When will they stop hounding Amanda Knox?
She’s been framed before, and it looks like she–ll be framed again.
It is seven-and-a-half years since the death of Meredith Kercher in Italy. Since then, the world’s media have enjoyed a ringside seat at the subsequent trials of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, but have shed almost no light on the process. They report the twists and turns of the case, without analysis. The Perugian police investigation that followed the murder was botched, leading to what some commentators have called ‘the highest profile miscarriage of justice of the twenty-first century’, yet no mainstream newspaper has published any in-depth coverage into the prosecutorial and procedural misconduct that has dogged the case.
This week, on 25 March, Knox and Sollecito may reach the end of the line in the Italian segment of the saga. Going on past behaviour, the Italian Supreme Court (ISC) will likely confirm the latest guilty verdicts on the pair that were handed down by Judge Alessandro Nencini in Florence last year. This will not mean that the case is over, merely that it acquires a wider dimension as it moves to Strasbourg and the European Court of Human Rights.
Who controls the past controls the future
For the ISC, the events of the evening of 1 November 2007 in Perugia are no longer relevant. The fact that Rudy Guede murdered Meredith Kercher is beside the point. The Italian concept of judicial truth does not trouble itself with reality; it controls the narrative by controlling the past. George Orwell understood the importance of this, predicting in Nineteen Eighty-Four a world where this is normal. Attempts to reduce the inquisitorial control of the investigative magistrates have been resisted, and attempts by defence counsels to cross-examine witnesses and challenge the credibility of prosecution-controlled evidence are frequently denied. The presumption of innocence is little more than a theory.
The truth of Meredith Kercher’s death is in the past. The only person who is still alive and who was there was Rudy Guede, and he has no interest in setting the record straight. He has been sidelined by a tightly controlled judicial process that has minimised his role as lone murderer by implicating others for his benefit.
The process of controlling the past began as soon as the police and prosecuting authorities became aware of Meredith’s death. This was when her bedroom door was broken down in the presence of the Postal Police at around 1.15pm on 2 November 2007. Within days – and before forensic tests had confirmed Guede’s culpability – the wrong people had been charged. It has been suggested that the arrest of Knox and Sollecito might have been arranged as part of a project to minimise Guede’s role as lone killer, though it may be equally likely that it was an over-hasty mistake that the system refuses to correct.
From then on, control of the past became more important than investigating it. Firstly, Knox and Sollecito were driven around Perugia in a convoy of police cars, sirens wailing, horns blasting, before being deposited in prison. Then Italy’s interior minister Giuliano Amato declared them to be guilty when he said: ‘It’s an ugly story in which people this girl had in her home – friends – tried to force her into relations which she didn’t want.’ Finally the police posted photos of the two students on a ‘wall of shame’ at the police station, alongside those of convicted Mafia members.
For Knox and Sollecito, the presumption of innocence never existed. A fair trial was not going to be allowed to happen. They had to be guilty. The fix was in. The past was being controlled.
Apparently Amanda Knox was a cross between Aleister Crowley and the Marquis de Sade
So, who exactly was controlling the present and therefore the past, at that point? ‘Sources close to the prosecution’ were briefing the media. It was a good story. One of the accused was a girl barely out of her teens. The prosecution’s fantasy was spiced up immediately. There was talk of a sex game and a Satanic ritual. Apparently Knox was a cross between Aleister Crowley and the Marquis de Sade. This was impressive for one so young. The British media, mainly serviced through Italian-based English stringers, were ecstatic. You just couldn’t make this stuff up. Well of course they didn’t have to. Somebody else made it up for them.
The media were to prove a powerful ally of the Italian judicial establishment. They helped to control the past with all the tricks at their collective disposal: libel, innuendo, ad hominem attacks, and a steadfast refusal to examine the facts of the case. After all, an attractive but demonical female suspect is far more newsworthy than an innocent girl who was framed.
Within days, the public’s perception of Knox had been trashed beyond repair. It has never recovered. The case has been about Knox ever since. It will always be about Knox. She was in prison, where she was to remain for four years, so she was powerless to correct any of the misconceptions. The British tabloids remain obsessed with her. The Daily Mail even pays a photographer to stalk her around the streets of Seattle and posts pictures of her drinking tea, riding a bike and talking to friends. Rarely has the life of an innocent person been subjected to such relentless and intrusive scrutiny.
Her co-defendant Sollecito was collateral damage. He had to be arrested as well because he was Knox’s alibi, but nobody cared about him, except as a means to get at her. He could have testified that they were not together when Kercher was killed – that he was at home and Amanda was out. If he had done so, he would have sold out to the prosecution’s strategy of controlling the past. He declined and remained in prison, six months of which, before conviction, were served in solitary confinement. It seems implausible that he would have suffered that if he had believed Knox was guilty.
The first trial was a foregone conclusion. To the untutored eye, Italy’s justice system resembles that of other Western European countries. But appearances are misleading. At the European Court of Human Rights, they do not count the number of appeals about Italian cases, they weigh them. Italy is the No1 country in Western Europe for ECHR appeals – by a long way. There was never a chance that Knox and Sollecito would get a fair trial. On 4 December 2009, they were found guilty and sentenced to 26 and 25 years, respectively.
In 2011, their appeal began. Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellmann was appointed to conduct it. From the start, he took on the whole Italian judicial establishment with his opening remarks to the court. He said: ‘We know only one thing for certain: Meredith Kercher is dead.’ With this sentence he severed the beanstalk upon which the conviction rested. He not only affirmed the presumption of innocence that Knox and Sollecito never had in the first trial — he also gave notice to the prosecution that they would be required to prove their assertions. Dodgy DNA, flaky witnesses and hyperbole might not be enough to gain a conviction a second time.
Who controls the present?
On 3 October 2011, Hellmann made good on his pledge to deliver a fair trial. Knox and Sollecito were acquitted. Not only that, Knox was allowed to leave Italy, which she duly did, within 24 hours. The veil of control over the past was swept aside. But Hellmann was only one man and the powers of the Italian judiciary were not happy.
This was when a fairytale about a kooky American student became a problem for the whole creaking Italian judicial establishment. It was not going to end well.
The prosecution appealed the acquittal to the ISC. In March 2013, it overturned Hellmann and ordered a fresh trial with reinstated guilty verdicts. This was delivered by Nencini in January 2014.
Now the defence has appealed again to the ISC. Reaction has a tight hold on the Italian courts. Having arranged for Knox and Sollecito to be declared guilty a second time, a final confirmation of their guilt is on the cards.
This time it may take the ECHR to overturn a travesty but it assuredly will be overturned. A change.org petition has been circulating for several months. Its drafting was supervised by a retired senior trial counsel with the US Department of Justice. It alleges prosecutorial misconduct, including but not limited to: suppressed and ignored evidence; wiretapping without due cause; deprivation of legal counsel; interrogation of a foreign student without an independent accredited interpreter; and outright manufactured evidence.
The petition goes on to state that authorities violated seven articles of the Italian Constitution, seven articles of the Italian Penal Code, five articles of the Italian Criminal Procedure Code, the Vienna Convention, the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, and the European Convention for Human Rights.
The petition also highlights a ruling made by the ISC that is quite possibly the most egregious violation alleged in this case: the reasoning behind the ISC’s decision to overturn the acquittals of Knox and Sollecito was based on a ruling made at Guede’s trial where they were not represented and which they could not challenge.
The petition team can substantiate every allegation, yet none of this has prompted even a flicker of interest from the mainstream news media. Amanda Knox is old news. Coverage is predictable, superficial and slanted. As Terry Pratchett commented through his character Lord Vetinari: ‘People like to be told what they already know… They get uncomfortable when you tell them new things… In short, what people think they want is news, but what they really crave is olds… Not news but olds, telling people that what they think they already know is true.’
The Kercher case is no longer about a couple of kids who were framed by the cops; it’s about how Italian judges and tabloid hacks continue to control the narrative – the past and the future – by controlling the present. So don’t expect much insight from the media in the wake of the Italian Supreme Court’s announcement in the coming days.
Nigel Scott is a member of the advisory board of Injustice Anywhere.
Picture by: PA
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