lundi 12 septembre 2011

Will Knox Walk?

I get asked that question a lot lately by friends and acquaintances who know that I have been hosting a discussion board devoted to this case for nearly four years now. Today's PI (click on title), having decided to dispense with the illusion of taste and decency, is currently running a poll that asks the burning question: Should Amanda Knox Return to Seattle?

For those who don't know, Knox and her then boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were unamimously convicted in December 2009 for their role in the torture and murder of Knox's British roommate, Meredith Kercher, and for their subsequent attempt to cover up their involvement by staging a burglary in the flat Knox and Kercher shared with two Italian women. In addition, Knox was convicted of calunnia for falsely accusing her boss, Patrick Lumumba, of the murder. Lumumba spent two weeks in jail after police arrested him based on Knox's accusation, during which time Knox did not admit that she had falsely accused an innocent man. A third young man, Rudy Guede, was also convicted for his role in this gruesome murder. He opted for a fast track trial, which is not the same as entering a guilty plea and, having exhausted his appeals, is now quietly serving out his sentence.

Knox and Sollecito are nearing the end of their first appeal. Which brings me to a point worth considering for a moment: in Italy, there are two rounds of appeal and they are automatic. Knox did not "appeal" her sentence; she and Sollecito merely moved on to the next phase in the criminal justice process. Incidentally, the prosecutors could also be said to be "appealing" the initial verdict, since they asked for life and the pair got "only" 26 and 25 years, respectively. Knox got extra time because of the calunnia.

In Italy, as in the US, convictions are sometimes overturned on appeal, so my answer to the question is that it is possible Knox will walk, or get a reduced sentence, but she would still have to face the final appeal. This has always been a possible outcome, in the same way that it was possible she would be acquitted by the first instance court. It would not be the first time that someone demonstrably guilty of a crime went free. The two examples that immediately spring to mind are OJ and Casey Anthony. The Casey Anthony verdict shocked many people, including me. I managed to obtain a copy of the judge's instructions to the jury, which gave me a better sense of how this could have happened. The judge should probably have instructed the jury with regard to the legal definition of reasonable doubt and the legal definition of circumstantial evidence. He apparently thought they already knew these rather basic things. But from what I have read and seen since the verdict was announced, the jury clearly did not have a clue. And now Casey Anthony is walking free but imprisoned for life -- because she has to live with the knowledge of what she did. As a very smart man once said to me, the sweetest prison is prison. Think about it.

It is impossible to predict with certainty how this court will rule, though last week the US media seemed to think it could do so based on the judge's denial of the prosecution's motion requesting that further retesting be done on the two items of forensic evidence for which he had earlier granted an independent review (two out of over 100). If you are interested in this complex subject, there is only one blog to read: Maundy Gregory's blog

In a nutshell, the two experts did not retest the items as requested but instead raised concerns about the admissibility of DNA evidence per se, the possibility of contamination, etc. At one point, one of them gave an in-court presentation using selected snippets from the crime scene video, claiming that a pair of latex gloves seen on-screen holding a pair of tweezers while removing evidence from the victim's body had a tear in it. People, I have seen the entire crime scene video (which is horrifying, you don't ever want to see it) and there is no tear in the glove. There are creases, which is normal. You can see a still shot of it on PMF (link below).

Those who have been following the case professionally, objectively and dispassionately are not prognosticating an outcome. As they have noted, however, it has been established that the DNA on the blade of the knife (Knox's DNA is on the handle) is undeniably Meredith Kercher's. The knife was found at Knox's boyfriend's flat, a place Meredith had never visited. As for the bra clasp (which was cut from Meredith's body after she died, as part of the staged rape), which has Sollecito's DNA on it, the court may decide the possibility of contamination is great enough that it should be given less weight or no weight at all in the court's decision. What is important, however, is that neither item has been "thrown out". And then there is the rest of the evidence. In addition to the crime scene staging, we have a bloody footprint which is compatible with Sollecito's bare foot and which was found on the bathmat. There are several samples of mixed DNA (Knox-Kercher). There are cellphone and computer records. There are shifting alibis and lies told by the pair. All of this evidence will be examined holistically, not in isolation, by the judges. Last but not least, let's not forget elements from Rudy Guede's trial, which are now admissible. In his final appeal, Italy's highest court of appeals ruled that this crime had been committed by more than one person. All hope of continuing to pin it on the Lone Wolf/black guy alone has thus vanished. Moreover, the nature of the physical evidence is such that only the truly deluded ever thought otherwise.

I have also been asked if I am worried for my personal safety if Knox is acquitted, though just as many have asked if I am similarly worried about what will happen if this court confirms the earlier conviction. Which is another way of saying I probably can't win for losing. There is a small but rather shrill and slightly deranged group of people, knoxophiles if you will, who have decided that I am a convenient target for all of their frustration with the process and hatred for people whose focus is on the victim, Meredith Kercher, and/or who have looked at the evidence and come to the conclusion that Knox is guilty. The few journalists who have covered this case objectively have also been targeted for abuse, threats and defamation, part of a nebulous online war being waged in the shadows. Meanwhile, the sunny façade of the supertanker is being advanced by the PR firm Knox's parents hired early on and by the FOA (Friends of Amanda). The latter group's executive committee is comprised of Mike Heavey, a Seattle judge; Anne Bremner, a Seattle lawyer; and Tom Wright, a minor Hollywood director turned producer who lives in Seattle. Heavey and Wright both have daughters who attended Seattle Prep with Knox.

I have received threatening emails (and one online death threat) from people who are completely wrapped up in this cause. Some of the faithful have been recruited online via the facebook cause page. I suspect they are being paid for their efforts. I don't know who posted the death threat; it was anonymous, as such things tend to be. I have also received unwanted emails from Knox/Mellas family members, including one from an aunt who told me that "they" know where I live and have done drive-bys. I responded with the simple request that "they" drive by slowly because my neighbors complain about all the folks who use our little street as a short cut to the West Seattle Bridge.

More recently, one of the FOA foot soldiers showed up uninvited at a memorial service for someone in my extended family, and had the poor taste to try and engage one of my grieving siblings in a discussion about me and the discussion board I moderate, PMF.

In the parlance of our times, that's messed up. Don't you think?

Really, the only thing about which I have no doubt is that the Italian criminal justice system is simply trying to do its job despite a lot of noise and intimidatingly bad coverage, by the US media in particular, whose jackals are so hungry for an exclusive with the currently imprisoned Knox that they will do or say anything to curry favor. It was reported last week that NBC's Matt Lauer recently arrived in Seattle, jumped into a waiting limo at Sea-Tac and raced downtown for lunch at Morton's with a select group of top-level supporters. It seems that Matt and Curt Knox, Amanda's father, split the huge and pricey porterhouse. I'm sure it was well done.

UPDATE: I appreciate all of the comments I have received since I posted this, in particular those from people who live in West Seattle and White Center. Here is one that I found particularly touching and telling:

"First time that I've heard Meredith Kercher mentioned as the victim. Now that I think about it, I would know Amanda Knox on sight, but have no idea what Meredith looked like. Sad."

In fact, this comment prompted me to add the photo below of Meredith Kercher, a lovely young woman whose life was taken from her in November of 2007. Three people were convicted of this heinous crime. One has exhausted his appeals; the other two are nearing the end of their first automatic appeal.

Photo below: The family of murder victim Meredith Kercher. Some of Knox's more extreme anonymous online groupies have actually suggested that the Kerchers are somehow to blame; others have urged them to get over their grief and help free Knox. FWIW, the Kercher family is satisfied with the first instance verdict and believes that justice was done. It is truly awful when a family's dignified silence is used against it.