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 has drawn to a close in Perugia, Italy, where Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were tried for a murder that they clearly did not commit. Like the absurd evidence used to convict witches, their prosecution hinged 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 was a direct result of a serious, ongoing aberration in the legal system in Perugia. An aberration that was driven by a rogue prosecutor who was himself, convicted of prosecutorial misconduct in the Monster of Florence case, a previous, bizarre prosecution that also, coincidentally, involved satanic cults.
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 and Raffaele, 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 and Raffaele’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."
Scan of Amanda’s actual diary entry
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 was 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 Raffaele and Amanda, 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 pillowcase.
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 was 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 has come from that paragon of virtue, Rudy Guede. It would be laughable, were it not for the gluttonous appetite of the prosecution for any lie, any distortion, any false evidence to convict them of a crime they did not commit. From someone who has told lie, after lie, after lie, after committing horrific, senseless murder.
The Crucible of Perugia
Is there any hope for a just outcome for Raffaele and Amanda? Mignini had every opportunity to establish guilt, but failed to produce more than tainted evidence, bizarre stories by drug addicts, and leaks and insinuations unsupported by the facts. Many say that the courts will rule guilty to avoid what is called “bad face,” to “save face” in English.
There is still time for the crucible of Perugia to yield a just verdict.
The appeals court 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.