Amanda Knox Might Get the Retrial She Deserves If Anyone Considers the Facts
The longer the Italian courts consider the Meredith Kercher case – and we have now had three trials, six presiding judges, two hearings before the Italian high court and a third on the way – the more the country's institutions of justice have covered themselves in shame.
Judge after judge has twisted the available evidence into extraordinary contortions of logic to assert, at different times, that Kercher – a British exchange student stabbed to death in her room in Perugia in 2007 – was the victim of a premeditated attack; that her murder happened spontaneously; that the motive was sexual; that the motive was a dispute over housework with Amanda Knox, the star defendant; that the trigger for the murder was the unseemly appetite Knox and her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, had for sex and drugs; that the trigger for the murder was Rudy Guede, the Ivorian-born drifter everyone agrees was involved, knocking on the door to use the toilet.
By now, Knox and Sollecito have been convicted, acquitted and convicted again, and the underlying forensic evidence has been both exposed as a sham and, mystifyingly, reinstated. (Disclosure: I am the co-author, with Sollecito, on his memoir about the case.)
Still, the latest judicial document in the ongoing battle, a 337-page justification of the most recent convictions made public on Tuesday, marks a new low. Not only has Alessandro Nencini, the presiding judge of the Florence appeals court, apparently resorted to the same tortured logic as his predecessors; he has also stated things as fact that are manifestly and provably wrong.
That may be more than even the Italian justice system can stomach; judges, after all, aren't supposed to do things like that. And it may provide Knox and Sollecito with unexpected – if still slim – grounds for hope at the very moment when Kercher's death had seemed settled, at last, according to the law.
To read the new conviction report in detail is to enter a kind of alternate reality, where concrete facts appear ignored and alternate facts are seemingly plucked from the air. Kercher's murder is reduced to a parlor game and all roads lead to the inevitable, if not also foregone, conclusion that Knox and Sollecito are guilty. For instance:
- On page 63, Judge Nencini claims that a partial shoeprint found at the murder scene comes from a size 37 women's shoe and must therefore belong to Amanda Knox. But this is not based on the available evidence. In the early days of the case, the prosecution sought to show that the shoeprint was from Sollecito's Nikes; the pattern of concentric circles on the sole was later proven to come from a different pair of Nikes belonging to Guede.
- On page 81, Nencini grapples with the question of how Knox and Sollecito could have participated in the murder but left no more than a single, hotly disputed trace of themselves at the scene. Extraordinarily, Nencini argues that Knox and Sollecito must have wiped the place clean of their DNA (but left an abundance of Guede's) because no traces of Knox's DNA were found anywherein the apartment that she shared with the victim. But multiple samples of Knox's DNA were found and presented at trial; they just weren't found in the room where the murder took place.
- Then, on page 321, Nencini writes that the blade of the purported murder weapon – a large kitchen knife found in Sollecito's apartment – bore traces of both Kercher's and Sollecito's DNA. Again, this is at variance with the evidence. The most the prosecution ever asserted was that Kercher's DNA was on the tip of the blade. Sollecito's DNA has never been found.
The defense teams have reacted with consternation: Knox issued a formal statement decrying the lack of "credible evidence or logic" in this latest document, which arrived just ahead of the three-month deadline following her latest conviction; Sollecito's lead lawyer, Giulia Bongiorno, denouncedwhat she said were "at least ten clamorous mistakes per page". (A Kercher family lawyer called the document "a version that we have always in some ways sustained".)
This being Italy, however, the judicial errors are not necessarily a bad thing for Knox and Sollecito, because they give the Italian high court an opening – should the justices choose to take it – to overturn the latest conviction, and either dismiss the case, send it back to get the mistakes fixed, or order yet another trial in another court.
The high court justices will be aware, of course, that the longer the case drags on, the more suspect the process will look in the eyes of world opinion. Another trial would test the patience of even the most ardent believers in Knox and Sollecito's guilt, and certainly of the Kercher family. But the process is starting to curdle – even without the spectacle of lawyers arguing, yet again, over the same controversies before a barrage of international TV cameras. That leaves the high court, which always has one eye on the integrity of the system, with a genuine dilemma.
Much has been written about Italian justice's desire to save face in this much written-about case. To admit a miscarriage of justice, the argument runs, has become too difficult, because it would expose the mistakes of too many people, from the primary investigators to the Rome forensic lab to the prosecutors and judges.
However, as the case trudges toward the seven-year mark, one has to wonder how much appetite the institutions of justice still have to stand by what they have done. Will the high court really want to endorse Nencini's report with all these evident flaws? Or will this finally be the moment when the justice system calls a halt to a travesty committed in its name and exonerates Knox and Sollecito, as it should have done years ago?