Tuesday, September 27, 2011

VI. The Verdict in Perugia: The Case Against Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito (Epilogue, Part One)

A while back, I posted a five part series dealing with the case against Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito.

At the time, the appeal trial was well under way, but by no means at an end. There was one bit of business in particular that had yet to be brought to a close: the re-assessment of the DNA evidence with regard to the bra clasp and the so-called “double DNA” knife.

Well, the two experts appointed by the appeal court have submitted their report in this matter. In fact, they did so some time ago, and I’ve still to comment on it. That isn’t due to any lapse of interest on my part; rather, it is caused by - simply put - my inability to truly understand its contents.

It is, of course, clear what the experts’ conclusions are: they regard the evidence of both the clasp and the knife as unreliable and they have advised the appeal court to disregard it.

So far, so good. However, the reasoning behind this conclusion is somewhat less clear. The experts, for example, have stated that the methods originally used by the police in examining the evidence fall short of “international standards”. I am not at all sure what they mean by this. What standards are the experts referring to? Remember that, when it came to the knife, the amount of Meredith’s DNA found was so small that the police had to resort to Low Copy Number testing; such a method could in itself be considered controversial (and therefore “falling short of standards”); alternatively, one might recall that LCN testing has been accepted by various countries (such as the UK), where it is used fairly regularly. Does the experts’ report mean that they do not acknowledge the validity of LCN testing? Or are they saying that LCN is reliable enough, but that the police weren’t applying the proper procedures when carrying out their tests? Or are they saying that they cannot ascertain whether the proper procedures were applied, for example because the available documentation is insufficient to reach such a conclusion?

In short, whilst the report’s conclusions are clear enough, it is not clear how strong the experts’ reasoning is.

Does this matter? Well, yes. And then again, probably not. Not, that is to say, in the current appeal court’s verdict. Regardless of one’s analysis of the report’s reasoning, I have come to feel it’s highly unlikely that the appeal court would decide not to follow its own experts’ advice. In other words, I’m pretty sure the court will toss out both the bra clasp and the knife on the basis of the report, regardless of how convincing that report really is. That, after all, is why a court appoints experts such as these; they’re there to answer questions the court can’t answer itself. (Alternatively, the report’s strengths or weaknesses could be important if the case where ever to be submitted to the Italian supreme court.)

So let’s work on that assumption for the moment: the bra clasp and the knife are out of the picture. Where does that leave the case? On - err - a knife edge, I’d say.

The bra clasp was the one bit of evidence that directly linked Raffaele to the crime. There is one other piece of physical evidence (a not totally clear footprint found in the small bedroom of the apartment), but that’s about all. Without the bra clasp, there seems very little left to convict Raffaele. Very little, that is, except circumstantial evidence. His alibi (such as it is) does not convince. Then there’s the strange fact that he seems to have turned off his phone and the peculiar use (or lack of use) of his laptop on the night of the murder.

When it comes to Amanda, the knife seems the more important item. After all, on it was found not just Meredith’s DNA, but Amanda’s as well. The knife, therefore, provides a direct link between Amanda and the crime. Nevertheless, if the knife is dismissed, the case against Amanda remains much stronger than the case against Raffaele. First of all, there is a lot more forensic evidence remaining implicating her (including the mixed DNA samples found in various locations in the apartment). Besides, if one were to assume the break-in was staged, Amanda seems to be the only one with any reason to stage it.

In short, to my mind, the bra clasp has always been crucially important when it comes to establishing Raffaele’s guilt, but the knife is not necessarily crucial in establishing Amanda’s. Ignoring both pieces of evidence could, therefore, lead to a rather unexpected result. It remains, of course possible (and even likely) that the court would either convict or acquit both of them, but there now also seems to be a possibility that the court might acquit Raffaele, turn around, and then affirm Amanda’s guilt.

We will know soon enough: the court has indicated it will give its ruling in just a few days.

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