November 28, 2009

The Little Dictator

In dictatorships and other totalitarian governments it is common practice to arrest people, conspicuously without  reason, and to threaten and intimidate them. This is done to disavow them of any illusions they may have about possessing civil rights or being entitled to due process of law. The authorities in Perugia, Italy took a page from this Manual for Despots when they charged Amanda Knox’s parents, Edda Mellas and Curt Knox, with felony Defamation of Character for supporting their daughter’s statements about mistreatment during interrogation by the polizei.

This interrogation, as is well known, was conducted without her being allowed either legal counsel or a translator, in a language she barely knew, over long hours until the middle of the night. In an interview with a British newspaper, Edda and Curt said that Amanda was “abused physically and verbally” and that she had told them she was “hit in the back of the head by a police officer with an open hand...” Amanda has since testified to this in court.

Now, after 18 months, an unstated number of unnamed polizei could bear this insult no more, and decided to press these charges the day before the beginning of the defense’s closing arguments. One can question the speed of Italian justice, but it’s timing is impeccable. By throwing this rock into the already muddy waters of the case, they clearly hope to bury coverage of the defense’s closing with yet another groundless accusation by the prosecution.

These obscene charges have several effects. Among them:

First, more lawyers for the family, and yet more legal bills. Guilty or innocent, the crushing burden of legal bills is a punishment not to be underestimated.

Second, if convicted, they face 6 months to 3 years in an Italian prison. It is said that those without prior offenses are unlikely to serve time for this crime, but, clearly, that rule of thumb has no bearing in this case. One need only look at the record of malevolent, vindictive, and dragged out incarceration that has already been inflicted on Amanda to understand this.

Third, having been charged on preposterous grounds simply for speaking the truth and defending their daughter, they are put on notice that any further support will bring risks. It is an attempt to silence opposition.

Fourth, it will make it far more difficult, and dangerous, for Amanda’s parents to visit her in the event that she is unjustly convicted. By simply leaving these charges hanging, as was done in the case of Doug Preston by this same jurisdiction, any visit to Italy will risk arrest and imprisonment. This will have the effect of isolating Amanda even more severely than the 9 months in solitary confinement already demanded by PM Mignini.

This is part of an effort, not merely to convict Amanda, but to destroy her. It is an attempt to inflict cruel and unusual punishment on someone with no history of violence or aggression, and with no plausible evidence or motive to link her to the alleged crime. 

What is the evidence for these charges? Did the polizei abuse Amanda, cuff her, browbeat her, and demand that she make statements that she did not think of herself? That is the beauty of the charge, you see. There is no evidence. Because the prosecution will not release it.

Although the polizei made recordings of every telephone conversation, cell phone call, Skype link, and statement made in this case, they deny that any recording of Amanda’s interrogation exists. One can imagine them saying, “Her interrogation! What an oversight! I suppose we should have spent a few Lira to record.” It is absolutely not credible that no recording was made. It is absolutely not believable that it does not exist, and it is clear that the reason they have refused to release it is because it supports Amanda’s testimony, and not the prosecution’s statements.

Withholding this evidence leaves only Amanda’s word against the word of the unnumbered and unnamed polizei.

Frankly, I believe Amanda. How about you?

November 15, 2009

The Crucible of Perugia

In medieval times in Europe, roughly one hundred thousand people, three quarters of them women, were tried for witchcraft. With charges often based on accusations from those already under suspicion, most were convicted and were burned, hung, or strangled. Thankfully, that dark era is past, and such groundless, perverse, inhuman prosecutions no longer take place. For the most part.

A conspicuous exception is drawing to a close in Perugia, Italy, where Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito are on trial for a murder that they clearly did not commit. Like the absurd evidence used to convict witches, their prosecution hinges on a series of deliberate distortions, half truths, and outright lies. I’ve discussed this evidence in previous articles. Now let’s take a look now at the crucible of witch hunt justice, Perugian style.

Medieval witch hunts didn’t just happen. They were fed by an atmosphere of superstition and fear. After a slow start, they soared after the publication of the “Hammer of Witches,” one of the first printed books. "All wickedness," Hammer tells us, "is but little to the wickedness of a woman….Women are by nature instruments of Satan.” Witches were also believed to have powers to control and coerce men. Perhaps this misogynistic insight is where prosecutor Giuliano Mignini came up with his obsession with Amanda, and the accusation that she led a “satanic sex ritual,” since no evidence of one has ever been presented.

Like the fancy garb and pretentious air of the prosecutor, this instruction manual for atrocity conferred a mantle of authority, an official air, that carried great weight in the small towns and backwaters where the most ardent witch hunts occurred. Backwaters not unlike Perugia, Italy. Perugia, you see, is no Rome.

Wikipedia calls witch trials “a vivid cautionary tale about the dangers of religious extremism, false accusations, lapses in due process, and governmental intrusion on individual liberties.” This will all sound familiar to those who have followed this case. “Evidence that would be excluded from modern courtrooms-- hearsay, gossip, stories, unsupported assertions, surmises-- was also generally admitted.” Deja vu all over again.

This trial didn’t just happen either. It is a direct result of a serious, ongoing aberration in the legal system in Perugia. An aberration that is driven by a rogue prosecutor who is himself, under indictment for obstruction of justice and illegal wiretapping in the Monster of Florence case, a previous, bizarre prosecution that also, coincidentally, involved satanic cults.

More Weight
A good place to start to understand the witch hunt system of justice is the case of Giles Corey, a prosperous farmer and church member in Salem, Massachusetts in the late 1600s. A woman accused Giles of asking her to write in the devil’s book. This same woman also claimed to have been told by a ghost that Giles was her murderer. He was therefore arrested along with three women, one of whom, terrified and desperate to gain favor with the prosecutor declared that Giles was a warlock.

As with Amanda, there was no evidence of any of this. How could there be? None of it was real. In a way, Giles’ guilt was established “psychologically,” just as Amanda’s was by the lead investigator, Giobbi, though that impressive sounding word had yet to be invented.

Giles refused to enter a plea, guilty or innocent. If he did he would certainly be convicted, his assets seized, and his family would lose everything. The court therefore slowly crushed him under rocks while asking, three more times, if he was ready to plea. Each time he famously replied, “More weight.” It took two days of this to kill him, and witch trial justice was served.

I Just Highly Doubt All of That
Amanda’s family’s assets have already been plundered by the process of justice. But, at age 20, Amanda did not show the resolve of Giles Corey when her inquisitors pressed her to imagine what might have happened at the murder, insisting that she knew, but was lying to them. After days of questioning, in the middle of the night, in a language she barely knew and without an attorney, she took their bait and, as suggested, pictured Patrick Lumumba committing the crime. As soon as possible, she made a written statement saying that it all seemed like a dream, that she was unsure what was real and what was imagined. Nevertheless, the witch hunters touted this as an accusation, one witch of another, and raced off to capture Patrick, again ignoring the total lack of evidence.

That accusation didn’t pan out, as it was soon proved that Patrick had nothing to do with it, but the witch hunters weren’t through with Amanda. They leaked her diary to the press, a violation of Italian law, and twisted it to their needs. Here is the original passage where she discusses Raffaele and his kitchen knife.

"Raffaele and I have used this knife to cook, and it's impossible that Meredith's DNA is on the knife because she's never been to Raffaele's apartment before. So unless Raffaele decided to get up after I fell asleep, grabbed said knife, went over to my house, used it to kill Meredith, came home, cleaned the blood off, rubbed my fingerprints all over it, put it away, then tucked himself back into bed, and then pretended really well the next couple of days, well, I just highly doubt all of that."

Notice that Amanda wrote, “It’s impossible that Meredith’s DNA is on the knife because she’s never been to Raffaele’s apartment.” Think about this for a moment. Amanda only thought about DNA from Meredith visiting, not from being murdered. That hadn’t even occurred to her. It is a natural, human mistake. One that suggests innocence.

But here is the English translation of the Italian translation (you read that right) of that same diary entry, that appeared in much of the Italian and British press. Notice that the meaning, the exact opposite of Amanda’s meaning, is greatly improved as it met the witch hunter’s needs much better.

"That night I smoked a lot of marijuana and I fell asleep at my boyfriend’s house. I don’t remember anything. But I think it’s possible that Raffaele went to Meredith’s house, raped her and then killed. And when he got home, while I was sleeping, he put my fingerprints on the knife. But I don’t understand why Raffaele would do that."

This gave the witch hunters another false accusation to work with. They used this tortured translation to claim that Amanda had accused Raffaele, even though that was the exact opposite of what she wrote. And they spread it far and wide with the aid of a willing, gullible, gutter, press.

In Meredith’s Blood
These were just appetizers for the main course of false accusation that is about to be served. But first, let’s talk just a little more about the evidence. In a previous article we discussed the importance of control tests in the scientific method. One of the best kinds of controls is something called an “internal standard” that is, a control that is built right into the same device, or environment, so you can compare what you’re wondering about with something else that has been there, and done that. In the case of this murder, we have an excellent internal standard for whether Amanda and Raffaele were involved in the crime. His name is Rudy Guede.

If we compare the evidence left behind by Rudy with that left, or, rather, not left, by Amanda and Raffaele, we can see a stark difference. That is because Rudy committed murder, while Amanda and Raffaele did not.

No matter how much someone tries to clean up a crime scene, something is generally left behind.... it's almost impossible to take any kind of violent action without shedding something.”

By his own admission, Rudy was present when Meredith died. He stated that he left her bleeding to death, then washed her blood off his shoes and himself, went out dancing at a local disco, and fled the country like any aggrieved person would do. If we look at the evidence he left behind, and compare it with the lack of traces of Amanda and Raffaele, we can see that the evidence solidly supports their innocence, and Rudy’s guilt.

Rudy left his DNA in, on, and around Meredith. These were not picogram traces that could have come from anywhere, they were substantial, reproducible, indisputable, evidence.

Rudy left his excrement in the toilet.

Rudy suffered a cut on his right hand during the struggle.

Rudy left footprints, in Meredith’s blood, in the bedroom, bath, and hall.

Rudy left handprints, in Meredith’s blood, on the wall and on a pillow case.

Rudy left his DNA, and Meredith’s blood, on her purse as he ransacked it.

In contrast, there was no DNA from Amanda in Meredith’s room, despite the fact that she lived in the same apartment. There were no fingerprints, footprints, or other traces of Amanda in that room. She had no wounds on herself and left no marks on Meredith. Despite claims that her footprints were found in the hallway with luminol, they cannot be attributed to her, but could have been made by any of the girls who lived there, and could have been made at any time. Further, they did not show any traces of blood.

Amanda Knox left no traces whatsoever of presence at the scene of the crime, because she wasn't there.

Similarly, there was no DNA from Raffaele in the room. There were no footprints, no handprints, no other traces and he had no wounds. None. Of course, the prosecution tried to assert that there were. They grossly mismatched his foot and shoe to prints clearly left by Rudy. They dug up the bra clasp 47 days after the rest of the forensic data was collected, after it was kicked about the floor, buried under a rug, and seriously contaminated. They then declared that it, and it alone (not the bra that it was cut off from!) carried his DNA. But setting aside this single piece of grossly contaminated and quite possibly planted evidence, there is no trace of Raffaele at the scene of the crime.

Further, Amanda and Raffaele did not flee the country, even though some of her relatives pleaded with her to do so. They did not even retain lawyers, even though they should have. They thought that innocence would protect them. But innocence, in a witch trial, is merely an inconvenience.

I have promised one more false accusation, and haven’t forgotten that promise. It will come from that paragon of virtue, Rudy Guede. His lawyer has given notice that he will testify against Amanda during his appeal. This would be laughable, were it not for the gluttonous appetite of the prosecution for any lie, any distortion, any false evidence to convict her of a crime she did not commit. So look for them, and for the gutter press, to tout it as the truth, at long last. From someone who has told lie, after lie, after committing horrific, senseless murder.

The Crucible of Perugia
Is there any hope for a just verdict for Amanda? This isn’t a real witch trial, after all, and the judges and lay jurors are not fools. They have given Mignini almost everything he has asked for, but that doesn’t mean that they believe his fairy tales. He has had every opportunity to establish guilt, but has failed to produce more than tainted evidence, bizarre stories by drug addicts, and leaks and insinuations unsupported by the facts.

Many say that they will rule guilty to avoid what is called “bad face,” to “save face” in English, because they have made earlier rulings that suggest they believe Amanda and Raffaele are guilty. But not all rulings have gone that way. When the prosecution had Kokomani testify that Amanda had a large gap in her teeth, one of these judges simply asked Amanda to smile, showing no gap at all.

There is still time for the crucible of Perugia to yield a just verdict.

The judges can show the courage do what is right, not what is easiest.

They can do what is fair, not what will avoid “bad face.”

They can prove the skeptics wrong and show that they understand and value justice.

They can acquit Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito of a crime they did not commit.