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