An Italian court has reversed the ruling of an earlier appellate court that found Amanda Knox not guilty in the murder of her roommate Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy. The latest court actually handed down a longer sentence against Knox who has remained in Seattle, Washington with her family. The case has drawn attention to a number of flaws in the Italian legal system and I have serious reservations over this ruling. I believe that there is evidence that Knox committed the crime but the evidence is highly circumstantial and much of the crime scene was contaminated by poor police work.
This is the fourth verdict in the sensational murder case. The earlier appeals jury overturned the convictions of Knox and Sollecito four years before that ruling. While it has shocked many, it was a victory for the rule of law given the lack of evidence and serious mistakes of police in the course of the investigation. We have previously discussed the problems in the physical evidence and false statements made in the case against the couple. We also discussed the ludicrous slander charges made against the parents.
The defamation claim stems from her accusing her former boss in a bar where she worked, Patrick Lumumba, in testimony. Later she said that the police pressured her into accusing Lumumba. The use of defamation to charge people for such testimony (considered privileged in the U.S.) is a terrible practice.
What is clear after this case is that the police investigators are virtually “libel proof” in light of their numerous and mind boggling mistakes. I fear great sympathy for the parents of Kircher. There was a foundation to suspect both Knox and Sollecito, whose testimony changed in fundamental ways and retained serious gaps. However, the police so bungled this case, the threads of evidence left ample doubt. The prosecutors relied on open speculation based on highly questionable forensic evidence such as Sollecito’s DNA on the bra strap. The evidence against Knox was even weaker. None of this dispels suspicions of the couple or their contemptful conduct before and after the murder. The earlier jury proved itself dispassionate and disciplined is separating speculation from fact in overturning the convictions.
The decision this week pushed aside those problems over the 2007 murder. It seemed to punish Knox for not appearing in Italy (which is her right) and gave her 28 years and six months in prison. Her former Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito and co-defendant was sentenced to 25 years. She was previously given 26 years.
Her lawyer Knox’s attorney, Carlo Dalla Vedova qouted Dante in response noting that Dante reserved the lower circle of hell for those who betrayed trust in reference to the police. It was a curious choice since many people in Italy view that particular circle as made for Knox.
Knox issued a statement that she was “frightened and saddened by this unjust verdict” and “expected better from the Italian justice system.” Her counsel will now appeal but her domestic counsel will not to be prepared for an extradition demand. However, while Presiding Judge Alessando Nencini ordered the 29-year-old Sollecito’s passport revoked, he made no requests for Knox’s movements to be limited, saying she was “justifiably abroad.”
As I discussed on ABC News, extradition may be hard to fight even though this could still take years before she is faced by re-incarceration. It must first go to the Italian Supreme Court, then to the Foreign Ministry for an extradition request, then to the State Department, and potentially to a court to review the basis for extradition. However, that review is limited. While this case looks like double jeopardy with four verdicts, the Italians are likely to argue that the system is simply different and that no final stage was reached in the process until it was heard by the Italian Supreme Court. The Italian system has multiple fact-based proceedings of this kind. It is a system that has been heavily criticized for its inefficiency and inconsistency. However, a court could easily conclude that this is not multiple convictions for the same offense. In the end, this will become a diplomatic issue and the U.S. (particularly when it is demanding the extradition of Edward Snowden) is unlikely to refuse a close ally. We demand more extraditions from other countries than we sent to other countries. The issue is not likely to be a close one for the Obama Administration in ordering the U.S. Attorney in Seattle to carry out an extradition demand from Italy. However, that could be years away since the Italian system moves at a glacial pace.
Two Italian judges and six jurors reached the decision after about six hours of deliberation.
In the bizarre world of American celebrity crimes, the store of the conviction ran with the apparently equally important story that Knox has been dropped from the CBS reality show “Big Brother.” Knox had hope to win the $500,000 grand prize by being the last person evicted on “Big Brother.” Somehow a conviction for murdering your last roommate is viewed as a bar on participation with the roommates on the reality show. A bit too real.