|The evidence gets really confusing....|
I started out this new series because the Italian Court of Cassation recently quashed the Appeal Court's acquittal of both Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito.
In Parts One through Three, I talked about the Appeal Court's decisions pertaining to the break-in and the DNA evidence (the evidence with regard to the "double-DNA" knife and the bra clasp).
In this part, I'll start to wrap things up by discussing the most interesting other aspects of the Appeal Court's ruling. I will focus on the footprint on the bathroom mat - which inevitably leads one to evaluate whether or not a clean-up operation took place - and the traces left by Luminol found in various places in the apartment at the Via della Pergola.
The print on the mat and the clean-up
In the smaller of the two bathrooms in the upper floor of the house at the Via della Pergola (the bathroom used by Kercher and Amanda Knox, just next to Kercher's bedroom), a mat was found on which the imprint of someone's bare right foot was found. The print was made due to the fact that the foot has been bloodied; the blood was Kercher's.
The original court, after having heard the expert testimony from both the prosecution and the defence, decided that the footprint matched the right foot of Sollecito.
Now before addressing the forensic evidence regarding possible matches of the footprint, there is another issue to bear in mind. Is the fact that print existed in the first place of any relevance for the question as to whether more than one person was involved in the murder?
Well, if we consider the Appeal Court's reasoning, as quoted above, one might assume that something along the following lines must have happened:
- sometime during or preceding the attack on Meredith, Guede loses his right shoe;
- Guede kills Kercher, doing so in such a manner as to inevitably leave considerable amounts of her blood in her room and, no doubt, on his person. He also leaves evidence of his presence in her room (there is, for example, the imprint of his bloodied hand on a pillow). He then goes to the bathroom to wash his bare foot;
- he then cleans up, thereby forgetting or not noticing the single footprint on the bathmat (and, indeed, the hand on the pillow), and possibly puts his shoe back on (or perhaps, as the Appeal Court assumes, he does not);
- and he then departs, leaving, however, a discernible trail of shoe prints from his left shoe.
If one accepts such a sequence of events, a clear problem arises. After all, if you wish to believe that the same person (i.e. Guede) could have left both the footprint on the mat and the shoe prints, you would have to accept that that person would have had to be, at one and the same time, cautious enough to have cleaned up after the attack (and even, at least to a certain extent, to have "rearranged" the crime scene), but careless enough to ultimately walk out of the apartment with a clearly bloodied shoe (and the mark of his hand on a pillow). He would have had to spend considerable time and attention to trying removing his presence in some ways, whilst at the same time not caring at all whether his presence was discernible by other means. (I should perhaps at this point bring into recollection that the shoe prints leading from Kercher's room to the exit were visible to the naked eye; these were not traces only discernible by the use of Luminol.)
In other words, it seems fairly clear that the two sets of actions could not have been taken by one single person. They are, simply put, contradictory in nature. To a certain extent, the Appeal Court itself inadvertently strengthens this contradiction, when it assumes that Guede left the apartment wearing only his left shoe, with his right foot still bare. That, certainly, is the action of someone who wants to leave as quickly as possible, and not the action of someone who has decided, instead, to stay for a while and remove as much evidence as possible. Besides, it seems rather absurd to suppose that Guede would have cleaned up the place whilst wearing just one shoe.
The Appeal Court however, recognises the problem, and deals with it in a way that is quite crucial not just to the issue of the footprint on the mat but also to the issue of the traces revealed by Luminol (which I'll discuss later). It does so by assuming there was no clean-up.
I must admit that when I first realised this, I was momentarily at a loss for words. That the apartment had, at least partially, been cleaned after the attack had been, for me, a given (as it had been for the original court, which stated that "a cleaning activity was certainly carried out".)
The Appeal Court's reasoning on this cannot be found in its deliberations concerning the footprint; it is only when one arrives at the court's reasoning with regard to the traces left by Luminol that this aspect of the ruling becomes clear. There, the court expressly rejects the idea that any clean-up took place: "the occurrence of a clean-up is negated by the sheer number of traces found in the house", the court states.
I must admit I have no true understanding of how the Appeal Court might find this to be the case. If Kercher was murdered in the way she was murdered - that is, stabbed repeatedly with one or two knives - she would have lost a considerable amount of blood. Whoever attacked her must gotten that blood on them; the blood must have gotten on their (bare or shod) feet. Of course some sort of clean-up took place, and this follows from the simple fact that the very next day, various people (not just Knox and Sollecito, but also Romanelli, a friend of hers and both their boyfriends, along with two officers from the Postal Police) all entered the apartment and none of them, at that point in time, realised that they were walking into the scene of a violent murder. It follows from Knox's own testimony: she states she had earlier taken a shower and not realised anything was actually wrong; she noticed on or two little blood stains but assumed someone had had her period. And, certainly, it follows from the single footprint on the bath mat in the small bathroom, with the absence of any other prints leading from Kercher's room to the bathroom and the mat.
In short, if the fact that some sort of clean-up had taken place seemed, to me, a given, that is because it is. I don't see how you can get around that at all; any other idea would appear to be totally illogical. Nevertheless, that is the assumption of the Appeal Court, and because of this, I feel that that court's reasoning is seriously suspect.
Now, I have already said that, if you do assume a clean-up took place, this also implies that the Appeal Court's reasoning with regard to the footprint on the bath mat becomes clearly illogical.
It is only when the above issues has been addressed that the next question arises, which is whether or not the forensic evidence shows if the print matches Sollecito's foot. As to that question, I will try to be brief. The reason is very simple: I'm basically at a loss.
You see, the experts of the police came to the conclusion that the print was compatible with Sollecito's foot, but incompatible with Guede's. However, the expert hired by Sollecito, professor Vinci, disagreed: he stated that the print could, indeed, have been left by Guede. To substantiate this, Vinci made one very important assumption, which is that the print of the foot's big toe is actually not a print of just that toe, but also a print of the next (or second) toe. The print is therefore merged; it's two toes. This is important because it turns out that Sollecito's big toe is actually much bigger than Guede's. In other words, to explain the size of the print when it comes to the big toe (to explain that the print could nevertheless be Guede's), the defence had to assume that the print was two toes.
Now the original court rejected Vinci's claim, using a rather simple argument: it stated that the print was clearly homogenous. If it had been the merged print of not one but two toes, there would have had to have been some incongruity, some "interruption of continuity" (as that court states) in the print. However, there is none, the court alleges.
The Appeal Court , however, states the opposite, where it confirms that "examining the black and white images [in professor Vinci's report], one remains convinced of the validity of his belief."
And that's basically it. In other words, the original court looks at the print and decides it's Sollecito's foot, whilst the Appeal Court looks at the print (the photos in Vinci's report) and decides that it could well be Guede's.
As a result, I have no clear idea of which court's opinion is the more valid. I can only turn to a few rather vague ideas and notions. Whilst these, by and large, would seem to indicate that, yes, it's rather more likely that we're talking about Sollecito's print than Guede's, that's just not enough.
As to what the Court of Cassation made of this, once again I don't know. From a strict legal point of view, I would have to assume that that court might well have had to accept the Appeal Court's reasoning, since it doesn't seem to be overtly illogical or insufficiently substantiated.
Please remember though, that we are only talking about possibilities (or probabilities). Neither the original court or the Appeal Court rules out in any absolute sense that the print could have been made by either Sollecito's or Guede's foot. As a result, the remarks I made earlier - regarding the relevance of the print when it comes to the question of a "lone wolf" criminal - remain quite intact, as do my comments regarding the clean-up. And these, to my mind, are the central issues.
Click on either image for a larger picture.
As to the footprint on the mat, here are the measured sizes: Big toe height = 39. Big toe width = 30.
Metatarsus height = 50. Metatarsus width = 99.
(The photos are from the prosecution's report.)
As to the footprint on the mat, here are the measured sizes: Big toe height = 39. Big toe width = 30.
Metatarsus height = 50. Metatarsus width = 99.
(The photos are from the prosecution's report.)
The Luminol prints
As the Appeal Court correctly states, during the second inspection of the house at the Via della Pergola, on the 18th of December, 2007, Luminol was applied to the floor of the corridor, to the kitchen/living-room, to the bedrooms of Knox and Filomena Romanelli, and, finally, to the larger bathroom.
Now, Luminol is a substance that can detect the (invisible) existence of blood, but it reacts equally to other substances, like fruit juice or bleach.
The use of Luminol revealed various traces (I believe there were six traces in all). These traces were further examined; that is, they were, firstly, examined as to whether it could established that they were left by blood. Secondly, DNA samples were taken and tested.
As for the blood sample testing: all the results came up negative. It could not, in other words, be established that the traces were blood traces.
As for the DNA testing: two traces were found to contain the mixed DNA of both Knox and Kercher. One of these traces had been taken in Romanelli's room; the other had been taken in the hallway. The other four traces did not contain mixed samples, but they did contain the DNA of just Knox.
The original court, in considering this outcome, came to the conclusion that in the case of the two mixed samples, a reasonable supposition is that these traces consisted of the blood of Kercher, mixed with the DNA of Knox. In doing so, that court takes into consideration that whilst the testing done did not establish the existence of blood, there was no sufficient reason to exclude the possibility that they had, nevertheless, been blood samples.
The Appeal Court disagreed, stating the following: "First and foremost, the certain, true fact is that the generic blood test gave a negative result. According to the [first] Court this happened because of the scarcity of the available biological material, but the consultant for the defense, (...) specified (....) that the (...) test is very sensitive, so much as to give a positive result even with only five red blood cells present. Dr. Stefanoni herself, moreover, clarified (...) that, while a positive test result could be deceptive due to reactivity of the chemical with other substances, a negative result gives certainty that no blood is present."
The first thing that should be noted here is that the Appeal Court has muddled its facts. Dr Stefanoni (who is attached to the Scientific Police and therefore the prosecution) was, at the time, clearly talking about the results from the use of Luminol, not the results from specific and subsequent blood tests. And her remarks seem correct: a negative Luminol test will no doubt be conclusive (i.e. if the Luminol does not cause a reaction, well then, no blood, or any other substance that reacts to Luminol, will be present). This, however, clearly does not apply to the six traces in question, since all these traces led to positive Luminol results; there was a reaction.
What we are left with is the true statement that the specific blood test lead to a negative result. Here, however, the same applies as when examining the "double-DNA" knife and the bra clasp: the fact that it could not be established that Kercher's DNA sample on the knife was left by blood, or Sollecito's sample on the clasp was left by his handling of the clasp, does not in itself rule out either possibility. It simply means that the answer to that question must be sought elsewhere, by different means.
The means by which the original court reaches its answer is relatively straightforward. We have, that court considers, the positive Luminol samples. Then we have, in two cases, further DNA samples that were mixed (they contained both the DNA of Knox and Kercher). What is the most reasonable explanation for this? Well, the original court states, it's surely that Knox, in her bare feet - feet still bloodied with Kercher's blood - left these traces.
To which it can be added that one of the traces (the one in Romanelli's room) does not seem attributable to a bare foot (it is simply amorphous). The second trace, however (the one found in the corridor), does seem to have been left by a foot (indeed, it seems to have been left by Knox's foot).*
And to which it can further be added that any other explanation seems much more improbable. In particular, the notion that the two mixed traces could just be evidence of the fact that both Knox and Kercher happened to live in the same apartment seems unlikely. After all, such an idea would necessitate that , at two very specific places and at more or less the same time, Knox and Kercher both left their DNA traces, and you would further have to assume that, again at the same place and at more or less the same time, some innocuous substance with which Luminol reacts (such as fruit juice or bleach) was used. If you assume that substance to have been incidental, such as, say, spilled fruit, common sense dictates that the odds of this having happened become very high indeed; if, alternatively, you presume a much more generic substance caused the reaction, such as bleach, the opposite apples; it becomes almost impossible to understand why only two traces were found.
In other words, the original court reached its decision on the basis of a fairly logical set of thoughts, and one that I, at least find compelling.
It is interesting to note that the Appeal Court seems to have all sorts of difficulties in trying to reach an opposing view. The court starts by assuming the Luminol traces could indeed have been caused by bleach. After all, why not? There were four young women living together in the apartment, who must have had friends coming over regularly; bleach must have been used often. In doing this, however, the Appeal Court is already starting to miss the crux of the matter; after all, it is not just the positive Luminol test that is indicative, it is the combination of that test and the DNA sampling, and the fact that so few traces were found, which is important.
Perhaps because of this, the Appeal Court goes on to make two further remarks. Firstly, it states the following: "The limited number of footprints detected can be explained by treading at different times and by the use of bleach on points specifically dirty. After all, doubts similar to those raised in the ruling could be brought up even supposing that the traces are of blood: why only in those few points, moreover not consecutive and instead spread in various rooms?"
This quotation is, it must be said, truly odd. If the traces were a reaction to bleach, surely there must have been a lot more of them. So the Appeal Court is trying to explain why there were, in fact, so few. And in doing so, it immediately ties this issue to another one altogether, which is the question of why only two mixed DNA samples were found.
Well, that question has already been answered by the original court, and that court's answer was simple: a clean-up operation had taken place. So one would expect the Appeal Court to concur, this, after all, explained the conundrum the Appeal Court itself had just made obvious.
What, however, does the Appeal Court do? It immediately and rather astonishingly rejects the idea of a clean up. The second remark it makes is: "the occurrence of a clean-up is negated by the sheer number of traces found in the house".
It is at this point that one must seriously consider that the Appeal Court has more or less lost the ability to think straight. The court starts its arguments by asking itself why there are so few footprints. It links this to the fact that, well, there are only two mixed DNA traces, too. It then offers the answer to the question of how this can be the case: there must have been a clean-up. It then rejects that notion. And how does it do this? By pointing to "the sheer number" of traces. I think the only correct response to all this would be: "Eh?"
Having said this, however, I must point out that the Appeal Court, after this momentary lapse of reason, comes back quite strongly. It finishes its arguments on the traces left by Luminol with a simple and possibly adequate remark, stating that the DNA in the mixed samples was once more so small that LCN testing was required. And just like the testing done with the knife, serious questions can be raised as to the reliability of the results procured. Once more, the question arises if the tests conducted by the Scientific Police were adequate since, once more (as the Appeal Court states), just a single test was carried out (and, as far as I know, no new testing - done, perhaps, on the basis of methods "still in development" - can be done).
So, how will the Court of Cassation have thought about all this? Well, at the very least I would assume that it could not have overly pleased with the Appeal Court's considerations; these are, in many ways, clearly illogical in very substantive ways. Of course some sort of clean up seems to have taken place; the Appeal Court's negation of this makes very little sense at all. So of course there is the very real question as to whether Guede could and would have engaged in this clean up and if not, if that fact alone does not clearly point to the guilt of Knox and Sollecito. And of course the traces left by Luminol should be taken seriously in this regard. And yet, there remains the unclear answer to the question of whether or not the footprint on the mat should or should not be attributed to Sollecito. And there remains the question of whether the results of the LCN testing on the mixed samples can or cannot be considered reliable. And I am uncertain as to how the Court of Cassation has answered either of these questions.
* This paragraph was edited on the basis of the comments you can read below. Originally, I had stated that both prints were attributable to bare feet, thereby following the Appeal Court's statements. The Appeal Court seems to have been wrong, though.