NIGHTMARE IN PERUGIA
commentary • 28.09.11
This week Amanda Knox faces the final stage of her appeal against a murder conviction in an Italian court. Having spent four years mired in the machinations of law enforcement it looks now like she and her co-accused, Raffaele Sollecito, are only days away from being released from the long nightmare of a wrongful verdict. It looks that way but it is not foregone. The prosecution is going all out to make sure the earlier sentence sticks and as a result some of the argument heard in that court-room in Perugia this week has been colourful to say the least. The young American has been characterised as both she-devil and Jessica Rabbit.
Of the shocking aspects of the case, not least the savage murder of Knox’s British housemate Meredith Kercher, the lack of hard evidence against the accused pair stands out. They were convicted mostly on circumstantial evidence along with some questionable DNA. Less questionable is the standing conviction for Meredith’s murder of Rudy Guede an outsider with only a tenuous connection to the others involved. Every kind of evidence pointed to him short of his signature on the wall of the murder scene. He is already doing sixteen years with all appeals exhausted.
So why were Knox and her partner also dragged into the web of accusation? It seems Amanda’s odd behaviour explains much of that. She didn’t exhibit the right attitude for someone whose friend had just been murdered. And under pressure from the not very competent authorities she confessed to having been present when the murder was committed fingering another man, Patrick Lumumba, in the process. Though Lamumba was the police’s own suspect, when his alibi checked out Amanda was in deep trouble. She had been incriminated after days of aggressive questioning with no representation; the “confession” was taken from her under duress in an interrogation later deemed illegal and inadmissible in court.
Having a dodgy prosecutor hasn’t done much for justice either. His focus was led by sexual preoccupation. He posited a murder driven by some bizarre sex game gone wrong. Who knows where he got that from but consequently the arguments made against Knox have had a prurient thrust. This week at the closings the lawyers attacking her have been especially virulent. Knox didn’t only commit a murder, she did it because she is evil and demonic, given to drug binges and rampant sexuality. This quasi-medieval language in a modern court-room with such heavy issues at stake is reprehensible. It strikes me as the sound of a losing argument in a last ditch attempt to sway the jury. Equally ridiculous is the vindictive demand that Knox should have her 26-year sentence increased to life and be given six months of day time solitary. The logic here is that the crime was devoid of motive. Are they oblivious that a lack of motive is also consistent with innocence?
If ever there was a time when humanity needs to be hyper-rational it is when it has one of its number in the trial dock. It is then that courts need to employ all powers of forensic logic available to them and stay as close as possible to where the facts lead. Alas that proves to be too high an expectation. The adversarial system reduces to being a contest high in theatricals and rhetorical slant. The outcomes are less to do with establishing truth and more to do with what can be made stick. Justice gets compromised and is at times rendered barely credible.
I hope an acquittal isn’t too much for the Italian legal system to sanction. Its credibility will have been shaken and there is a danger it will seek to save face by upholding the previous conviction. This would be a further offence. It is criminal in itself that systems of law punish people by simply accusing them. They can do so with as much time as it takes and the players can build virtually any case they like in pursuit of their end. The perpetrators of such legalised injustice walk away guilt free after having inflicted considerable damage on a defendant. That doesn’t seem very just.
What happened to Meredith Kercher on that terrible night back in 2007 is horrific. Her brutal killing is the overriding tragedy here not to be forgotten. Nothing about the outcome of the trial can change that. But although the desire for retribution is strong, particularly for the victim’s family, it shouldn’t cloud the conclusion. It certainly shouldn’t add further injury to an already grave situation by disregarding reasonable doubt. If the defendants had nothing to do with the crime then only they know for sure. It must be very distressing to be wrongly accused when you and only you know it. It must be one of the loneliest predicaments ever to be in. Knox may have brought it upon them with her odd behaviour but odd behaviour isn’t criminal behaviour.
I don’t like forming partisan opinions about court cases absent of sound knowledge as if in some reality show. I don’t know for sure if the accused are innocent of the charge though my guess is they are. I do know that a system that puts people in the dock has to be scrupulous and the Italian version was not. From incompetent policemen with their bungle and botch to eccentric lawyers with a dubious moral agenda it fell short of the mark. There comes a point when shaping facts to fit an accusation is tantamount to framing. The case against Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito should have been let go when findings didn’t meet with initial suspicions, certainly by the time evidence against Guede was discovered. At that point the trial in Perugia was set to became an affront to justice. That is why the jury must now acquit.
The most illuminating piece I read about this case was by Nathaniel Rich in Rolling Stone: The Never-ending Nightmare Of Amanda Knox.
They were acquitted. I was nervous for these kids as the verdict went out live across the world. And the more I read about the case in the following days the more convinced I became of their innocence. Now the incarceration looks all the more like a terrible cruelty, a crime on top of a crime as I said.
The bile that was thrown up on Knox was a disgrace, the Daily Mail in the UK being especially belligerent. That dreadful rag couldn’t contain itself. Upon the jury’s announcement, one of its bile-makers, Nick Pisa, actually sent out a pre-written report wrongly stating that the original conviction had been upheld. The next day it summoned Amanda Platell to continue the dirty work. She didn’t know whether Knox was guilty or not but asked what was it about her that “so chills the blood”. I’ll match one bitchy remark with another and suggest that Platell’s comparative ugliness speaks to that.
And there’s a thing: A pretty, young American was tried by tabloid and found guilty when the evidence against her was next to none. A black African with a ton of evidence to incriminate him had his sentence for the crime halved on appeal and these same voices were silent. A shameful indictment indeed.
The acquittals were quashed and Knox and Sollecito once again found guilty in yet another trial. I wrote some more here.
written 2011 a few days before the appeals court in Perugia would find
Knox and Sollecito not guilty of the murder of Meredith Kercher