.

In terms of the charges other than murder, there is a charge of staging a crime scene, which logically stands or falls with the murder charge. The same might be said for the charges of stealing from the victim and illegally carrying a weapon. It should be acknowledged, though, that these convictions were somewhat inferential on the part of the trial court, so it is possible they will be overturned.

Knox’s conviction for criminal libel, for having falsely accused her boss Patrick Lumumba, will, I think, stand regardless of what happens on the murder charge. This is because she doesn’t actually deny it, because, from a pragmatic view (even though judges should not really be pragmatic in this way) she has served her time for that offence and because, even in the event of an acquittal for murder, the judges will be aware that the money she will have to pay Lumumba is small potatoes compared the riches awaiting her at home.

These are no more than my opinions, of course. You may be interested to note that numerology has decided differently.

Knox/Sollecito: There’s not much left to say

October 1, 2011
Raffaele Sollecito

Raffaele Sollecito

But let’s have a go anyway…

If the court keeps to its schedule, there’s only a weekend left between now and a verdict in the appeal of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito.

Over the course of closing arguments, it seems commonly agreed that there have been impressive courtroom performances from lawyers representing both sides of the case. And they have also, between  them, developed a handy set of bad analogies so as to provide a sort of psychedelic overview for those who don’t find the whole case strange enough as it is. DNA profiles are pasta dishes. Amanda Knox is Jessica Rabbit. And also the goddess Venus. Not to forget, all sorts of enchantress and demon. Sollecito seems to have barely been mentioned, even by his own lawyers, so he remains, in contrast, just some guy. Or perhaps he is Roger. For the defence, the prosecution case is like a bunch of neutrinos whizzing along a tunnel. Or possibly like a hydra. I’m not sure what this means, but I’m guessing that the most obvious interpretation – that is is virtually undefeatable – is not the one intended.

What neither the prosecution nor the defence have provide, though, is anything very new. Over the last few days, all we have heard is rehashed versions of arguments that will be so familiar to the bench that they will have sounded like the lyrics to a pop song that has been with them since childhood.

The only real, fairly minor, surprise was that the defence adopted a thesis that various blood samples found in the flat containing the DNA of both Knox and Meredith Kercher were indeed a mixture of blood from the two. Knox’s supporters have long pointed out that this cannot be known, because it is scientifically not easy to tell the difference between a mixed blood sample and, say, a mixture of blood and saliva. This seems perfectly correct. But the defence appears to have decided that it might just as well be blood. After all, the idea of Knox spitting in various locations where Kercher’s blood was coincidentally later deposited sounds marginally less plausible than the idea that she coincidentally bled in those locations. Due to an incident with an earring, it turns out.

The other notable development in the defence summing-up was the ways in which it didn’t develop. Crucially, there is a clear theoretical argument that the knife alleged to have been used by Knox to kill Kercher and the clasp from her bra, alleged to have been handled by Sollecito after the murder, were in fact contaminated with DNA some time later, and so they are not reliable. We might, during closing arguments, have seen some defence hypothesis suggesting how this might have happened, but it didn’t come.

In the case of the knife in particular, it ought to have been important for the defence to complete the circle. It was recovered from Sollecito’s flat, where Kercher had never been, and lab contamination seems to have been ruled out. So how is her DNA supposed to have got onto it? Courtroom DNA controversy or no, it’s hard to see how this doesn’t solve the case pretty much on its own.

In news reports about the closing arguments of both the defence and the prosecution seem to betray an almost pathological obsession with influence of the media over the case. Or is it just that the media is pathologically obsessed with itself? Hard to tell, maybe. But it does seem clear that prosecutors and defenders spent valuable time during their speeches talking about unfair coverage. But, more curiously, their target was not fevered and exaggerated coverage in Perguia (this doesn’t really exist), but general criticisms of  and stale reports in the English language media. The prosecution condemned CBS, the defence condemned the Daily Mail, and so on.

Now, it’s not that this has no relevance to the story. For supporters of Amanda Knox, publications such as the Mail are responsible for an insidious campaign of character assassination against her without which Italian judges, clearly avid consumers of British tabloid journalism, could never have suspected her of anything. On the other side of the argument is the claim that a professional and well-financed PR campaign on her behalf has twisted a case in which the facts were clear into a manufactured controversy. The Knox family control the US media, and who’s to say that doesn’t mean they control the whole world?

Call me naive, but I think the one place that the facts of the case will be clearly heard above all the din and chatter is in the deliberations of the appeal judges and juror-judges. They don’t really need reminding to ignore the cobblers that has been written about the case in a foreign language. So who are the lawyers talking to? They surely can’t have been, in their vanity, addressing their words to the 400 or more journalists currently squeezed into the courthouse? This case has always been weird.

On the other hand, perhaps I am indeed naive. Perhaps the case will be decided according to the opinions of ill-informed hacks and nonsense on the internet such as you are currently reading. I can’t believe it is likely, but it may be the last ray of hope for Jessica and Roger.