Tuesday, June 21, 2011

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

This is the second part of a series. Please see Part One for the introduction!

IV The Court's Reasoning Explained

As stated in part I of this series, the court's reasoning amounted, basically, to the following:

A. Rudy Guede is guilty of the murder;
B. Guede did not act alone;
C. the only possible accomplices of Guede are Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito;
D. that Knox and Sollecito 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.

In this part of the series, I'll look into the first two points: Guede's guilt, and the notion that he did not act alone.

A. Rudy Guede Is Guilty

The first of court's points - Guede's guilt - is not really in dispute. In fact, the defence argued that Guede was, indeed, the murderer; their case centred on the notion that, contrary to the prosecutors’ view, Guede had acted alone. As stated above, the evidence against Guede was incontrovertible; he had, in fact, already been convicted of the murder in a separate case (a conviction upheld on appeal and again by the Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest court).

B. Guede Did Not Act Alone

The court arrives at this conclusion mainly by two observations.

The first of these is that there appears to have been a break-in in the apartment. However, that break-in was, according to the court, staged. There is no viable reason why Guede would stage the break-in; there is no plausible scenario that accounts for him actually being able to do so. The staging of the break-in was, therefore, done by others.

The second is that the wounds inflicted on Kercher's body (and the fact that she was largely undressed when found the next day) indicate the attack was perpetrated by more than one person.

Both observations are explained more fully below.

The Break-In

The break-in is one of the most extraordinary aspects of the trial. This obviously is not some Agatha Christie novel; this is a real, and quite horrible, murder. Nevertheless, some aspects of the case are almost classic detective fiction material, and of these, the break-in is probably the most arresting. (Another one would be the trail of bloody shoeprints that lead from Kercher's room straight to the apartment’s front door.)

To understand the relevance of the burglary - staged or otherwise - one should first understand
how it might have taken place. To understand that, one should have a basic grasp of where it occurred.

As stated, Kercher lived in an apartment. The apartment was actually the second floor of a house, situated at the Via della Pergola. The ground floor was occupied by four young Italian men; the second floor was the domicile of four women. Besides Kercher, this apartment was occupied by Amanda Knox and by two Italian women, one of whom was Filomena Romanelli. Each of the women had her own sleeping room; they shared a communal living room (with an open kitchen area attached). There were two bathrooms.

The (staged) break-in took place in Romanelli’s bedroom. Her window was broken, and the room was ransacked. If a break-in had actually taken place, the burglar must have broken the window and entered the apartment from there; he would then have had the opportunity to ransack the room.

The court first examines the likelihood of such a break-in having occurred. It takes the following aspects into account. First, that the window was on the second floor of the house, in fairly clear view from the street the house was situated on. In order to enter the apartment this way, the burglar would have had to climb up to the window and then enter, taking the risk that he could have been observed. In doing so, moreover, the burglar would have ignored a safer method of entrance (via a balcony at the back of the house).

Second, the means of securing access would have been convoluted. The courts observes that the window had shutters on the outside. On the basis of Romanelli’s testimony, the court concludes that these shutters had not been latched, but had been drawn together (the shutters were old and the wood “scraped” against the window sill when drawing them closed, Romanelli stated; since she was leaving for a few days, this is what she did). In order to break in, the burglar would have had to open these shutters first, which would entail climbing up the wall. He would then, according to the court, have to climb back down to the garden below, where he would have had to pick up a rock (which was, indeed, later found in Romanelli’s room) to toss through the window, thereby breaking the glass. He would then have to climb back up, reach through the broken window to open the window, and then enter.

In short, such a burglar would have had to climb up to the window twice, throwing a rock to break the glass halfway through this exercise, and he would have had to do this in spite of the fact that he could easily have been observed by anyone who happened to be passing on the street nearby. It is not, the court decides, a very likely scenario.

It becomes (the court continues) even less likely when it is considered that no traces of such an event were found outside of the house. It had rained on October 31th; the ground of the garden would, in all likelihood, have been wet. Nevertheless, no traces at all were found of someone trying to enter via the window; there were no traces found on the ground below the window, and no traces on the wall the burglar must have climbed.

The court furthermore considers the fact that (some of) the glass shards inside Romanelli’s room were discovered on top of items than had been waylaid, thereby suggesting that the window was broken after the room had been ransacked. It also takes into consideration that nothing was missing from Romenelli’s room; someone had clearly disturbed it, but that was all.

The court also takes into account that no evidence was discovered in Romanelli’s room to indicate Rudy was ever present. There is no DNA evidence; there are no fingerprints. There is, in short, nothing that might point towards Rudy’s presence.

Finally, if the burglar did indeed break in, the question arises what Meredith did. It seems inpossible that she would not have heard him; it seems impossible that she would not react in some way and would, instead, simply remain in her room (where she was attacked).

All in all, the court finds the notion that a burglar - Rudy Guede - broke into the apartment via Romanelli’s window highly unlikely. There was no break-in, the court concludes; the break-in was staged.

Having come to this point, I point out that there is a scenario to be envisioned where, contrary to the above, one might still assume that Rudy was the sole perpetrator. That scenario assumes that Guede entered the apartment (simply to burgle it) via the window at a time when Kercher had not yet returned home (she came back around 9.00 o’clock at night). He was in the apartment when she entered; at this time he decided to approach (and attack) her. In this scenario, therefore, the break-in was not staged, and Guede would have left via the front door after killing Kercher.

Such a scenario does not, of course, address the unlikelihood of Guede wanting to burgle the apartment; since he was on friendly terms with the boys living downstairs and knew Kercher and Knox, if only fleetingly, it seems an odd place for him to burgle. Nor does it explain why he would do so in the manner described above. There are further aspects which make it seem far-fetched. As stated, Kercher returned home just after 9.00 o’clock at night; if Guede were already in the apartment, he would have had to break in a little earlier. The crime was committed in November, so it would certainly have been dark by this time. Still, breaking into the apartment via the window at such a time would seem to be a very risky undertaking, given that just about anyone passing along on the street next to the house would have seen (or heard) him entering.

Moreover, there is the fact that Guede’s faeces were discovered in the toilet in one of two bathrooms in the apartment; Guede had clearly used the toilet and not flushed. One might think that, having entered the apartment and having started to ransack Romanelli’s room, he decided to use the bathroom, but this seems an odd thing to do. One might also assume that Kercher returned home at the time when Guede was already in the bathroom, so that she did not notice his presence, but that requires rather a curious timing. Furthermore, it requires one to assume that Guede had closed Romanelli’s door when he went to the bathroom, since otherwise Kercher would in all likelihood have seen the state it was in and been aware that something was afoot. Perhaps most difficult to explain in this scenario is the sudden change of heart that Guede must have had. He had entered the apartment to burgle it, but for some reason he became an attacker. That doesn’t seem logical; it would seem much more plausible that, confronted with Kercher's return, he would have tried to slip out the front door the instant the coast was clear (i.e. the instant Kercher entered her room). And even if one were to assume such a turnaround on Guede's part, one would still have to explain the fact that Guede, after having killed Kercher, did not actually seem to have taken anything (it was not established that anything was missing from the apartment, not from Romanelli’s room or anywhere else).

The forensic evidence: Meredith

Secondly, the court considers the (forensic) evidence with regard to Kercher’s body and the wounds inflicted. The court is of the opinion that this evidence points in the direction of more than one culprit.

I will not delve too deeply into the technicalities of the court’s appraisal of this evidence. Not because it isn’t interesting, but because it requires a level of expertise which I simply don’t have. I do point out a few of the major aspects, though.

Kercher’s body was discovered lying under a duvet in her room. She was largely undressed: she wore only a top which had been pushed up to uncover her breasts. Her bra had been cut loose. There were wounds on her neck, both to the right and the left side, caused by one or two knives.

The court, in considering these facts, finds it unlikely that Rudy could have committed the crime by himself. Guede would have had to undress Kercher and stab her, both to the left and right side of her neck, at more or less the same time. He would have also, again at more or less the same time, have had to finger her (his DNA was found in Meredith’s vagina). The court takes into account that Kercher was a healthy girl, and would no doubt have resisted the attack for all she was worth; however, there is little or no evidence to suggest that she put up a struggle. On the basis of these facts, the court finds it far more likely that more than one person was involved, and that Kercher was effectively subdued (i.e. held down by one or two others) whilst Guede sexually approached her.

It should be mentioned that both Knox’s and Sollecito’s defence teams attempted to explain that the evidence available could nevertheless point to a single culprit. Somewhat confusingly, they presented different scenarios, with Knox’s defence assuming the assailant had attacked from the front, whilst Sollecito’s defence argued that the culprit had attacked from the rear. Sollecito’s defence, in particular, detailed the attack as it might have happened, but whilst their exposition did to an extent explain the various wounds, it left the state of undress effectively unresolved; the defence simply assumed that Kercher had been undressing herself when the attack occurred. That, however, seems a shaky hypothesis, not only because it would have meant that Kercher must have undressed by taking off all her clothes below the waist first (a rather strange way of undressing), but also because it seems very unlikely that she would have been undressing in the first place. It is a notion that doesn’t fit in with any burglary Guede might have committed; if he was already in the apartment (in the bathroom) when she returned, then he would have had to wait for some time before Kercher had not only entered her room, but also partially undressed herself.

To this it can be added, as will be explained later, that Kercher’s blood was found in the small bathroom, clearly left by someone who had attacked her, whilst there was a trail of bloody shoeprints leading directly from Kercher’s room to the front door. These facts, too, seem to exclude the possibility that there was only one perpetrator.


To summarise: the break-in was staged; that assumption, along with the evidence provided by Kercher’s body (the state of undress and the wounds inflicted), indicate that the crime was not committed by Guede alone. There must, according to the court, have been accomplices.

(The court's verdict will be discussed further in the next part of the series.)


Jill Giannotta said...

Alex, first let me say that I wish I had come across your blog while the case was still live.
My first comment is to agree with you that the whole case (almost) hinges on the burglary, staged or otherwise. I have always believed it to be staged. There is nothing wrong with the logic of the Massei Court which declared the burglary to be staged in order to deflect suspicion from those actually culpable. John Douglas’ training manual which covers staging could have been written with this case in mind.

For all the reasons you listed...improbable point of entry, difficulty of entry, nothing stolen etc etc, the burglary has all the hallmarks of k of a climb up the wall. Even though it has been suggested, I do not believe that BROCCI lied. Why should she, and in any case at that time Amanda was not a suspect.

And then we have postal police Officer Battistelli, the first policeman on the scene. He immediately identified the scene as a staged one, and we have to bear in mind that this was before Romanelli arrived to check or disturb the scene. Opposers of this theory ask why he did not take photos of the scene before it was contaminated. The answers are simple. Batttistelli was a communications officer, and this was outside his remit, and in any case the grisly murder scene had not yet been revealed.

But one of the most compelling reasons to think the burglary was staged is the action of Meredith. I believe you were correct in drawing attention to the logic of her responses to an intruder. I won’t repeat all the possibilities you have already amply laid out, but did you know that in Stefano Bonassi’s testimony ( one of young men living downstairs) -untranslated- is the reference to a person seen lurking around the apartment, seen by both Meredith and Bonassi himself? And that Meredith in particular was alarmed by this? This, to me, makes it even more unlikely that Meredith would confront a possible intruder, and that if she were aware of Guede’s presence, she would certainly have locked herself in her room and called the police.

Referring to Amanda and Raffaele, I could provide a plausible motive for the attack, but that would be lengthy and cannot be proven one way or another. What can be deduced, however, from the evidence we have, is that an escalating argument, or even prank gone wrong, pitted Meredith against the other three, and spiralled out of control. Meredith was not meant to die.

But as you said, Guede’s footprints show him walking straight out of the door without turning to lock Meredith in her room, and without deviation into the bathroom. The other two, barefoot, made adjustments in the house to simulate the entry of someone with no direct access to the house. Judge Micheli (reprised by Nencini) has it that they moved Meredith’s body, as evidenced by the lividity in her shoulder and the position of her blood soaked bra well away from a corresponding pool of dried blood.

Jill Giannotta said...

To continue:-

Whatever the case, at this point, a decision was made which set in motion a series of events which resemble a comedy, if it were not so tragic. It was decided that Meredith’s phones must be disposed of, to prevent them ringing in the bedroom. However, they did not land in the ravine but in Signora Lana’s garden. The finding of the phones was not supposed to happen. Romanelli ( exactly in keeping with the classic signs of staging) was supposed to come home and ‘discover’ the body, with Amanda and Raffaele as onlookers and helpers. But the arrival of the postal police pre-empted that plan, identified the burglary as staged, and caused Amanda in a fit of panic to attempt the delay of the opening of Meredith’s door.

You could well ask, why did they not (before this time) just go on their ‘proposed’ trip to Gubbio, and place themselves well away from the murder scene? Well, in accordance with Douglas’ pointers on staging, the perpetrators need to remain close (but not too close) to the crime scene in order to see how the wind blows, and to tailor their stories in accordance with the emerging facts of the case.

The above points, plus the absence of traces of Guede either in the small bathroom or Romanelli’s room, prove to me beyond reasonable doubt that the burglary was simulated, simulated by the only person with legal access to the house in Perugia that night. If the prosecution had presented this as the ‘smoking gun’ rather than the double dna knife or.the bra clasp, then I believe the case would have been watertight.

Jill Giannotta said...

The second paragraph of my first comment should read:-
For all the reasons you mentioned....improbable point of entry, difficulty of entry, nothing stolen etc etc..the burglary has all the hallmarks of a staged burglary. I have the advantage of a knowledge of the Italian language and Massei’s reasoning is partially based on the (untranslated)testimony of Gioia BROCCI, one of the first officers on the scene. She remarked on the earth underneath her shoes, yet no traces of a climb up the wall or disturbance of the ground beneath Romanelli’s window.

Even though it has been suggested, I do not believe that BROCCI lied. Why should she? And in any case, Amanda was not a suspect at that point anyway.

Jill Giannotta said...

I would be interested to read your comments.