October 21, 2010

Through the Motivation Report – Part I

This post is Part I of a three part sample chapter from my upcoming book, 
The Monster of Perugia – The Framing of Amanda Knox
Parts II and III are now posted directly below

The Motivation Report from the Court of Assizes in Perugia, Italy attempts to explain the wrongful convictions of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito for the murder of Meredith Kercher. It does so in spite of the lack of evidence, lack of motive, and lack of common sense. Producing such a lengthy and impressive document that justifies doing something terribly wrong is not an easy task – it requires inspiration.

After careful study, it appears to me that the court’s inspiration was Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. In that classic work, the characters inverted reality and tortured logic with tenacity undaunted by reality. The Court of Assizes found a similar challenge before it. Without valid evidence, without anything resembling a believable motive, without any prior history of crime or violent acts whatsoever, it is unbelievable that Amanda Knox committed such a crime. So the Court turned to pure fiction to justify its actions.

In Through the Looking Glass, Alice speculated about what it would be like on the other side of a mirror. To her surprise, she was able to pass through to that other side, but when she did, she found herself trapped in a world where everything was backward, where logic itself was inverted.

The Motivation arrived at the outlandish conclusion that a rock that was clearly thrown through a window from the outside to break into the cottage, was instead thrown from the inside of the cottage to simulate a break in. Once that rock passed through that window backwards, logic in the Perugian court was turned into its mirror image, and outrageous conclusion after outrageous conclusion was reached. With those conclusions, Amanda Knox passed through the looking glass and was found guilty in spite of overwhelming evidence of her innocence.

Nevertheless, the Motivation is important evidence. Very poor evidence against Amanda and Raffaele, but very telling evidence against Giuliano Mignini and the judges that made this decision. As we analyze it, we see a pattern of contortions that go well beyond bad judgment calls or mere incompetence. Instead we see sign after sign of willful and deliberate twisting to achieve a desired result.

The Motivation Report is compatible with the framing of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito.

Meandering River

The 400+ page long Motivation begins by meandering about through almost random observations as if to take up space, or perhaps to lull its readers to sleep.  At times no real attempt was made to develop a coherent narrative from these observations, they are like postcards from the edge of a murder.

“Meredith was very attached to her family and very affectionate; she had bought some presents and had a case full of chocolate she had bought in Perugia that she wanted to bring for her sister, Stephanie Arline Lara Kercher.”

“She loved pizza very much and at times went dancing.”

These and similar insights must have served to guide the Court’s reasoning. To avoid putting my readers to sleep, this chapter will walk through the perverse logic that was applied to just a few important aspects of the case. Of particular importance are the Court’s findings that the break-in at the cottage was staged rather than actual, and that while Rudy seemed to break in everywhere else, he would never have done such a thing as break in there.

To make these assertions, the Court reached conclusions that fly in the face of common sense, all the while cloaking itself in a guise of reason. Tweedledee and Tweedledum, rotund twin brothers imported from a nursery rhyme to the looking glass world, were masters of this.

“Contrariwise,” continued Tweedledee, “if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.”
“I was thinking,” Alice said very politely, “which is the best way out of this wood: it’s getting so dark. Would you tell me, please?”
But the little men only looked at each other and grinned.

The Motivation is also called the Massei Report because it was mostly written by Judge Giancarlo Massei. In it, he disagrees with the contentions of prosecutor Giuliano Mignini on many major points of evidence and witness testimony, even calling some unbelievable.These two little men disagreed on many fundamental points, except for one thing on which they agreed: guilt. There is a precedent for this.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee
Agreed to have a battle;
For Tweedledum said Tweedledee
Had spoiled his nice new rattle.

Just then flew down a monstrous crow,
As black as a tar-barrel;
Which frightened both the heroes so,
They quite forgot their quarrel.

Even though the court did not accept the prosecution’s proposed motive, much of its evidence, or the scenario for how the crime occurred, these little men, Mignini and Massei, like Tweedeldum and Tweedledee before them, quite forgot their quarrel when it came to assigning guilt to Amanda Knox.

For the prosecution and the court to disagree on so many matters and yet to agree on guilt is not a minor point. The prosecution itself repeatedly changed the supposed motives, evidence, and diverse claims that it made against the accused to advance their case. The only thing that remained constant was guilt. In the Motivation, it is clear that to the Court itself the evidence, motive, etc. were mere details, not the important thing at all. The important thing was casting about for a justification for the guilt of Amanda Knox.

It is a critical fact for the understanding of this trial that guilt was preordained; the evidence was an afterthought. Once one sees this cart-before-the-horse mentality for what it is, one can practically sit back and watch as the evidence is twisted to achieve the result, rather than being objectively discovered and analyzed. The distortion of the evidence to wrongfully convict Amanda and Raffaele is especially clear in the Motivation. I urge everyone with an interest in this case to read it. Even in the translation produced by the anonymous and unaccountable team assembled by the guilters, the Motivation is self-damning in its illogical and preposterous assertions.

It is not a coincidence that while those who assert that Amanda and Raffaele are guilty point to this document, they rarely cite its actual contents. Those contents show just how weak the prosecution’s case was. As several observers stated shortly after its release, it appears to have been designed to be overthrown on appeal on the basis of its own content. It is as if those who wrote it knew perfectly well that they were convicting innocent people, and sought some form of repentance by including the seeds of self-destruction.

Shutter Island

Perhaps the most critical conclusion reached in the Motivation is that the break-in of the cottage was staged rather than being an actual burglary. From this reference point the court goes on to claim that Amanda, and only Amanda, had a motive to stage that break-in, and that she must therefore be guilty of murder. Let’s walk through this “reasoning” in some detail.

“It must be held that when Filomena Romanelli left the house in via della Pergola, she had pulled the shutters towards the interior of her room, (although she did not think that she had actually closed them.)” P–48

Filomena “did not think that she had actually closed them” in the Court’s words, and yet, the conclusion was “it must be held” that she closed them. Why? Because, the Motivation says, the wood was old and swollen, and it was difficult to close them. Anyone who has ever pulled closed an old door or shutter knows about this. You pull it kind of shut but it doesn’t really close all the way because it is swollen and doesn’t close right. So it is left partly open. Yet the Court concluded the opposite, in spite of Filomena testifying that she did not think she had actually closed the shutters. This conclusion, trivial on the face of it, is the first of many sequential and improbable conclusions – improbable conclusions culminating in convictions and years in prison.

Let’s call this Improbable Conclusion #1. Filomena did not think she had closed the shutters; therefore, they were closed.

Improbable Conclusion #2 is that because the shutters were closed, they would have had to be opened in some way.

“Consequently, since the shutters had been pulled together and their rubbing put pressure on the windowsill on which they rested, it would have first been necessary to effect an operation with the specific goal of completely opening these shutters.”

The Court then reasoned that because no tool for opening them was found at the scene, Rudy would have had to climb up to the window and open them before throwing the rock. A shutter opening tool…. what will they think of next?

So even though Filomena didn’t think she had closed the shutters, and was at the minimum not certain that she had, an elaborate line of reasoning was born based entirely on the conclusion that the shutters were closed.

It was also claimed that opening the shutters would have been a substantial undertaking. But if they were in fact only partly closed, all it would require is hopping up, using the grating and the wall to gain height, and yanking at the shutter on the right. Remember that the shutters were at about the same height as a basketball net, and Rudy was an accomplished basketball player. It would take only a second or two to accomplish. Yet the court regards this simple possibility as highly improbable.

“This scenario appears totally unlikely, given the effort involved…” P–49

Notice that opening the shutters is only required if the shutters were closed in the first place. This whole line of reasoning is sequential: each step depends on every one of the previous conclusions being correct, so the probability of the whole line of reasoning being correct is the product of the probabilities of each step; it becomes smaller, and smaller as the improbable conclusions multiply.

Witnesses recounted that they didn’t see any signs of climbing up the outside wall. Strangely, however, no close up photos of the wall appear to have been taken. No good photos of the wall or of the ground below seem to exist. Only a limited investigative effort was made on one of the most important sites in the case.

“She said: ‘We observed…. no traces on the wall.’”
P – 50

A picture would have been nice. Why are the Court’s conclusions reached entirely on the basis of their investigator’s reported observations rather than on the basis of actual, recorded images or other documentation?

And, just as damning in the Court’s eyes, a nail sticking out from the wall in that vicinity wasn’t bent, as the Court believes it would have been, but there are all kinds of simple explanations for this. Rudy didn’t happen to step on it, for instance, or he touched it but simply didn’t happen to bend it. The nail is situated at roughly the midpoint between the window and the grating below. There is plenty of space between. The nail doesn’t not occupy some special space where it could not be avoided.

Another point cited as evidence that there was no entry by the window was that the vegetation beneath the window wasn’t “trampled.” 

“…none of the vegetation underneath the window appeared to have been trampled; nothing”

To test this, try an experiment. Go outside and walk on the grass some night. Come back the following afternoon and look to see if that grass appears to have been trampled. Or you could skip the experiment, because everyone knows that “vegetation” is alive, and the vegetation planted around homes recovers rapidly from having been briefly stepped on. This is true at your home as well as in Perugia. There is nothing surprising about the plants beneath the window not appearing to be trampled. In this case, not seeing evidence of activity does not mean that there was no activity. And why would anyone asssume that the vegetation would be “trampled”? It would be stepped on for a second or two by a burglar hurrying to climb up and through the window. There is no reason to expect signs of a stampede outside the window.

And, in fact, in one photograph that exists of the outside wall there is an apparent scrape mark above the lower window. The window is not very high up, and there is a starting point to the right of it that would make access fairly easy.

And so we have Improbable Conclusion #3: the lack of trampled grass and marks on the wall disproves a break-in.

Through the Looking Glass

Perhaps the most improbable conclusion of all is the remarkable assertion that the rock went through the window in the wrong direction. This is Improbable Conclusion #4: that the rock was thrown from the inside. In arriving at this conclusion, tremendous weight was attached to the lack of pieces of glass outside the window on the ground below. We will never really know if there were no pieces there, however, because no proper documentation of that area was performed – only the visual observations of the Polizia. Did they miss pieces because the glass sifted down under leaves? Who knows? Can we take their word for it? Who knows?

The glass from the broken window was scattered about inside the room and on the window sill, exactly as one would expect if the rock were thrown from the outside. This was explained by defense expert Sergeant Pasquali, but his testimony was dismissed because he is merely a ballistics expert, not a rock throwing expert (ballistics being the study of bullets flying about, not rocks).

“Pieces of glass from the window pane were distributed in a homogeneous manner on the inside and outside parts of the window sill, without any displacement being noted…”
P – 51

In fact, the pieces of glass on the windowsill are not distributed in a homogeneous (uniform) matter at all. There are several large shards of glass that appear to have been removed from the window edges and placed on the sill. This appears to have been done to allow the burglar to reach in and open the latch to enter.

The Court claims to have an ability to read evidence that is little short of mind reading.  For instance, their stating that the chaos in Filomena’s room is proof of faked burglary rather than the real thing: “The drawers of the little dresser next to the bed were not even opened…” In this it is claimed that particular drawers should havebeen opened and others not, if indeed it was a real burglary. And how did the Court know that these drawers weren’t simply opened and then closed again?

“No valuable item was taken, or even set aside to be taken.” Rudy’s final act of the burglary before being interrupted by Meredith was apparently to use the toilet.

The night of the murder was the night before rents were due in Perugia. Students generally pay these rents in cash, so it is well known that they are gathered from the various occupants of apartments on that night. The “banker” for Via della Pergola was Filomena Romanelli, the woman whose room was ransacked by Rudy. It is highly probable that Rudy was searching for 1200 Euros in cash (4 occupants X 300 Euros each) that he believed Filomena would have had somewhere in her room. That cash would be far more valuable to him than difficult-to-fence items. It is also highly probable that he started to look for that, interrupted his search to use the bathroom, and then Meredith Kercher came home unexpectedly.

“Romanelli’s own statements are significant and decisive. In her questioning of Feb. 7, 2009 she recalled having left her computer in its case, ‘standing up, not lying down.’”
P – 53

Snap Quiz: Where, and at what angle, did you leave your laptop computer some night 15 months ago? Someone’s life depends upon the accuracy of your memory. Who remembers something like that? The court places “decisive” value on such testimony while ignoring photographic evidence that contradicts it and common sense. This misplaced faith in human memory is so ludicrous as to be inexplicable unless the court had an agenda to fulfill.

After rejecting the simple, straightforward explanation of the broken window, the Court invented an amazing interpretation of its own:

“This situation, like   all   the   other   glaring   inconsistencies,   is   adequately   and   satisfactorily   explained   if   one   supposes   that   the   rock   was   thrown   from   the   inside   of   the   room,   with   the   two   shutters   pulled   inwards   so   that   they   blocked   the   pieces   of   glass   from   falling   to   the   ground  below.”
P – 51

Speaking of inconsistencies, if you think about the Court’s conclusion on this matter, it comes down to this: Amanda and Raffaele went outside, got a rock, brought it back into the house, and inexplicably threw it out through the window to simulate its having been thrown in through the window. Then they went back outside, found the rock they had thrown, and brought it back into the room. Why would anyone do something so stupid? Why would they throw a rock through the window backwards, going through several extra steps to do so, when all they would have had to do was throw it in from the outside?

I’m a materials scientist with a strong emphasis on theoretical mechanics. I have reviewed the evidence of the glass distribution, the pitted inner shutter, the condition of the glass left in and on the window sill, etc. It is my professional opinion that this evidence is clear: the rock was thrown through the window from the outside, not the inside. In addition to the defense expert Sergeant Pasquali, an unpaid independent forensic engineer, Ron Hendry, has also reviewed the evidence and come to the same conclusion. But you don’t have to believe us, because this is a very simple thing. Ask any kid who has just hit a baseball through a window which way the broken glass flew. All that broken glass spread all over Filomena’s room got there because the rock was thrown from the outside. It’s that simple.

But the Court found the opposite – that the rock flew through the window in reverse. That finding set up a chain of similar insights that grew ever more absurd, just as the events in Through The Looking Glass were unencumbered by common sense. The next flight of the imagination taken in the Motivation was to claim that the “staged” break-in would only have been staged by Amanda Knox. The logic in this case is simply silly.

“Amanda  was  living  with  Meredith  and  had  the  key  to  the  front  door   of  the  house  where  she  lived…” P–60

The Court’s reasoning on this may be summarized as follows: “Ahah! Since a break-in was staged, it must have been done so to deflect suspicion. And only someone who had the key to the front door would have such a motive. And only Amanda Knox had the key to the front door and was in town when the murder happened. Therefore, Amanda Knox murdered Meredith Kercher.”

If you don’t believe me – I know it is difficult to believe that the Court would follow such a weak line of reasoning – read the Motivation, page 60.  This thinking would be laughable if it weren’t utterly tragic. First, we know that the break in wasn’t staged, but let’s assume that it was for a moment. Amanda was IT because she had the key to her own home? Ever rented an apartment? Everyone who has ever lived there probably has the key, or could have the key, because landlords generally don’t change the locks until someone breaks them.

Yet from this, the Court leaps to the conclusion that Rudy Guede was let in by Amanda Knox, simply because she had the key to her own front door! Forget the lack of motive, lack of any prior violence, lack of evidence of her presence in the room. The Motivation arrives at its conclusion that Amanda Knox murdered Meredith Kercher by outlandishly asserting that the break-in was faked, and then fixating on her as the culprit because she had the key to her own house.

Special thanks to Heather Coy for copy editing these pieces. 
Illustrations from John Tenniel, from the 1870 version of Through the Looking Glass

Through the Motivation Report – Part II

This post is the second part of a three part sample chapter from my upcoming book
The Monster of Perugia – The Framing of Amanda Knox

The Elephant in the Room

In justifying a guilty verdict for Amanda and Raffaele, the Court was faced with an elephant in the room; Rudy Guede is clearly guilty of the murder. He had a history of repeated break ins; he knew that the students would have rent money, in cash, on that day of the month; he was in desperate need of money since he likely faced imminent eviction; he was known to carry large knives (and small ones); his presence at the scene of the crime was indisputable; and he fled the country shortly after. The case against Rudy Guede was overwhelming. How then, to diminish Rudy’s role and substitute Amanda, a kid who had no criminal or violent history and no motive, as the architect of this horrific crime?

The Motivation begins this delicate process by attempting to dismiss the import of three of Guede’s previous break ins that were testified to in the trial (there were others). These break ins took place in just the month before he committed the murder. They were at a nursery in Milan, a law office in Perugia, and at the Tramontano home in Perugia. Incredibly, it downplayed the obvious similarities between these prior crimes and the Kercher murder while highlighting a trivial difference.

It is instructive to review these break ins, as reported in the Motivation itself, not only as a window to understanding Rudy Guede’s criminal history but for insights into just far the Court went in its interpretation of events to get the result they sought.

“…on the morning of October 27, 2007, a Saturday, as she entered the nursery school at via Plinio 16, Milan, of which she was the principal, she noticed coming out of her office a person whom she didn’t know, later identified as Rudy Guede…. Rudy Guede had a backpack inside which was a computer. Called at once, the police made him open the backpack, in which they found a 40cm kitchen knife. She recalled that there were other objects in the backpack: a bunch of keys, a small gold woman's watch, and a tiny hammer of the type found in buses to smash windows. The police told her that the computer had been stolen from a law office in Perugia.”

Rudy had a great excuse for breaking into the nursery school. He claimed that someone at the train station in Milan had told him he could stay there, for which service Rudy said he paid the man 50 Euros. So, the police naturally let him go. I could sell bridges to clients like these.

Just 6 days before the murder of Meredith Kercher, Rudy Guede made this unlawful entry into a nursery school where he was found with a very large kitchen knife and breaking and entering tools, and was subsequently questioned by the Polizia. And they let him go on an utterly unbelievable excuse. Why?

And what about the computer that was stolen from the law office?

On the night of October 13, 2007, just over two weeks before the murder, a law office in Perugia had been broken into.

“The thief or thieves had entered through a window whose panes had been smashed with a rather large stone; the glass was scattered around, and they had found some of their clothing on top of the glass…”

Rudy Guede later went to the attorneys to apologize for having been captured with their stolen laptop, claiming to have purchased it legally. Why he did that is a mystery, one of many strange things Rudy did that seem to make no sense whatever. None of this makes sense unless there was something else going on that we don’t know about. Rudy’s relationship with the Polizia is an important anomaly, an unanswered question that we will revisit in a later chapter.

Rudy broke into the office by throwing a rock through a window, the same entry method use in the cottage break in. There was even a grill beneath the window to climb up, just as with the cottage:

“…declared that the broken window was “a French window opening onto a small balcony overlooking the inner courtyard of the building; beneath it, corresponding precisely to our window, there is a door equipped with a metal grille...”

Finally, Rudy broke into the home of Cristian Tramontano and threatened him with a jackknife when Cristian tried to make Rudy leave his home. This break in also took place in the month before the murder. During it, Rudy “…tried to exit the house and, finding the door locked, pulled out a jackknife with which he threatened Tramontano….” P-46

Any objective person reviewing this evidence would conclude that Rudy Guede was an active burglar, that his modus operandi was varied, and included throwing rocks through windows and climbing up lattices to gain entry, that he broke into places that were occupied and had threatened the occupants with knives. Any objective person would therefore be not the least bit surprised to hear that Rudy broke into the cottage at Via della Pergola by similar means, with a more tragic outcome.

But what did the Court conclude? The exact opposite. Having passed through the looking glass of logic with the flight of the rock, the Court stuck fast to a path that would have pleased the brothers Tweedle.
 "But how curiously it twists! It's more like a corkscrew than a path!" Through the Looking Glass

Friendship and Fun with Rudy Guede

Clinging to the slenderest of threads, the Court observed that while Rudy was not acquainted with the occupants of the nursery school, the law office, or the home, he was acquainted with the boys who lived downstairs at Via dela Pergola. This trivial distinction is given uncanny weight and cited as near proof that Rudy would not have broken into the cottage.

“Even if one accepts that Rudy was the burglar who broke into the law office of the lawyers Brocchi and Palazzoli and into Tramontano’s house, it must be observed that Rudy was not known by these, nor by the director of the nursery school in via Plinio, Milan; this situation is entirely different from the one at via della Pergola…”

Entirely different? Because he played basketball with the guys downstairs? Rudy had shown no compunction against breaking into a nursery school. A nursery school. He had thrown a rock through a window and climbed into a law office. He had threatened a home’s resident with a knife. The Court even cited a number of differences between these prior break ins, showing that Rudy didn’t always do the same thing. All this (and more, actually) in just the month before the murder of Meredith Kercher. And yet, with the twisted logic of Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Court concluded that he would never have broken into the cottage, because he had played basketball with the boys who lived downstairs.

“It has already been stated that Rudy Guede was acquainted with the inhabitants of Via dela Pergola and that he had a good relationship of friendship and fun with them (with all of the boys downstairs; with Amanda, in whom he had actually shown some interest; and with Meredith). It thus seems unlikely that Rudy decided to enter this house in the illicit and violent matter shown by the smashing of the window.”

It will be news to harassed and uninterested women everywhere that any man that tells another man that he finds a woman attractive has “a good relationship of friendship and fun with them.” Amanda barely knew Rudy. There was no “relationship” between them, save in the lurid imagination of the court.  Yet the Motivation  says “…Amanda, in whom he had actually shown some interest…” as if showing interest equates to a mutual connection. Rudy was a well known harasser of women. He was “the kind of guy who would repeatedly hit on a woman, being completely clueless that she had no interest in him,” as one knowledgeable journalist put it to me. There is no evidence that he had done any more than look at Amanda at a gathering with many present and make a comment about her to the boys downstairs. But to Judge Massei this was enough to refer to “a good relationship of friendship and fun with them.” This is a term he applies not only to the boys downstairs, with whom Rudy played basketball, but to Amanda whom he barely knew, and to Meredith, whom he murdered.

Amanda was lucky that she was not the one who happened to be at home that night. Rudy’s actions showed in crystal clear fashion that he was not deterred at all by the presence of occupants, he was not deterred at all by happening to know those occupants, he was not deterred at all because he had been repeatedly allowed to go free after committing crime after crime. Allowed to go free by the Perugian justice authorities.

This Court’s attempt to dismiss the possibility that Rudy committed burglary at Via dela Pergola would be incredible if the Court were actually seeking justice, but it is not the least bit surprising if the Court’s actual motive was to condemn Amanda and Raffaele by whatever justification necessary, while sparing Rudy Guede. Their objective in that case would be to cast about for some difference, some distinction, to somehow dispute the obvious similarities between hit previous burglaries and this break in.

The Court goes on. “It is even more unlikely given that at least some of the residents of the house might have been home or might have turned up and surprised Rudy Guede… in the very act of burglary….” Remember  that Rudy was interrupted in his burglary of the nursery school, in which he was caught with a knife and stolen property, but he was set free by the Polizia for some mysterious reason. Rudy was interrupted in his break in of a private home, at which point he threatened the resident with a knife, but, again, he was set free by the Polizia. Why would he be concerned about possibly being interrupted in this burglary, when he was in possession of a seemingly limitless “Get out of jail” card? The Court knew this, and yet claimed the opposite.

Once again, one must conclude that the Court’s actions are compatible with the framing of Amanda Knox.

Then, in what appears to be an attempt at misdirection, the Court devotes several pages to asserting that Rudy, having committed breaking and entering just days earlier, would have no motive to simulate a breaking and entering. “…why ever would Rudy, back just a few days after the kindergarten break in in via Plinio in Milan, where he had been surprised by the headmistress and… have had to create the appearance of a burglary… when he had done just that recently?”

This is an attempt to claim that the burglary was faked, but Rudy did not fake it so it had to be Amanda. It is a classic misdirection, a strawman argument. Who has claimed that Rudy faked a break-in? The error is that the burglary was by no means faked, it was real, and Rudy committed it. This is a clumsy attempt to build support for the preposterous notion that the burglary was staged, on which the Court builds it’s case for conviction, and to get people to wonder, “gosh, who dunnit?” No one staged a break in. There is no evidence whatsoever for it. 

Special thanks to Heather Coy for copy editing these pieces.
Illustrations by John Tenniel, from the 1870 version of Through the Looking Glass.

October 19, 2010

Through the Motivation Report – Part III

This post is the third and final part of a sample chapter from my upcoming book

The Monster of Perugia – The Framing of Amanda Knox

But, enough nonsense; back to Tweedledee and Tweedledum. While Alice hoped to escape from the looking glass world she had entered, Tweedledee began to recite a splendid poem, The Walrus and the Carpenter:
“The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright—
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.”

The Motivation reveals a lack of understanding of the forensic science evidence that is every bit as breathtaking as if the sun was shining in the middle of the night. If the Motivation was graded as if it were science homework, (and I graded a couple thousand of those back in graduate school), it would flunk. When such crazy absurdities came from the Walrus and the Carpenter, they were amusing. When they appear in a court opinion that ruled that innocent people spend much of their lives in prison, they are anything but.

Let’s Pretend

“I wish I could tell you half the things Alice used to say, beginning with her favorite phrase ‘Let’s pretend.’” Through the Looking Glass

The Motivation doesn’t actually use the phrase “let’s pretend” when it’s about to reach a wrong conclusion, instead, it uses phrases like “could be” or “may have been.” Look for them as you read. The timing of a witness “could be” within a certain window even though that was an extreme interpretation. The luminol spots “may have been” blood, even though every one of the tests for blood came out negative. Coincidentally, each time phrases like that were used the conclusions reached were bad for Amanda. The rule seems to have been that if something “could be,” no matter how improbable, as long as it supported the guilt of the defendants it had to be positively disproved. If it could not be disproved, it was accepted as ironclad fact and became a building block in the peculiar, sequential logic system used by the Court.

To compile these building blocks the Motivation embraced conclusions that not only accepted the tales of the prosecution’s forensics witnesses, but which even went far beyond what was testified to. It is clear from reading this document that the standard adhered to by the Court of Assizes was not “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” the supposed standard in Italian, as well as American law, but the furthest thing from that. The deck was hopelessly stacked against Amanda and Raffaele. Why?

Experts? We Don’t Need No Stinking Experts

As in many places, the polizia’s forensics people acted as agents of the prosecution, rather than as neutral discoverers of facts. This fundamental conflict of interest was discussed in Chapter Five – Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of Forensic Science. It is a problem in many justice systems, not just in Italy. The conflicts that this advocacy role creates in Italy are more serious, however, because of the presumption of authority that is afforded to the Polizia by the courts.

During the trial the defense requested independent reviews of important aspects of the forensic data by outside experts. The Court rejected those requests. Its reasoning on this was summarized briefly in the Motivation, concluding with a remarkable pair of sequential statements, as follows:

“…an expert report on the computers of the accused was requested, the memories of which were found to have been damaged at the time of the analysis of the supports carried out by the Postal Police, such that the hard drives could not be duplicated/cloned for subsequent examination.

The Court disallowed all the requests, on the grounds that the additional expert reports requested did not appear to be necessary, since the very ample dialectic contribution from the expert witnesses of the private parties offered sufficient material to take a position without additional expertise.”
Motivation, P-21

The Polizia “experts” that attempted to analyze the computer memories totally destroyed 3 out of 4 of them, a symptom of either profound incompetence or deliberate sabotage of evidence that may have contradicted the prosecution’s theories. Yet the Court attempted to gloss over this fact and glibly dismissed any need for outside review of this, or any other forensic evidence. Experts? We don’t need no stinking experts!

Bathroom Traces

Amanda Knox’s DNA was found in Amanda Knox’s bathroom. So… what? There is nothing surprising or incriminating about that. My DNA is in my bathroom. Grams of it. Your DNA is in your bathroom. Milligrams, maybe, but still vast amounts by forensic DNA standards. People naturally shed DNA, especially in places like bathrooms which probably have the highest concentrations of shed DNA of any room in the house. How could the Court possibly come up with a sinister inference from Amanda’s DNA being present in her own bathroom? As follows.

The Court recites the testimony that it is impossible to tell when DNA traces were deposited, whether days apart, or simultaneously. It recounts that since it was Amanda and Meredith’s shared bathroom “the presence of mixed traces seemed to be a completely normal circumstance, and had no significance.” P – 278 It mentions that the same piece of blotting paper was used to collect multiple samples, so the mixing of DNA is even less surprising. Slop it all together, it’s just a murder investigation. All well, good, and mostly correct.

Now prepare for the logical back flip. “The Court, however, believes that the presence of the biological trace specimens that were found is of great importance.” P – 278 How is this incredible conclusion reached? Because Amanda said that when she left the house, the bathroom was clean. Astoundingly, the Court equates a “clean” bathroom with a DNA-free bathroom.

“…it  should  be  recalled  that  Amanda  Knox,  in  the  course  of  her  own  examination   (questioning),   declared   that   when   she   left   the   house   on   Via   della   Pergola   on   the   afternoon   of   November   1st,   the   bathroom   was   clean.” P - 278

Never mind that the PCR amplification method can make a cup of DNA out of a nanogram. Never mind that this is one of the most sensitive tests in existence (too sensitive in some respects). The Court actually reasoned that a “clean” bathroom would be without any trace of DNA, so that any that was found there must have been deposited at a later time. This is one of the most preposterously wrong scientific conclusions I’ve ever seen. Amanda had simply testified that there wasn’t blood in the bathroom the afternoon before the murder, but she saw it the morning after. It was only in this sense that the bathroom was “clean.” From this error, the Court leaped to the conclusion that Amanda’s DNA must have been deposited when Amanda “washed her hands which were stained with Meredith’s blood….” P – 281

The Court transformed the simple, irrelevant, ordinary fact that Amanda’s DNA was in her own bathroom into “proof” of her washing the victim’s blood off her hands. If you have any lingering doubts as to whether or not this Court was biased towards guilt, you need look no further for the answer. With this kind of reasoning, every single defendant before the Court would be found guilty.

With this conclusion in hand, the Court goes on to read minute details of blood traces as if they were tea leaves, pretending to draw complex logical inferences from details about the shapes of blood drops. These meaningless inferences are just distractions to muddy the waters after the big lie has been told. Remember that not one single fingerprint of Amanda’s was found in Meredith’s bedroom. No footprints in blood, no handprints, no DNA, absolutely nothing.

This pattern is followed repeatedly in the Motivation. First the common sense interpretation of the evidence is presented and pretentiously considered. Then some additional consideration is tossed in and common sense is discarded and replaced with a conclusion that supports guilt. But the additional considerations don’t even come close to trumping common sense. They are nothing but shams, lame excuses for deciding the way the Court wanted to decide. The pattern of bias against the defense is beyond obvious, it is blatant.

Luminol Glow

Blood catalyzes a reaction in a forensic test chemical called luminol, causing it to emit a fluorescent glow. Many other materials trigger the same reaction, yielding a glow that is indistinguishable from that caused by blood (see Chapter Six, Methods of the Polizia PseudoScientifica). For that reason spots that glow with luminol are further tested to see if the reaction was triggered by blood or some innocuous household item like bleach.

Those additional tests for blood came out negative, indicating that whatever it was that catalyzed the glow of luminol, it wasn’t blood. Those tests showed that the spots, which formed no particular pattern or trail, were caused by irrelevant, unidentified crud on the floor, having no probative value as evidence. They were the kind of remnant substance results that might be expected from any old house being subjected to such scrutiny. But here is the Court’s reasoning:

“But it must be noted that the negative result for blood does not necessarily indicate that no blood was present. The result may have been negative because there was not sufficient material to indicate the presence of blood.” P - 282

“…may have been negative…” This is one of the variations on “could be.” In fact, if there was enough blood present to catalyze a luminol glow, that material should have tested positive for blood if it was, in fact, blood. The negative results for blood, on every, single spot, means that they were, to an overwhelming probability, not comprised of blood. The court ignored those results to obtain the conclusion that the luminol spots were produced by blood. Why?

Superwitness Protection Program

One of the difficulties Amanda and Raffaele have had in their defense is that their alibis are that they were together at his apartment the night of the murder. The prosecution has dealt with this alibi simply by charging both of them. They can’t vouch for each other because they were both charged.

A friend of Raffaele, Jovana Popovic confirmed their alibi by testifying that she saw them both at his apartment twice that evening, at around 6:00 PM and later at around 8:40 PM. This strongly supports their statements that they were there.

To attack Amanda and Raffaele’s alibis, the Court first cites the opinion of the prosecution’s computer experts that “… at around 21:15 PM, all interaction with Raffaele Sollecito’s computer stops.” This is the opinion of the same computer experts that totally destroyed three out of the four disk drives that they attempted to analyze (see Chapter Four, Nineteen Eighty-Four – Perugia Style).

But the most outrageous assault on the alibis of Amanda and Raffaele came from what the prosecution called “superwitnesses.” There was nothing super about them. Their reliability in any honest court would have been highly suspect. Not in this one.

“Mr. Curatolo said he lives in the street in the area around Piazza Grimana and Corso Garibaldi: a way of life different from the usual one but not for this his testimony may be considered unreliable as this way of living one’s life does not affect ones’ ability to perceive events and be able to report them.” P - 79

Incredibly, the testimony of this street person is given added weight because two vendors in the area testified that he did, in fact, inhabit a bench there, and spent the night on it. Not only that, but Curatolo actually states that he saw Amanda and Raffaele, out on the street in front of their home for hours, during which time the murder took place. If you believe Curatolo, he actually provides them with an alibi.

Curatolo states that they were on the street between 9 PM and “before midnight.” Meredith’s murder took place at about 9:30 PM. To avoid this inconvenience, the court dissects the expression “before midnight” until it is watered down enough to just allow time for the murder to take place, if you move the time of death to as late as possible. It is difficult to convey the sheer craziness of this portion of the Motivation, taking a street person with obvious issues seriously and carefully dissecting his testimony, which was supported by no other witnesses. Read it to get a better idea. Any genuinely skeptical jury would be alternating between eye rolling and laughter, yet the Court takes it as gospel truth, and even then has to twist and turn it to support guilt.

The second “superwitness,” a shop owner named Quintavalle, claimed to have seen Amanda and Raffaele in his shop the morning after the murder at a time before they said they were up and about. His coworker also testified that she was there the entire time and was certain that she did not see them.

“Witness Quintavalle, at the hearing on March 21, 2009, was asked many questions to uncover elements of information that would be useful in verifying his reliability. This was mainly because though his meeting with Amanda occurred early in the  morning (at 7:45 am) on November 2, 2007, he only made a statement about it in November 2008 and did not mention it earlier, even when Inspector Volturno questioned him a few days after Meredith’s murder..

This Court deems that the testimony of Quintavalle is reliable. It was discovered that Inspector Volturno did not ask Quintavalle if, on the morning of November 2, he saw Amanda Knox in his shop.” P-83

Quintavalle didn’t say a word about what he claimed to have seen for nearly a year, and only then when a reporter persuaded him. Instant fame and something to talk about. Yet his failure to mention something that was obviously important to the investigation was simply brushed aside. True, he was interviewed in detail by the Polizia shortly after the crime, and didn’t say a word about seeing the accused, but he hadn’t specifically specifically been asked whether he had seen Amanda, (who had just been arrested with tremendous fanfare). One can almost hear the judges exchanging high fives when they thought this one up. “Hah! They didn’t ask that exact, specific question! We have an excuse to believe him!” Again, obviously questionable testimony was accepted as solid fact because it supported guilt.

The White Queen of DNA

Of all the characters in Through the Looking Glass, the white chess queen is my favorite.

“I can't believe THAT!” said Alice.
“Can't you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There's no use trying,” she said: “one CAN'T believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven't had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Through the Looking Glass

The White Queen of DNA may well be Dr. Patrizia Stefanoni of the Polizia Scientifica, who appears to believe impossible things about her laboratory, her skills, and her results while testifying in court. On the basis of that testimony, (and going beyond it as needed to establish guilt), the court accepted a number of impossible things as fact. The details of the forensic DNA analysis were discussed in Chapters Seven and Eight, and won’t be repeated here. This section is confined to observations about just a few impossible things Stefanoni has believed, meriting the title of the White Queen of DNA.

Perhaps the most clearly impossible thing that Patrizia Stefanoni has believed is that there has never been contamination of any DNA evidence in her lab.

“In response to a specific question on this point, Dr. Stefanoni declared that she had been working as a biologist for seven years, had always used the same methodology, and had never heard that any problem of contamination of exhibits had occurred.” P – 220

The forensic DNA literature has many careful discussions about how to combat contamination. Entire laboratory designs are built around efforts to minimize it, particularly for low copy number (hyper-amplified) work.  The literature is not full of claims that sample and equipment contamination are no big deal.

“The gloves were “changed, in the course of the search, every time an object was touched that was particularly soaked with blood, and when it was obvious that the gloves would be soiled; ‘…otherwise, it is just an ordinary object… I can move it, but this does not lead to my DNA remaining, let’s say, attached.’” P - 203

By her own account, Stefanoni didn’t bother to change gloves between handling most evidentiary items, but only if one happened to be “particularly soaked” in blood. Little effort was made to prevent the transfer of DNA from item to item other than to avoid getting large smears of blood on them. From this statement it even appears that not even blood stained objects merited a glove change, an item actually had to be “particularly soaked.” The video documentation of evidence collection clearly shows item after item being handled without any changes in gloves.

Stefanoni’s belief that contamination is only a problem when liquid materials are present had a practical outcome. She did little or nothing to avoid contamination as long as there wasn’t a visible, liquid, blood stain.

“She related how it was possible for her to have touched different findings with the same pair of gloves, and in particular, the bra, first, and then, the underwear. However, she pointed out that, in this specific case, as the video images show (cf. video footage), the part of the bra that was touched was not soiled by any blood.” P – 203

No need to change gloves as long as video footage reviewed later doesn’t show wet blood on that particular part of the specimen…. Think about this statement coming from someone who has never heard of contamination in her laboratory. It is a self fulfilling prophecy of sort. She does not worry about it, does not take precautions to prevent it, does not test for it, and does not acknowledge it when it happens. It is a happy sort of world, but it is not competent science.

“…she received that knife, Exhibit 36, in a cardboard box and that it was delivered to the laboratory where it was photographed and analyzed. It did not appear to her that the container of the knife was sterile; she specified however that ‘not even samples are sterile…” P – 214

The Court accepted Stefanoni’s reasoning that while the cardboard box the infamous kitchen knife was shipped in was not “sterile” nothing we have is sterile so, hey, no worries. But “sterility” isn’t the issue. The knife was collected and conveyed to the Questura, it sat on a desk for a while, was put into an ordinary envelope, put inside the box, and shipped to Stefanoni’s lab in Rome. The question isn’t whether the box was sterile, but whether the box, the detective’s desk, the envelope, or the laboratory might have been contaminated by traces of Meredith’s blood.

Numerous other items of evidence, many of which were contaminated with Meredith’s blood, were handled by these same people. No evidence bag, no clean gloves, nothing remotely resembling the conditions demanded of evidence handling for specimens to be subjected to low template DNA testing (see Chapter Eight, Canary in the LCN DNA Mine). The knife was handled like an ordinary household implement (which it was, actually), rather than a critical item in a murder investigation that was destined to be subjected to low template DNA testing. Yet Stefanoni once again believed the impossible, that there was no chance that it could have been contaminated.

Stefanoni wasn’t making a real effort to avoid contaminating the evidence, she was trying to keep from getting blood on her hands.

Dust Devils

Stefanoni’s idea that DNA contamination only happens by transfer of liquid can be easily tested. Do you have a cat? If not, hunt one down, they are everywhere. Now pet it. Look at your hand. It will be crawling with cat fur, transferred to your hand by the simple mechanism of static electricity. This transfer happens between objects all the time, cat or no cat. It will be pointed out that hair itself does not contain DNA, but hair roots and plenty of other fine particles do, and they are transferred by the same means. You can be assured that you now have cat DNA on your hand. Once transferred these fine particles are held in place by those same static charges, and by additional forces called Van der Waals attractions.

I’m pretty familiar with these kinds of material transfers because it was a constant problem back when I studied the surface energetics of composite fibers. You could take all kinds of precautions to prevent contamination of the fiber, a clean surface being critical for measuring its properties, and then a static charge would develop and a cloud of dust particles, debris, and hairs would leap inches to the surface you were trying to test. There are even businesses based on selling equipment to prevent contamination by solid particles transferred by static. That equipment is especially important in the printing industry, which generates a lot of static.

If Dr. Stefanoni were content to practice DNA forensic work by established standards, her impossible claims of perfection might be merely troubling, a prideful boast that makes you think twice before believing anything she says. But her test methods on Raffaele’s kitchen knife went so far beyond the pale of established technique that, combined with her boast of never having contamination issues it is clear that the White Queen of DNA either does not understand what she is doing, or has an agenda, and justice isn’t on it.

Clasping at Straws

Forty seven days and nights after the investigation began, most of the evidence had been analyzed and not a single shred of it suggested the presence of either Amanda or Raffaele in the room where Meredith Kercher was murdered. Nothing. This was a serious problem for the prosecution and Polizia because, as former FBI agent Steve Moore says, “absence of evidence is evidence of absence.” The absence of evidence showed that Amanda and Raffaele were simply not present at the crime. The polizia investigation that was intended to drum up the evidence to support Mignini’s theory of satanic sex cults had, instead, found proof that the accused were innocent. So, what to do?

Putting their thinking caps on, someone in the Polizia or prosecution remembered that they hadn’t bothered to retrieve the bra clasp. It had been photographed and recorded on videos during the documentation of the murder scene, so it’s existence had long been known. Over a period of 47 days it had moved from place to place in the room where the murder took place, which was visited by an unknown number of unknown investigators; no records exist of how many were there, what their identities were, or what actions they took in the apartment at Via della Pergola during those 47 days. Then Stefanoni went on a mission.

“…both he and I were going in, let’s say, in the room, for the sole purpose, at this stage, to look for the clasp.” Patrizia Stefanoni, P - 204

They went to Via della Pergola for the specific purpose of retrieving that one piece of evidence.

“The small piece of material with hooks was mentioned as a particularly relevant find from the second inspection, on December 18, 2007.” P - 191

Particularly relevant is right. DNA profiling was performed on the clasp and, in contrast to all other materials retrieved from the crime scene, including the bra itself, it showed a trace that was compatible with Raffaele. True, there were multiple, other profiles present (see Chapter Six), and the evidentiary value was hopelessly compromised by the 47 days on the floor, but the prosecution at last had something to point at. Stefanoni’s targeted mission to recover the clasp had finally found evidence that appeared to tie her quarry to the crime, with luck that was either miraculous – or contrived.

An interesting convergence of events supports the latter.  Apparently after the same search that turned up the clasp, a photo was leaked from the polizia files that showed a Harry Potter book, in German, at Amanda’s apartment. This news leak cast doubt on Amanda’s statement that she and Raffaele had read Potter in German at his apartment the night of the murder. The Times Online ran such an article on December 19, 2007, for instance: "The Harry Potter clue was 'another blow to the credibility of their alibi' the paper said." (Correction: An earlier version of this post listed the book leakage date as Dec. 16. It actually seems to have been the same search, taking place on the 18th.)

The thing is, there were actually two German language Potter books, one of which was clearly shown by evidence photos to be at Raffaele’s apartment, confirming Amanda’s statement and alibi. The Polizia knew this, the press didn’t. This inaccurate and illegal press leak, which generated wide press coverage saying that their alibi had been demolished, was committed just two days before the miraculous bra clasp was retrieved. This is undeniable evidence that elements within the Perugian justice system were willing to break laws in their effort to convict Amanda and Raffaele at the same time that the clasp was recovered.

The Year of Living Backwards

The White Queen in Through the Looking Glass lived backwards, a confusing state of affairs.

“’There's the King's Messenger. He’s in prison now, being punished: and the trial doesn't even begin till next Wednesday: and of course the crime comes last of all.’
‘Suppose he never commits the crime?’ said Alice.
‘That would be all the better, wouldn’t it?’ the Queen said, as she bound the plaster round her finger with a bit of ribbon.
Alice felt there was no denying THAT. ‘Of course it would be all the better.’ she said: ‘but it wouldn’t be all the better his being punished.’”

Like the King’s Messenger, Amanda and Raffaele spent their first year in prison being punished before being charged with a crime. The polizia hung her picture beside convicted mafia dons long before the trial began. And like the White Queen living backwards, Dr. Stefanoni knows the answers to her tests before she begins to perform them.

Defense experts pointed out that forensic scientists should not know the DNA profiles of the suspects prior to obtaining profiles from the evidence because their knowledge might bias their results. This is a fundamental principle of good scientific practice. If you know the answer to the test, it is impossible not to “root for it” in some sense, conscious or unconscious, thereby biasing the outcome. In a partially subjective test like low copy number DNA profiling, where some peaks may be accepted and some rejected by the researcher, it is particularly important.

If the raw data files from those tests were released by the Polizia and prosecution, this might be less of an issue, but they have been withheld, so no one outside the Polizia Scientifica and friends knows what really happened, what peaks were selected, and which were dismissed as noise. The Court, however, had no problem with this form of bias because it did not comprehend it.

“In the first place, it must be stressed that it is not possible to discern any reason for which Dr. Stefanoni would have had any bias in favor of or against those under investigation and, on the basis of such bias, would have offered false interpretations and readings.”

Claiming that Stefanoni had no reason for bias shows a lack of understanding of experimental issues by the Court. Confirmation bias can occur whether or not a researcher favors or opposes a certain result. It is a tendency of people to steer results if they know what is expected and it cannot be simply wished away. But beyond that, Stefanoni acted as a fierce advocate for the prosecution, rather than as an impartial scientist. Her testimony and demeanor in court showed that. It is simply not true that she had no reason for bias, her career and reputation were on the line.

Closing Arguments

The Motivation postulates a sequence of improbable events to justify the guilty verdicts of Amanda and Raffaele. It substitutes this sequence for the simple, straightforward explanation that Rudy broke in, as he had done repeatedly at other places, was interrupted by Meredith, and wound up murdering her.

A principle in science called Occam’s razor states that one should not add unneeded complexity to explain something. Briefly put, “the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.” This Court was no friend of Occam. There is also an expression from American cinema for the probability of such a confoundingly complex sequence being correct. It is from the movie, Wayne’s World. “It might happen. Yeah, and monkeys might fly out of my butt.”

But my favorite model for an utterly improbable sequence of events is a Rube Goldberg mechanism. We have all seen Goldberg’s cartoons of elaborate and improbable mechanisms, but for those who don’t recall the name, they are “a comically involved, complicated invention, laboriously contrived to perform a simple operation.”

Here is the text describing Goldberg’s method for keeping shop windows clean.

“Passing man (A) slips on banana peel (B) causing him to fall on rake (C). As handle of rake rises it throws horseshoe (D) onto rope (E) which sags, thereby tilting sprinkling can (F). Water (G) saturates mop (H). Pickle terrier (I) thinks it is raining, gets up to run into house and upsets sign (J) throwing it against non-tipping cigar ash receiver (K) which causes it to swing back and forth and swish the mop against window pane, wiping it clean. If man breaks his neck by fall move away before cop arrives.”

The problem with such a mechanism is that if any, single step should fail, the whole system falls apart; and every single step is highly improbable. The probability of the entire sequence is the product of the probabilities of each step. With each step the probability becomes smaller, and smaller, till by the end, it is vanishingly small. The Motivation substitutes a Rube Goldberg murder mechanism for the simple, obvious fact that Meredith Kercher was murdered by Rudy Guede.

The Motivation is compatible with the framing of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito.

Through the Looking Glass ends with a poem. An excerpt:

“In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die”

Amanda and Raffaele have now seen three summers die while imprisoned for a crime they did not commit.