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 http://www.groundreport.com/World/The-Amanda-Knox-Case-New-Questions-Emerge-Surround/2941100. 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 www.injusticeinperugia.org.

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?