Monday, October 3, 2011

Amanda Knox: What Went Wrong in Perugia?

As much as I am tempted to answer this question with one word, “everything,” that this may have been the "perfect storm" of wrongful prosecution, it may be instructive to examine this case more closely. I believe it sheds light upon not only what is wrong in Perugia, but what goes wrong in other places as well.

The death of Meredith Kercher was both horrible and tragic, and may well have been avoidable. If the Perugian authorities had dealt with Rudy Guede appropriately when he was repeatedly found committing burglary while carrying a weapon, I believe there is a very real possibility Meredith Kercher would still be alive, and Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito could have been spared four years of psychological, emotional and physical torture.

Raffaele Sollecito

It seems apparent that Raffaele Sollecito’s difficulties stem from the fact he had been dating Amanda Knox for some six days leading up to the evening when Ms. Kercher was brutally murdered in her room at the flat she shared with Amanda Knox and two Italian girls. Because he would give Amanda an alibi, the Perugian authorities couldn’t exclude him as a suspect. He was, as they say, collateral damage.

Amanda Knox

In Amanda Knox, disgraced prosecutor Giuliano Mignini found a perfect victim to distract attention from his impending conviction for abuse of office, illegal wiretap and, we are told, fabricating evidence in the infamous Monster of Florence case. With his career hanging in the balance, he needed a big win. In addition, there is the factor I alluded to above, which hasn’t received much press in this case. That is, the fact Rudy Guede was still at liberty after having been brought to the attention of the police on several occasions in the month immediately preceding the murder. We will speak more of this later.

Giuliano Mignini

Mignini, devout Catholic steeped in the history of the church, must have been well familiar with the Malleus Malificarum or “ the Hammer of the Witches,” the infamous treatise written in 1486 by Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger. This is the book which launched the“witch trials” and “witch burnings” in Medieval Europe. It is said that Perugia was one of the places in the area that is now Italy, where these trials first began.

The techniques employed in this case are implied in the pages of the Malleus and from its spirit and history. First, one must pick on an outsider, someone with no strong friends in the community. Ms. Knox fit the bill to a “T.” An American, a student and a woman, she fit most of the preconceptions of the framers of the Malleus and of those in the Perugian community who were annoyed at the students sprawled all over the steps of their beloved cathedral, and with the smell of marijuana and alcoholic vomit wafting in the air. It would not be difficult to convince people already disposed to believe that women, especially “evil manipulating” American ones who will “sleep with anyone,” were also disposed to murder and sexual violence. Far too many people in all societies believe that anyone who does anything that can be identified as “evil or sinful” is all bad and has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. It is also too easy to convince people that someone who actually does something evil or sinful, is always and forever evil, incapable of improvement or correction. Such a person deserves the maximum penalty society will allow today. Since burning at the stake is no longer politically correct, the prosecutors in this case asked for a life sentence, which in Italy is 30 years, with an additional 6 months of daytime solitary confinement for good measure. In other words, they demanded the most extreme and brutal punishment available to them in cases of serial killers and people who rape and kill children, all for a 20-year old foreign student with no record or history of violence or anger-management issues.

Once the victim is identified, the next step is to enlist a small, “in” group to support these beliefs. One needs people who can manipulate the “evidence” as well as people who can “stir up” the populace. Mignini found just such people in the lazy police, who would much prefer to use their “intuition” than to actually investigate, rationally analyze, and reasonably interpret what they were seeing. And of course, forensic evidence, being the realm of science, is of far lesser quality than divine inspiration and insight. All that was necessary was to arrange for overtime and scheduling to have a dozen or so police present overnight to “interrogate” their victim, who had been questioned by the police for more than 50 of the preceding 90 hours since Ms. Kercher’s body was discovered. Taking an exhausted young woman, separating her from any help at all from her government or a lawyer, denying her food, water, sleep, and even bathroom breaks – the outcome was a given. Of course it was necessary to ensure no recording equipment was working during the interrogation, which is almost laughable given the logistics that must have gone into the arrangements. Even with all this, it was necessary to confront Amanda with a text message to her employer they “found” on her phone, that they must have known about given they had been wiretapping everyone associated with the case ever since the discovery of the murder. Knowing they had evidence of an ethnic African hair at the crime scene, all they had to do was manipulate Amanda into “imagining” what happened, then write up her fantasy into a nice proper legal Italian written statement she could not understand and have her sign it.

With this in hand, they could arrest their real suspect, Patrick Lumamba, and brutalize him to see what they could get. Unfortunately it turned out that, like most coerced statements, Amanda’s imaginings were completely wrong and Lumamba could prove it! Humiliation again. What is more, by this time they almost could not fail to recognize the modus operandi of a small-time burglar known to them and reported to them several times in the month prior to the murder – Rudy Guede. How would it look when it came out that Guede had been “on their radar” several times in the month before the murder and nothing had been done? How would it look when it became known that after allegedly trying to save Meredith’s life, he left without even an anonymous call to police or an ambulance and two hours later was seen dancing at a club? Still, they had no choice but to substitute Rudy for Patrick.

Then as often happens, things went from bad to worse. The forensic evidence was in and there was no evidence whatsoever that either Amanda Knox or Raffaele Sollecito had been present in the room when Meredith Kercher was murdered. Not only that, but the shoe print found under Meredith’s body, that their experts had attributed to Raffaele, was shown to not match Raffaele’s footwear. This revelation didn’t come from the police, the police experts or the prosecutors, but rather from Raffaele’s aunt who compared photographs and tread styles in the family kitchen. Later, after they discovered the shoe box for the correct style of shoe at Rudy’s apartment, even Rudy had to admit the footprint under Meredith’s body was his.

They could have admitted they had the wrong people in Raffaele and Amanda and let them go, but that would mean their much vaunted intuition was batting 1000 in the “wrong” column.

Well, the prosecution was not deterred by these setbacks. Not at all. Instead, they engineered two of the most unbelievable “Hail Mary!” plays in the annals of crime. First, they went to Raffaele’s apartment and took the first large knife they saw from his kitchen drawer and, lo and behold, the crime lab found traces of Amanda’s DNA on the handle and a very, very miniscule trace of what they said was Meredith’s DNA on the blade. They tested it for blood, it wasn’t blood. Undeterred, they put it through DNA testing that even if done well is not accepted virtually anywhere on the planet. Worse than that, the technician invented her own procedure as she went along. Not surprisingly the “ramped up” tests showed traces of Meredith in a lab where copious amounts of her blood had recently been tested. With all of this, it still didn’t explain how the knife itself was incompatible with several of the wounds and almost assuredly not the knife that inflicted the fatal thrust. It was also not compatible with the clear outline of a knife, outlined in Meredith’s blood on her bedding where it had been set down. It didn’t explain how it got from Raffaele’s to Amanda’s apartment and back with no evidence of the point damaging Amanda’s cloth purse – although the prosecutors valiantly tried to suggest Amanda carried the unsheathed knife in her purse for protection. Still with all of this, they kept insisting it was the murder weapon and implicated Amanda, even after two respected scientists, chosen by the court, declared the DNA evidence wholly unreliable.

The second miraculous “Hail Mary!” play occurred 47 days after the murder when the forensic police returned to the murder scene and found the torn bra clasp and material from the bra Meredith was wearing the night of the murder. Although it had been identified and photographed at the crime scene during the first day of the investigation and photographed moving about the room during the clumsy forensic search that followed, it was hailed as proof Raffaele was there. All this, notwithstanding that it contained DNA trace of at least two other males! Who were these men who had handled Meredith’s bra in the days before her murder and after it was last washed? They didn’t identify them, but the implication is clear without doing so. The other trace was there because of contamination.

One miraculous last-minute discovery is very rare. Two is unheard of.

And what of other evidence. The computers containing Amanda’s photos which the defence say would have refuted any suggestion Meredith and Amanda were at odds and which would have demonstrated Amanda and Raffaele were doing other things at the time of the murder were miraculously destroyed by the prosecution experts – not one computer, but three. In addition, with the time of Meredith’s last meal clearly established by her friends who shared the meal with her on the night of her murder, the prosecution would have us believe that food which in every normal, healthy human being would have begun to leave the stomach and enter the duodenum in no more than two hours was, in Meredith, still entirely in her stomach five hours later, at the time of death of eleven-thirty which they favoured. And it had to be so because Raffaele’s neighbour could place both Raffaele and Amanda at Raffaele’s apartment at the only times consistent with the cessation of digestion within the scientifically plausible time period.

In addition to the support the prosecution found among the local police, they also found support in the greedy tabloid gutterpress reporters who saw an opportunity not only to improve their fortunes, but to help one of “their own,” tabloid reporter and father of the dead girl, John Kercher. After perpetrating the outright fraud of having someone dress up as a physician and tell Amanda, in custody by now and sequestered from her family and a lawyer, that she was HIV positive in order to get her to list all of her sexual contacts in her life. The resulting list, which was wholly within the control of the police and prosecution, was leaked almost immediately to a gutterpress tabloid. From then on, everything Amanda did or said was cast in a negative light and leaked to the gutterpress, who “lapped it up” like the multi-headed Cerberus. The tabloids, full of scandalous allegations many of which even the prosecution didn’t have the courage to present in court, became the vehicle by which Amanda could be dehumanized and demonized in the weak minds of the tabloid readership. We cannot forget that this was the same prosecution who had no problem presenting a homeless heroin addict as an eyewitness, who didn’t know what day it was and who had been a material witness in other major criminal cases.

Of course, Amanda, being trusting and knowing she was innocent had no reason to suspect she was marked by the prosecution for vilification and demonization. She walked into the lion’s den believing they were there to help and protect her.

What, then, does all this mean for Italy?

Given that the entire case against Amanda and Raffaele was based upon fantasy and vague theories wholly unsupported by the physical evidence, they should have been excluded as suspects from the beginning. In no case should it have gone to trial on such thin grounds. But it did, and at the first trial, Raffaele and Amanda were convicted of murder and given sentences of 25 and 26 years, respectively.

It is not as if the first court had no means of finding the truth. The defence, not the prosecution, asked that much of the evidence be reviewed by outside experts. If the first court had done this, as the appeal court did, Amanda and Raffaele could have been spared a large part of the more than 1,400 days of custody and persecution.

So, why didn’t they order the review? Maybe they didn’t want to know. They didn’t want the new fangled science to mess up their elaborately intuited theory of the case.

Still, this is an excellent question. In this particular as in several others, Italy showed itself to lack meaningful safeguards for accused persons. Italy is thought of as a modern country with a modern legal system. It had adopted the high standard of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” yet several important attributes of a fully-functioning “justice” system were missing.

First, there was the ad hoc DNA procedures, using samples so small that they were found to be wholly unreliable by the expert scientists who finally looked at the first lab’s results. What is more, requests and even orders for disclosure of scientific detail from the lab were persistently either ignored or inadequately responded to. Second, when the police experts destroyed the hard drives on three computers, there was no reverse onus on the prosecution that would have obliged the court to accept the defence version of what was on the computers in the absence of very high quality extrinsic evidence. It is customary in most places to penalize a party whose shoddy work results in the loss or destruction of important evidence in a case. Third, the lack of the mandatory recording of the interrogation of Amanda Knox, which would have removed all doubt about what happened, should have resulted in the statement being excluded. Although the statement was ultimately excluded from the criminal trial by the Court of Cassation (Italy’s highest court,) it still appeared in court in the civil case by Lumamba, for which Amanda has now sustained a criminal conviction for calumny leaving one to wonder how excluded evidence could be used to convict. In addition, every thing that flowed from the excluded evidence should have been excluded from the trial. Instead, ultimately, Amanda’s conviction for having named Patrick Lumamba has been upheld at appeal when there is every likelihood she had no other practical alternative. It should be the police interrogators who suffer a criminal conviction for the ridiculous outcome of the interrogation. Even if they had thought for a moment about what they had in the statement, it would have been clear that if Amanda had been present and had been the diabolical criminal they believed, she would not have implicated someone she knew was at his bar, a public place, and who might have iron-clad alibi witnesses. This was, in the end, the reason why the prosecutors had to release Lumamba, but not after keeping his bar closed long enough, and following up with an audit, to result in the loss of his business. How can Amanda be held responsible for all this?

And, add to all of this the fact both prosecutors from the original lower court trial managed to insinuate themselves into the appeal which, we understand, is virtually unheard of in Italy. I wonder if they will try to get themselves “invited” as consultants into the final appeal of the acquittal to the Court of Cassation? As we understand it, the reason why new counsel are brought in is to expose the case to a new, rational view, free of old prejudices and biases.

Today, Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito stand acquitted of all charges, except Amanda whose conviction for the accusation of Patrick Lumamba was sustained and for which she received a three-year sentence. This residual conviction was no doubt motivated by a desire to avoid paying meaningful compensation for the financial ruin the four-year persecution has wrought on her family. Other than this, not much has changed. The prosecutors are still claiming Amanda and Raffaele are guilty, and are even portraying themselves as the victims, or at least Giuliano Mignini is. The guilters, having no doubt taken down their hate websites to sanitize them of grounds for what should be a massive lawsuit by Raffaele and Amanda, will continue to proclaim guilt to anyone who will allow their hate-filled ravings to remain posted on web sites, Facebook groups and article comments.

Amanda and Raffaele still have much healing and recovery to do before they can meaningfully revive their hopes and dreams. I personally hope that the many people who have taken an interest in this case will remain interested in justice and fairness, and will press not only Italy but their many home countries to take steps to materially improve their legal systems so that they may truly be called “justice” systems. If Italy does not take note of the failings in their land, it will be their loss. Many people now know how risky it is to go there. The risk from crime is probably not much worse than anywhere else, except perhaps from known criminals the police choose not to deal with. The far greater risk for most of us comes from those who we trust to protect us – those we go to for help like Amanda Knox did four long years ago.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Knox Trial Coming to a Conclusion in Italy

Lawyers for Amanda Knox will be presenting their final argument in a Perugia courtroom this week supplemented, most likely, by the words of Ms. Knox herself as she pleads for an end to the insanity that threatens to take away the best years of her life. One expects they will build upon the very solid foundation laid by her co-defendant, Raffaele Sollecito’s lawyers, who tackled evidentiary matters rather than waste time challenging the vicious rhetoric of the prosecution.

The essence of the prosecution summation, is that Ms. Knox, in particular, is an “evil witch.” Why, you may ask? Because Ms. Knox did things a great many young people do – have a romance, go to parties. It is for that reason she is, in their eyes, a “she-devil,” and a “liar,” and a “witch.” In the view of many people, all the prosecution succeeded in doing is prove Ms. Knox is a “college student.”

Lawyers, and anyone who engages in debate well know that the weaker the case and the weaker the evidence, the louder and more vicious the rhetoric. That is indeed what the prosecutors in this case have proven throughout these proceedings, but never more so than in their summation. It is how they overpowered reason in the first instance and how they hope to prevail in the appeal. And they will get yet another opportunity to shout their calumny during rebuttals toward the end of the week. You can expect this – after all, the words “umbrage” and “Umbria” come from the same root.

In most courts in countries with legal systems based upon the English model, rebuttal is very limited. First, it is not and should never be an opportunity to simply repeat the original summation and, effectively, get in the “last word.” It must address new matters raised in the other side’s summation argument. In addition, it must address matters that counsel could not reasonably forsee in the other side’s summation. It should never be an opportunity to hold back a real “zinger” for a time when the other side has no further opportunity to answer. That is what we call “sandbagging.”

It remains to be seen what the appeal court does in this case, even whether the appellate judge has any real authority to exercise close control over the prosecution. In the past, the prosecutors have abused the process in many ways, including withholding requested and ordered disclosure, failing to record interrogations as required by law, and using fraud to convince Ms. Knox that she was HIV positive in order to obtain information which, while wholly within the control of the prosecution, was leaked to the gutterpress media.

Backing up the prosecution are the lawyers for the civil parties, who are really nothing more than supernumerary prosecutors in place to make sure the prosecution theory gets heard by the court many times more often than the defence position. The civil lawyers, together with the prosecutors, heaped the most scandalous and salacious abuse on the head of a Amanda Knox, in particular. They have capitalized upon lies and outright slander purveyed by their media “friends” in a concerted effort to demonize and dehumanize Ms. Knox, including a great deal of material that they knew was so outrageous it couldn’t be presented at trial – like the non-existent bleach receipts, by implying footprints were made in blood notwithstanding they tested them for blood and the result was negative (or that they were cleaned up so no blood was present but they were still visible using luminol,) and selective clean-ups at the molecular level to remove all of two people’s DNA from the location of a violent murder while still leaving the DNA of a third person, Rudy Guede, and the victim untouched. And all this from lawyers who presented a witness who told the court he defended himself from an attack by knife-wielding satanists by throwing olives at them! By comparison to the alleged but non-existent “Knox PR campaign,” the PR campaign the prosecution waged in the tabloids right from the beginning of this tragic case is a demonstrable and material factor in the outcome at the first trial.

If there was ever any doubt that this was a 21C “witch trial,” that was put to rest in the final argument of the prosecution and the lawyers for the civil plaintiffs in this case, who made a point of referring to Amanda Knox as a “witch.” What is more, this characterization of Ms. Knox is simply not based upon any evidence led at the trial. Maybe it was because she read the Harry Potter books, in which case there must be rather a lot of witches in the world, even in Italy, as Ms. Rowling is demonstrably a rather rich lady. I heard no suggestion that they found any “witch” paraphernalia like pentagrams, magic wands, or satanic bibles among Ms. Knox’s possessions – then again, it took them weeks to find articles of clothing neatly folded up and out in the open at the secured crimescene. There wasn’t even a satanic “pyramid” stone holding the door to her room open, like they “found” in the Monster of Florence case. No, the basis for the prosecution’s assertion that Amanda Knox is a “witch” lies in the fact that she, a young, unmarried woman, had sex. Worse than that, she had sex more than once. Of course, I would imagine that there would still be rather a lot of “witches” in the world, including in Italy, by this definition. Even poor Meredith Kercher, the girl who was so tragically murdered by Rudy Guede during a break-in at her apartment, is known to have had sex. One would almost think that the common thread in all this is that Amanda is not only a woman, but an American woman. I am not from the U.S.A., nor do hold back from criticizing them when I believe it is appropriate, but even I see this as a significant factor in what has been done to this young woman.

That aside, there couldn’t still be a double-standard for men and women in 21C Italy, could there? Maybe not. Maybe it is only a double-standard for public officials and “little people.” After the prosecution and the civil lawyers finished heaping abuse on the heads of Ms. Knox and Mr. Sollecito for several days with impunity, news reports say that another American woman had the audacity, the unmitigated gall to approach Prosecutor Giuliano Mignini during a break and express the opinion he was and is “evil.” His dignity harmed by this affront and quite possibly near tears, he immediately called in the police and had her detained. The news reports suggest he has asked prosecutors in the neighbouring city of Florence to consider levelling charges. So, in essence, it is okay for Italian prosecutors to pour out their vehemence upon whoever they like, calling them the most insulting and demeaning things possible without laying any evidentiary foundation for their conclusions, but one opinion that these prosecutors are “evil” based upon demonstrable instances of psychological and emotional abuse, is cause for charges and the threat of fine or prison.

Knowing this, can anyone risk placing themselves in the hands of a legal system – I can’t bring myself to call it a “justice” system – that can throw its weight around like this with impunity? Who would send their child to study there knowing they could have their life torn apart, not on the basis of evidence of wrongdoing, but on the basis of innuendo and vicious personal attacks by public officials and in the public media? Or worse, knowing their child could be murdered by a criminal who had been brought to the attention of the police during the commission of burglaries, while armed, but was simply let go each time to continue his criminal ways? Who can even do business in a place where the law is so arbitrarily and unjustly applied?

I do hope that Judge Hellmann and his Court are people of honour, rational mind, fairness and courage and as such are prepared to reject a case based upon nothing but the attempt of the prosecution to project the character of a “witch” upon innocent young people in order to “win” their case and to prove their “intuition” is right. At least an acquittal and complete exoneration of both Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito will improve the image of Italy in the world and restore honour to what many of us used to believe was a wonderful nation. In time and with some meaningful laws to offer genuine protection from arbitrary prosecution and brutalization as has occurred in this case, the stain of this travesty of justice may begin to be erased and those of us who now refuse to risk going there may return again.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Shouldn’t We Trust the Authorities in the Meredith Kercher Murder Case?

The case against Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito in Perugia, Italy has garnered a great deal of commentary from law enforcement, scientific and legal professionals around the world. Most of these comments have been extremely critical of the Perugian police and prosecutors involved in the case. Many comments imply that the Italian system is far below par by comparison to international standards. These criticisms have drawn fire from the Perugian prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, who appeals to Italian nationalism and asks the court to reject these criticisms which he characterizes as uninformed.

Still, however, many of the criticisms of the investigation are based upon video tapes of their investigation made by the Perugian police and some of the criticism comes from university scientists selected by the court as independent experts. Although the scientists are dismissed by the prosecution as lacking depth and experience, it is known they are scientists with academic reputations whose work is subject to international peer review, as is true of all true scientists. These independent experts are known to be among those who are called upon from time to time to train the police lab technicians, like Patrizia Stefanoni, the technician in this case who devised her own methodology when standard methods did not achieve any results.

Quite apart from all of this, however, there as a major underlying question of those who support the Perugian authorities and believe Amanda and Raffaele are guilty of murder. That is, “why would the Perugian authorities lie, fabricate evidence, deliberately misinterpret evidence and even minimize the culpability of Rudy Guede, the one man already convicted of the murder and the one person who has been unequivocally placed at the scene of the murder?” While the prosecution is calling for life sentences for Knox and Sollecito, with lengthy periods of solitary confinement, Guede’s sentence was reduced from 30 years to 16 years in part because of the procedure he selected and in part because of a back-handed apology to the victim Meredith Kercher’s parents whereby he claimed he was sorry he didn’t try harder to save her life after someone else stabbed her. Clearly the court in his case didn’t believe he was simply an innocent bystander.

How then do we reply to those who have faith in the Perugian authorities, and who for various reasons, wish to have faith in legal authorities generally, perhaps because it gives them a sense of security in what can be a dangerous world?

The key to this question, in my opinion, is the proven history of Rudy Guede’s criminal behaviours in the month or so leading up to the murder. On September 27, 2007, Rudy Guede was discovered in the residence of bartender Christian Tramontano, where he threatened Mr. Tramontano with a knife but retreated when Tramontano put up resistance. Tramontano’s efforts to report the crime and have the police apprehend Mr. Guede, who he recognized from the bar where he worked, met with at best indifference and at worst outright resistance. Similarly Guede was found in a Nursery School in Milan on October 27, 2007, also armed and this time in possession of goods stolen from the Nursery School as well as stolen goods from a break-in at a law office in Perugia, which he claimed he bought at the train station. These are not the only incidents in which Rudy Guede was either involved or suspected on strong grounds to be involved. Other incidents have been detailed in books about the case as well as Joseph Bishop’s excellent article at From the totality of these incidents it is apparent Guede had embarked on a mini crime spree in the days prior to the murder.

In light of the foregoing, how do we explain the fact that Rudy was at large on the evening of November 1, 2007 and in the apartment of Meredith Kercher, Amanda Knox and their two Italian roommates? In most countries, being found breaking into a building, and more especially into a dwelling place, while armed with a weapon and, as in the case of the bartender’s home, threatening the occupant with the weapon, would result in apprehension, charges and at the very least a difficult argument for interim release until the case went to trial. Even then, if release was granted, the conditions would be strict – involving at the least a curfew. How is it that Rudy kept being released in circumstances that would justify continued detention almost anywhere else in the world? Who secured Rudy’s release and return from Milan to Perugia? It is suggested that only a very senior public official in Perugia could secure such a result. Was that senior public official Giuliano Mignini himself?

If Giuliano Mignini is the person responsible for Rudy Guede being at large the night Meredith Kercher was murdered, responsibility for her murder could be laid squarely at his feet. If Rudy had been in custody that night, he would not have been in Meredith Kercher’s apartment. Even if some people believe Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were present as well, ignoring the absence of evidence which is, of itself, evidence of absence, the alleged chemistry – Rudy’s assault of Meredith Kercher acting as a catalyst for the involvement of the others, would have also been absent. Now, based upon the evidence in the case, I am of the opinion that Amanda and Raffaele were not present at the apartment at the time of Meredith Kercher’s murder. If there was any compelling evidence of that, you can bet the prosecution would have placed it front and centre at the trial. In fact, the only thing they could muster is the extremely doubtful knife from Raffaele’s kitchen drawer, found at a time when they had no forensic evidence connecting Amanda to the murder, and the bra clasp recovered 47 days after the murder, again found at a time when it was apparent there was no evidence placing Raffaele at the murder scene. These are two very desperate, “Hail Mary!” pieces of “evidence” whose discovery was so coincidental to the case as to defy the laws of statistical probability.

Could this whole persecution of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, therefore, be nothing but an attempt to misdirect or distract the attention of the world, and especially the Kercher family, from the fact that Rudy was able to do what he did to their lovely daughter because the Perugian authorities failed, even neglected their duty, and perhaps intentionally released a dangerous criminal for some other reason? If so, the Perugian authorities would be both morally and financially liable to the Kerchers. In addition, potential students and visitors from England and from elsewhere would have good cause to avoid Perugia and, possibly, all of Italy as unsafe destinations for study or tourism.

This analysis is supported by the vehemence of the prosecution of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito and the absence of much if any comment from the Kerchers about the lenient treatment of Rudy Guede. Prosecutor Mignini criticizes a media PR campaign by supporters of Amanda Knox, in particular, in hopes people will be distracted from the massive media campaign waged by the Perugian authorities through their media accomplices, Pisa, Vogt, Nadeau and others. The campaign to demonize Amanda Knox, in particular, was both sustained and brutal, using confidential material entirely within the possession of the prison authorities such as the list of Amanda’s romantic partners which was, in itself, obtained by the brutal deception perpetrated by the prison using fraudulent means that she was HIV positive. I won’t rehash the details of the media campaign by the authorities which is detailed in many excellent reports linked in internet sites like

Consider also the well-timed and well-scripted appeals by Meredith Kercher’s family and friend appealing to the emotions of people who may be credulous enough not to realize that the suffering of Ms. Kercher’s family or of Ms. Kercher herself cannot be blamed upon Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito unless there is real evidence of their culpability in the murder. While I believe everyone can sympathize with the sense of loss and sadness of the Kerchers, it is quite simply irrelevant to the question of whether Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito are guilty of murder. It is also telling that there was no similar expression of outrage in the Guede trial, or even when his sentence was reduced from 30 years to 16 years on appeal. In addition, there was no outrage from the prosecutors or the Kercher family lawyer Francesco Maresca, who is beyond vocal in his brutal attacks on Amanda Knox in particular. And there is yet no outrage to the news that Rudy Guede could be out of prison on day release in less than 24 months. One can’t really blame the Kerchers for believing the stories they have been “fed” for four years by the prosecution and their lawyer, who by his ungentlemanly behaviour demonstrates he is securely “tucked into bed” with the prosecution.

Could all of this vitriol and vehemence, could the persecution of Amanda Knox in particular and the bullying of her online supporters by the so-called “guilters,” all be in aid of an effort by the Perugian authorities to evade their responsibility for the death of Meredith Kercher? Their attempts at distraction appear to have worked on certain members of the media and on a few members of the general public who seem unwilling to apply any critical thinking to the facts of this case, or who are incapable of doing so. Should two innocent young people who have been psychologically and emotionally tortured for four years, and physically tortured by confinement to a prison cell in 100 degree Fahrenheit temperatures, and whose lives have been materially damaged by this ordeal, have their lives completely torn away from them in order to protect the incompetence and possible malfeasance of a few people whose behaviours have humiliated themselves, their professions, their city and their country?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Amy Beck - Burbank Teacher Sentenced to 2 Years

Amy Beck, a teacher, had sex with a 14 year old student. There is no doubt whatsoever this was wrong. She must be dealt with by the justice system.

In her favour, however, consider that it is reported she walked into a police station and confessed. There was no indication in the article I saw that she would have been found out otherwise. There is no indication in that article that the victim had made any sort of complaint. In addition, she apparently entered a guilty plea to the charge so the boy would not have to testify. There is no indication this was anything other than a single affair with one student and was not repeated with anyone else.

It seems to me that she had already come a long way toward correction and rehabilitation. I would have thought that much more could be done by imposing a period of probation during which she would be obliged to attend treatment. Instead she has been put in prison and required to register as a sex offender for the rest of her life.

In my opinion, this case is yet another example of how society equates bad behaviour, which must be corrected if possible, with being a bad person, which is not necessarily a life-long reality. Correcting behaviour may be impossible when a person refuses to acknowledge it, but in this case she demonstrated the courage to face her problem directly.

I don't know whether the judge in this case was appointed for life or elected. The problem with being elected is that a judge has constituents he must satisfy if he wants to retain his job, even if he believes he can accomplish the legitimate goals of correction and rehabilitation society requires using less severe means. His options are restricted. The problem with an appointed judge is that they may lose their objectivity, in which case they may need to be removed. That should be possible as well, but in practice is very difficult at best.

In any event, I strongly suspect that society could have been better served by keeping Ms. Beck out of prison and using the resources that would be thereby freed up to bring to bear a reasonably lengthy period of meaningful treatment.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

American Justice v Italian Justice - The Amanda Knox Case

Problems with the U.S., U.K., Canadian or any other justice system are irrelevant to whether or not Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were wrongfully convicted. Anyone, from anywhere, has the right and, in my opinion, the obligation to speak out against injustice wherever and whenever it occurs. It scares me more that it appears there may be people in Italy, the U.K., and other places who fear to speak out because of fear of reprisal by the "Guilters" or the "System." If that is so, that is a parallel with the worst systems in the world (like Iran and N. Korea, for example.)

I hope the Italian people and government can see this and will accept what is said in the right spirit. I don't think they want to be like the countries I mention. The Italian government was highly critical of George W. Bush and the State of Texas for the execution of Karla Faye Tucker more than two decades ago, and rightly so in my opinion. I hope they realize that many of us accepted and welcomed their views at the time.

Most justice systems, including the Italian one, are basically good. All have aspects that could be improved. The biggest criticism I have of the Italian system is that it seems to be a criminal act to criticize their police, prosecutors or court. No system of any kind will ever get any better if honest, fair criticism is stifled.

The big problem with any justice system is with the people who operate it. If they lose objectivity, people suffer unnecessarily. Surely most police and prosecutors see that the way they conduct themselves reflects on them and their country, state, and profession. If they act in a way which is clearly fair, convictions will be accepted and justice is the likely result. If not, they bring their justice system and their whole country into disrepute in the eyes of fair minded people throughout the world. This is why there are overriding legislative pronouncements like constitutions, bills of rights, etc. There must be a means of redress where public officials go rogue.

Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito - the "Guilters"

The so-called "Guilters," those who post vicious blogs showing no understanding of the case, are truly perverse.

Even if someone is guilty of a crime (and I strongly believe Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were viciously persecuted and wrongfully convicted,) it is their reaction, to hate and to spew cruelty on the internet, that speaks to who and what the "Guilter" is. To be guilty of a crime is to have fallen into error. The purpose of a civilized justice system is to rehabilitate and correct. While that is occurring, we sometimes need to confine offenders for the protection of society. This is understood and acceptable in a compassionate society.

There are many reasons for criminal acts. Where the cases involve substance abuse, anger management issues or lack of education and opportunity resulting in poverty (for example,) these can be addressed and can be addressed successfully. They can only be addressed with compassion and fairness, however.

This also is why we have a criminal justice and corrections system and don't have victims (if still alive) or their families dispense justice. This is, in fact, historically the reason for legal systems. Back in the days of absolute monarchy, the monarch didn't want his kingdom disturbed or his friends killed by blood feuds. So the king's "court" assumed the responsibility for dispensing justice.

There is only one acceptable outcome for most victims (or their families) and that is "an eye for an eye." Now that we have clawed our way only slightly out of the Dark Ages, we recognize that society as a whole has an interest and an obligation when it comes to justice. We recognize that offenders can be rehabilitated. Not all, but some. Most can be improved at least.

Judging by the "Guilters," it may be that the only material difference between the criminals in prison and those still at large is opportunity, means or luck. I have some experience to support my opinion that most criminals, when caught and treated fairly, will accept the outcome. I have direct knowledge that most criminal prosecutions are disposed of by guilty plea. Where the police and prosecutor do their job competently and fairly, it is usually "no contest."

I am not a fan of pop psychology, but I recall watching a few moments of the Dr. Phil McGraw show. In it he made a good point. We do in fact teach others how to behave toward us. Cruelly abusing others (whether in the justice system or by perverse blog posts of the kind that have been all too common in this case) does nothing to help our society. If we are not going to execute every "criminal," which thought is so barbaric that the majority of the world has rejected capital punishment outright, and if we are not going to warehouse people for jail terms in multiples of their life expectancy, which is so utterly ridiculous it makes those who support those sentences look stupid, we must do what is necessary and right to ensure that the "criminal" is restored to society better than they were when they offended. This, if nothing else, is for our own protection. Having prisoners released without correction and rehabilitation but with an additional burden of anger resulting from cruel treatment, puts everyone in danger.

The question of whether an inmate will be a better person when released than when they committed the offence can only be answered by considering what opportunities he will have for correction and rehabilitation. I firmly believe that a reasonable parole system, which does not deprive inmates of hope and, in fact, offers them opportunities for early release depending upon how well they participate in programs for their rehabilitation and how well they behave while in custody, can only strengthen the likelihood of successful correction. It also provides a major incentive for prisoners to be compliant and keep the peace while in custody.

I have analyzed the Meredith Kercher murder case carefully. I know what I am doing when I consider the reliability of evidence. I have no doubt the convictions of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito are wrongful.

To the "Guilters" I say again, that many of you are the real criminals, though some may be simply misguided or incapable of rational analysis. If we take your words at face value, YOU tell us you are capable of acts of cruelty, brutality and murder. At the very least, your words prove you are capable of inciting others to commit acts of cruelty, brutality and murder against another human being.

I would have no hesitation in welcoming Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito into my community or having them work in my office. I would rather share my community and workplace with them, than with "you."

Hope in Italy

Alcun non sia che disperato in preda si doni al duol, benché talor n'assaglia Possente sì che la nostra vita inforsa.
Che poiché nembo rio gravido il seno d'atra tempesta inorridito ha il mondo, dispiega il sol più chiaro i rai lucenti.
E dopo l'aspro gel del verno ignudo veste di fior la primavera i campi.

Alessandro Striggio, from L'Orfeo, favola in musica, by Claudio Monteverdi, Mantua 1607