Friday, October 14, 2011

Knox Hunting

Meredith Kercher
This blog is slightly out of date but unforeseen circumstances meant I couldn't post last week. It was a shame because earlier last week, as a result of a few tweets of mine on the Meredith Kercher murder case which saw Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito have their convictions upturned on appeal in Italy, I was asked to go on BBC Word Service and discuss the case. Like all radio discussions, and this featured countless people from across the globe at the end of several phone lines, it was difficult to get one's point across, but it was interesting nonetheless.

The Kercher case has fascinated me from the beginning. Not necessarily the details of the case, but the way it has been covered in the media and the depiction of Amanda Knox, or 'Foxy Knoxy' as the British tabloids called her. It has been proof both of latent and blatant misogyny in the British press and society, and disturbing evidence that we really haven't come that far since the days we threw mistrusted and promiscuous women in a lake: if they sank and drowned they were innocent, but if they surfaced they were witches and were burned to death.

Amanda Knox
For those that don't know the case, Meredith Kercher was a British university student on an exchange in Perugia in 2007 when she was found stabbed to death in an apartment she shared with some other foreign students. A few days later the police arrested her flatmate Knox, an American student, and her new boyfriend Sollecito on the suspicion of her murder. In interview, Knox was said to have incriminated another person who was arrested but later released. Some time later a third man, Rudy Guede, was arrested and he is in prison serving a 16-year sentence for the murder.

In a nutshell that's it, but the case is far more complex and would require far more than a blog to discuss in detail. Needless to say some facts are not disputed: Knox gave a confession which was later deemed to be inadmissible because she had no legal representation; she was questioned for almost a whole day without a lawyer by a team of detectives speaking a language she barely understood; no motive was ever given for her or Sollecito killing Meredith; they spent a year in custody before being charged with murder; the crime scene wasn't secured properly and rendered useless, and the DNA evidence brought against the pair was unreliable at best. When Guede was arrested, he claimed never to have never met Knox or Sollecito in his life. Then, after five months in custody, he changed his story and said he did know them and saw them at the apartment on the night of the murder. Shortly after remembering this, his sentence was cut from 30 years to 16.

In other words, you don't need to be Perry Mason to realise the case against Knox and Sollecito was incredibly flimsy. Unfortunately the prosecutor wasn't Mason, it was Giulano Mignini, a man who is facing a jail sentence of his own for abuse of process during his farcical investigation into the Monster of Florence murders. For more detail on that read Douglas Preston's jawdropping book on the murders and investigation, The Monster of Florence. Preston ended up being questioned as an accomplice and was exposed to Mignini's, um, how shall I put this, rather innovative investigative techniques. Except he was a grown man, who knew the law who spoke fluent Italian, and not a student who had spent a few weeks in the country.

Knox, however, in 2009 was found guilty of the murder, despite the lack of any real evidence. However, in the minds of the public, in Italy and in the UK, she was as guilty as hell. In the year between her arrest and trial, the investigators and their lickspittles shared all kinds of lurid stories to paint her as some sex-crazed devil. At one stage the cops erroneously told her she was HIV positive, and asked for a list of her sexual partners to warn them. This list was then leaked to the press. It was one thing to be a woman suspected of murder, but even worse to be a woman who was having lots of sex. Because of the absence of subjudice in Italian jurisprudence, the newspapers were free to print whichever lurid details they wanted, and the British press in particular made the most of their opportunity. Knox became a she-devil, a heartless, promiscuous killer. Because there was no motive, people had to believe all the smears about her otherwise it made no sense.

Funnily enough, her boyfriend Sollecito received barely a fraction of the press lavished on Knox and her sexual habits. Instead, despite being older and more worldly, he was portrayed as some kind of naive schmuck, beguiled and entranced by Knox and her nefarious, lascivious ways.

But it was all smears. Knox behaved no worse or better than countless foreign students who find themselves away from home, surrounded by other young, good-looking people and a ready-made, easy-going social scene to enjoy.

Slowly but surely, Knox's family and their supporters managed to make their voices heard above the whole sordid din. People started to look beyond the wild claims of orgies and satanic rituals to the facts of the case. Which didn't really add up to much, at least in terms of Knox and Sollecito's involvement. Thankfully for those interested in justice rather than salacious tittle-tattle, the appeal court decided the same and released the pair. Cue, you would think, lots of apologies, not least from the British press, about their coverage of Knox.

Not a bit of it. Instead the focus has been on Meredith's family, which is as it should be. They have been forgotten, the media say. By whom you might ask? Ah, yes, by the media, who were more interested in Knox's sex life than the life of the woman who was so brutally murdered, but they skip over that bit. How are the family going to find justice now, the papers have also asked? This ignores that they already have justice. The man who almost certainly killed Meredith is in jail. The questions that need to be asked are why the prosecution bargained down his sentence to support their original paltry case, and why they allowed the myth of Knox and Sollecito's involvement to get so far. They and their friends in the press are the ones who have cheated Kercher family, allowing them to swallow the myth of Knox and Sollecito's involvement in their daughter's murder, rather than closing the case properly and so letting them rebuild their lives.

Then we have the canard about how Knox is now free to make a fortune form books, interviews and movies. But why shouldn't she? She has spent four years imprisoned for a crime she did not commit, much of it in solitary confinement. In the meantime, her reputation has been trashed across the whole world. If I was her I'd be suing everyone in sight for every penny I could get my hands on and it's to her and her family's credit that the early signs are she won't. But what the newspapers and online ranters are really hinting at is is that they think she's guilty, she's got away with it, and now she might profit from it all, ignoring the facts, or the lack of them.

Thing is, Knox was guilty. Guilty of being a confident, attractive, sexually active young woman. Which is apparently still very much a crime.


Dan - Friday


  1. Thanks for posting this.

    I'd only add that Knox was "guilty" of one other thing -- of being an outsider. She was of a nationality different from both the victim and the country where the crime occurred.

  2. For too many what they accept as truth is their own perspective lying to them.

    I do hope you meant Perry Mason, not Perry Como. I knew they wanted her to sing, but I didn't know they wanted a duet.

  3. Oooops. Of course, I did mean mason. Though Como might well have made a better job of it than Mignini...

  4. Shucks, my great uncle was Perry Como's landlord when the famous crooner was "just" a barber in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, and so I took the use of his name as a reference to the common sense insight gained by tonsorial professionals (s)hearing everyone, day in and day out.

  5. Great piece, Dan. Mignini belongs in jail, and so do some members of the British press. We'll give Piers Morgan back to you, if you want to put him in the jug, too.

  6. Great post, Dan. I would have thought a woman wrote it, as you did such a good job on exposing the misogyny in this trial and in the British press.

    I think it was also done as much, if not more in the Italian press. I'm glad I never saw any of those articles.

    One more morsel about Mignini that was stated on HLN, a CNN station, after Knox was released, was that he was consulting a medium who was "consulting" a long-time dead priest, who was advising Mignini on what strategy to use and what to say about Knox in court. (I didn't realize that the Italian legal system is still living in the days of Galileo's prosecution.)

    You couldn't make this stuff up! I don't even think a good crime fiction writer would come up with this medieval craziness, void of any logic and sanity.

    Yes, jail Mignini and others who went along with his ridiculous arguments, the British and Italian press. After all, judges went along with this and let Mignini get away with this so-called strategy.

  7. If Americans get into legal trouble in a foreign country, they make the mistake of believing that other judicial systems are based on the same rule of law as exists in the US. Common law based on precedent gives some framework for judicial and legal behavior. That's why the American legal system is constantly in a state of flux - yesterday's decision in a court in Oklahoma can be applied to a case today in West Virginia.

    Italy's legal system forbids laws defined as ipso facto. As I understand it, previous legal decisions made before the case under discussion do not apply. Makes the decisions even more a mystery.

    Citizens of the US are very fortunate that France didn't become the dominant colonizer of the North American continent. British Common Law gave birth to our system in which people are considered innocent until proven guilty except in the media.

  8. Well said, thank you. The collateral damage done in this case can never be repaid. Shame on anyone who would criticize either of them for any kind of compensations. And yes, the Kercher family need to be angry at the people who did this to them and it wasn't Amanda and Rafaele. It was the Prosecutor and his cronies, corrupt police AND the press who failed to do their homework because they got their sensational story. Money and power kept them from justice for their daughter.

  9. This is a great article. I wish I had written it. I have struggled with why Amanda was hated so much by the press and locals and have determined that it was because she did not behave they way they thought she should. I hope that Amanda experiences nothing but joy and happiness for the rest of her life. If she marries, her husband will be blessed to be part of a family that is probably the most loyal, loving family in the history of the world.

  10. Great article Dan, and it is nice to see some other pertinent comments. I would like to add one more detail to the sordid record of the police and prosecutorion in this case. That is that by allowing the civil case to run in parallel with the criminal case, and before the same jury, the prosecution was greatly strengthened and the defense weakened throughout both trial and appeal.

    First, what Amanda said after she was finally declared an official suspect (in the early hours of the morning of November 6th 2007) was ruled by the Court of Cassation as inadmissible in the criminal case, but admissible in the civil case! The same judges and jury were somehow expected to morph into two distinct and mutually incompatible forms of alien! Second, this weakness was grossly exploited by lawyers who were notionally acting for the Kerchers and Patrick Lumumba (Francesco Maresca and Carlo Pacelli respectively). In fact they just acted, (and still are acting) as extra, and extremely vicious supplementary public prosecutors in the criminal case, when they should have had nothing to do with it.

    The judge and jury on appeal allowed the ludicrous case for calumny against Lumumba as a sop to the prosecution, even increasing Amanda's original sentence for this from one year to three! The police and prosecutors were the ones to insist Lumumba was involved and to get Amanda to sign something in a foreign language under stress and after sleep deprivation amounting to torture on the morning of November 6th; and she retracted as soon as she had had some sleep! This Kafka-esque, witch-drowning device for reducing the time she spent in jail illegally from four years to one is just one more telling illustration of how desperately Italy needs to reform its medieval judicial system. Like many sops it stinks, but at least two kids who should never even have been charged have now been declared innocent of the actual murder and finally released.

    1. Torture? What nonsense. Knox had been languid up until her phone texts were shown to her with the Lumumba night off comment. Upon seeing this Knox had an epiphany, became very animated and started shouting "Its him, it's him".

      Bashing the Italian legal system is the first stop for Knox fans. Knox is a convicted felon. She fingered Lumumba, let him languish in jail for two weeks. She has never given consistent testimony from the get go, actually admitted being present at the murder then retracted that statement. She was found guilty with the Massei report and is likely to go back to jail again. USA's favourite Alan Dershowitz said people have been found guilty on a lot less evidence and that Knox will likely go back to jail. Will she serve and the US extradite? that is another question.

  11. What is wrong with some of the commenters here - some people want to believe Sollecito and Knox are innocent - great - they have been acquitted after all. But what is all the nonsense with Mignini, voodoo and witchcraft stuff - do you people live in the dark ages? dont you have news, media etc. Where do you get this stuff from?

  12. Why does everyone insist it was the British press that named her Foxy Knoxy, when she admitted it was a nick name she gave herself while playing sports and on Myspace. Get the facts correct people.
    Yes she was a loose girl, by her own admission and not only engaging in sex with strangers but drugs too. She is also an admitted liar and blamed an innocent man, what an irony. She made her own reputation and gave the press a field day. How can you paint her as some wonderful girl now. If she had told the truth in the first place...maybe she would not have had to go through four years of prison. Why would she have to lie?
    Maybe she is not guilty of murder, but she certainly isn't the fine and upstanding Lass you would have us believe now. We know the truth...why try to candy coat it and then blame the press. Miss Foxy Knoxy, gave herself a name, she now has to live with and she only has herself to blame for that!

  13. Someone - a Brit, I think -- has an ax to grind. No one is blaming the press for her conviction -- we can blame Mignini for setting entirely new standards for minimum levels of DNA for that -- but the British press, with its usual Murdochian restraint, have certainly tarred and feathered her with a fine aristocratic disdain for the acquittal.

  14. Amanda didn't lie about anything. That is perhaps the biggest lie of all. From the time of the murder until the time of the arrest, she was with the police for about 55 hours. She wasn't eating or sleeping. She was on the point of collapse. They were also bugging her phone calls, and, while they didn't hear anything remotely incriminating, they did learn that her mother would arrive November 6 and immediately get her a lawyer. Now the cops had a timetable. They had to get Amanda to confirm their hunch that Lumumba was the killer. They authorized overtime for no fewer than 12 detective grade officers--a number of them dispatched specially from Rome--and abused her until she broke. Her statement was a police induced hallucination--nothing else. Anyone reading this would have been broken by the same treatment. These are the ugly facts.

  15. No, you have the an axe to grind. Mignini was the prosecutor - he does not set standards or have anything to do with DNA. This whole crusade against Mignini is foolish. The case has been reviewed by many judges - to make out that Mignini orchestrated some devilish plot is somewhat absurd and counter productive.
    Judge Hellman has to provide a motivation report for his reasoning re the judgement - we have to wait and see.
    In the meantime Sollecito and Knox have been acquitted - some people may like, some people may not - but that is the way it is. If the DNA was flawed in some sense, the prosecution is only left with circumstantial evidence - lots if it - but all circumstantial - it proves Sollecito and Knox were not where they said they were at given times and were not doing what they said they were doing at given times. Suspicious of course, but it does not prove they were in the flat that night - apart from her own written statement when she implied Lumumba might have been present - which is disputed. If the DNA evidence was flawed - it is hard to disagree with Hellman. Murder simply cannot be proven - "beyond reasonable doubt"

  16. I must say it is extremely wise and far sighted for the guilters who post here to all post anonymously. When you hold a point of view that has be unequivocally proven incorrect, it is much better to maintain your error anonymously than to admit you were wrong and apologize. Add to that, some people who have worked hard for years to get the innocence of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito generally recognized are getting pretty fed up with you. Anonymous is your safest bet.

  17. The case against Giulano Mignini is neither foolish nor unjust. The man is either grossly incompetent or mentally unbalanced, or both. He did indeed rely on a soothsayer who told him that Knox and Sollecito killed Kercher in a satanic ritual -- that's what put the idea into his mind originally. Mignini prosecuted 21 innocent people in the Narducci - Monster of Florence case, causing these people enormous trauma, expenses and temporary loss of liberty. All 21 were acquitted, and should never have been charged in the first place. Mignini must be removed ASAP from his prosecutor role so that he can no longer persecute the innocent. The man belongs to the Middle Ages and the Spanish Inquisition; he does not belong in the 21st century or in western civilization.

  18. Stogie - The case against Mignini is obviously something you know nothing about. What we are talking about here is the case against him which these comments, like yours, are trying to make. They come across as foolish and childish. The pro Knox campaign deserves a lot better than this garbled nonsense.

  19. Mr.King - People may choose to post anonymously for a variety of reasons - as is their right - the vast majority of names are purely fictional anyway. I post anonymously in this case because I lack the other relevant profiles - and I am neither a guilter or innocenter as you would put. What is all your antagonism about?

  20. Well, Anonymous, if you're getting antagonism, I'd say it's in response to the antagonism you've been expressing since you first got here.

    It's beyond me why anyone would attempt to defend Mignini at this point -- with his having been convicted of prosecutorial misconduct in another case, with the portrait of him written by Douglas Preston, with the appallingly flawed case he forced to trial against Amanda Knox. The man is an arrogant fool who feels he's above the law, and my guess is that he has an education in store.

    And you're dead wrong about his role establishing the standards of DNA evidence. When he didn't get the results he wanted, he demanded tests at a level approximately five times more minute than is accepted in most courts of law -- a level so minute that DNA can be detected that was transferred second-snd third-hand. You shake hands with me, unlikely as that may sound, I shake hands with Phil, and Phil slices bread, and YOUR DNA is on that bread knife.

    A quote from news sources: "Experts also found that the kitchen knife said to be the murder weapon contained such a small sample of Knox's DNA that it should never have been introduced into evidence. As for Kercher's DNA that was supposedly found on the knife, testing revealed it was not actually human DNA but a speck of flour and starch that likely came from rye bread."

    THAT's why a responsible prosecutor doesn't demand testing at lower levels. Because it could be RYE FLOUR. And that's the action of a jerk for whom being right is more important than avoiding ruining the life of an innocent person.

    Are you related to him?

  21. Amanda was an outsider from the beginning - both as an American in Italy and as an American among Merideth's English friends - their comments were teh first brushstrokes in Mignini's final portrait of a sex-crazed witch

  22. Hello Tim, No, I'm not related to Mignini - let's face it, genetically speaking, I'm much more likely to be related to you - but that would be a real long shot. Where do you get this crazy idea that I am defending him from - I don't even know the man! You misunderstood. What I was trying to explain was that it's not really good to be ranting on with silly and childish allegations against people - that's all. Tim, as I told you before, prosecutors don't take anything to do with DNA - it's not their job. You know, bit like yourself with the rye bread on the knife. You have misunderstood again - haven't you? The starch or rye bread was quoted by the defence as an attempt to claim the knife had not been washed and so should consequently prove positive for blood - not just DNA - to which the prosecution reminded them the starch came from the talc on the surgical gloves used - it was just a little bit of fun or light relief - you know tit for tat between defence and prosecution. Tim, you are not supposed to think the DNA disappeared and was replaced by rye bread - it could have been salame , cheese, whatever. The prosecution was trying to stress the point that the knife was relatively dirty. Ok? Think about it - do you think all those clinical debates would still be going on if it was all down to rye bread. I know, there's a lot of awful people out there, you just can't believe anything you read anymore, but there comes a time when you have to make your own mind up - or not. Tim, another point, could you please remember, not all anonymous posts necessarily come from the same source - it's kind of important you know that - just in case you burn the wrong guy at the stake next time.

  23. I absolutely refuse to read anything or contemplate any points written by any anonymous writers.

    I see the same pattern on other blogs, on health. When want want to attack a writer or points, including those which are logical and scientific, they do so anonymously. The more angry they are, the more they write "anonymously."

    My attitude is that if one wants to write something, one should take personal responsibility for what one is saying.

    By the way, I heard the points about Magnini turning to a medium and dead priest on HLN, a CNN station, and stated by a doctor.

    It's a total sham for Italian criminal justice that he's allowed to prosecute a high-level case.

    And I'm so glad that the 21 innocent people in the Monster of Florence case were acquitted.

    If one wants to get a glimpse of Italian criminal justice, read Gianrico Carofiglio's first book, "Reasonable Doubt," in his series. Carofiglio was an anti-Mafia judge for many years. He knows this system well.

    It is still in the Middle Ages, prosecutors still acting like those who sentenced Galileo to house arrest for finding the earth revolved around the sun.

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  25. The case against Knox and Sollecito makes absolutely NO SENSE whatsoever. Can somebody tell me what the motive was? Ask yourself honestly, do you think they decided to get together with a drug delaer they hardly knew (Guede) and play some kind of debauched game, that would end up in murder of Knox's roommate? If the fact that she liked boys, and smoked the odd funny cigarette is enough to suppose she would have been involved in this tragic murder, the same could be said about practically any 18 year old student.

    When the only real evidence is a "confession" the police coerced from interrogations that were not recorded, history tells you time and time again, that is is about as solid and reliable as a chocolate cooking pot.

    I think, that based on the evidence and case against them, 4 years punishment is already enough.