Amanda Knox Ordered Back to Italy for 3rd Trial- What is the Amanda Knox Story All About?
-A Primer and Opinion by John M. Phillips
This week, American Amanda Knox was ordered to come back to Italy and stand trial, again, for the murder of her roommate by Italy’s top criminal court. However, there is little the country can do to force her to return for the new hearings regarding the 2007 killing of British student Meredith Kercher. Knox has recently slammed prosecutors and vowed to fight on. Since her release from prison in 2011, Knox has resumed her studies in Seattle and has a book coming out in April.
In 2011, an Italian appeals court threw out American-born Amanda Knox and her co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito‘s murder convictions, allowing for their immediate release. Amanda Marie Knox was a 20-year-old University of Washington student who was in Perugia attending the University for Foreigners for one year. At the time of the murder, Amanda Knox was dating Raffaele Sollecito, who she met at a classical music concert which she attended with Meredith Kercher a few days before Kercher was killed. They were charged and convicted of the sexual assault and gruesome murder of Knox’s roommate, Meredith Kercher. This charge was overturned by an appellate court and thus both were acquitted of murder.
However, the appellate jury upheld Knox’s conviction on a charge of slander for accusing bar owner Diya “Patrick” Lumumba of carrying out the killing. The judge set the sentence at three years, meaning she has already served the time required, as Ms. Knox had been in prison since Nov. 6, 2007. Prosecutors appealed the acquittal to Italy’s highest court, which overturned the acquittal and ordered a new trial just this week- so, conviction, acquittal, and now a do over.
Who and What?
Meredith Kercher was a British university exchange student from London, England. She was murdered at age 21 in Perugia, Italy, on November 1, 2007. She shared an upstairs apartment with her American friend, Amanda Knox, and two other Italian women. On that fateful evening, Kercher dined with three other English women at one of their homes and watched a DVD of the film The Notebook. Kercher said that she felt tired and headed home.
Kercher was discovered sexually assaulted and stabbed to death, and property belonging to her was stolen. Her body was found in her bedroom on November 2, 2007 by police and roommates. Amanda Knox was at the scene when her body was found.
A man named Rudy Guede was alleged to have been involved. Rudy moved with his father to Perugia at age 5, but was originally born in the Ivory Coast. After a decade, his father returned to West Africa, leaving the teenage Rudy in the care of a wealthy Italian family, who informally adopted him. He was a troubled youth, skipping school, dabbling in drugs and dropping out of school. He was also a drug dealer that was well known by the police and had also been arrested for theft, including one incident where he stole a knife from a school. He has always denied murdering Ms. Kercher, although his stories have varied.
Essentially, he admitted that he was in the house on the night of the murder. He claimed that he was flirting with Kercher in her bedroom but had to run to the lavatory, because of some spicy food. While in the bathroom, he heard screaming. He rushed out and claims he was run over by a knife-wielding Italian man, who ran off into the night. He described the scene he came across in chilling terms- “When I closed my eyes, I could only see red. I have never seen so much blood. All of that blood on her beautiful face.”
Many at trial testified that Knox and her boyfriend, Sollecito, had nothing to do with the murder and that Guede, along with an unnamed Albanian man acted alone. One man said Guede told him that he and his friend went over to Kercher’s apartment trying to get her to have a threesome. She wasn’t interested and things turned violent. At one point, a knife was produced and the Albanian man cut Kercher. Guede tried to stop the bleeding, but then the other man stabbed her again to “finish her off” and the two left.
Another man testified that on the night of the murder, his brother was with Guede and he came home with wounds and scratches on him and said that he’d killed Kercher, and admitted he and Guede had gone to Kercher’s house to steal a painting and ended up killing her in a scuffle. During his trial, prosecutors introduced evidence that showed Guede’s handprint in Kercher’s blood was found in the room along with his DNA inside her body as well as on her clothing and on her purse. Guede was convicted on October 28, 2008 of the sexual assault and murder of Kercher. His fast-track conviction was upheld, and he is now serving a reduced sentence of 16 years.
Guede implicated Knox and Sollecito at some point, but had no first hand knowledge of their involvement. According to a completely different theory by prosecutors, Raffaele Sollecito held Meredith Kercher from behind while Amanda Knox stabbed her and another man (Rudy Guede) tried to sexually assault her. At trial in 2009, Prosecutors said there were traces of Knox’s genetic material on the knife handle and traces of Kercher’s DNA in a tiny groove on the blade.
Defense attorneys sought to challenge this evidence at the original trial and could not. This was challenged at the second trial- particularly that the DNA consisted of skin cells and not blood and that all of the evidence was poorly examined. The knife blade also was inconsistent with the size of the wounds. Incidentally, Knox was the first to report the incident and repeatedly tried to call Kercher.
As Kercher’s door was locked and blood was discovered in the bathroom sink, one of the roommates kicked the door open and discovered the body. Police took over the scene at that time and asked Knox and others to leave. Knox was initially interviewed in Italian, although she had only been studying the language for two months, without an attorney present and without being recorded. She claimed she was asked to speculate and “imagine” what could have happened and did so under pressure and exhaustion. She also claims that she underwent a hostile interrogation of 14 hours, was struck and yelled at, denied food and water, and caused to make incriminating statements. In the end, she signed a statement in Italian saying, in part, that she had seen her employer and bar owner, Patrick Lumumba and Kercher enter Kercher’s room.
The Italian Supreme Court later found that Knox’s human rights were violated because the police did present her with her legal rights, appoint her a lawyer or provide her an official interpreter and that her signed statement was inadmissible for Knox’s and Sollecito’s criminal trial. However, the court allowed the statement to be used in the concurrent civil, defamation trial in which Lumumba prevailed against Knox.
As such, the judges were allowed to consider the contraband evidence, in part. Largely based on the DNA evidence, Knox was convicted of sexual assault and murder in a trial on December 4, 2009 and given 26-year sentence.
Raffaele Sollecito was an Italian student, whose father is a successful and well-respected urologist, who fell in love and started dating Amanda Knox 6 days prior to the murder. Despite being described as a young, inexperienced and harmless individual, he had a dark side. He posted photographs online of himself posing as a cross between a mummy and a mad doctor, with a meat cleaver in one hand and a bottle of bleach in the other; and he was a fan of Japanese manga comics, known for their extreme violence and rape fantasies. Prosecutors played this up, even though friends said it was a joke and he was a good person. Prosecutors said that the presence of his DNA on a clasp torn from Miss Kercher’s bra was proof that he had been involved in the murder, although an independent forensic review this year cast doubt on the reliability of the evidence. He was convicted of sexual assault and murder and given a 25 year sentence. “With a girlfriend, you usually get a family. Raffaele got a murder,” his lawyers said.
The Appellate Court upheld Knox’s conviction on the charge of defamation against Patrick Lumumba. As indicated, Knox accused her boss and club owner Lumumba of killing Meredith Kercher, although she said it was under duress and when forced to come up with a theory. He was arrested, but released after his alibi checked out. He later sued Knox, winning 40,000 Euros in damages. Knox was sentenced Monday to three years on the upheld defamation charge, but received credit for the years she has already spent behind bars, said her attorney, Carlo Dalla Vedova.
The prosecution’s first theory for the motive in the murder involved a Satanic ritual orgy, a charge that the Prosecution had unsuccessfully leveled at 20 others in past cases. The prosecution also speculated it may have been a “cult sacrifice”. Later, the prosecution hypothesized that Kercher’s murder involved a sex game gone wrong or that the victim had refused to participate in an orgy. The prosecution also suggested that Guede went to the cottage to meet Knox, that Knox stole money from Kercher to pay Guede for drugs, and that Kercher walked in at the wrong time and was sexually assaulted and murdered.
In other words, they were all over the place and much of it centered on portraying Knox as a sexual deviant. Police evidence was presented showing that Knox and Sollecito did not have “true” alibis for the time of the murder. Sollecito maintained that he was at his apartment, using his computer. In addition to computer analysis, this version of events was contradicted by a witness, who testified that he had seen Knox and Sollecito chatting animatedly on a basketball court around five times between 9.30 and midnight on the night of the murder.
At the appellate trial, the witness, a homeless heroin addict who has appeared as a witness in a number of murder trials, offered contradicting testimony concerning the date he said he saw Knox and Sollecito and other crucial details about his testimony.
The Prosecution presented a case based on speculation and inferences, many of which would never see the light of day in our system.
Italian Justice System v. American Justice System-
It is important to note that the Italian justice system has undergone major changes, even over the last 20-30 years. The basic statute in the field of substantive criminal law is the Criminal Code of October 1930 (Codice Rocco). It has essentially been recently replaced for what some describe as a more “Americanized” form of government.
The Italian criminal law system is divided into various adjudicating bodies. The most serious crimes are assigned to Tribunal judges (usually three judges), who will then act as a collective organ. The Court of Appeals reviews the decision of the Tribunal. The Court of Appeals has between 1-3 judges and he Italian criminal law system provides for laymen judges, i.e. citizens who are not part of the judiciary but who are called upon to carry out judicial activities by deciding on the guilt or innocence of offenders of the most serious crimes.
Knox’s jury contained 8 members- six members of the public and two judges. A majority ruling was all that was needed to throw out the conviction, with a tie favoring the defense.
I should say that besides having a law degree, I was a double major in Political Science and Criminal Justice, so this is right up my alley. America is the only country in the world that has a true jury system. It is worth noting that the role of the jury is MOST important in the very first trial, when liberty and freedom are most crucial- not at the appellate level. This verdict came about because the Italian judicial system has INCORRECTLY emulated the American judicial system.
In Italian criminal cases, the jury includes two professional judges, one of whom is the presiding judge in the case. Lay jurors defer to the “real judges” in many instances. Imagine having 2 judges back in the jury room. Also, in Italy, the jury is not sequestered until deliberations begin and in a case like this, is exposed to media coverage, facts that were otherwise potentially not allowed by the court, et cetera.
Further, prosecutors were allowed to pray on reputation and character evidence, which is not allowed in the US. Anything considered more prejudicial than probative, more inflammatory than meaningful is not allowed. In another departure from American law, in addition to the verdict and sentence, Ms. Knox was ordered to pay punitive damages to the Kercher family — about $4.24 million (2.8 million Euros), which as we all saw in the O.J. Simpson trial, only occurs in a separate civil trial in the US. Conclusion- Victimization occurs at any time, any place and by any one.
Whether rear-ended in a car wreck or wrongfully accused by a government official, the innocent are victimized all of the time and the justice system works hard to right those wrongs civilly and criminally. I, frankly, do not get the evidence in this case. Italian court experts say that many wrongful convictions occur in the first trial, which is why the appellate trial is so elaborate. It’s backwards. It’s unfair.
The standards of evidence is also so very different in that you can try a person’s character outside of the US. Here that is extremely protected against. If a person is an exotic dancer or has a criminal record, in many instances that will never come into the trial for fear of prejudice against the person. Outside of the US, the attempt is to adopt an “Americanized” system, but it makes me fear even traveling abroad.
God Bless Ms. Kercher and her family and peace and justice be with all of those involved.
(Various sources, including wikipedia, were consulted and used in this report.)