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.

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