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Justice, Italian Style

Updated: Jun 10, 2020

I was surprised to learn that Amanda Knox decided to return to Italy last month. After all, she’d been treated rather brutally by their justice system.

For those of you who don’t remember, in 2007 Amanda and her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were accused of murdering Amanda’s British roommate, Meredith Kercher. The two young women were college students studying abroad in Perugia, Italy. Little is mentioned of the others living in the ground floor apartment, or in other units in the building.

Amanda and Raffaele had whirlwind romantic relationship after first meeting five days before the murder. According to Amanda, she’d spent the night at Raffaele’s flat, returning to her house the next morning. She found the front door ajar, but nothing out of place in the living room or her bedroom. In the bathroom a little later, she noted a small amount of blood around the sink and a blood stain on the bathmat. She knocked on her roommate’s door, with no response. She tried opening it, but it was locked. Then she tried calling Meredith on her cell phone, but there was no answer. Worried, Amanda contacted Raffaele, who came over and tried unsuccessfully to break the door down.

The police were called, and the door to Meredith’s room was kicked in, revealing Meredith’s nude body on the floor. She had exsanguinated from a stab to the neck. A window to her bedroom had been broken by a rock and opened.

The crime was widely publicized, the press and public demanding an arrest.

Amanda was questioned and denied access to a lawyer. After enduring many hours of interrogation which included being accused, yelled at in Italian, commanded to remember meeting Patrick (a local man in whose bar she worked part-time, but who she hadn’t met despite their insistence), Amanda reflected on the horror of her roommate’s murder, and became confused. She thought she may have forgotten recent events and believed she recollected seeing Patrick murder Meredith. She and Raffaele, who was similarly interrogated, were arrested, as was Patrick. Patrick was released a short time later, having a strong alibi at the time of the crime. Amanda and Raffaele remained in prison, awaiting trial.

The press coverage in Italy and abroad was relentless. With the help of the prosecutor, Amanda was portrayed as a sex-crazed lunatic, who had killed her roommate as part of a drug-fueled sex game. The murder was described as the crime of the century. The moniker “Foxy Knoxy” was used repeatedly when referring to Amanda, reinforcing the perception that she was an evil woman obsessed with sex. The prosecutor appeared to relish his power, at one point causing Amanda additional anguish by telling her she tested positive for AIDS while in prison, when in fact she tested negative.

DNA analysis showed a small amount of Amanda’s DNA in Meredith’s room, and a small amount of Raffaele’s DNA on the piece of Meredith’s bra found forty-six days after the murder. Small amounts of DNA from two unidentified men were also found on that specimen (although that information was withheld from the jury during the trial). A knife found in Raffaele’s flat was deemed to be consistent with the murder weapon. A small amount of Amanda’s DNA was found on the knife. Testing also showed a trace amount of Meredith’s DNA on the blade.

Bloody fingerprints and large amounts of DNA from another male were found in Meredith’s room, in other places around the apartment, and “inside” Meredith (suggesting she was raped). DNA and fingerprints from the third person were tracked down to Rudy Guede, a known drug dealer and burglar who was acquainted with men that lived in Amanda and Meredith’s building. In a previous burglary, he had opened a window after breaking it with a rock. When the police decided to bring Rudy in for questioning, they found that he had left the country. They convinced a friend to Skype Rudy, finding him in Germany. During the conversation with his friend, Rudy said he was in Meredith’s apartment the night of the murder, but he didn’t do it. An unknown man entered the apartment to murder her while he was in the bathroom. He said he couldn’t identify the man, but Amanda was definitely not there.

Rudy was extradited and tried separately from Amanda and Raffaele. Throughout the case, he changed his story several times, eventually implicating Amanda to save himself. Despite that, he was convicted and sentenced to thirty years, reduced to sixteen on appeal. His guilt remains undisputed (except by himself).

Why anyone would believe Amanda and Raffaele, who had known each other less than a week, would have been involved in a dangerous sex game with the likes of Rudy, is beyond me, but that is the scenario put forth by the head prosecutor. He fed the media lies and bizarre theories of Amanda’s demonic possession, leading to her conviction in the court of public opinion long before the trial. This prosecutor, by the way, was under investigation all this time for abuse of office.

The trial of Amanda and Raffaele was a media circus. Two years after Meredith’s murder, both were found guilty. Amanda was sentenced to twenty-six years in prison, Raffaele to twenty-five.

An American journalist, Douglas Preston, had a previous run-in with the same prosecutor when he was investigating a notorious serial killer in Florence, Italy. This prosecutor detained him and had been “very abusive.” Preston claimed the prosecutor made up theories and was fixated on “satanic sex.” Because Preston disagreed with his outrageous theories, the prosecutor accused him of being an accessory to murder, interrogated him, and threatened him with a long imprisonment. The Italian journalist Preston had been working with was arrested and spent three weeks in solitary confinement until a judge ordered him released. Preston maintained that this prosecutor based the case against Amanda and Raffaele on another of his ridiculous theories.

A year after conviction, Amanda and Raffaele began the appeals process. Review of crime scene investigation films showed sloppy technique, with booties and gloves not changed appropriately. Re-examination of the forensic evidence concluded that Meredith’s DNA on the knife and Raffaele’s DNA on Meredith’s bra fragment may have been due to contamination (the knife DNA was minuscule, and the testing was done alongside fifty specimens with Meredith’s DNA; the bra fragment had been unsecured in the apartment for thirty six days before it was found).

Amanda and Raffaele’s convictions were overturned four years after the murder. Upon hearing the verdict, people outside the courtroom were furious. The prosecutor vowed to pursue what he considered to be justice. Amanda returned to her home in Seattle.

Six years after the murder, the prosecutor was successful in convincing the Italian Supreme Court to rule that Amanda and Raffaele needed to stand trial again (remember, this is not the U.S.) Understandably, Amanda didn’t return to Italy for the second trial. Instead, she had her lawyer read a statement maintaining her innocence. Raffaele testified as to his innocence. Both were again convicted, with Amanda now being sentenced to twenty-eight years and six months (longer than the original sentence). Raffaele was again sentenced to twenty-five years. Understandably, at that point Amanda said she would never go back to Italy willingly.

Finally, eight years after the murder, the Italian Supreme Court overturned both murder convictions, referring to the extraordinarily flawed investigation, the media attention pressuring law enforcement to find the guilty party, and the lack of credible biological material connecting Amanda and Raffaele to the crime.

Amanda went back to Italy recently because she wanted to speak at the Criminal Justice Festival in Modena, organized by the Italy Innocence Project (which didn’t exist when she was tried). Given the court's history of reversing itself, I assume she must have had some assurance she wouldn't be re-arrested. I hope Amanda’s presence had a positive effect on the Italian justice system.

I know we have problems here, too, but the premise of the prosecution’s case against Amanda and Raffaele appeared ridiculous from the start. Why would these two young people participate in anything, much less a sex game, with a low life like Rudy? What would be the motive for murdering Meredith? While large amounts of Rudy’s DNA were found at the crime scene, only small amounts of Amanda’s and Raffaele’s were found, consistent with contamination and/or the fact that Amanda lived in the same apartment, and Raffaele had visited there. Add to that the prosecutor’s history of abuse and bizarre theories, and there is more than a little doubt about the Amanda and Raffaele’s guilt.

Nevertheless, I was surprised to find on a recent trip to Italy that all the native Italians I asked (tour guides, mostly) appeared to agree on one thing: Amanda Knox did it. Meredith’s family also think she’s guilty. The prosecutor has been promoted. Go figure.

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