Monday, 3 February 2014

AMAMDA  KNOX:  Is  she  really  guilty  of  murder?       

This murder case has got the attention of millions of people around the world. The reason why we are so attentative to this case is because this young woman was at first declared guilty, then declared innocent and now declared guilty again.              

Background of the murder

Meredith Kercher, aged 21, a British university exchange student from Coulsdon, London, was murdered in Perugia, Italy, on the 1st of November 2007. Kercher was found dead on the floor of her bedroom. Some of her belongings were missing, including cash, two credit cards, two mobile phones, and her house keys. The alarm had been raised by one of her flatmates, Amanda Knox, who had reported an apparent burglary when she arrived in her flat the next morning.

Within hours the lead investigator had concluded that signs of a break-in had been staged to mislead the police enquiry, and Knox became the prime suspect. After four days of repeatedly being questioned, Knox was subjected to an all-night interrogation during which—under disputed circumstances—she implicated herself and a bar owner she worked for.  The bar owner was then arrested along with Knox and her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito. 

The bar owner was subsequently released when forensic evidence pointed to Rudy Guede, an Ivory Coast native raised in Perugia. Guede opted for a fast track trial. Under Italian law, a guilty verdict is not regarded as a definitive conviction until the accused has exhausted the appeals process, irrespective of the number of times the defendant has been put on trial. In October 2008 Guede was found guilty of having sexually assaulted and murdered Kercher. He exhausted the appeals process and is currently in prison serving a 16 year sentence, but he may be released from prison in 2014 after serving only six years in prison for rape and murder.

Knox and her then-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito were accused of acting with Guede to murder Kercher. Knox and Sollecito were tried together and found guilty at the initial stage of a two-level trials process. They were sentenced to 26 and 25 years, respectively. In October 2011 they were released after almost four years in prison following their acquittals at the second level trial (the appeal level).

In an official statement of their grounds for overturning the convictions the judges wrote there was a “material non-existence” of evidence to support the guilty verdicts, and that an association among Sollecito, Knox, and Guede to commit the murder was “far from probable.”

Italy's Supreme Court granted a prosecution appeal, setting aside the judgment of the appellate trial that had acquitted Knox and Sollecito, and ordering them to be retried. Neither was required to attend so Amada Knox returned home in the USA. On 30 January 2014, the court rendered a guilty verdict for both accused parties in the retrial. The lawyers for Knox and Sollecito said they plan to appeal. 

The murder                                                                                                         

November 1st was a public holiday. Kercher’s Italian flatmates were out of town, as were the occupants of the downstairs flat. That evening, Kercher had dinner with three other English women at one of their homes. She parted company with a friend at around 8:45 pm and walked about 500 yards (457 metres) from Via della Pergola to her flat. An April 2008 report by court-appointed experts estimated that Kercher died between 8:45 pm and 12:50 am. She had been raped. There were also knife wounds on her neck. The autopsy concluded that she had been attacked by more than one person. The cause of death was combined blood loss and suffocation.

I don’t know if the murderer strangled her and that is why she suffered from suffocation but if her neck was pulled back while her throat was slashed, her blood vessels in her neck would also be pulled back along with the muscle and the trachea and that would cause her to die of suffocation.

The first person who was convicted

Rudy Hermann Guede (born 26 December 1986, in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire) was 20 years old at the time of the murder. He had lived in Perugia since the age of five. He was adopted by a wealthy family.  The young men who lived in the downstairs flat at 7 Via della Pergola, were unable to recall how Guede had met them, but they did recall how, after his first visit to their home, they had found him later in the bathroom, sitting asleep on the unflushed toilet, which was full of faeces. Guede allegedly committed break ins, including one of a lawyer's office through a second-story window, and another during which he burgled a flat and brandished a jackknife when confronted. On the 27th of October, days before Kercher's murder, Guede was arrested in Milan after breaking into a nursery school, reportedly found by police holding an 11-inch knife in his hand. How do we explain how people who live in splendor screw up? Consider the Justin Bieber screw up as a prime example.

Guede went to a friend's house at about 11:30 pm on the 1st of November, the night of the murder. He later went to a nightclub where he stayed until 4:30 am. On the following night, the 2nd of November, Guede went to the same nightclub with three American female students he had met in a bar.

Guede’s fingerprints were found at the crime scene so Guede was extradited from Germany where he had fled a few days after the murder. He had said on the internet that he knew he was a suspect and wanted to clear his name.

Why did he flee Italy right after he broke into the flat? Did he see Kercher’s body when he broke into the flat or did he actually murder the young woman? Apparently, he murdered her after he raped her.

Guede opted for a fast-track trial. (preliminary hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence to convict without having to go to a full trial with a jury. In Italy, the judge can acquit or convict the accused during those proceedings.) The hearing was held in a closed session with no reporters present.

Guede told the court that he had gone to 7 Via della Pergola on the date arranged with Kercher after meeting her the previous evening. Two neighbours of Guede, foreign female students who were with him at a nightclub on that evening, told police the only girl they saw him talking to had long blonde hair. Kercher had long blonde hair. He said Kercher had let him in the cottage around 9 pm. Sollecito's lawyers said a glass fragment from the window found beside a shoe-print of Guede's at the scene of the crime was proof that he had broken in.

Guede said that he and Kercher had kissed and touched, but did not have sex. He then developed stomach pains and crossed to the large bathroom on the other side of the apartment. Guede said he heard Kercher scream while he was in the bathroom, on emerging, he had found a shadowy figure, holding a knife, standing over Kercher, who lay bleeding on the floor. Guede said the man fled while saying in perfect Italian, “Trovato Negro, trovato colpevole; andiamo” (“Found black, found guilty; let's go.”) That doesn’t make any sense at all. He was attempting to convince the judge that two other men were in the flat and they intended to let him take the blame for the girl’s murder that they had committed. The judge found that his version of events did not match the forensic evidence, and that he could not explain why one of his palm prints, stained with Kercher's blood, had been found on the pillow of the single bed, which was under the disrobed body.

Guede said he had left Kercher fully dressed. If that was so, then how come his bloody palm print was found under her naked body? The judge didn’t believe him and subsequently he convicted Guede of murder and sexual assault and in 2008, sentenced him to 16 years in prison. He is eligible for parole this year. If he is paroled this year, he will have only served 6 years of that sentence.

The roles of Knox and Solecito in the murder

First, let me tell you something about Knox’s background. She was raised with two younger sisters. Her mother, Edda Mellas, a teacher, and her father, Curt, divorced when Knox was a few years old. She graduated in 2005 from the Seattle Preparatory School, and began to study linguistics at the University of Washington, making the university's dean's list in early 2007. Relatives later described Knox as not always able to pick up on social cues. She became interested in Italian culture while at school, and went to Italy on a family holiday when she was 15 years old. She decided to study there, choosing Perugia over Rome so as to mix with Italians rather than American expatriates.

In September 2007, Knox became one of Kercher's three flatmates in Perugia, where she had arrived to attend the town's University for Foreigners for a year, studying Italian, German and creative writing.

Police focus on Knox

Perugia Flying Squad Detective Superintendent, Monica Napoleoni concluded that the murderer was definitely not a burglar. She had arrived at that conclusion because the apparent signs of a break-in were staged as a deliberate deception, partly because the smashed window did not seem to be the obvious point of entry for a burglar as it was almost a dozen feet above the ground. Further, Knox was the only occupant of the house who had been close to the house on the night of the murder.

Knox was filmed soon after the body was discovered; a frame reproduced by the media showed her kissing Sollecito. At her trial, Knox said that she had been crying and trembling as she sat with Sollecito in a car outside the house. She said he then gave her his jacket and they left the car and that is when they were filmed kissing. There is nothing wrong with kissing your boyfriend or girlfriend but why would you do it when you are aware that your flatmate has been murdered?

At around 3 pm, the police requested the flatmates and their friends to attend the police station for further enquiries. In the car Knox sobbed when she overheard that Kercher's throat had been cut. She said she had spent the night of November 1st with Sollecito at his flat She burst into tears at the end of her interview. English female friends of Kercher met Knox in the waiting room of the police station hours later, shortly after it had been confirmed to them that Kercher was dead. Some of Kercher's friends were to testify at the trial that Knox had shown "no emotion" and behaved in a way that they had found inappropriate. Was she simply acting when in the presence of the police? In the early hours Knox was seen pacing a corridor with her head in her hands. She remained at the police station until 6 am.

On the afternoon of the 3rd of November, Knox accompanied police back to her flat. Edgardo Giobbi, of the Rome-based Central Operations Service, later told reporters that Knox had sobbed uncontrollably outside the crime scene. Knox was later questioned at the police station for a second day.

The following day, the Italian flatmates and Knox were summoned for further questioning. To check if any knives were missing they were taken to the upper flat, where Knox again broke down crying and shaking.

Knox along with other witnesses was questioned repeatedly over the four days following the murder. She was officially being interviewed at that time only as a witness, and safeguards normal in Italy during questioning of suspects, such as the presence of a lawyer and recording of interviews, were not used. If she was in the United States and had said anything that could convict her and she had been denied access to a lawyer, anything she said could not be used at trial. The

 police had previously been listening to Knox and Sollecito’s telephone conversations, and knew her mother was due to arrive from Seattle on the 6th of November so that the 5th of November might have been the last night police could question Knox without a lawyer, parent, or the American Embassy being involved. On the evening of the 5th of November, Knox went to the police station with Sollecito. She later acknowledged doing stretches including a split while in a waiting room, but directly contradicted an accusation that she had done cartwheels, as stated by officers Napoleoni told the trial.

Knox was asked into the Flying Squad offices where, so she was told, Sollecito’s interview was about to finish. Napoleoni and detectives from the Central Operations Service interviewed Sollecito until 3:30 am. According to the police, at around midnight Sollecito ceased to support Knox's account of having been at his flat on the night of the murder, and an interview of Knox began at 1:45 am. In a 2011 report by appeal court judges, the conduct of the interview was criticized on the grounds that, despite the seriousness of the offence for which she was in effect being treated as a suspect, no lawyer was assigned to her. Noting that Knox “at the time neither understood nor spoke Italian well” the judges said an interpreter had “assisted police” in the interrogation rather than simply translating. If that was so, then in my opinion, everything she said to the police in that interview should not have been used in court.

Knox was told that Sollecito, (who was in another interview room) was no longer saying Knox had been with him all night, but was now maintaining she had left him at 9 pm to go to Le Chic, and that she had not returned to his apartment until 1 am. Giobbi, watching the interview from a control room, later said he heard Knox scream. Chief Detective Inspector Rita Ficarra told the trial that Knox started to cry when asked about activity on her mobile phone before it was switched off on the night of the murder.

The last activity on Knox's phone on the night of the murder was a text to Le Chic's owner, Lumumba. On the day the body was discovered, the police had asked Kercher’s English friend if Kercher knew any black men. The police may have seized on a connection to an African immigrant as confirmation of their line of inquiry. Interrogators asked Knox why she had not been working on that night; she told them that Lumumba had sent her a text saying she was not required because business was slow. Knox explained that the reason for switching off her mobile was to prevent Lumumba contacting her again if he changed his mind about her not working. Knox had deleted Lumumba's text from the memory of the phone. She told detectives she did not remember replying to it. The detectives looked through the phone's messages and found that Knox had actually replied to Lumumba’s text.  Follain rendered Knox's reply to the text as “Sure. See you later. Have a good evening!” Detectives interpreted the “See you later” as part of the message, not as a colloquial parting phrase, but as evidence of an arrangement to meet on the night of the murder. The interrogators showed Knox her reply to Lumumba on the display of her mobile. Anna Donnino, an interpreter for the Perugia police, told the trial that Knox had an “emotional shock” on being shown her text to Lumumba, and said: "It's him, he did it, I can feel it.”

Why did Knox accuse an innocent man of murdering Meredith Kercher when she had no evidence that he had actually left Le Chic just prior to the murder?  The answer is quite simple. She felt the truth of the murder of her flatmate closing in on her.

According to the detectives, Knox told them she had met Lumumba at the basketball court at 8:30 pm, before going with him to her flat where Lumumba had committed the murder, thereby implicating herself as his accomplice. Knox signed a statement, written by the police in official Italian, which said: “I have a hard time remembering those moments but Patrick had sex with Meredith, with whom he was infatuated, but I cannot remember clearly whether he threatened Meredith first. I remember confusedly that he killed her.”

This raises an interesting question. If she stood around and did nothing to prevent Lumumba from raping and later murdering the victim, did she by doing nothing, commit a crime? Bystander apathy is a long established phenomenon in social psychology. Consider the murder of Kitty Genovese in New York in 1964. There were 38 witnesses to the rape and murder of Kitty Genovese outside her apartment building in New York in an attack which lasted for more than half an hour. None of the witnesses were charged with a crime. Many of them presumed that someone else had called the police. If in the Kercher murder case, Knox stood around and did nothing to stop anyone from raping and murdering Kercher, she didn’t break the law.  Unless a witness has a duty to protect the victim, no crime is committed by non-intervention.

In any case, this is academic because it didn’t apply with respect to Lumumba. I will explain shortly.

At her trial, Knox's account of what had happened during her interrogation differed from that of the police. She testified that she had spent hours maintaining her original story, that she had been with Sollecito at his flat all night and had no knowledge of the murder, the police would not believe her.

 Knox said “I wasn't just stressed and pressurized; I was manipulated”;[ she testified to being told by the interpreter, “probably I didn't remember well because I was traumatized. So I should try to remember something else.” Knox stated, "They said they were convinced that I was protecting someone. They were saying 'Who is it? Who is it?' They were saying: 'Here's the message on your telephone, you wanted to meet up with him. You are a stupid liar.” Knox also said that a policewoman was saying 'Come on, come on, remember' and then – slap – she hit me. Then 'come on, come on' and – slap – another one."

Knox said she had requested a lawyer but was told it would make things worse for her, and that she would go to jail for 30 years; she also said she was not allowed access to food, water, or the bathroom. Ficarra and policewoman Lorena Zugarini testified that during the interview Knox was given access to food, water, hot drinks and the lavatory. They further said Knox was asked about a lawyer but did not have one, was not hit at any time and interviewed "firmly but politely". Napoleoni testified that Knox was not beaten, threatened or insulted. This is why in many police stations in Canada the interviews are recorded on closed-circuit TV.

I am concerned that a lawyer wasn’t present in the interview room when she was being questioned. Obviously she didn’t know a lawyer in that town and that is why she didn’t have a lawyer while being interviewed.

This dilemma was of great concern to me back in the 1970s when I had given a speech at a crime conference held in Ottawa, Canada. I recommended that there be 24-hour counsel to anyone arrested at night or anyone who doesn’t have a lawyer. Three months later, it became the policy in Canada. When a person is arrested and taken to a police station, they are given the phone number of a Legal Aid duty lawyer and permitted to speak to the lawyer without charge at any time of the day or night.

As officers Ficarra and Napoleoni were about to take her to prison, Knox, who still had not seen a lawyer, made a four-page note. In it, she wrote: “I want to make clear that I'm very doubtful of the verity of my statements because they were made under the pressures of stress, shock and extreme exhaustion.” The Italian Court of Cassation (Supreme Court of Italy) ruled the official statement could not be used in court, but the note was adjudged admissible in a defamation suit brought against Knox by Lumumba, which was heard concurrently with the murder charges against her and Sollecito and by the same jury. Lumumba's lawyer later used scathing language about Knox in court when his client sued her.

On the 8th of November, Knox appeared along with Sollecito and Lumumba before Judge Claudia Matteini, and during an hour-long adjournment, Knox met her lawyers for the first time. Matteini ordered Knox, Sollecito and Lumumba to be detained for a year. On the 16th of November the Rome forensic police matched fingerprints found in Kercher's bedroom to Rudy Guede. On the 19th of December Mignini wrote a warrant for Lumumba's release in which he suggested that Knox may have named Lumumba to protect Guede.

The prosecution charged Guede for the murder, but retained the allegations against Knox and Sollecito that originally related to acting in concert with Lumumba. In other words, if Lumumba had raped and killed the girl, Knox and Sollecito would have then been participants to the rape and murder but since he didn’t do it, they were charged as acting in concert to the rape and murder committed by Guede.

The trial 

Knox and Sollecito pleaded not guilty to all charges, and remained in prison throughout the trial. Knox and Sollecito’s trial began on the 16th of January 2009 before Judge Giancarlo Massei, Deputy Judge Beatrice Cristiani, and six lay judges at the Corte d'Assise of Perugia.

In Italy, untrained judges are present only in the Corte d'Assise, (Court of the Assizes) where two career magistrates are supported by six so-called Lay Judges, who are raffled from the registrar of voters. Any Italian citizen, with no distinction of sex or religion, between 30 and 65 years of age, can be appointed as a lay judge; (similar to being a juror) in order to be eligible as a lay judge for the Corte d'Assise, however, there is a minimum educational requirement, as the lay judge must have completed his/her education at the Scuola Media (junior high school) level.

Knox and Sollecito were accused of having gone to the house on the night of the 1st of November with Guede, and of having murdered Kercher in her bedroom. According to the prosecution's reconstruction, Knox had attacked Kercher, repeatedly banged her head against a wall, forcefully held her face, tried to remove her clothes, cut her with a knife, inflicted the fatal stab wound, and then took her two mobile phones and faked a burglary. Guede's shoe prints, fingerprints, and DNA were found in the bedroom, his DNA was found on Kercher and her clothing, and his skin cells were inside her body. (that could have come about if his penis was inserted in her vagina) Guede’s DNA mixed with Kercher's was in bloodstains on the inside of her shoulder bag No shoe prints, clothing fibers, hairs, fingerprints, skin cells or DNA of Knox were found on Kercher or in the room. The prosecution alleged that all forensic traces in the bedroom which incriminated Knox had been wiped away by her and Sollecito.

The prosecution's case centred on Kercher's interactions with Knox, and Knox's demeanor and movements on the day the body was discovered. Massei had pointedly questioned Knox on numerous details, such as whether she had touched a particular light switch or the timing of mobile phone calls; she repeatedly answered “I don't remember.” Sometimes people don’t remember past events but often this is interpreted rightly or wrongly, as a mere attempt of the witness to evade the real answer.

The prosecution alleged a knife found in Sollecito's kitchen had Kercher’s DNA on the blade. Expert witnesses called by the defence said the DNA on the knife consisted of an insubstantial trace which could not be considered evidence, and pointed to contamination by other samples as a possible explanation. They also noted that the dates when different samples were tested, which could indicate whether they had been tested on the same day with a resulting risk of cross-contamination, had not been supplied by the forensic police. Both sets of defence lawyers requested the judges to order independent reviews of evidence including DNA and the compatibility of the wounds with the alleged murder weapon however their request was denied.

In final pleas to the court, Sollecito's lawyer described Knox as “a weak and fragile girl” who had been “duped by the police.” Knox's lawyer, Luciano Ghirga, told the court there had been DNA contamination in the police forensic laboratory, and pointed to text messages between Knox and Kercher as showing that they had been friends.

On the 5th of December 2009, Knox, by then 22, was convicted on charges of faking a break-in, slander, sexual violence and murder, and sentenced to 26 years imprisonment.  The slander conviction was decided upon because Knox falsely accused an innocent man of the rape and murder of Kercher.

Under Italian law two appeals are permitted to defendants, during which there is a presumption of innocence until a final verdict is entered. Their first appeal began in November 2010 and was presided over by Judges Claudio Pratillo Hellmann and Massimo Zanetti. The court ordered a review of the contested DNA evidence by independent forensic DNA experts Stefano Conti and Carla Vecchiotti from Rome's Sapienza University. They submitted a 145-page report that noted numerous basic errors in the gathering and analysis of the evidence, further asserting that a police forensic scientist had given testimony in court that was not supported by her laboratory work. In testimony to the appeal, Professor Conti said that a police video showed that, when a vital piece of evidence was gathered, it was handled with a glove that was visibly dirty. During cross-examination Vecchiotti was asked by prosecutor Comodi if a gap of several days between analyzing samples was enough to remove the possibility of cross-contamination in the laboratory. "They're sufficient if that's the way things went," replied Vecchiotti.

On the 3rd of October 2011, the court overturned Knox's and Sollecito's convictions on charges of staging a break in, sexual assault and murder. The conviction of Knox on a charge of slander was upheld and the original one-year sentence was increased to three years and eleven days imprisonment.

In their official report on the court's decision to overturn the convictions the appeal judges wrote that the verdict of guilty at the original trial “was not corroborated by any objective element of evidence.” Describing the police interviews of Knox as of “obsessive duration” the judges said that the statements she made incriminating herself during interrogation were evidence of her confusion while under "great psychological pressure".

And finally

This raises a most interesting question. If her statements to the police exerted great psychological pressure upon her, then those statements can’t be used at her next trial. It is highly unlikely that any of her statements to the police will be used in her next trial. The reason is because if they are to be used, the United States won’t extradite her to Italy to face trial there. Let me explain.

In Miranda v. Arizona the Supreme Court of the United States said;

“The prosecution may not use statements, whether exculpatory or inculpatory, stemming from questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way, unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the Fifth Amendment's privilege against self-incrimination.”

A person being questioned by the police in the US must be warned that anything that person says can be used against them and that they do not have to say anything in response to questions put to them by the police and if they are denied a lawyer, anything they say to the police cannot be used in court against them. The US doesn’t extradite accused persons to any country whose laws pertaining to the rights of people in that country are in conflict with the rights of citizens of the United States. 

I don’t know what evidence given at her trial was not corroborated by any objective element of evidence so it is impossible to determine what evidence was corroborated by any element of evidence that is sufficient to convict her. One thing I am sure of is that her attempt to frame an innocent man of the crime is certainly persuasive evidence of guilt on her part.

This woman upon learning that she is to be retried for the murder of Ms. Kercher has vowed that she will never return to Italy to face trial.  That would be a very stupid decision on her part because if she doesn’t attend that trial and give her story to the court and she is re-convicted again, the Italian government can still request the US authorities to extradite her and if the US is satisfied that she had a fair trial, then she will be extradited and sent back to Italy where she will serve time in an Italian prison for a very long time.

Her lawyers claim that Italy has violated her US constitutional rights by attempting to try her a second time for the same crime after the appeal court overturned the original verdict of guilty. I don’t think the ‘double jeopardy’ argument will pass muster in her case because the appeal court didn’t acquit her by declaring her not guilty, it simply overturned the judgment of the original trial. In a case like that, the Italian court has the right to try her again for the crime she was originally charged with.

No one is going to do anything until the Appeal Court in Italy reviews the recent verdict and that could take three or four months. If she is determined to be innocent, she would still have to serve the three years and eleven days for the slander conviction. In any case, once the extradition request is received in the US, the State Department would turn it over to the Justice Department which would then turn it over to a District Judge for a decision.  If the decision goes against Knox, she could appeal. I think several years are going to go by before a final decision is reached.

It shall be interesting to see what Italy is going to do in its attempt to bring Amada Knox back to Italy for her next trial.  It will be sometime before we become apprised as to what the final outcome of this saga is going to be. If she is returned to prison, she will have to serve 28½ years but if she is given less for the four years she was in prison waiting for her trial, she may have to serve  a maximum of 24½ years. Of course good behavior could lessen her sentence considerably.  

If the United States refuses to extradite her to Italy, this means that she will undoubtedly have to remain in the US for the rest of her life. Here is the reason why. The Italian police will list her name with Interpol. If it becomes known that she is visiting another country that has an extradition treaty with Italy, she can be arrested in that country and brought to Italy to face trial. If she goes to a country that doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Italy, she may still be arrested and sent back to Italy if her plane stops for refueling in a country that does have such a treaty with Italy.

Incidentally, Sollecito who is an Italian citizen can simply be sent straight to prison pending any further appeal. We will have to wait and see what happens to him. As soon as I find out, I will place it at the end of this article as an UPDATE.

UPDATE:  On March 26, 2015, Italy’s highest court annulled the second convictions of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito for the murder of 21-year-old Meredith Kercher in 2007. The decision ends a tortuous legal odyssey that lasted more than seven years and ultimately included two convictions and two acquittals for Knox and Sollecito. The court’s ruling after more than 10 hours of deliberations has lifted any fears of further prosecution for Knox and Sollecito, and ended all speculation about possible extradition of Knox from the US. The third suspect in the case, Rudy Guede, remains convicted without question and in prison serving a 16-year sentence.

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