Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I. The Verdict in Perugia: the Case Against Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito (Part I)

Please note that this is the first part in a five part series. The series was first written as a single article, and the various parts posted here reflect this.


I. Introduction
II. The Background of the Case
III. The Massei Report: Basic Reasoning
IV. The Court's Reasoning Explained
V. The Appeal
VI. Some Personal Thoughts on the Verdict

I. Introduction

A great deal has been said about the trial of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito.

For many, the trial was, in effect, a travesty. The proceedings, they stated, were instigated by a mentally unstable Italian prosecutor; any reasonable person could see that there is no real evidence against either Knox or Sollecito. The guilty verdict that was eventually given was the result of the Italian media having gone viral once details of the murder emerged, coupled with the fact that the "jury" was not sequestered and therefore susceptible to influence from such sources.

For others, the verdict presented a satisfying (if only a temporary) conclusion to the murder case. The culprits, these people argued, had been brought to justice, in spite of a plethora of lies and dumbfounding disorientation.

A great deal has been said about the trial of Knox and Sollecito. A lot of it has been exaggerated, misleading, or simply untrue. Views on the trial have become so polarised that it has become quite difficult to grasp the major aspects of the case.

This article doesn’t pretend to reveal the truth about the guilt or innocence of either Knox or Sollecito. What it does set out to do is to provide some understanding of the reasoning of the court when it handed down its verdict. Because of this, the article focuses, almost exclusively, on the verdict itself.

II. The Background of the Case

Meredith Kercher, a British exchange student, was murdered sometime during the night of November 1st 2007, in the city of Perugia. Within days, the police had picked up Amanda Knox, her boyfriend at the time, Raffaele Sollecito, and her boss, Patrick Lumumba (Lumumba owned a bar in Perugia where Amanda worked). Lumumba was later released, at which time the (German) police had arrested Rudy Guede as the third suspect.

In a trial that did not include either Knox or Sollecito, Guede was convicted of the murder. Not because he had confessed (indeed, Guede has always maintained his innocence), but because the evidence against him was incontrovertible. It was, for example, clear that Guede had been present in the apartment where Kercher lived when the murder was committed (a fact he himself admitted); his DNA was found on her body. A bloody handprint clearly left by Guede had been discovered. His alibi, such as it was (he had been in the bathroom when others entered the apartment and attacked Kercher, whom he attempted to help after the attack) was considered unbelievable.

When it came to Knox and Sollecito, however, the case was not quite so clear cut. First, neither admitted to being in the apartment at the time concerned. Second, there was much less forensic evidence linking them to the murder. Third, they seemed rather more determined than Guede to establish their innocence, hiring a fairly hefty contingent of lawyers and experts in the process.

Nevertheless, on December 9th, 2009, both were convicted by the Court of Assizes of Perugia. In a long and detailed explanation of the verdict, the chief justice of the court, dr. Giancarlo Massei, set out the court’s findings and provided the motivations for the court’s verdict. This explanation is known as “the Massei report”.

(As an side, I point out that the Court consisted of two professional judges and six lay judges; there was, in short, no jury, as in there would have been in an American trial.)

III. The Massei Report: Basic Reasoning

The basic reasoning behind the verdict is the following.

A. Rudy Guede is guilty of the murder;
B. Rudy did not act alone;
C. the only possible accomplices of Rudy are Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito;
D. that Amanda and Raffaele are culpable of the murder is corroborated by the forensic evidence available;
E. and it is also corroborated by the fact that their stories don’t seem to be logical and do not constitute convincing alibis.

These issues will all be adressed in parts II through IV of this series. The fifth and final part will contain some thoughts on the appeal proceedings, and a few closing remarks.

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