Knox: victim of an Italian soap opera
A supporter of the Injustice in Perugia campaign reports on the absolute dearth of evidence against Amanda Knox.
‘It is a capital mistake to theorise before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.’ So says Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective, Sherlock Holmes, in A Study in Scarlet. It is advice the Italian police and the world’s media should take to heart.
On 2 November 2007, the body of British student Meredith Kercher was discovered behind the locked door of her bedroom in a small apartment in Perugia, Italy. She had been stabbed. Four days later, prosecutors charged her flatmate, Seattle-born Amanda Knox, together with Knox’s new Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito and local bar-owner Patrick Lumumba, with Kercher’s murder. ‘Case closed’, said the local police chief.
The murder was instant frontpage news around the world, especially in the UK, Italy and the USA, the homes of the victim and the three accused. Chief prosecutor Giuliano Mignini painted a lurid portrait of jealousy, avarice, witchcraft and Satanism. Tabloid journalists arrived and quickly amplified every rumour, leak and smear. Mignini’s theory of a ‘sex game gone wrong’ became common currency. Police officers and prosecutors socialised with eager journalists and fed them unproven theories and unsubstantiated ‘facts’.
For the British tabloids, this was the murder of the century. A female student had allegedly been murdered by a trio of her friends and the ringleader was another girl. In Italy, there is no ban on pre-trial publicity once charges have been laid, so the gloves were off and there was no limit to what could be printed. ‘“Foxy Knoxy”: I heard Meredith scream… then covered my ears’, wrote Nick Pisa in the Daily Mail. Meanwhile, John Follain in The Sunday Times quoted from a Knox prison diary that was stolen from her cell. Unfortunately, irony does not survive translation from English into Italian and then back to English so Follain’s version only served to facilitate defamation. Pisa and Follain are merely two of the hacks who have now spent the best part of four years living off the confusion they have uncritically peddled on behalf of Mignini.
Mignini’s belief was that the crime was orchestrated by Knox, a young woman of spotless character, an ‘A’ student who had worked three jobs back home to earn the money to follow her dream. He suggested that she had conspired with her new boyfriend Sollecito, a computer-studies student she had met at a classical-music concert and the son of a respected urologist, to murder her flatmate. Supposedly they had hooked up with bar owner Lumumba, the man Knox worked for part-time.
This was an extraordinary scenario, and one the newspapers lapped up. True, women like Myra Hindley and Rose West had been involved in horrendous murders, but they were very different characters from Amanda Knox and they had been in thrall to even more evil, manipulative men. To suppose that Knox would throw off her entire Seattle middle-class upbringing and become a sex monster was an outrageous theory that required extraordinary evidence.
Knox’s arrest followed four days of interaction with the police. She had insisted on staying in Perugia to help the authorities while her two remaining Italian flatmates had immediately ‘lawyered up’ and Kercher’s English friends had swiftly departed back home to be comforted by their families. Knox and Sollecito were therefore able to attract the full force of police attention without the support of a lawyer. Mignini wasted no time and proceeded to interview them at length every day. Knox was keen to oblige, under the mistaken impression that she was helping the police to find the killer. She was intelligent but trusting and naïve and could not have believed that she and Raffaele had become suspects.
On the evening of 5 November, they were both interrogated through the night by a tag team of interviewers that Mignini had specially brought in from Rome. He knew from phone-tap interceptions that Knox’s mother would arrive the next day and get her a lawyer, so speed was vital. He later claimed that the students were not being interviewed as suspects and therefore no recordings were made. This was very convenient for him, because Italian law states that a lawyer is not required until after a suspect is charged and so the brutal nature of the interrogations could never be proved. Knox claims that she was shouted at, hit and denied water and bathroom breaks.
Although every other interview in the investigation was recorded and Knox and Sollecito’s phones were tapped by the authorities, no journalist asked questions about this convenient omission. (It has now emerged that over 39,000 phone conversations were tapped in pursuit of the case.) It was during the illegal interrogation that Knox was ‘persuaded’ to name Lumumba. The police verbally hammered her, in a language she did not understand then, until she ‘imagined’ what might have happened at the flat if Lumumba had been there. This was enough for Mignini, arrests were made and the case was declared ‘closed’.
Why did no journalist ask Mignini searching questions about the interrogation? Confessions can be wrung out of almost anyone, let alone a 20-year-old student away from home. It is to Knox’s credit that she never actually confessed to anything; instead she was persuaded to ‘imagine’ what might have happened – a regular interrogation trick, but that was enough.
As soon as charges were laid, The Sunday Times despatched its US West Coast reporter to Seattle to see who would dish the dirt. He left emptyhanded. Knox had been popular and well liked by everyone who knew her and had, basically, never been in trouble.
Knox’s Seattle college friend Madison Paxton said: ‘There is nothing in Amanda’s or Raffaele’s past to indicate that they would participate in, instigate, or condone a rape and/or murder. Amanda cannot tolerate violence, and I have never once seen her react to any situation with physical anger or intimidation. Furthermore, she never once expressed an interest in having any sort of orgy. Why would a girl with no violent history and with only a handful of monogamous relationships opt for an orgy resulting in a violent murder? What about Raffaele in all this? He had only had one girlfriend before he met Amanda, yet we are to believe that after less than a week of having a sexual relationship with Amanda and no indication he was sexually interested in men, he opted to have an orgy with Rudy?’
The truth was that Mignini had no motive for Knox and Sollecito so he was forced to concoct increasingly unlikely scenarios, which the media swallowed whole.
Two weeks after the murder, the real killer was identified: Rudy Guede, an unemployed small-time drug dealer and petty thief had fled to Germany where he was arrested on 20 November. His DNA was found all over the murder room, on Meredith’s possessions and on her body. Meanwhile, a Swiss customer had returned to Perugia and had given Lumumba a cast-iron alibi. Mignini had to let him go. This development rendered Knox’s ‘confession’ completely worthless and there was no physical evidence to place her or Sollecito at the murder scene.
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The Italian Supreme Court declared that the ‘confession’ was illegally obtained and could not be referred to in the subsequent trial. This should have been a problem for the prosecution, but Mignini had it covered. Lumumba would sue Knox for slander for implicating him during the interrogation and the slander case would run concurrently with the murder trial and before the same jury; the Supreme Court was thwarted.
There was no DNA from either Knox or Sollecito in the murder room, only Guede’s. The prosecution claimed, risibly, that perfectly innocent samples of Knox’s DNA found in her own bathroom were evidence. It was also claimed that a footprint found on bedding under the body matched a shoe belonging to Sollecito. His defence was able to establish that the print was Guede’s. The prosecution had no evidence and was running out of options.
There was also no murder weapon. This is when the most suspicious prosecution activity occurred. We can presume that Guede dumped the knife straight after the attack – it was never found. However, a random kitchen knife was selected from Sollecito’s kitchen and was declared to be the murder weapon. Unfortunately it was too large to have fitted most of the wounds and it would have to have been carried to Knox’s flat and then cleaned and returned and kept afterwards. This seems highly unlikely.
The police also returned to the murder scene and retrieved Meredith’s bra clasp which had been kicked around the floor for 46 days. Conveniently, the knife was found to have Knox’s DNA on the handle and Meredith’s on the blade, while the bra clasp allegedly had DNA that might have been Raffaele’s but was mixed with the DNA of several other people. These two items comprised the principle evidence that ultimately convicted the pair in their first trial in 2009.
The defence claimed that this supposed DNA evidence was too slight to be scientifically valid and could only be the result of contamination in the laboratory. This was finally confirmed by independent experts during the retrial this year.
The first trial ended in conviction on 4 December 2009. Mignini had relied on the dodgy DNA evidence and spiced up his presentations with an animated cartoon video showing what might have happened and a fictitious quote he attributed to Knox: ‘You’re behaving like a little saint. Now we will show you, now we will make you have sex.’ By then, the judges and jury members had been softened up by two years of vilification of Knox. Most of the published smears never made it to court, but it seems that did not blunt their impact.
The prosecution had been bolstered by the presence of Francesco Maresca, a friend of Mignini who became an advocate for the Kercher family. This is an unusual practice in Italy and is pretty much unknown elsewhere. The defence therefore faced three prosecution teams: the official one led by Mignini, plus Maresca acting for the Kerchers and Lumumba’s civil slander team. Persuading the Kerchers to hire Maresca was a clever move because it locked them into Mignini’s game plan. From then on they were fed exclusively with the prosecution line and they had a personal interest in Mignini’s desired outcome.
Back in the UK, the picture was the same, so few were surprised by the verdict. The newspapers overflowed with Mignini’s fantasies once again. In The Sunday Times, John Follain’s double-page spread declared, ‘The Kercher trial: Amanda Knox snared by her lust and her lies’.
Libby Purves bought the prosecution and media spin, and used the verdict to launch a diatribe about promiscuity and lowered morals in an op-ed for The Times (London), under the title, ‘Fantasy world fuelled by sex, drink and drugs’. Purves wrote ‘both evidence and reconstruction look pretty convincing to me. Not least because of the perpetrators’ heavy use of drugs and drink — the defence put their changing stories down to memory loss — and because of the febrile sexual obsession that seems to have driven the young attackers.’ No evidence that Knox and Sollecito were heavy drug or alcohol consumers was ever presented to court. No evidence of sexual obsession was ever produced. Purves’ rant was the product of assassination by tabloid.
In the online daily, The First Post, psychoanalyst Coline Covington analysed Knox. Of course, she had never met her, but who cared? Covington based her assessment on the same flawed media coverage as Purves, bizarrely portraying Knox as being in the same league as Adolf Eichmann and Radovan Karadzic: ‘Knox’s narcissistic pleasure at catching the eye of the media and her apparent nonchalant attitude during most of the proceedings show the signs of a psychopathic personality. Her behaviour is hauntingly reminiscent of Eichmann’s arrogance during his trial for war crimes in Jerusalem in 1961 and most recently of Karadzic’s preening before the International Criminal Court at The Hague.’
In Perugia, Knox and Sollecito faced a rogue prosecutor who was himself indicted for abuse of office on another case, yet he was allowed to continue in his role and continues to work for the prosecution while appealing his own conviction. This would be unimaginable anywhere else. His track record shows that he is obsessed with Satanic cults and his involvement in the notorious Monster of Florence serial-killer case culminated in his threatening and harassing journalists Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi who were writing a book about it.
The few reporters who have questioned Mignini’s bizarre theories and lack of evidence over the Kercher case have been hit with lawsuits. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) was forced to write to the president of Italy following harassment of news blogger Frank Sfarzo whose site was shut down and had to be relocated to servers outside Italy. Sfarzo himself was attacked by four police officers who then arrested him and charged him with assault.
In Italy there is no protection against pre-trial tittle-tattle and speculation. Newspapers can print what they like and jurors are encouraged to read widely. The UK’s media enjoyed a four-year soap opera courtesy of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito. All the evidence points to two students who had lost their liberty because of a dodgy prosecutor, aided by the activities of uncritical journalists and editors who knew a juicy story when they found one. There are now over 400 journalists in Perugia enjoying their last drink from this particular well.
Nigel Scott is a supporter of Injustice in Perugia, a grassroots justice organisation.