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SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS: Origin Story

Thou art thy mother’s glass and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime;
So thou through windows of thine age shalt see,
Despite of wrinkles, this thy golden time.
But if thou live, remembered not to be,
Die single and thine image dies with thee.

It was 1590 and time for the teenaged Earl of Southampton to get married and create for the world a worthy heir. The golden good looks the boy inherited from his mother were, insisted Shakespeare, some waiting baby’s birthright.

The young earl, Henry Wriothesley, begged to differ.

No one knows how William Shakespeare got involved in the attempt by Henry’s elders to convince him to marry a particular young woman, but the six lines above and sixteen of the first seventeen sonnets — often called the “Marriage Sonnets” — appear to be part of a (futile) persuasion project aimed at a recalcitrant earl.

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Begun in the early 1590’s, the sonnets weren’t published until 1609.

“Marriage Sonnets” isn’t quite the right name. In sixteen sonnets, Shakespeare finds sixteen ways to refer to Southampton’s potential progeny: tender heir, fair child, thine image, acceptable audit, flowers distilled, beauty’s treasure, new-appearing sight, concord of well-tuned sounds [as in a harmonious family life], form of thee, another self, copy, breed, sweet issue, truth and beauty, living flowers, and, simply, some child of yours. In the “Make-us-a-baby Sonnets,” marriage is merely a means to an end.

Sonnet XV is an important outlier, being the only one of the first seventeen that refrains from shouting the joys of fatherhood from the rooftops: it promises eternal youth instead. Shakespeare’s immortal words will refresh Southampton’s “youthful sap” despite the “decay” perpetrated by “wasteful Time.” At length, this becomes the central theme of the entire one hundred and twenty-six sonnet sequence: poetry and progeny versus aging and death.

In Sonnet XV, love for Southampton (“for love of you”) and the author’s acute sense of the impermanence of being (“this inconstant stay”) are set against the hoped-for immortality of art (“As he takes from you, I engraft you new”). These sweet sentiments, trembling forebodings, and desperate desires, developed and restated over ten years or more, became some of the most stirring love poetry ever written.

As Queen Elizabeth’s reign entered its last decade, Shakespeare celebrated the young earl, calling him variously, the world’s fresh ornament, most rich in youth, beauteous and lovely youth, thy mother’s glass, tender churl, beauteous niggard, profitless usurer, possessed with murderous hate [childlessness = murder], love, my love, sweet love, my true love, Dear my love, Lord of my love, Suns of the world, my all-the-world, all my art, my sovereign, my Rose, my all, all the better part of me, too dear for my possessing, Time’s best jewel, fair friend, sweet boy, and, finally, O thou my lovely boy. 

From “tender churl” in Sonnet I to “O thou my lovely boy” in Sonnet CXXVI, the guidance and support Shakespeare offered the young earl was private. As a result, the sonnets were almost lost to us. How we got them, how they prevailed — the sonnets’ origin story — is as fascinating as one might expect, easily as exciting as any Shakespeare drama. It’s odd that so few people know it.

A Story Rarely Told

At the end of the sixteenth century, a young earl lived in a maelstrom of political intrigue: from an early age, Henry Wriothesley weighed tempting offers and all-in risks. Shakespeare, having somehow become close to the earl, followed the boy’s/young man’s life with his pen. For some ten, eleven, twelve, or thirteen years, poetry and history intertwined. Love and longing, power and fate, life and death, and the terrifying roller-coaster of Elizabethan politics animated the art of one of England’s great poets.

Shakespeare knew his skill. In Sonnet XXXII he speaks ironically of his “poor rude lines” that might someday be outstripped by a poet with superior “style.” But, he says, never will his lines be matched for “love.” It was the highest of high compliments: overflowing with talent, Shakespeare regards his poetic skill as insignificant compared to his love for Southampton.

But the boy was reckless. His decisions led to one disaster after another. A series of private poems celebrating the noble young fool, even written by Shakespeare himself, were anything but safe for posterity. Southampton finally lost his friend to the executioner’s axe and was himself extraordinarily fortunate to dodge the axe and see the other side of fifty. When he died (from an illness), the fate of the sonnets remained uncertain.

Eventually, hope triumphed over circumstance and the sonnets survived after dangling by the thinnest of threads for more than one hundred years. This is their story.

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All’s well didn’t end well for Southampton’s friend, the Earl of Essex.

One Thousand Seven Hundred and Sixty-Five Lines of Controversy

Shakespeare’s only known first-person writing seems to have a knack for controversy: no one involved in the modern acrimony has a death sentence hanging over his head, but this year, last year — any year — wild theories fly from the sonnets like pollen in early spring. And everyone is allergic to one species or another. It’s as if Shakespeare and Southampton impressed upon the 14-line poems a mischievous curse out of Harry Potter, one that sets them forever at the nexus of trouble.

We cannot even say with certainty to whom the sonnets were written. Shakespeare overtly dedicated both of his first two publications (epic poems) to the young earl; in the first of these, thirty-six lines from the sonnets are repeated almost word for word; and the sonnets fit Southampton’s documented life rather well. But we have no guarantees.

Two centuries ago, it was Nathan Drake who dared propose in print Southampton as Shakespeare’s great love. Someone else nicknamed the mystery-boy the “fair youth.”  Today, Southampton remains the leading candidate, for the subject of the sonnets whom we shall call, following Shakespeare, “lovely boy.” Eyes open, cognizant of risk, we shall accept Drake’s identification as fact.

It is said one must speculate in order to accumulate and the truth of this is here revealed: our modest wager richly rewards us with a coherent and dramatic story. Hang on, it’s a wild ride.

Honor, Public and Private

In 1590, Shakespeare’s plays had yet to enliven a printing press. Even so, the bard’s voice had found its way into the local vernacular: in 1589, the quick-witted hipster Thomas Nashe giddily quipped about “whole Hamlets, I should say handfuls, of tragical speeches.” Nashe had evidently seen Hamlet, talked about Hamlet, and heard what others had to say about Hamlet with enough frequency to put Shakespeare’s over-the-top drama at the tip of his fun-loving pen. However, Nashe did not name the author with whom he was toying.

In 1593, in the midst of the Southampton marital negotiations, Shakespeare formally introduced himself to the public with an epic poem called Venus and Adonis about a beautiful young man who refuses love and dies. It was lavishly dedicated to Southampton.

If your honor seem but pleased,
I account myself highly praised,
and vow to take advantage of all idle hours,
till I have honored you with some graver labor.

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Shakespeare finally in print.

Venus and Adonis was a smashing success going through sixteen editions over the next fifty years. In contrast, the baby-making inducements in the sonnets remained in its zeroth edition for upwards of nineteen years. They were rather direct and rather personal, perhaps rendering them less than ideal for public consumption.

Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest
Now is the time that face should form another
Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest
Thou dost beguile [deprive] the world, unbless [sadden] some mother.
For where is she so fair whose uneared [virgin] womb

Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?

The pretty young earl would be keeping his husbandry to himself for the time being, thank you very much.

In 1594, a second epic poem, The Rape of Lucrece, was published. Plays waited in the wings, performed but not published. The Lucrece dedication made the Venus dedication seem reserved.

THE love I dedicate to your lordship is without end . . .
What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours,

being part in all I have, devoted yours . . . 
I wish [you] long life still lengthened with all happiness.

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Shakespeare’s second, and final, dedication.

Lucrece went through eight editions in fifty years, another success. It and its predecessor formed the public counterpoint to the sonnets’ private full-court press for baby earls.

Be not self-willed, for thou art much too fair
To be death’s conquest and make worms thine heir.
. . .
Make thee another self for love of me
That beauty still may live in thine or thee. 

Self-willed teenagers, we see, are far from a recent invention. Shakespeare lays it on pretty thick here and he is clearly concerned about “worms” — this is the first of four appearances of the hungry creatures. Speaking of laying it on thick, Shakespeare appears almost desperate to see a Southampton son. He didn’t want Southampton’s beauty lost to the world.

Unfortunately, in 1594, Southampton came of age and refused his betrothed. Brushing aside the failure, Shakespeare continued the poetic celebration of his “lovely boy” over the next decade. The sonnets would be a “monument” of “gentle verse,” he promised, “filled with your most high deserts,” strong enough to withstand “war’s quick fire,” able to leap tall buildings in a single bound . . .

The plays were another story. In 1594, Shakespeare’s plays began appearing in printed editions without the Shakespeare byline and without dedications. The often-garbled plays did not always (or ever) benefit from authorial oversight. The first play to be published was Titus Andronicus.

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Titus Andronicus was performed by three different acting companies. This edition was reasonably accurate.

In 1598, Southampton married a woman of his own choosing. The Shakespeare byline now appeared on the hit or miss plays, there were no more epic poems, and Shakespeare had written his last dedication. Meanwhile, work on the sonnets progressed as rumors of their existence leaked. Francis Meres wrote, “Witness his sugared sonnets among his private friends,” along with praise for Shakespeare and a list of plays including both Love’s Labors Lost and Love’s Labors Won which we assume has been lost.

Mr. Meres clearly hadn’t seen the sonnets himself. No one who was telling had. Referential quips about “whole seasons of summer’s days” would just have to wait (sorry Tommy).

For Shakespeare, privacy was but a temporary expedient. If we are to believe what the sonnets tell us, nothing was more important to him than these poems, their subject, and the immortality of both. Publication would, ultimately, be crucial.

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see
So long lives this and this gives life to thee
. . .
And thou in this shalt find thy monument,

when tyrants’ crests of tombs of brass are spent.
. . .
Not marble not the gilded monuments
Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme.
. . .
And yet to times in hope, my verse shall stand
 [up to Time]
Praising thy worth, despite his
 [Time’s] cruel hand.

Very nice. But even if you are the greatest poet in England, even if you are literally Shakespeare, there are no guarantees when it comes to outliving marble monuments, especially if your glorious subject insists on kicking around tectonic plates like they are unruly servants.

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To say the Earl of Southampton, the “lovely boy” of the sonnets, did not behave himself is a fantastic understatement.

The Politics of Failure

When Shakespeare broke ground on the “eternal lines” that would “preserve the living record of [Southampton’s] memory,” the self-willed boy was in line to marry the grand-daughter of Lord Burghley. The puritanical Burghley was the Queen’s closest advisor and the most powerful man in England, a man who would happily put his authority and tactical acumen up against a “powerful rhyme” any day of the week. One would think Southampton would be pleased to accept this particular girl’s hand. One would be wrong.

Lord Burghley was a consummate plotter who usually got what he wanted, which seemed to be, quite often, consummation. The highest ranking earl in England, Edward de Vere, had already married his daughter, the long-suffering Anne Cecil. Now it was Southampton’s turn to gild the Cecil family name.

The family here is that of the great William Cecil, Lord Burghley, who, with his son, Robert Cecil, engineered the ascension to the British throne of King James of Scotland after Queen Elizabeth died in 1603. This of course eventually led to the unification of Scotland and England. Southampton would have been wise to ally himself with this powerful family.

But he said no. Refusing Burghley in 1594 was ill-advised. Crazy came later.

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William Cecil, Lord Burghley, the man who eventually determined who would succeed Queen Elizabeth I, the last of the Tudor Rose monarchs.

Fortune

So Elizabeth Vere married the Earl of Derby instead of Southampton. Derby didn’t need sonnets to be convinced, or if he did, we have not seen them. Southampton was out of the picture, but Shakespeare remained a welcome diversion: revelers enjoyed a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the wedding.

In due course, Burghley’s youngest grand-daughter, Susan Vere, married the Earl of Montgomery. It was a very Shakespearean family to be sure: Montgomery and his brother, the Earl of Pembroke, were the eventual dedicatees of the all-important First Folio.

In 1623, thirty-six Shakespeare plays, accurately rendered, miraculously appeared in one stunning tome — the First Folio. Twenty-four of these plays had either not been published during Shakespeare’s lifetime or had been published in corrupted, error-filled versions. There is evidence (e.g., Henslowe’s famous diary) indicating that, in general, more plays were performed than preserved during the period.

Without the First Folio, you would likely never have heard of sixteen Shakespeare plays: All’s Well that Ends WellAs You Like ItAntony and CleopatraThe Comedy of ErrorsCymbelineCoriolanusHenry VI part 1, Henry VIIIJulius CaesarMacbethMeasure for Measure, The Tempest, Timon of Athens, Twelfth Night, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, AND The Winter’s Tale.

Without the First Folio, you might have seen The Taming of a Shrew and The Troublesome Reign of King John, but you would not get to see the real versions as these early publications were so badly butchered that they bore little or no resemblance to Shakespeare’s actual work.

Five plays published during Shakespeare’s lifetime were, at best, somewhere in the ballpark of the First Folio versions: Henry VI part 2, Henry VI part 3The Merry Wives of WindsorHenry V, and King Lear. These five were refreshed in the First Folio.

The year before the First Folio was printed, one previously unpublished play, Othello, came out in a sort-of accurate printed version, differing from the First Folio version by only 170 lines or so.

With Othello, we have a grand total of twenty-four plays missing from the canon the day Shakespeare died. To appreciate the horror of Shakespeare without the First Folio, take a look at its table of contents with the twenty-four saved plays crossed out.

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It’s a good thing someone held onto the manuscripts.

Without help from the author or access to a manuscript, reasonable accuracy could be attained by a professional scribe watching a play and essentially bootlegging. Twelve decent versions of plays were in fact printed, perhaps using such a method, during Shakespeare’s lifetime. The twelve are as follows: Hamlet, Henry IV part 1, Henry IV part 2, Love’s Labor’s Lost, The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, Richard II, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, Titus Andronicus, and Troylus and Cressida (this last is included in the First Folio, but was inserted at the last minute and does not appear on the “CATALOGVE” page; the Folio version of the play includes a prologue for the first time).

The unpredictable nature of Shakespeare publications is amusing to modern readers: for example, the first pre-Folio attempt to publish Hamlet contained the immortal line, “To be or not to be, Aye there’s the point.” An accurate version appeared a year later. Romeo and Juliet also had an evil twin.

Bottom line, as of 1616, the year of Shakespeare’s death, the Shakespeare publication history was a godawful mess. After seven more trips around the sun, the expansion of the canon from twelve to thirty-six intact plays came about by the good graces of the “incomparable paire of brethren,” two earls who knew the right people. They and their colleagues erased a checkered thirty-year history of Shakespeare publications in one magnificent stroke.

firstfoliodedication

The two earls were joined by two of Shakespeare’s fellow members of the King’s Men acting company, John Heminge and Henry Condell. Somehow they gathered together Shakespeare plays that had already been published, plays that had never been published, and plays that had been published monstrously.

Heminge and Condell, writing in the preface to the First Folio, tell us that readers were previously “abused with diverse stolen and surreptitious copies maimed and deformed by the stealths of injurious imposters,” but now would get authoritative versions “perfect of their limbs.” The publishers, Edward Blount and William Jaggard, likewise promised in the preface that the First Folio now in your hands was based on the “true original copies” of the plays.

The sonnets and epic poems were NOT included: no one knows why. Ben Jonson’s works, published by him in Folio form (i.e., big and fancy) in 1616 and thought to have inspired Shakespeare’s version, included plays and poems. The earls and the actors may not have been able to obtain the rights to Shakespeare’s poetry. They may have determined that the epic poems had been published frequently enough already. The somewhat enigmatic sonnets in which Shakespeare expresses his love for a young man might not be a draw or maybe they were concerned the sonnets would interest people too much.

Or perhaps they considered Southampton’s disastrous politics in making the plays-only decision. Celebrations of a controversial earl might be dangerous. Political sensitivity was decidedly not optional in those days as authors and publishers could be jailed on a whim and tortured if the authorities saw fit. If King James didn’t want sonnets or epic poems included, that would be that.

It’s hard to imagine Southampton himself caring one way or another. In 1623, the now-fiftyish Venus/Lucrece dedicatee and the prodigal lovely boy of the sonnets, having survived his extravagant incaution, was content each morning to “look in thy glass” and see his head attached to his shoulders.

Southampton was destined to die the following year in any case of a fever contracted while out of the country commanding troops. Shakespeare, himself already “the prey of worms,” was in no position to protest in 1623.

And so the great poet’s unconditional love, deep identification (“my glass shall not persuade me I am old, so long as youth and thou are of one date”), and infinite esteem for the beautiful and worthy Earl of Southampton carved into fragile paper with black ink, lovingly crafted over thirteen years, his monument of one hundred and twenty-six intensely evocative sonnet-letters, those wondrous immortal lines we fawn over today were, for whatever reason, given short shrift by Pembroke, Montgomery, Heminge, Condell, Blount, and Jaggard.

The epic poems were protected by their multiple editions while the sonnets were cast adrift in the uncompromising seas of time, with no guarantee of arrival at a friendly shore.

While alive, Shakespeare had been quite confident in the power of his pen to see his precious sonnets home.

When all the breathers of this world are dead
You still shall live (such virtue hath my pen).

He should perhaps have been more worried. And yet a wonderfully prophetic line in the previously unpublished Cymbeline was immortalized in the First Folio in 1623.

Fortune brings in some boats that are not steered. — Cymbeline, IV.iii

And so it came to pass for the sonnets. We shall see shortly how and then we will, finally, go to Hell and back with our lovely boy. But first the curse.

The Curse of the Sonnets

How many people realize the “thee” in “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” is a self-willed young man who wouldn’t marry properly, a young man whose rash behavior got his noble friend killed along with a handful of commoners? The answer is “not many” and maybe it’s just as well.

The lovely boy is still at it, you see. First we’re talking about Southampton, then we shift to Shakespeare himself. We cannot resist. We become convinced Shakespeare is talking to us as himself through the sonnets. We become well-intentioned amateur biographers. We begin spewing wild theories, guessing our way out of intelligent history, out of control much like Southampton himself.

Professor James Shapiro at Columbia University has a simple and sensible remedy: “I steer clear of reading these extraordinary poems as autobiography.”

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Columbia Professor James Shapiro

And really there’s no choice. Shakespeare was a twenty-something commoner when he came to London in the early 1590’s and became involved with the theater as a shareholder of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men who owned the Globe Theater and who were later rechristened the King’s Men. Shakespeare was also (later) part-owner of the Blackfriars Theater. Unfortunately, we don’t know anything about his relationship with Southampton.

Even though his two epic poems were dedicated to Southampton and even though the sonnets were apparently written to Southampton, there’s not a jot of independent evidence that Shakespeare and Southampton ever even met. Concerted efforts to find a scrap of something, any little thing that would shed even a sliver of light on the nature of their relationship, have been futile.

So it isn’t clear how or why Shakespeare would refer to the Earl of Southampton as “O thou my lovely boy” or as a “tender churl” or say to him “be not self-willed” or ask him to “make thee another self for love of me” or be involved in the boy’s marriage decisions or Lord Burghley’s political manœuvres or anywhere near any of it. History is simply at a loss.

Shakespeare’s long celebration of Southampton’s greatness following the marriage debacle is touching and lovely and sweet, but here too the absence of supporting documents creates a critical lack of context which precludes reasonable people from using the sonnets as a foundation of biography.

We can’t even say with certainty that the subject of the sonnets even is Southampton — yes, it’s a widely held and fairly sensible conclusion, but it’s also speculation. Along these same lines, applying similarly strict standards, we must admit we don’t know that when Nashe mentioned Hamlet, he was talking about Shakespeare’s Hamlet — he might have been talking about an earlier play by the same name written by someone else, a play sometimes called the ur-Hamlet by professionals trying to piece together a reasonable history. The 1580’s are a bit early for Hamlet since Shakespeare was a teenager and young man living in Stratford during that decade.

With all the incongruities and uncertainties associated with any autobiographical reading of the sonnets, it makes sense to follow the lead of Professor Shapiro and virtually every other Shakespeare scholar and simply regard them as “extraordinary poems” written by an artist whose writing life is insufficiently documented to allow us to convert them into personal documents.

A typical well-known Elizabethan author like Ben Jonson or Thomas Nashe wrote manuscripts and letters that were, in part, preserved and that do, in part, survive today. Some of the letters discussed writing. Extant records and letters show or discuss payments made to and/or received by the authors for their writing. Friends, colleagues, and neighbors wrote about them and their work.

For these authors, we even have signatures in books . . .

. . . and long samples of handwriting . . .

. . . giving us a place to begin, providing us with at least some semblance of context.

However, the large number of surviving documents referring to Shakespeare do not shed light on his writing in general or on the sonnets in particular. We have legal, personal, and business records and so forth, but no manuscripts survive; there are no surviving personal letters concerning writing that might mention or allude to the sonnets. In fact, none of Shakespeare’s letters, written or received, survive.

Shakespeare may have written in the margins of his books or inscribed copies of his own publications for friends or relatives as other Elizabethan authors did; if so, such evidence is destroyed or undiscovered. There are a few (useless) signatures scrawled on legal documents, but these do not even begin to provide context for the sonnets.

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May 11, 1612. Lawsuit deposition. Useless for context.

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March 11, 1613. Mortgage, Blackfriar’s Theater. Shakespeare, John Jackson, William Johnson signatories. Useless.

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March 11, 1613. Mortgage (vendor’s copy), Blackfriars Theater, Shakespeare, John Jackson, William Johnson signatories. Useless.

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June 22, 1616. Will, 2nd page. It’s nice to have the will, but nothing about writing was mentioned.

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June 22, 1616. Will, 3rd page.

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June 22, 1616. Will, 3rd page, closeup 1.

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June 22, 1616. Will, 3rd page, closeup 2. He may have been ill when he signed.

Shakespeare became a wealthy man, so we know he was paid for his work. As a shareholder in his acting company, he would have received income for his play-writing though there is no surviving reference to payment for this or that play. The epic poems and their dedications appear to be authorial, but again there are no records of payments to Shakespeare. The sonnets appear to have been published without his cooperation; in any case, there is also no record of his participation either as an aggrieved author or as a payee.

All of the above together with the crucial fact that Shakespeare’s will didn’t mention books or manuscripts or writer’s tools (ink, pens, desks, shelves) perhaps leads us to an understanding of Shakespeare’s apparent double life. The omission of books etc., from his will makes perfect sense under the circumstances — Shakespeare’s wife and two grown daughters were not literate, so they wouldn’t have had use for such things.

Of course, we know Shakespeare owned books or had access to books: some of the plays, for example, used source material not even translated into English at the time; also, Shakespeare plays evince an extraordinary knowledge base. We may surmise therefore that Shakespeare simply transferred ownership of books and any manuscripts he had retained to an unknown party prior to leaving literary London around 1610 and returning to his business-oriented life in Stratford.

Shakespeare biographer Samuel Shoenbaum notes that Shakespeare’s “fellow townsmen” either never mentioned or didn’t realize their neighbor was known as a great writer: “They probably troubled their heads little enough about the plays and poems. Business was another matter; they saw Shakespeare as a man shrewd in practical affairs.”

A picture begins to emerge. The two-day ride from Stratford to London symbolizes the divide between Shakespeare’s writing life and personal life. If Shakespeare had been a typical Elizabethan author as regards leaving behind personal documents concerning writing, sixty out of sixty documents concerning family matters, legal issues, investment activity, business dealings, and so forth, leaving writing out of the picture, would be the equivalent (approximately) of flipping sixty tails in a row — impossible in the astronomical sense of the term.

Thus, the separation between Shakespeare’s personal life and writing life could not have happened by accident. We must therefore accept the fact that the sonnets may not be what they seem. Without other documents to provide context, we cannot intelligently treat the sonnets as if they were Shakespeare’s personal letters.

The only solid biographical information we have for Shakespeare as a writer is the posthumous monument in Stratford commemorating the man as a combination of Socrates, Nestor, and Virgil plus the frontmatter in the First Folio in which people who knew Shakespeare personally wrote of their friend.

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Shakespeare’s monument in Stratford.

The monument is mentioned in the preface to the First Folio (“thy Stratford moniment”) and actors Heminge and Condell refer to Shakespeare in their epistles as their “Friend and Fellow.” Both of these men were mentioned in Shakespeare’s will; they were members of the same acting company. In the First Folio, Shakespeare takes his place atop the list of the actors in the King’s Men. These are people who regularly performed at court.

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Shakespeare and his fellow actors.

We see that in death, Shakespeare received the personal recognition that seemed to elude him in life.

There is another “monument” in Stratford — Shakespeare’s gravestone itself. Here is yet another reminder not to fall into the trap of looking for autobiography everywhere.

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Shakespeare’s gravestone.

Mark Twain, for example, made the mistake of regarding this doggerel as an indication that Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare (!) because the inscription isn’t Shakespearean and “the real Shakespeare” would have insisted on better poetry on his gravestone.

But the “cursed” sonnets have caused more trouble than a low-brow gravestone ever could. The sonnets are, say hordes of present-day Mark Twains evidently beguiled by Shakespeare’s enigmatic poems, “obviously” autobiographical. Therefore, they declare most stridently, we may seek in the sonnets answers to the “authorship question.”

As usual, those who seek enlightenment need only assume a false premise from which follows a host of “reasonable” conclusions. The enlightened ones and their followers then characteristically ride off into the sunset with the “truth” known only to them held firmly under their arms.

Sadly, despite cool heads like Professor Shapiro’s, the grim spectacle of speculative history rears its head in all manner of surprising places. In what one might call a modern haunting, the sonnets are wielded — sometimes even by Shapiro’s fellow professionals — as if they were the Sword of Gryffindor, an undefeatable weapon.

Just the same, we are happy to have Shakespeare’s extraordinary poems.

The Editor-Pirate

One day in 1609, Thomas Thorpe got his unclean hands on the celebration of Southampton Shakespeare had wrought with his pen. Imagine! The priceless handwritten copy — maybe even the originals — of Shakespeare’s long declaration of love to the one person he wished to immortalize was crinkling in the well-known editor-pirate’s trembling hands.

He only managed one printing, barely enough to allow fortune to save Shakespeare’s politically charged monument (another problem people had with the sonnets was the fact that the “lovely boy” wasn’t a “luscious maiden”). A century plus two years later, the sonnets were pulled back from history’s precipice and printed in their original form once again by one Bernard Lintott. Then, in 1780, the original sonnets with commentary were published by Edmund Malone. They have been safe ever since and thirteen copies of the 1609 publication — six in England, six in the U.S. and one in Switzerland — survive.

Thorpe published the sonnets with a short dedication wishing someone called “Mr. W.H.” the same “all happiness” Shakespeare had wished Southampton all those years ago in the Lucrece dedication. Thorpe further expressed his hope that the “eternity” Shakespeare wanted for his subject would be bestowed upon this “Mr. W.H.”

Southampton’s initials are “H.W.” and, as an earl, he is not properly addressed as “Mr.” Therefore, it isn’t clear to whom Thorpe is referring. Maybe Southampton’s stepfather, Mr. William Harvey, brought Thorpe the sonnets or maybe Thorpe sought to mislead. No one knows.

Also confusing is Thorpe’s apparent reference to a eulogy in King Henry VI Part 1 (“. . . our scarce-cold conqueror, that ever-living man of memory, Henry the Fifth.”). In his dedication, Thorpe referred to the still-alive Shakespeare as “our ever-living poet.”

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Thorpe’s eulogy is obviously inappropriate and is yet another reminder of the pitfalls of looking for biographical information in unlikely places. Of course, we forgive Thorpe his cryptic dedication, his early eulogy, and his unrepentant piracy for he gave us the sonnets.

A Bad Idea . . . or . . . The Moment You’ve Been Waiting For

With hindsight, given Southampton’s subsequent decisions, the first seventeen sonnets might have put progeny aside and more productively sung the praises of not committing treason. But then, Shakespeare couldn’t have known what his lovely boy was capable of.

In 1601, the wayward, stubborn, I’ll-marry-whomever-I-want earl was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. Southampton and the Earl of Essex led what is known as the “Essex rebellion” wherein the two idiot earls and some of their followers attempted to control the royal succession.

Tossed into the Tower of London, watching his friends die one by one, waiting for his own date with the axeman, Southampton’s first few months of the 17th century were, shall we say, inauspicious. Here are the details of Southampton’s downfall.

As the Queen lay dying, Southampton and Essex, with an ever-shrinking group of uncertain supporters, hatched a plan to gain access to the Queen’s bedchamber. It is not clear precisely what their plan even was. In any case, they didn’t get far.

Burghley’s son, the cunning Robert Cecil, and his legendary network of spies (built by his father and as seen in Hamlet) outwitted the Southampton-Essex amateur hour. “Outwitted” used here is a charitable term employed simply because we have no wish to further insult our lovely boy. Still, putting aside the noble aim of gentleness, we must aver that we understand that the bird does not really “outwit” the worm.

Many expected the Queen to commute the death sentence of Southampton’s great friend, the popular Earl of Essex, but his head rolled as far as any commoner’s. For him, it was over reasonably quickly though his neck resisted the axe’s first two swings. Sirs Blount (no relation to the First Folio editor), Meyrick, Cuffe, and Danvers, the commoner co-conspirators also convicted of high treason, were not so fortunate as the gentle earl. They suffered greatly with their guts removed and their limbs torn from their bodies prior to the severing of their knighted heads.

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The Earl of Essex before he lost his head.

Then something odd happened, something history can’t get its head (so to speak) around because there is, again, no paper trail. The Essex Rebellion had so far killed five people. Many more were energetically thanking God for having granted them the wisdom to run far and fast as the plan, such as it was, exploded in the earls’ pretty faces. One more head would, shall we say, cap the episode.

It is not recorded that anyone at this time said to Southampton, “Lovely boy, have you ever thought maybe you should have married Elizabeth Vere? Lovely boy, may I offer you some advice you might have use for in the unlikely event you are still alive tomorrow?”

But Southampton was not destined to die. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. It was a stunning development and that’s all we know about it. The Queen didn’t want to give an official reason, so she didn’t.

The sonnets may contain clues as to the reason, or, if there is no path to the precise reason for a fool’s deliverance, there may at least be an indication of the mechanism by which Southampton’s good fortune manifested itself.

Sonnet 87 contains the following interesting lines:

So thy great gift, upon misprision growing
comes home again on better judgment making. 

Misprision of treason is an Elizabethan term for failure to report treasonous activity. It is a serious crime, but NOT a capital crime. From Southampton’s and Shakespeare’s point of view, it is certainly a “better judgment.”

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King James I of England. This man was going to be King, if necessary over Southampton’s dead body.

We may never know precisely who Southampton was. We certainly don’t know why he and Essex thought they could control the succession or who they favored for the Queen’s successor or even whether that was the goal of their ill-conceived plot.

We know Essex’s great-grandmother was the sister of Queen Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn. Southampton’s baptismal record is missing, but, as far as we know, his bloodline wasn’t as impressive as Essex’s.

Elizabeth died in 1603 without an heir and without a clear successor while Southampton languished in the Tower and Essex’s remains made the local worms fatter. We may never know why the Queen spared Southampton but not Essex.

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Southampton was outrageously lucky to live to be this old. If the painting is accurate, he was a lucky alcoholic.

We know one more thing about Southampton. The treasonous wretch was not just not executed. The vile traitorous scum was not only singled out as the survivor of a conspiracy that targeted the crown itself. Southampton must have had some sort of magic. For when King James ascended the throne, he was actually RELEASED from the Tower, his life sentence thrown out althogether. Not only that, his earldom and all his lands were restored to him AND, that same year, James made him a Knight of the Garter — to this day a singular honor.

The ebullient Sonnet CVII celebrating a rather improbable release is central to this part of the story. As usual, we don’t know why King James was so sweet on Southampton. The sonnet seems clear enough though: The Queen has died (the mortal moon hath her eclipse endured), the feared civil war over the succession did not happen (the sad augurs mock their own presage), Southampton is free (supposed as forfeit to a confined doom . . . my love looks fresh), and the author will defeat death through his words (death to me subscribes [succumbs] . . .).

Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul
Of the wide world dreaming on things to come,
Can yet the lease of my true love control, 
Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom.
The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured,
And the sad augurs mock their own presage;
Incertainties now crown themselves assured,
And peace proclaims olives of endless age.
Now with the drops of this most balmy time,
My love looks fresh, and Death to me subscribes,
Since, spite of him, I’ll live in this poor rhyme,
While he insults o’er dull and speechless tribes:
And thou in this shalt find thy monument,
When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.

It is hard to imagine a man more fortunate than Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. Celebrated in Shakespeare’s incomparable sonnets for all eternity even though he refused to marry properly, his death sentence commuted to life in prison by the Queen even though he stood convicted of high treason, his lifetime in the Tower miraculously transmuted to freedom and a restored earldom even though he had opposed the succession of James of Scotland, Henry W. is the kind of guy I’d pay a lot to travel back to see.

I’d sit down with him and we would have tequila — he’d be game I’m sure — and I’d ask him what he wants out of life. My guess is he’d say, “To be King on my own terms,” before downing shot after shot. I would be nothing if not encouraging. “To your health,” I would say loudly and often. If only . . .

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Only the finest for my lovely boy.

Logic

In 1900, there were two worlds. In one, lived the scientists who believed in the atomic theory. In the other, lived those clinging to the eminently sensible, but wrong, theory that matter was continuous and not (pish-posh) largely empty space. One group busily calculated the radii and masses of the newly discovered atoms. The other group grew old, weakened, became wrinkled, and died.

Today, there is a world of logic inhabited by Shakespearean actors Sir Derek Jakobi, Mark Rylance, Sir John Gielgud, and Michael York. Also in this world are thoughtful observers Sigmund Freud and Mark Twain. Sharing space with them are writers Henry James, Walt Whitman, and Nobel laureate John Galsworthy. At the head of the table, sit U.S. Supreme Court Justices Blackmun, Powell, O’Connor, Stevens, and Scalia.

The Shakespeare Authorship Research Center at Concordia University in Oregon is currently the best example of serious academic discussion of that annoying “authorship question.”

Of all the inhabitants of this world, perhaps the most extraordinary is the 18th Baron Burghley himself, Michael William Cecil, whose ancestor played a central role in the Shakespeare saga. He is a signatory to something called the “Declaration of Reasonable Doubt” in which the “doubters” codify their objections to the “official” viewpoint.

And there is Roger Stritmatter whose 2001 dissertation at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst on one aspect of the authorship question is the first doctorate awarded in this particular world of logic.

Dr. Michael Delahoyde at Washington State University, another heretic, was succinct and not 100% polite in giving his opinion about the notion that the sonnets are not autobiographical. The word he used was “insane.”

Finally, we have Diana Price, the Elaine Morgan of the authorship question. The discussion above of the paper trails left by Elizabethan authors is based on her seminal work, “Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography.”

The vast majority of Shakespeare scholars still characterize as a crackpot theory the notion that some nobleman or other may have used the Shakespeare name as a pseudonym and later the man himself as a front.

I must apologize for misleading you, dear reader. In the section featuring the redoubtable Professor Shapiro, I felt it my duty to present the mainstream viewpoint as forcefully as I could without cheating by leaving out information. It may indeed have been convincing or the argument may have crumbled under its own weight — either way, you mustn’t blame me. It is what it is.

As a physicist, I am concerned about the sixty (or more like seventy) tails in a row represented by the trove of personal Shakespeare documents from his lifetime that are not letters or books or inscriptions in books or payments for writing a particular work or anything remotely literary. Without the posthumous evidence or a conflation of acting with writing, Shakespeare’s substantial paper trail looks very strange indeed.

Shapiro and other mainstream scholars usually do not even concede that Diana Price has made an interesting point in her carefully researched work. They (reasonably) protest that she does not place sufficient (in their opinion) trust in the posthumous evidence and then simply refuse to discuss her many valid points. This is what one might call protesting too much.

It is only made worse when scholars of Shapiro’s stature claim that the character of Polonius in Hamlet, the scathing, rather vicious, lampooning of Lord Burghley — deadly accurate and horrifically funny — isn’t what it obviously is. Nothing prevents Shakespeare of Stratford from making fun of Burghley. It would have been risky for anyone to mess with the powerful man, even if the author was a nobleman close to his target as opposed to a commoner making use of gossip. Is it really necessary to deny one of the most obvious connections to a real person in all of Shakespeare’s works?

Shapiro also claims Shakespeare could have written the Italian plays without visiting Italy. Again, Shakespeare of Stratford could very well have found himself in Italy at some point so it isn’t necessary to deny the obvious as mainstream scholars seem bound and determined to do. Richard Roe and others have painstakingly verified the setting details in the Italian plays — a process that, even today with modern tools available, requires the researcher’s physical presence in Italy. The professors protest too much, methinks.

And then there are the sonnets, the elephant in the room. Could Shakespeare of Stratford have written them? Maybe. Did the man who wrote no letters, who owned no books, who raised illiterate children, say to the Earl of Southampton, “make thee another self for love of me”? Is this concept so scary for mainstream observers, do they feel so cornered that they must claim first-person poems written to a particular person whom you describe as the love of your life, poems kept private for many years — poems discussing real events in two men’s lives — are not personal? Really?

On the other hand, let us be fair. Maybe the self-taught genius from Stratford didn’t have time to write letters or teach his country girls to read as he simultaneously rose within the literary and acting worlds in Elizabethan London. He may have borrowed his books. It is possible he felt a fatherly or brotherly affection toward a teenaged earl whom he met (perhaps while performing at court) without attracting attention. And we must not forget we have the option to steer clear of reading the extraordinary poems as autobiography just as Professor Shapiro does. There are many possibilities. For example, the sonnets may have been commissioned by a relative of Southampton. Or the characters in the sonnets could even be fictional. Anything is possible, right?

Maybe.

Here are twenty-four key sonnets. Listen not to those with the trappings of authority for underneath their trappings they may be as brilliant as Portia or as foolish as Dogberry. You need not immerse yourself in Elizabethan trivia for the mantle of expert is hardly worth the weight it exerts on your shoulders. No, as a human being you possess a perfectly natural and perfectly extraordinary understanding of context. And to read the sonnets is to be carried away by an avalanche of context. Dare to read them. Fear not the avalanche for I guarantee that you shall arrive where-ever you are going in one roused piece.

Happy reading.

I. 1, 2, 3, 17: Get thyself married that thou may’st make for us an heir.

II. 15, 33, 18, 55: You are the most important thing in the universe and you will live forever in these lines.

III. 22, 62, 63, 73, 74: As I age, I think of you for you and I are one.

IV. 66, 81: I am writing under a pseudonym (sorry, Jimmy).

V. 27, 28, 35, 36, 87: Arrest, trial, death sentence, misprision of treason.

VI. 107, 125, 126: Release and peace; I bore the canopy in a royal procession; O thou my lovely boy . . .

VII. 140: Another twenty-eight sonnets were written to the mysterious “Dark Lady.” Unlike the case of the first 126 sonnets written to the Fair Youth (Southampton), there is no strong contender for the identity of the Dark Lady. Sonnet 140 is deliciously dramatic though it is far from clear what it means if anything.

I. Get thyself married that thou may’st make for us an heir. 

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This is how Sonnet 1 looked originally.

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II. You are the most important thing in the universe and you will live forever in these lines.

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III. As I age, I think of you for you and I are one.

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IV. I am writing under a pseudonym (sorry Jimmy)!

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V. Arrest, trial, death sentence, misprision of treason.

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VI. Release and peace, I bore the canopy in a royal procession, O thou my lovely boy . . . 

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VII. The Dark Lady — Careful or I’ll Spill the Beans

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Truth

So who wrote the plays? That’s really a separate and difficult question. It makes sense to first agree that there is a problem with the traditional authorship attribution before moving on to finding the actual author — a necessarily speculative task perhaps forever reliant on circumstantial evidence.

Nevertheless, those who believe the question has moved into the “how big are atoms” stage have a candidate for the actual author of the plays and poems and they are exploring his life for clues. They have made a very respectable case.

Southampton was supposed to marry Lady Elizabeth Vere, the eldest daughter of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. Oxford’s youngest daughter, Susan, married Philip Herbert, the Earl of Montgomery, one of the dedicatees of the First Folio. So there is an instant, if not definitive, connection.

In 1582, Oxford’s brother-in-law went to the Danish court at Elsinore as an ambassador. When he came back, he wrote a (private) report of his experiences which survives. In the report, is the setting for Hamlet.

But then descriptions of Danish courtly customs could easily have been found in multiple places. However, the report also mentioned a number of Danish courtiers by name. Two of the names happened to be Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Have you heard of them?

On the other hand, these are common Danish surnames, so this may mean nothing.

Edward de Vere got Anne Vavasour, one of the Queen’s maids of honor, pregnant. At some point, the pregnancy could no longer be hidden. The Queen was not pleased. In 1581, Edward, Anne, and their infant spent two months in the Tower contemplating their sins, committed or inherited. After they were released, their families and friends had words. It was not pretty. Swords crossed on the streets of London. Injury and death resulted. This is a matter of history. Does it sound familiar?

Of course, family feuds have never been uncommon.

Shakespeare’s Italian plays, as you know, contain many precise setting details.  The locations of the settings for these ten plays line up almost perfectly with guess who’s well-documented 1575 trip to Italy? Oxford spent more than a year in Italy.

Still, it is possible that a Shakespeare of Stratford made the trip to Italy at some point perhaps as part of a nobleman’s entourage. There is, again, no record of this, but four hundred years is a long time.

Oxford lived his whole life under the thumbs of Lord Burghley and then his son, Robert. He had plenty of reason to hate him and more than enough knowledge of the man to create the vicious parody in Hamlet which ends with the protagonist killing Polonius and cruelly jesting over the dead body.

But then Lord Burghley was well known in London and gossip travels far.

Truth is truth though never so old
and time cannot make that false which was once true.
— Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, letter to Robert Cecil

Nay, it is ten times true,
for truth is truth to the end of reckoning. 
— William Shakespeare, playwright and poet, Measure for Measure, V.i

I give unto my wife
my second-best bed with the furniture.
— William Shakspere of Stratford, actor and businessman, Last Will and Testament

Blessed be ye man that spares these stones
And cursed be he that moves my bones.
— William Shakspere of Stratford, actor and businessman, Gravestone

They Didn’t Even Bother To Frame Her

November, 2007. On the ancient stone streets of Perugia, tabloid newspapers came to life and danced with one another like the broomsticks in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Amanda Knox had been imprisoned for murder.

She was not framed. Italian authorities presented fact after fact, finding after finding showing that she was innocent. Through it all, at each juncture, they said, “See, she’s obviously guilty.” Perhaps the most bizarre criminal prosecution in history became a 21st-century retelling of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

It could have been worse for the quirky college kid. It was worse for Earl Washington, Anthony Yarborough, and Todd Willingham, victims of American injustice. Earl and Anthony are free now, minus two decades each. If you could talk to Todd Willingham, he would tell you a story whose lightest word would harrow up your soul and freeze your blood.

Police and prosecutors in Perugia did not attempt to take Knox’s whole life, just the first twenty-six years of her adulthood. They set the tabloids on her. They went after her Italian boyfriend: “Testify against that dirty puttana or else.”

When the boyfriend said NO, they put him away too.

For seven years and five months, a parade of emperors wearing nothing but tessuti invisibili marched along the streets of Perugia. Citizens of the city famous for its chocolates watched the spectacle while placidly champing sweets and showing no particular signs of revulsion.

Ha-ha

In March 2015, Italy’s highest court uttered words that surprised the world: “Per l’amor di Dio, coprirlo!” This translates as, “For the love of God, cover it up!” and is a paraphrase of the actual decision. However you read it, the moment the verdict was handed down, prison for Knox and her boyfriend ceased to be an issue.

The exposed emperors didn’t take it very well. They now refuse pay the boyfriend the five hundred thousand euros they owe him. It was all his fault, they say. He lied, they say. Without so much as a smirk, the gleaming naked judges told the boyfriend there might be a half-euro coin under a sofa cushion at the courthouse.

We in the world may take the judges’ commentary as an official directive for how to act in the event one is interrogated by a dozen Italian cops. Repeat after me, “È un bel giorno per morire.” This means, in Italian, “It is a good day to die.” After repeating this a few times in your best guttural Klingon, CLAM UP like Fort Knox during a security alert. Above all, sign NOTHING.

The boyfriend made the mistake of signing. Even so, then and now, the Official Standards for Holding Idiotic Trials should protect him. OSHIT is a little-known appurtenant to the Geneva Conventions. It contains clear guidlines for the administration of tabloid justice including the following: “Lack of curves of any involved party shall be sufficient cause to assign innocent bystander status to said party.”

The sharply angled boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, qualifies. Italy’s jailing of the innocent man and its current refusal to compensate him violates the country’s treaty obligations.

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OSHIT being ratified in 1949.

The joke could have been far less funny. Had Knox been framed in the traditional manner, she and Sollecito would still be in jail. How many decades, one wonders, would have passed before the starry-eyed young man began to curse his integrity? As it happened, the pair spent only four years in prison, and much of the world had a good, if bitter laugh.

Not everyone was so fortunate.

RIP Meredith Kercher

Twenty-one-year-old Meredith Kercher died in agony. Then her mother, father, sister, and two brothers — all deferential to a fault — were used like theater lights. Like Knox and Sollecito before them, they trusted the police, the consummate professionals who killed Meredith with a lethal dose of pure stupidity, toxic scum who bragged about impegno morale while they created a fictional character and put it on trial.

Decades ago, a poison called 1,1,1-trichloro-2,2-bis(4-chlorophenyl) ethane quietly circled the globe. It contaminated Antarctic snow. It got into your blood. Fortunately for us, DDT dissipates. It takes time, but one day we will be free of it. Not so the Perugia poison: impegno morale is forever.

Pray for a miracle. Pray that one day Arturo de Felice, Rita Ficarra, Monica Napoleoni, Edgardo Giobbi, Claudia Matteini, Giuliano Mignini, Patrizia Stefanoni, and Giancarlo Massei will be as famous as Amanda Knox. Tutto è possibile.

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Die ich rief, die Geister,
Werd ich nun nicht los.
[I summoned them, the Spirits,
I will now never be free.]
— Goethe, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

È Crollata

On 7 November 2007, the chief of Perugia’s police force, Arturo de Felice, told an international crowd of reporters absolutely everything. He was chillingly open.

The following is a paraphrase.

She tried to tell us she was at her boyfriend’s house. We knew she was lying. We knew because we read her facial expressions and body language. Once we broke her, she saw things our way. We didn’t make an audio record, but we do have a signature.

*Felice did not actually say he and his officers “broke” Knox. He used the Italian word “crollata” — crumbled, buckled, collapsed. Felice’s exact words appear below highlighted in blue.

Brioche? Camomilla Calda? 

On 1 November 2007 at 9 pm, Meredith Kercher, a British exchange student, arrived home to what should have been an empty house in Perugia — her American roommate and two Italian roommates were away. But the house wasn’t empty. Within a half hour, Meredith lay on her bedroom floor, her throat slashed. Blood filled her lungs and she drowned before she could bleed to death.

The next morning, Knox and Sollecito discovered something terribly wrong at Amanda’s house and made a series of frantic phone calls. Soon, several people arrived at the house, deeply worried: Meredith was not answering repeated cell phone calls; the door to her bedroom was locked. Nevertheless, the first police to arrive didn’t think the situation warranted breaking down the door. Someone unofficial smashed it open anyway and discovered the body.

In the succeeding days, police zeroed in on Knox. They questioned her, watched her stretch in the waiting room, and tapped her cell phone. Finally, after midnight on 6 November, interrogators told her they knew she had been at her house the night of the murder and if she didn’t remember, she would be considered an accomplice, imprisoned for decades, and never see her family again. Officer Rita Ficarra delivered two slaps to the back of her head: “REMEMBER!”

Knox soon found a repressed “memory.” On the night of the murder, she met her employer, Patrick Lumumba, at a basketball court and took him to her house. Her roommate may have been home already or perhaps arrived afterwards. Lumumba and Meredith had sex. Lumumba may have threatened Meredith. Or not. Knox could not recall (non ricordo bene). Lumumba killed Meredith.

Police produced a piece of paper containing Knox’s revelations. Knox affixed her signature. Through tear-filled eyes, she watched the ensuing celebration — police officers hugging and kissing. Ficarra apologized — “I was just doing my job,” she said.

Locked up, alone with her thoughts, it was some time before Amanda Knox realized she and the police weren’t on the same side.

So much for Knox’s story. We were also treated to the tea and pastry version of the interrogation — a version millions regard as more likely than Knox’s coercive nightmare. The real interrogation wasn’t coercive at all. Knox was “trattata bene” and given “camomilla calda” and “brioche dalla macchinetta.” This according to Officer Monica Napoleoni who testified under oath about the humane treatment Knox received.

Ficarra likewise swore Knox was treated with “gentilezza e cortesia.” Knox was allowed to sleep and was given breakfast. At certain points, Ficarra admitted, Knox was “trattata con fermezza e severità,” but this was only because “circostanza richiedeva un rimprovero” — circumstances required a reprimand.

Was she minacciata — threatened? “No.”

What about schiaffi — slaps? “No, assolutamente, no.”

What really happened? Why did Knox say Lumumba killed Meredith when she knew he was working that night? Did police really threaten her? Did Ficarra hit her twice and then apologize? Are pastries from a police station machine edible?

Sometimes truth is mysterious and elusive — sometimes not.

Here is the gentle, courteous Rita Ficarra.

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Here is the bearer of brioche and chamomile, Monica Napoleoni.

Questo Ci Sembrava Un Appuntamento

It is certain that at 1:45 am on 6 November 2007, Amanda Knox crollata. Knox admits she did in fact confirm the Lumumba-dunnit theory. The nature of the interrogation is still a matter of dispute as there is no recording. But she did sign. Twice.

A few hours later, an extremely surprised young father was arrested.

Knox’s employer was quite possibly the least likely suspect in Perugia. Unfortunately for him, he had exchanged texts with his pretty waitress: Amanda Knox, una regazza disinibita; Amanda Knox, the young woman who performed la spaccata (the splits) on command; Amanda Knox, Meredith Kercher’s beguiling coinquilina.

Meredith was still alive when Amanda ominously texted her boss, “Ci vediamo più tardi” — we’ll see each other later. One hour later, two quarts of Meredith’s blood stained her bedroom floor.

Lumumba’s original message was nowhere to be found. However, Amanda’s full reply, “Certo. Ci vediamo più tardi. Buona serata,” remained on her phone. Police connected the dots.

Officer Anna Donnino: “Aveva ricevuto il messaggio . . . e da qui è scaturito il tutto.” — She had received the message . . . and from here, emerged the whole.

Officer Rita Ficarra: “Questo ci sembrava un appuntamento.” — This seemed to us an appointment.

For the perspicacious investigators of Perugia, Amanda’s text was a smoking gun. Public prosecutor Giuliano Mignini used it as the centerpiece of his Decreto di Fermo — the formal arrest decree in which he laid out the “gravi indizi” pointing to murder. The text message, Mignini wrote, “conferma” that Knox was with Lumumba when he killed “la vittima.” 

Mignini and others involved in the investigation suspected Knox from the beginning. Seeing the text, seeing that the clever-but-not-quite-clever-enough Knox had not entirely covered her tracks, the heroic investigators knew they had her — there would be no escape for the deadly seductress.

Stampeding like a herd of corybantic bulls, police quickly broke the pretty waitress, arrested the nonplussed bar owner and the geeky boyfriend too, and then and there commenced a Dionysian orgy of extreme self-congratulation that surely — if records for this sort of thing are kept somewhere — broke every record in the book.

“CON PROFESSIONALITÀ E IMPEGNO MORALE, HANNO RISOLTO IL CASO.”
(Arturo de Felice, Chief of Police, Corriere dell’Umbria, 7 November 2007)

*With professionalism and moral committment they have resolved the case. 

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Amanda Knox, compelling in a blue sweater, works her magic with police.

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The yoga afficionado shares space with mafia on the trophy wall.

Buona Serata

Stupid is as stupid does. The mystery of the idiom, see you later, was a trifle deep for the local talent. Knox’s signoff, buona serata, likewise failed to register. The idea that Lumumba might have been pouring drinks for customers was another blank for police — until the customers started showing up at the police station.

Soon, the events of the previous two weeks started coming together for police in dramatic and terrifying fashion, like a fire exploding through a house, or, in this case, through the police station.

On 27 October, the mentally ill burglar who tore open Meredith’s throat with a pocketknife had been arrested in Milan. The next day he was back in Perugia — strutting. Four days later, Meredith’s life ended. By the time police realized the bartender was bartending, it was too late — their newly minted murderer was on the run in Germany, three fantastically unlikely suspects were in jail, tabloids were partying in a dozen time zones, and a grieving family was in town.

Faced with disaster, Perugia police knew just what to do. They were as brave as video-game warriors, exemplars of stillness and calm. They waited. Two more weeks passed.

German police arrested the burglar who had never before killed and who now saw red every time he closed his eyes. It was 20 November 2007. In Perugia, it was a very special day. It was “Rewrite Day.” Lumumba went home and Perugian authorities revealed to the world and to Meredith’s distraught family the horror of Knox of Seattle.

Amanda Knox was a cold-blooded killer who had fooled the gentle purveyors of baked goods with her vile Lumumba accusation. Looking for a thrill the night after Halloween, she let a local burglar into her house. She and her programmer boyfriend, together with the burglar, killed Meredith. To cover up their participation, Knox and the boyfriend staged a crime scene that fit the burglar’s MO. Under pressure, Knox implicated her employer in a futile attempt to keep police from discovering the truth.

Millions believed this. Millions still believe it, including Meredith’s family and Patrick Lumumba. The Kerchers bought into the Knox of Seattle story though they have always been decorous and dignified in public. Patrick, on the other hand, was an especially fierce Knox of Seattle exponent: the day he was released, he spoke out against his former employee saying she didn’t have a soul.

Perugia police, more than pleased with their Rewrite, added calunnia to Knox’s murder charge. Calunnia is Italian for slander.

Chutzpah is Yiddish for outrageous gall.

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Lumumba became part of the mass hysteria.

Una Nuova Sensazione

Laura and Filomena — the Italian coinquilini — knew all about chutzpah. After their roommate was murdered, they quickly pulled themselves together and retained legal counsel. Amanda Knox knew the famous proverb, “When in Rome . . . ” perfectly well, but, charmingly, did not feel the need for representation.

Knox’s willingness to answer questions sans avvocato made her irresistible. The local cops and Edgardo Giobbi and his colleagues from the Rome-based Servizio Centrale Operativo made the most of their buona fortuna. The compliant young woman was interviewed repeatedly over a three-day period.

It was, Giobbi tells us“una investigazione squisitamente di natura psicologica” — an investigation of a purely psychological nature. “We were able to establish colpevole (guilt) by particular observation of reazioni psicologica.

Yes, really.

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Still from the “I am Columbo” video.

During the final interrogation, Edgardo Giobbi waited down the hall behind a closed door while his fellow professionals broke Knox like she was the wine goblet at a Jewish wedding: “I remember clearly great wails, great cries, great emotional howls.”

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Edgardo Giobbi testimony 29 May 2009.

Edgardo Giobbi told the court he thought he knew, at the time, why Knox was screaming: “She was giving Lumumba’s name . . . she recalled in that moment the specific episode.”

That Knox “recalled,” while alone with Giobbi’s goons, a “specific episode” that had not happened was precisely what one would expect under the circumstances. Knox forgot that the Italian police are not like the people in her yoga classes. What she did for three straight days was the legal equivalent of handling the bodies of ebola victims a mani nude. Sconsigliabile is Italian for “inadvisable.”

You might, now, today, feel an urge to cry, shrieking loudly so that the Knox of the past can hear you, “Quum Romae fueris, Romano vivite more!” Your words will not reach her though if they somehow could, if you had the power to send your sage counsel into the past, you would do well to fear the darkness of unknowable consequences and desist.

What happened, happened.

The gladiatorum Romani easily broke the hippie-kid from Seattle and brought Giobbi her signature on a silver platter. They then marched to Lumumba’s house, awakened the innocent man, and took him at gunpoint from his wife and baby. Hours later, the bewildered bartender said something along the lines of, “What?! You think I killed Meredith? Are you nuts?”

The sun set, the sun rose, and the great Chief Arturo duly convened a triumphant international press conference where he explained to rapt reporters how he and his fellow investigatori had solved the Kercher murder before the forensics team could set up their microscopes.

While Felice was preening for the press, the blood-soaked pillow in Meredith’s bedroom was being examined. The palmprint in Meredith’s blood was already in police files. But it would take two weeks to identify it.

So, for two weeks, the nonsense gushing from official sources was all reporters had. Newsweek published Perugia’s Extreme Sex Murder.

Newsweek’s coverage made it obvious police were fooling themselves. At the press conference, Felice essentially told the whole world he and his officers had shoved a fairy tale down Knox’s throat.

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Newsweek’s description of Judge Claudia Matteini’s “investigation” of the arrests painted an embarrassing picture of her incompetence as well: she and Felice were evidently a matched set.

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Already Matteini is sounding like a stand-up comic who has run out of material. Reading the entire report makes it worse: it’s like driving a volkswagon on a road littered with foot-deep potholes. Matteini wrote thousands of words and the only thing she got right was that Meredith had been murdered.

Since Lumumba couldn’t come up with phone numbers for his customers and since the time stamps on his register receipts didn’t cover every hour of the evening, Matteini concluded his bar was closed (it wasn’t). Lumumba got a new phone which Matteini reasoned must have been a futile effort on his part to hide his communications with Knox (he wanted a new phone). Raffaele carried a pocketknife which must have been the murder weapon (it wasn’t). Bloody shoe prints found at the house might match Raffaele’s sneakers (they didn’t). Amanda and Raffaele had been sorpresi by the arrival of the postal police. Except for one thing — they weren’t. The two scared kids had spent the whole morning calling everyone they knew including Raffaele’s older sister, a police lieutenant.

Che cosa stavi pensando? No lawyers. No recording. No forensics. No motive. Three murder suspects, no criminal history. A pile of dated receipts from Lumumba’s bar. Suppose he was working all night. Se è così, la sua teoria crollare. — Matteini’s doppelgänger in a parallel universe where she is competent. 

Here’s a closeup of Arturo de Felice bragging to reporters about his investigative acumen. At the time, he had no idea Meredith’s death was his fault.

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Earth to Arturo, the burglar you sprung from a Milan jail last week has murdered a college student and fled the country. Did it ever occur to you that his two-month-long crime spree might end badly? 

Here is another exquisite example of pure incompetence captured by a camera: it is respected Judge Claudia Matteini, wearing an oddly vacant expression that seems to be not just a matter of a bad photo.

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Claudia, are you joking? “With regard to the legal configuration of this crime, there is no doubt that at this stage it can be considered correct: this is a case involving three young people who wanted to try some kind of new sensation, particularly true in the case of the couple, while for Diya, it was the desire to have sexual intercourse with a girl he liked and who had refused him.” 

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Genius has limits, stupidity not so much. — Dumas

We Will Need Further Evaluation

The moron version of reality and simple logic clashed spectacularly as the forensics team completed its work and the bar owner’s customers came forward one after another. Patrick (aka Diya) Lumumba served drinks to and chatted pleasantly with a number of different people on the night of 1 November. Lumumba and his customers could not have known that a short distance away, a disturbed young man was seeing his last glimmer of sanity doused with Meredith Kercher’s blood.

While the Lumumba-dunnit theory crumbled, the forensics team identified the palmprint on Meredith’s pillowcase: it belonged to a burglar named Rudy Guede. His DNA was inside Meredith’s vagina. He was caught with slicing wounds still healing on three fingers — his knife hit bone and slipped the first time he tried to stab Meredith. The murder weapon, a pocketknife with a three-inch blade, was never found.

The pocketknife, at this stage, can be considered to be the same one Christian Tramontano faced on 2 September when he woke up to find Guede in his house. Guede brandished the knife and escaped through a window. Tramontano called police immediately and visited the police station three times in the succeeding days. Police, inexplicably, did not investigate.

As autumn turned toward Halloween, Guede turned into a hardened criminal: October 8th was the nursery school in Milan and two thousand euros cash; October 13th was a law office in Perugia and a laptop; October 23rd was his neighbor’s house and a gold watch with one casualty — her beloved cat killed in a fire; October 27th was a good day for another trip to Milan.  He was arrested inside the nursery school.

Milan called Perugia: “We’ve got one of yours, name Rudy Guede, nailed breaking and entering, carrying stolen goods, laptop, gold watch. You know him?”

No one knows what Felice told Milan or even exactly what was the nature of the communication between the two departments. All we really know is, the next day Milan police sent Rudy Guede back to Perugia.

Rudy Guede was not charged with any crime.

Four days later, Felice’s mistake punched Meredith Kercher in the face and/or threw her face-first into furniture and/or grabbed her forcefully around the mouth and nose, tore a plug of hair out of her head, and repeatedly pressed his pocketknife against her throat. She fought. Guede’s knife slipped. Finally, he buried it to its hilt and slashed.

Bruising on Meredith’s elbows, forearms, legs, and hips along with cuts on her hands told the story of her desperate struggle. Now all she could do was grasp Rudy Guede as she fought for each breath, fought to hold on to her most precious possession, her life.

Meredith’s clothing was blood-soaked and she was near death when Guede exposed her breasts and vagina. During the beloved daughter/sister’s last ten minutes, a deranged child with the strength of a grown man molested her while blood poured into her lungs. When she exhaled, a red mist floated into the room and tiny droplets of aspirated blood settled on her bare skin and on the furniture.

Meredith Kercher died of suffocation in Perugia, Italy at approximately 9:30 pm on 1 November 2007: the autopsy indicated death within three hours of her 6-7 pm dinner with friends. Once she was gone, Guede covered the body and looked for money. He left more DNA on Meredith’s purse, took her cash and credit cards, and, two days later, fled the country.

Guede was in Germany. Knox, Sollecito, and Lumumba were in jail. The students had no idea what was happening. The bar owner was confidently busting his way out aided by customers who were practically storming the police station. For the tabloids, the vault at Fort Knox lay invitingly open.

Meanwhile, police found Lumumba’s replacement. On 16 November, they identified the palmprint; on the 19th, one of Guede’s friends exchanged Skype messages with him while the police looked on. On the 20th, Guede was arrested, Lumumba was released, and the Rewrite graced the world stage. Soaking up the praise, police quietly revoked Rudy Guede’s get-out-of-jail-free card as extradition proceedings began. On 6 December, the burglar-turned-murderer arrived in Perugia, again. This time he was booked and locked up.

Eight days later, the casket containing Meredith Kercher’s body was carried into a church near her home, 10 miles south of London. During the service, Meredith was serenaded one last time by her favorite music as hundreds physically present joined millions around the world to mourn a young woman who had dreamed of becoming a journalist only to die horribly for no reason.

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We will always love you / MEREDITH SUSANNA CARA KERCHER / 28th Dec 1985 – 1st Nov 2007 / Forever in our thoughts, always in our hearts.

Guede mourned too. In his prison diary, written in Germany, he called Meredith “un fiore dolce e profumato” and “un angelo splendente.” Of himself he said, “non merito di vivere.”

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Through closed eyes, Guede was “vede tutto rosso.

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Only once before had Guede “vedere tanto sangue.

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Guede’s attack left Meredith suffocating: “La bocca piena di sangue . . .

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The “mondo brutto” of Guede’s childhood was never far away. The mother he never had he said he loved and respected along with all women any of whom, as far as he was concerned, could be a Mother, capitalized. “Rispetto molto le donne,” he wrote.

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At this point, Felice said he needed “further evaluation.” The Rewrite would induce either wild giggling or solemn head-nodding. It was impossible, from Felice’s point of view, to predict which.

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Al momento, per disposizione dell’autorita giudiziaria Amanda e Raffaele restano in carcere. La convalida del fermo da parte del giudice è tuttora valida. Serviranno ulteriori valutazioni.At this time, by order of the judicial authority, Amanda and Raffaele remain in custody. The validation of the arrest by the judge is still valid. We will need further evaluation. (Arturo de Felice, quoted in la Repubblica, 21 November 2007.)

Ricordo Confusamente che l’ha Uccisa Lui

Yes, it’s true (sobbing), I gave Eve the apple, I don’t know exactly how it happened, but I’ve allowed the serpent to cover for me all these years and it was me all along (loud wailing).

The “incriminating” statements police had extracted from Knox and Sollecito read like hypothetical idealized examples of police coercion. They became a kind of Torah of the Carabinieri — sacred to police throughout Italy. A bit of a departure from the real Torah, these statements are a paean to mindlessness, a celebration of the reptilian brain. Ardent believers all over the world flocked to worship.

Some sported high IQ’s, like Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz. Interviewed on CNN, the professor professed his devotion: Knox said she was at the scene of the crime; Knox made a false accusation; Knox would have been convicted in the United States. The brilliant legal expert ticked off his “reasoning” on his illustrious fingers. Then he got nasty.

Here’s the esteemed professor being interviewed.

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In the United States, we would kill her.

Here’s the hysterical Knox being interrogated.

Yes-yes-I-remember-now-oh-my-God-I-let-Lumumba-in-I’m-so-confused-he-could-have-killed-me-too . . .

The actual statement Knox signed included the final line, Ricordo confusamente che l’ha uccisa lui, which, all by itself, almost cost her her life. Here it is.

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The Hamlet of false confessions.

A few hours later, as the sun was rising, Knox signed another statement. This one contains one of the two most sacred relics in the Torah of the Carabinieri: Knox saying the sound of Meredith screaming caused her to cover her ears.

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“I can’t remember hearing anything.” You must have heard something! “Maybe I covered my ears?” Perfect!

The original documents were in Italian. The literal translation above misses what we might call the novelty of Knox’s statement.

For example, ci vediamo appears to be a special code meaning no meeting will take place. Piazza Grimana is a secret place where people don’t meet. Finding it difficult to remember (faccio fatica a ricordare) whether or not the murder victim was home represents perhaps a whole new type of memory loss.

It gets better. Was Meredith threatened (minacciata) before she was murdered? Knox wasn’t sure: Non ricordo bene se Meridith fosse stata prima minacciata, reads the original document. Here we have the first empirical evidence of the many universes interpretation of quantum mechanics: a bartender first threatens and then kills Meredith; at the same time, the same bartender transforms into a murdering monster without warning. It happened in Perugia.

Perhaps the most novel concept introduced in the trial of Amanda Knox is le grida di Meredith. This isn’t just any blood-curdling scream, it is truly quantum mechanical in nature: it causes the frightened hearer to cover her ears, and, at the same time, the same scream reminds the hearer that she was immaginavo cosa potesse essere successo — imagining the whole thing. Two contradictory states existing simultaneously is called “entanglement” in the quantum mechanics invented by Enrico Fermi, among others.

It took Mignini to clear up Knox’s quantum mechanical statement. He alone realized that in the dark corners of Seattle’s yoga studios, ci vediamo actually translates to “derail the investigation.” His incisive reasoning may be seen in Garfield Kennedy’s 2010 documentary at 23:05. It is not to be missed.

Obvisouly, not-quite-clever-enough-Knox was no Professor Moriarty.

Perugia’s legendary investigator, in addition to instantly discerning Knox’s game of making the police chase their own tails, instantly realized that the skin color of Knox’s employer matched the skin color of the actual murderer. Ergo, not-quite-clever-enough-Knox must have known the perpetrator was black.

Yes, really.

The Kerchers nodded solemnly, respectfully; they cooperated with the prosecution of Knox and her hapless boyfriend. A Harvard professor cast aside his brilliance and experience and leapt to a strident defense of the Italian justice system. Millions around the world agreed wholeheartedly demanding appropriate vengeance, with many taking to the streets.

Almost four years after Mignini’s discovery of parallel universes and his beautiful re-casting of the phrase ci vediamo, Judge Pratillo Hellmann, presiding over the appeals court, finally laughed. The guffaws are unmistakeable between the lines of his motivation document.

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Judge Hellmann goes on to make the following observations: Knox “reached the limit of emotional tension” under “insistent questioning.” Knox told police “what they wanted to hear.” Knox’s statement sounded like “the confused narration of a dream.” The prosecution’s belief that her incoherent, wildly incorrect statement indicated criminality was “totally illogical.”

Un Sacco di Cazzate

Raffaele, unlike Amanda, was not asked for an accusation: his role, in Hellmann’s words, was to l’abbandona al suo destino — abandon her to her fate. Hellmann’s choice of words holds a mirror to the surreal world Amanda and Raffaele were trapped in. It was theater in a Perugia police station.

As midnight approached on 5 November 2007, the Perugia cops improvised their little drama. The curtain rose for Raffaele’s Act 1, Scene 1: “Why are you protecting that whore?” Meanwhile, Amanda Knox sat in the waiting room, a sacrificial lamb.

Raffaele’s abandonment scene would perfectly set up Amanda’s screaming climax in Act 1, Scene 2: “We know you were there.” But Raffaele resisted. Napoleoni had an inspiration. The bearer of brioche and chamomile told Knox Raffaele had abandoned her already. It hadn’t happened yet, but that didn’t matter.

With a well-timed assist from Ficarra, Amanda snapped like a twig. In the other room, Raffaele continued to stubbornly insist he and Amanda had been together all night. This was unfortunate, but police were nevertheless proud. Sure, the choreography was a little clunky, but it was bound to be. This wasn’t exactly Broadway.

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All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts . . . 

A couple of hours later, it all smoothed out. At 3:30 am, police handed Raffaele a typewritten document. It said he and Amanda were at her house, not his, early in the evening on November 1st; it said they went into town around dinnertime and then separated after dinner — Amanda met friends and Raffaele went home. The document said Raffaele didn’t see Amanda again until 1 am.

In fact, Knox really had been away from Raffaele’s apartment, out with friends, and had not rejoined him until 1 am. Not only that, these facts could be verified.

Except for one thing.

The timetable Raffaele had given was that of the previous night, the night before the murder when Amanda celebrated Halloween without him. The Italian computer geek didn’t grow up with a “trick or treat” tradition, so October 31st was just another day to him. He endured a few hours without his gift from God.

The innamorati were otherwise inseparable: as Amanda basked in the glow of a young man’s first love — un colpo di fulmine Raffaele called it, a lightning strike, in Italy, love at first sight — Raffaele was living a pleasant dream.

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The lovers had to be pried apart.

Now, a little more than a week after meeting Amanda, Raffaele held his life in his hands. The Halloween timetable stared him in the face. The horror of 2 November was likewise detailed in black and white type: the open door at Amanda’s house; the blood in the bathroom; the fear and confusion; the frantic phone calls; his own attempts to break down Meredith’s bedroom door.

Coiled at the end of the document lay the coup de grâce, a single sentence devoid of context, empty of detail. It was a sentence in more ways than one as it rested quietly, sandwiched between minutia.

The police arrived. I’ve been lying to you at Amanda’s behest. I heard Amanda talking to the police. 

*The middle sentence is one of the two most sacred relics in the Torah of the Carabinieri.

Here it is verbatim, with translation.

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. . . the Postal Police arrived. In my last statement, I told you a lot of crap (sacco di cazzate) because she had convinced me of her version of the facts and I didn’t think about the inconsistencies. I heard the first statements she made to the Postal Police . . . 

Exhausted, bullied, and no longer able to think straight, Sollecito read over “his” statement with bleary eyes: Halloween was on November 1st; the body was discovered; Amanda asked him to lie. It looked okay except for the funny bit at the end. He objected.

Suddenly, he says, the police, previously aggressive and harsh, became his best friends. His new pals told him it would be okay, they really needed him to sign the statement as written. He fell for it.

Exit, stage right. But you can’t go home.

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Raffaele, Raffaele! What are you thinking? Don’t touch the pen!

Vorrei Ordinare due Pizze

Four nightmarish years followed. Can a signature strangle you? Can it haunt you? Raffaele tried to explain. Amanda went out on Halloween, NOT the next night when the city was filled with post-holiday silence. NO, Amanda hadn’t asked him to lie.

But it was too late.

Over the years, police kept up the pressure — Raffaele described it as game playing as in, “let’s play six months in solitary confinement.” Police knew their case against Knox was weak — Raffaele could make it for them. Every day, Raffaele woke up knowing he could go home. His family missed him. His life was slipping away.

But he wasn’t going to budge, not again, not this time, not in four years or ten or twenty.

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“It’s the only way for me.” — Raffaele, interviewed by Savannah Guthrie, talking about resisting the pressure to implicate Amanda.

On the other hand, maybe Raffaele’s claims about the police are lies. The day before the final interrogation, Raffaele was in the waiting room of the police station: “I want to order two pizzas,” he said. The room was wired; every word was captured and entered into evidence. Raffaele Sollecito — a man who orders pizza in the middle of a murder investigation!

The next day, the man who never saw a pizza he didn’t like talked to the police for five long hours. He did not, again, order “due pizze,” but he did talk and talk and talk.

We eventually learned — at the second trial — that the Perugians had recorded forty thousand (39,952) calls and texts made by Raffaele’s immediate family. This was the fantastic flip side to the miraculous “vorrei ordinare due pizze” interception.

We in the admiring public swooned at the feats of the Great Perugians, champions in their Colosseum, as inspiring as Katie Ledecky in the water or Usain Bolt on the track. Today, as we listen to Queen’s We Are The Champions, we think of them, those magnificent maestros of recording prowess, the Great Perugians whose marvelous instruments captured the footfall of many an errant flea (to say nothing of pizza with pepperoni).

The Perugian bugs envelop like the LORD. As the Pharoah’s swarming soldiers were en masse swallowed up by the Red Sea, so do Perugia’s arrested souls swim in recorded INFAMY.

But ALAS! Even the greatest of great champions falter now and again. And again and again.

Raffaele’s interrogation, all five hours of it, was lost forever. It went to the same place as Amanda’s two-hour interrogation. All those precious words are now but wisps of speech floating voicelessly in the infinite aether. It’s heartbreaking.

But wait! Raffaele told police he and Amanda separated on 1 November. Surely we can continue to admire the sacred text. We may read and rejoice.

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Alas! Blasphemy is ever the enemy of sanctity.

Lumumba’s customers (you will recall)
most unseemly did share their evening revelry
and thus did render unto dust a great and sacred scroll.
And so it came to pass, once again,
that blasphemy would seize the day
and words would take their toll.
It was a woman named JOVANA
who knew the day and who told the time in such a way
that none could block their ears 
and none could quell their fears.

The pious watched and waited all atremble as the Great Perugia Time Warp,
that timeless tale of timeless Halloween,
shared the shattered fate of the not-so-shuttered bar
where Lumumba’s nightly pourings had (we heard)

continued on and on without the wanted pause.
The Halloween that moved from day to day was in just that way
forced upon the self-same path, banished, crushed, and broken,
rendered silent evermore 
by the woman named JOVANA.

It was Ms. Popovic of Serbia who raised her hand on that day
and took her oath and then our breath away.
It was she who dared to visit the fearsome pair all alone and in their lair.
JOVANA came and went on that sacred night,
on that November 1st that was not Halloween,
first fearlessly at six pm then most recklessly near nine pm,
JOVANA stood near to Knox for time and time again.

And lived to tell the tale (in court).

It was most amusing. Amanda’s fairy tale went for a wild joyride, then crashed and burned spectacularly when Lumumba’s customers came a-knocking. On the other hand, Raffaele’s prima facie gibberish rolled quietly into town before crumbling to timeless dust just like the one-horse shay. For Raffaele, it was JOVANA-the-terrible, following in the footsteps of Lumumba’s imbibing army, who revealed the shocking truth: Halloween was on Halloween. Oh, the pain!

Hilarious! But the joke was on us.

For the irrational, “Why lie if you aren’t guilty?” was a blank slate upon which they could write. Without audio, an otherwise dull murder sparkled to life. Without audio, the Grappa di Silenzio flowed like the wine in the cottage of Baucis and Philemon. The unrecorded interrogations led to zero hard questions asked by the Italian judiciary: Mignini had only to keep a straight face and keep pouring it on.

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CNN: “Why weren’t the interrogations recorded?” Miginini: “Our budget problems are not insignificant.”

Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn, in their Netflix documentary, preserved for posterity the spectacle of Mignini savoring Amanda’s and Raffaele’s unrecorded “lies.” Mignini was celebrated by the hordes of Perugian, grievously impaired by the Grappa di Silenzio.

They say one cannot be a prophet in one’s own land, but that’s not what I experienced. —  Mignini to Blackhurst and McGinn.

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rsfamily

Usain Bolt couldn’t afford RUNNING SHOES. Katie Ledecky forgot her GOGGLES. Perugia police didn’t press RECORD.

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Raffaele, next time use the pen to JAB the “friendly” officer’s hand. You’ll do less time. 

Una Regazza Molto Disinibita

Confessions beyond nonsensical. Unrecorded interrogations. Wild theories. Motiveless suspects. Nonexistent forensics. There is a pattern here, an MO. Perugia’s very own world-class nut-job was on the job.

Mignini began dreaming up bizarre theories and prosecuting random people in 2002. He is still fighting criminal abuse of office charges filed against him in 2006 (he was convicted in 2010). In 2004, journalist/author Doug Preston began covering Mignini and his theories.

Mignini had Preston arrested.

Doug Preston told 48 Hours about his chilling experience facing the lunatic of Perugia. Preston is arguably tougher than Knox, but the bat-shit crazy public prosecutor and his minions did a number on the American author anyway.

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Preston and his family left Italy immediately.

In Netflix’s, Amanda Knox, Mignini paints an evocative self-portrait: here is a man poisoned by his own ego. “Amanda era una regazza molto disinibita,” he says solemnly as if this proves something other than his lack of fitness for his job.

Time and again, producers Blackhurst and McGinn let Mignini go on and on about the one constant in his life: his certainty that fantasies are truth.

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Raffaele says the night before the murder, Knox was out. The night before could be the night of. Therefore, Knox did it. Knox texted L the night of the murder. Therefore, L did it. Knox admitted L did it. Therefore, we were right about L. But wait! L was serving drinks. Forensics say G did it. G is black. L is black. Therefore, Knox did it. 

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How do you know she is a witch? She looks like one! . . . We did do the nose. And the hat. But she’s a witch! . . . Why do witches burn? Because they’re made of wood? . . . What also floats in water? A duck! So logically . . . If she weighs the same as a duck, she’s made of wood! And therefore . . . A WITCH!!!

Scimmie Volanti

Mignini’s “logic,” as wondrous as anything Sherlock Holmes with a lobotomy might have thought of, deeply convincing to millions and millions of people, was nevertheless not enough for a conviction, even in Italy.

Enter Patrizia. The great Patrizia Stefanoni, almost as scary as Mignini himself, would remedy the situation, take care of the unfortunate deficiency of evidence.

Police took a clean kitchen knife at random from Sollecito’s apartment and didn’t put any blood on it. Remember, framing was a no-no. They tested the knife and found no blood (TMB test), no DNA (Qubit fluorimeter), and no human residue (“species specific” test) on the blade.

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Clean knife picked at random from Sollecito’s kitchen.

Knox’s lovely hands had used the knife to cut bread. But it was what you might call a “triple negative” knife. That was bad: police needed a “double DNA” knife if they wanted to gaze into Knox’s clear blue eyes forever. Her finely sculpted DNA was on the handle, which was nice. Unfortunately, finding Kercher’s DNA on the blade would be a bit of a hurdle.

Police had nothing and they weren’t prepared to tamper with the evidence. What to do, what to do?

Again and again, the police lab had amplified Kercher’s DNA. It was an important part of the investigation, after all. Fifty samples or more underwent chain reaction. Each molecule gave rise to millions as PCR worked its unique magic. The fruit of a modern miracle, PCR-created, highly concentrated DNA is the key to forensic genetics. The super-concentrate does, unfortunately, have a tendency to become airborne.

And now, Amanda Knox, we’ll see about those splits you did at the police station.

Yes, a little amplified DNA goes a long way. Even a completely blank negative control, which should return nothing, will sometimes come back positive, with the tiniest of signals, when it is amplified using compromised equipment. So far, the police had nothing, but they had nothing to lose.

Police lab technicians used PCR to amplify the triple negative knife. A million times nothing is usually nothing. On the other hand . . . Bingo! The electropherogram matched Meredith Kercher. Of course, it was the tiniest of signals, almost certainly meaningless laboratory noise (aka contamination), but that didn’t matter. The monkeys were flying.

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Knox did a few stretches. An admiring officer wanted splits. She complied. Inanities about “cartwheels” have persisted ever since.

Back in the 1980’s, Peter Gill and others invented modern forensic genetics. In his 2014 book, Misleading DNA Evidence: Reasons for Miscarriages of Justice, Gill first presents a number of case studies in which well-meaning police, lab technicians, and judges were fooled by what looked like hard evidence, even to experts. Gill saves the flying monkeys in the Kercher case for the last chapter. Dr. Gill chooses his words carefully, but the final chapter of his book makes it quite clear the Kercher case is special: There was nothing to fool experts.

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I’LL GET YOU MY PRETTY . . . AND YOUR LITTLE BOYFRIEND TOO!

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This is the kind of profile I would expect to observe if it had originated from a contamination event.

Police worshipped the triple negative knife with the beautiful Kercher-matching electropherogram; it had its own bodyguard. The Kercher family did not talk to Peter Gill; they still haven’t. The prosecution wielded their amoral lab technician who intoned the three magical letters D-N-A for them. The judge hid behind his robes. The prosecution was confident.

In court, Patrizia Stefanoni swore up and down that as far as she knew there was no contamination at all in her lab, ever. All controls were performed; contamination risk was minimal. The robed man gave l’ultima parola: “Dr. Stefanoni’s testimony rules out that any laboratory contamination could have occurred.”

And that was that.

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Watch out! They’ll get you too.

I Dati Grezzi Non Sono Disponibili

And then things changed. Like Arturo de Felice before her, Stefanoni told all.

Knox and Sollecito were well into their fourth year of incarceration when Stefanoni was finally asked by the second court to hand over the negative controls. These are the purposely blank samples that are always amplified alongside murder-most-foul breadknives, the scientific pages on which contamination telltales write their sad stories.

Stefanoni gave herself, and the whole case, away.

No, I’d really rather not show you those. It’s such an awful lot of trouble. You don’t really need to see them, do you? Of course you don’t.

Here is verbatim Stefanoni (translated) from her letter to the judge.

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What we gave you already isn’t enough?

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We don’t usually include the data you want.

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The data you want won’t tell you anything.

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If you know the exact filenames, maybe I can do something for you. Tee hee.

Stefanoni was questioned in court about the little matter of the missing data files. Here’s what she said, paraphrased.

Let us say — diciamo — we’re not giving them to you. Ask all you want, moscerini insignificanti. Amanda Knox may get out of prison, but as for the negative controls — non vedranno mai la luce  — they will never see the light of day

*Sometimes a paraphrase is truer than truth. 

Here is what Patrizia Stefanoni actually said in court during her testimony on 6 September 2011. What follows is the original Italian excerpted from page 43 of the linked document.

The entire case, a senseless murder with an obvious perpetrator turned into an international bout of insanity to cover up off-the-scale police incompetence, boils down to these sixteen words.

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EXPERT STEFANONI — So, the raw data are not available in the case file, because they were never, let us say, handed over.

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“I told them I needed exact filenames.”

*Restraining convulsioni isteriche di risate is the hardest part of Stefanoni’s job. 

Knox of Seattle

Fortunately, not everyone is amoral. Amanda’s college years had passed her by when Stefano Conti and Carla Vecchiotti of the University of Rome, real scientists, came to her and Raffaele’s rescue: they reviewed the DNA “evidence” at the request of Judge Hellmann’s appellate court.

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In their report, Conti and Vecchiotti, diciamo, trashed Stefanoni, the police lab, everyone associated with the police lab, and all their ancestors. Digging into the details of the scientists’ work reveals an amazing fact: Helen of Troy has NOTHING on Knox of Seattle.

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Negative for blood. Negative for human species.

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Negative for DNA. Negative for competence. 

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No positive control. No negative control.

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Your methods virtually guarantee contamination.

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Without negative controls, your results are meaningless.

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You have nothing.

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Helen of Troy launched a thousand ships. Knox of Seattle turned NEGATIVE into POSITIVE.

The Moron Queen

What appears to be a vicious, mindless attempt to destroy two innocent people could, theoretically, have been a long series of honest mistakes. Judge Hellmann, bless his heart, called one of the most egregious Stefanoni “errors” — she said the blade of Sollecito’s kitchen knife had a positive quantification result even though it did not — “an understandable memory lapse” in his motivation report.

Stefanoni had another “understandable memory lapse” on May 22, 2009 when she testified that Meredith’s dusty bra clasp collected six weeks after the murder had only Meredith’s and Raffaele’s DNA on it.

Stefanoni testimony, 5/22/09: “. . . quindi dai due gancetti metallici ha dato come risultato genetico un misto: vittima più Sollecito Raffaele . . .” — so from the two metal hooks there was given a mixed genetic result: the victim plus Raffaele Sollecito . . .”

The bra clasp had a mixed genetic result from Meredith, Raffaele, and several unidentified men, a fact that obviously completely changes the way any reasonable person would view the bra clasp “evidence.”

Again, the two University of Rome scientists revealed that the Scientific Police in Italy should not be trusted.

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Dust carries large quantities of human DNA.

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The bra clasp was visibly contaminated.

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Several different Y chromosomes were found on the bra clasp by Stefanoni’s own testing.

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Stefanoni conveniently left out the other contributors.

Stefanoni has nothing to worry about.

Since Judge Hellmann is the best the Italians have in the impegno morale department, it seems reasonable to expect that the woman whom I call, “The Moron Queen,” shall be safe in perpetuity from any unfortunate scrutiny.

Here she is in all her glory.

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La Regina dei Imbecilli, Patrizia Stefanoni.

Colpevole

Police didn’t tamper with Sollecito’s clean knife and they didn’t plant any of Knox’s DNA in Meredith’s bedroom. A swab from the sink in the bathroom Amanda and Meredith had been sharing was all they needed. Amanda’s DNA was in the sink. Meredith’s DNA was in the sink. Perfetto.

In his motivation report, on pages 277 – 281, Judge Giancarlo Massei “explained” in excruciating detail why finding Knox’s DNA in her own bathroom sink was, magically, evidence of murder.

Massei, of course, knew all about the science. He knew determining when DNA was deposited is impossible. He knew all the DNA in any sample is automatically mixed together. But “mixed DNA” just sounded too good: it had to be used.

Here is Massei pissing in the well of the world.

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Paraphrase: We know it’s impossible with no basis in science or fact or precedent or common sense to ascribe any meaning at all to mixed DNA, but it fits our theory so well that we’re going to do it anyway.

For human beings, the loss of a young woman whose dreams of a beautiful life dried red on the floor of her bedroom leads us to ask, “How could this have happened?”

For Giancarlo Massei, mixed DNA found in a shared bathroom used by an innocent person suffering in prison leads him to ask, “How can I exploit this?”

For human beings, a mentally ill burglar with a get-out-of-jail-free card ripping open Meredith Kercher’s throat is a horrific tragedy.

For Giancarlo Massei, the slightest sacrifice of status as he pursues his career within Italy’s judicial system is a horrific tragedy.

Maybe no one ever told Massei he was expected to be a human being. Or maybe “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” was a true story and Massei is some sort of copy.

Massei, or whatever took over his body, concluded its discussion of mixed DNA with a statement so far outside the bounds of reason and science and humanity that it defies hyperbole and cannot be intelligently paraphrased.

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Paraphrase: She’s guilty. So there.

Giancarlo Massei has the same scruples as the king in Edgar Allan Poe’s Hop-Frog.

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Giancarlo Massei

Perhaps the most grotesque part — no small accomplishment — of Massei’s long tribute to mindless evil appears between pages 282 and 284 of the motivation report.

The floor of Knox’s house was treated by police with luminol. Luminol is sensitive to microscopic amounts of many different substances and some of Knox’s bare footprints appeared. The footprints were tested for blood in case Knox had murdered Kercher, stepped in her blood, and tracked it all over the house.

The tests for blood were all negative. For anyone else that would take care of the footprint “evidence,” but this is Knox of Seattle we are talking about. Here’s what Massei said about the negative tests (page 282).

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Paraphrase: Negative is positive.

Next, Massei needed to show that other luminol-sensitive substances, such as household bleach and other cleaning agents, could be ruled out as the reason Knox’s footprints had been found in her own house.

With several paragraphs of word play, inane complication, and incoherent gibberish, Massei explained why the footprints had to be blood: reading through it is like having a sock stuffed into your mouth.

Here’s an especially painful sample from page 283: “It was not known when and by whom . . . cleaning . . . had been carried out. Furthermore, no one entering the house had declared that they had noticed any smell of bleach.”

Paraphrase: Housecleaning? Bleach? I don’t think so. You can smell bleach. You can probably even smell microscopic traces. Plus, I don’t know anything about housecleaning or who did it or when they might possibly have done it and if I did I wouldn’t say a word. Am I making myself clear? Have I written enough yet? You know we’re going to find her guilty, so why even bother to read the reasons? She’s guilty because she’s guilty and the footprints are blood because no one proved they are bleach. Don’t argue or you’ll be next.

The test for blood (TMB or tetramethylbenzidine) is extremely sensitive — a few cells gives a positive result. In Italy, however, TMB isn’t a blood test at all; it isn’t even a chemical — it is an acronym for “Trial My Butt.” In Italy, the judge has full authority to ignore science and scientific reasoning and even to reverse the innocent until proven guilty standard. Jurors can advise, but have no power to prevent violent departures from reason and/or humanity.

Here’s what the thing named Massei, who may have been a human being at one point in his life, concluded, in writing, in his own report about five footprints every single one of which tested negative for microscopic traces of blood.

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Yes, really.

The Star Trek episode, “I, Mudd,” tells us where logic went in the Massei court.

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“Logic is a little tweeting bird chirping in a meadow. Logic is a wreath of pretty flowers which smell BAD.”

The 1978 movie, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” captures some of the horror.

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In the movie, Donald Sutherland looked human but wasn’t. If you were human, showing it was fatal.

A Family Forsaken

In a case that stretched from 6 November 2007 when Knox and Sollecito literally signed their lives away to 27 March 2015 when the Italian Supreme Court finally tossed the whole thing out with the day’s trash, the eight embarrassments — Massei, Stefanoni, Mignini, Felice, Giobbi, Ficarra, Napoleoni, and Matteini — who turned Kornbluth’s Marching Morons story into reality, who could have arisen, fully formed, out of an Edgar Allan Poe tale, never tried to fool anyone.

Sorry, no recordings. Tee hee. We have these nice signatures. You really don’t need to see the negative controls, do you? Negative is positive! Impossible is possible! TMB testing might be wrong once and again. And again and again and again. Halloween was on November 1st. Lumumba and Guede are both black.

That was a murder case.

One outraged shout from a member of Meredith’s family would have sent the whole naked gang of authority figures scurrying. Imagine it. Imagine the derisive laughter emanating from millions of chests. Imagine a world ringing with ridicule as if the globe were a giant bell. Or imagine the reality — Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito listening as a judge found them colpevole.

The starry-eyed computer geek and the sexy yoga practitioner might have spent decades in prison but for the intervention of a single judge. They were jailed (2007), tried and convicted (2009), tried and released (2011), convicted but not jailed (2014), and finally cleared (2015).

In spite of the judgment ultimately handed down by Italian jurists, Italian scientists, and human beings all over the world, we can say with some certainty that the eight prophets — Massei, Mignini, Stefanoni, Felice, Giobbi, Ficarra, Napoleoni, and Matteini — eight prolific fountains spewing forth from the bottomless evil of pure stupidity, sleep soundly each night, night after night, as if reposing by the soft gurgling of a gentle stream.

Millions more too sleep each night rocked to unconsciousness by that self-same gurgling, taking in the mindlessness and taken in by it by virtue of their own credulità.

If you’ve read this far, you are likely NOT among the forsaken. Sadly, the Kercher family, all five of them, remain in the ranks of the fooled. Denied closure, tortured with uncertainty, they too are victims of Italy’s eight chained orangutans. Years have passed and more years shall pass. For the rest of their natural lives, five people will be burdened with Mignini’s grotesque baggage. Only Meredith’s death itself is sadder.

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The strongest argument in Knox’s and Sollecito’s defense is the prosecution’s case.

POST-SCRIPTS

Ode To Massei, by Thor Klamet

Morons do so enjoy dropping science like a load of bricks.
But wait! We can do that ourselves, just for kicks.
The Great Judge Massei will be our gracious host;
he’ll tell us all that Knox is a very shapely ghost.
How else could she commit a grisly murder and leave no trace?
Indeed, science can never prove that was NOT the case.

How could this all have happened? Here’s Amanda Knox.

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If a person’s beauty is a weapon to be used against them, we are all in Hell.

Here are the ten sacred letters A-M-A-N-D-A K-N-O-X adorning the first book of the Torah of the Carabinieri. Yes, this is the actual signature of the amazing Knox of Seattle (on your knees, fool!).

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Signed. Sealed. Delivered.

The Raffaele Sollecitos and the Amanda Knoxes and the Anthony Yarboughs and the Earl Washingtons of the world and even the spirit of Todd Willingham must someday hear that monstrous injustice shall never happen again. We wait for that day. And as we wait, our humanity struggles in a quicksand of doubt, thrashing, frightened. If the Kercher family cannot declare the treatment of Knox and Sollecito inhuman, if even they who have the most reason to see do not see, then what kind of creatures are we?

It ended, after a fashion.

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Homecoming, 2011.

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Exonerated, 2015.

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The hero. 

Even though no evidence was planted by police as in a traditional framing, a few accusations are in order.

Rita Ficarra: abuse of authority, assault, perjury.

Perugia police: willful destruction of three hard drives.

Patrizia Stefanoni: suppression of evidence, obstruction of justice, perjury.

Arturo de Felice, Edgardo Giobbi, and Monica Napoleoni: conspiracy to destroy evidence (audio recordings), obstruction of justice, denial of counsel, repeated human rights violations, abuse of authority, gross incompetence.

Judge Giancarlo Massei, Judge Claudia Matteini, and Public Minister Giuliano Mignini: gross incompetence, violation of ethics, dereliction of duty.

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Ultimately, Italy’s eight embarrassments wished for and got a world of credulità, one that chose not to see con artists where the weavers of fine cloth stood. That these con artists did not fool us all is small comfort — they did their damage and collected their gold and walked away unscathed and we are most definitely the worse for wear.

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The ineffable satisfaction of living off the gullibility of others.

Judge Pratillo Hellmann, president of the second court, obviously could not save Meredith, but he at least prevented her tragic death from snowballing into two more tragedies. Here’s to the lonely voice of reason and here’s to Meredith, may she rest in peace.

The insane farce carried out in Meredith’s name also spread its poison to Raffaele’s sister. Vanessa Sollecito was a lieutenant in the police force in Rome when Raffaele was arrested. Her bosses told her she could not speak publicly about the case. She complied. Then her bosses told her that even privately believing her brother was innocent was “contradicting” the police. Then they said she had the wrong “attitude.” Then they fired her. Her article in Cosmopolitan tells the story.

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La Tenente Sollecito. 

Everything you have just read — Vanessa’s story excepted — was well known and well documented when Diane Sawyer interviewed Amanda Knox in 2013. Nevertheless, Ms. Sawyer played the “objective reporter” and asked Knox a series of idiotic questions that kept the “mystery” alive and insulted the memory of Meredith Kercher who exhaled a bloody mist with her final breath NOT so that we might be entertained.

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Did you kill Meredith Kercher? YES. I killed her. OBVIOUSLY. Then I flapped my arms and flew to Seattle for a cup of coffee. Then I flew back to Perugia and caught the end of Amelie with Raffaele. By the way, if you ever need anyone to selectively remove DNA, it’s been proven in an Italian court that I’m the only person in the world who can do it. My services are available, but it’ll COST you.

Would Meredith Kercher appreciate Diane Sawyer’s questions? I think not. Meredith might possibly have some questions for the POLICE: (1) “Why wasn’t Guede LOCKED UP after being caught burglarizing a school in Milan with loot from two previous burglaries on his person?” (2) “When Christian Tramontano told police Guede broke into his house and PULLED A KNIFE on him, why wasn’t it investigated?” (3) “Why are you USING MY DEATH as an excuse to ruin the lives of Amanda, Raffaele, and Vanessa, three people who would never hurt me or anyone else?”

These questions have not been put to the police by anyone with authority, moral or otherwise. Instead it’s always all Amanda Knox all the time, day and night, Amanda this, Amanda that, Amanda-what’s-that-you’re-wearing. Raffaele Sollecito is an afterthought at best, usually ignored entirely. The whole sick episode devolved into a gigantic adolescent game focused on Ms. Knox’s lovely curves. Logic, decency, humanity, intelligence, our common vulnerability, the preciousness of life, Meredith’s memory — it was all shunted aside.

By now, the Kerchers must surely have realized they were fooled . . .

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. . . that the emperor has no clothes.

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But who can tell the world and be heard? Not Amanda Knox. Not Thor Klamet.

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The Kerchers and only the Kerchers have the moral authority to set the world straight.

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Meredith is gone. Did rationality and decency die with her?

Apparently, yes. Alessandro Nencini was the judge in the 2014 “do-over” trial that found Knox and Sollecito guilty. Nencini surveyed the ruins of the 50-RFU Kercher-matching electropherogram and its missing negative controls. Stefanoni’s disregard of Hellmann’s orders and the unfortunate trashing of the prosecution’s case that resulted were tragedies Nencini set out to reverse.

But what could he do? The gigantic kitchen knife that supposedly killed Meredith after Guede put away his pocketknife was worse than worthless without negative controls.

Nencini, making dazzling use of his training and acumen, gave the negative controls his own incomparably beautiful twist. What follows can, at this stage, be considered the Mona Lisa of judicial monkey-business. It is indubitable, Nencini topped Massei — a feat as close to impossible as can be readily imagined.

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Shakespeare Again

He was the most well-read man in England with a vocabulary that dwarfed that of even other professional writers. But, so far as anyone knows, he didn’t own any books or write any letters. He had two daughters who never learned to read or even write their names presumably because they grew up raised by their illiterate mother in their bookless house while daddy William went to London, two days’ ride from his native Stratford and, to paraphrase Bloom, “invented humanity” through his characters’ theretofore unheard-of introspection. Meanwhile his family remained in his home town, fed and housed, but starved of the intellectual stimulation that animated their illustrious relative.

This great genius of humble origins spent time in both London and Stratford during a 20-year period starting in the early 1590’s. He was associated with a London acting company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (aka the King’s Men), as an actor (1595) and later as an investor (1603). Presumably, he wrote the plays that bear his name and earned money from the performances although there is no direct evidence for any payments made to Shakespeare for plays or manuscripts.

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The Blackfriars Theater today. Shakespeare of Stratford was an investor/partner as of 1608. 

The problem is, the man with the right name and the connection with the actors left no other trace of his writing career except for the bylines. No one ever claimed to have met the great author, Shakespeare. The people who published his plays and poems left nothing: they didn’t record payments to him, no autographed books remain, his publishers didn’t send Shakespeare letters or receive letters from him; they didn’t even write to their friends about him, as far as anyone knows. Shakespeare was the greatest writer in England, but seemed to be nobody in particular at the same time. Even in his home town of Stratford, no one seemed to know he was a celebrity; they wrote about him, but not about his famous works.

According to Diana Price, during Shakespeare’s lifetime, about seventy documents connected to Shakespeare the man were produced and still survive. They show Shakespeare was an actor and theater investor; two say he was a tax dodger; one that he was a grain hoarder; another claims he was dangerously violent; none mention writing.

By way of comparison, Price collected data for twenty-four other, less famous, Elizabethan writers: Jonson, Nashe, Massinger, Spenser, Daniel, Peele, Drayton, Chapman, Drummond, Mundy, Marston, Middleton, Lyly, Heywood, Lodge, Greene, Dekker, Watson, Marlowe, Beaumont, Fletcher, Kyd, and Webster.

Every writer Price looked at penned letters or wrote inscriptions in books or received payments for writing or left behind manuscripts or was mentioned as a writer by people who knew him personally. Most left behind several pieces of evidence connecting them personally to their craft. Ben Jonson is at the top of the heap in this respect: he left behind a personal library of more than 100 books, a number of handwritten manuscripts, numerous letters, more than a dozen records of payments for his writing, as well as several inscriptions in gifted copies of his books. Shakespeare, despite the fact that he left behind more documents than anyone except Jonson, left us nothing about writing.

By my count, using data from Price’s book, for a typical Elizabethan writer, roughly half of the suviving personal documents from his lifetime would be expected to be directly related to vocation, to writing. That means for Shakespeare, we happened to go seventy-for-seventy documents NOT related to his status as the greatest writer in England which, from a probabilistic perspective, is the same as flipping seventy tails in a row. The odds are approximately 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 to 1 against.

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How long would a take a large team of monkeys typing randomly to accidentally create all of Shakespeare down to the last comma? A long time.

But it could happen. You can actually have a decent chance of flipping 70 tails in a row, if you are willing to flip coins continuously for 400 trillion years which is about 30,000 times the age of the universe if you believe current estimates. That is, if you had been flipping coins constantly since the time the universe began, your chances of having succeeded by now would be microscopic. There is good news however: you’ll most likely flip your 70 tails long before the monkeys finish typing Shakespeare!

But seriously, what the calculation above means is that if you (1) believe the 50% expected to be writing-related statistic and if you (2) don’t count acting as writing-related and if you (3) don’t count documents produced after death, then, statistically speaking, you can take it as proved that Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare.

I do not consider the above an especially strong argument because there are too many ifs needed to make it work. Still, it is an interesting way to try to get our minds around the authorship issue.

Samuel Clemens argued fiercely that the apparent lack of a personal connection with the literary world in London was absurd if Shakespeare was the most famous writer in the country. When Shakespeare of Stratford died in 1616, no one noticed: there was no funeral, no burial in Westminster Abbey, not so much as a whisper of mourning for the greatest writer in the English language who had ever lived. There was just a long, detailed will that didn’t mention a single book.

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“He is a brontosaur: nine bones and six hundred barrels of plaster of Paris. . . We are The Reasoning Race and when we find a vague file of chipmunk-tracks stringing through the dust of Stratford village, we know by our reasoning powers that Hercules has been along there.” 

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Shakespeare’s gravestone. Where were the lamenting poems, eulogies, and national tears, Clemens says. Spenser, Jonson, Bacon, and Raleigh generated big responses when they died, he points out. Why didn’t Shakespeare?

Mr. Twain/Clemens puts some actual Shakespeare next to what is on the gravestone. This is a wonderful illustration of the difference between poetry and doggerel and is a slap in the face if you believe, as Twain does, that Shakespeare himself composed the lines on his gravestone. Why would the greatest poet ever put garbage on his gravestone? Maybe he thought it would be funny.

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I agree with Mark Twain. Shakespeare of Stratford the writer of crude doggerel was one person and Shakespeare the author, the man with inside information about Queen Elizabeth’s court, was someone else. However, it wasn’t Twain’s arguments that convinced me, or for that matter, the “inside baseball” argument.

Diana Price makes the “Where are the records?” argument as well as it can be made and I do think my “statistical impossibility” argument inspired by her work is cute. But these arguments don’t convince me either.

Sir Derek Jakobi and Mark Rylance, the noted Shakespearean actors, also have their doubts about authorship. They made a video that is worth watching just to get a feel for what these two brave souls are up against. They don’t go into much detail in this brief discussion, but they do hit some key points.

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Sir Derek and Mark: “None of our critics have done much more than try to attack our character. . . We are trying to counter what we consider a myth, a legend. The normal reaction that anyone who offers this alternative gets is insult, vituperation, NEVER discussion.” 

As these two renowned actors explain, experts in the field, such as the eminent James Shapiro at Columbia University, routinely say there is nothing to discuss, that we should not study the authorship question at all because it is such nonsense. Ironically, this is a particularly convincing argument that, in fact, Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare.

For example, Shapiro argues that Shakespeare’s death actually WAS noticed. He explains that seven years after Shakespeare of Stratford died, the First Folio was published and this should be considered a response to his death.

Sputtering arguments like Shapiro’s and desperately nonsensical commentary saying that, for example, Polonius in Hamlet is not a viciously accurate caricature of the great Lord Burghley even though the connection was noted 150 years ago, are every bit as good and twice as funny as “Blest be ye man that spares these stones.” Sometimes I think Shapiro and his ilk know perfectly well what the truth is, but are hoping you never do.

This reminds me of a famous (probably apocryphal) story about evolution.

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From “Origins” by Louis Leakey and Roger Lewin. 

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Just keeping it quiet is one way to deal with it.

Shakespeare’s works indicate that the was as steeped in the art of falconry as Clemens was in the culture of riverboats. The plays were clearly written by a nobleman for commoners did not practice falconry. Nor did they travel in Italy.

Still, the plays are fiction and one must be careful using fiction for biography. So even this argument doesn’t convince me. So far the most convincing argument is that the experts gibber.

And then there’s the sonnets.

Almost everyone I’ve ever spoken to about Shakespeare sees, regards, and understands the sonnets simply as wondrous poems that Shakespeare wrote. This is the truth, but not the whole truth. The sonnets were written in the first person, addressed to a young man, covered personal matters, and discussed real events that took place in the early 1590’s through the early 1600’s.

“Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day” was written to a particular (real) young man. Wordsworth famously wrote of the sonnets, “with this key, Shakespeare unlocked his heart.” But actually, he unlocked a great deal of plain old biography too.

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A letter from Shakespeare to a youth whom he loved and whom he wishes to immortalize: “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, so long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”

This particular sonnet doesn’t tell us much, just that the author loved the person he was writing to and had the idea that his love would live forever in the “eternal lines” of great poetry. Shapiro and others are fond of ignoring the sonnets or claiming that they are impersonal (!), but we thinkers must keep one thing clear in our minds: the sonnets are letters.

By 1598, a dozen or so Shakespeare plays and poems had been published; the name Shakespeare was famous. The sonnets/letters had NOT been published. That year, a man named Meres praised the author’s writing generally saying, among other things, “witness his sugar’d sonnets among his private friends.” This is the first known reference and it is crucial: the sonnets were kept private.

They remained so until Thomas Thorpe published SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS in 1609. The author clearly ntended for the sonnets to be published. They were to be a “monument” to the beloved young Earl to whom he had dedicated his two epic poems, a way to grant him immortality. The author of the sonnets represents himself quite clearly as an older fellow-nobleman.

In what follows, we will simply read the sonnets as written. No code-breaking is required. We will ignore the (absurd) mainstream idea that perhaps the most deeply personal series of poems ever written, was not personal.

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These sonnets were kept private until 1609.

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Shakespeare’s “lovely boy” was a young earl to whom he offered, through the sonnets, guidance, support, and unconditional love.

 

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1593. First epic poem. The “all happiness” phrase reappears in the publisher’s dedication in the sonnets. This is the first appearance of the Shakespeare byline.

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1594. Second epic poems. No codebreaking is needed. Shakespeare was very close to this Earl. No one else has the honor of a Shakespeare dedication.

Shakespeare, whoever he really was, begins his letters to the teenaged Earl by calling him a “tender churl” as he admonishes the high-born young man not to waste his “content.” Later, he chronicles the Earl’s life including his death sentence for treason and his amazing release from the Tower after the Queen’s death. Finally, this older man who loved Southampton so dearly signs off in the 126th sonnet with an emotional farewell that opens with “O thou my lovely boy . . .” and closes with a warning about the inevitability of death.

Already, there’s major trouble for the traditional attribution. There’s no evidence Shakespeare of Stratford ever so much as met Southampton, much less knew him intimately enough to call him “tender churl” or “my lovely boy.”

First sonnet: “From fairest creatures we desire increase.” Don’t bury your “content,” don’t be wasteful, “tender churl.” You, my young man, have reached the time in your life when we expect great things, not least of which is an heir. Don’t “make a famine where abundance lies.”

The Earl of Southampton faced heavy pressure to marry in the early 1590’s; he ultimately refused and was fined by his guardian, Lord Burghley.

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No commoner could say this to any earl. 

Second sonnet: “When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,” you’ll understand how important it is to have children. When you are old you’ll want children so you can be “new made when thou art old and see thy blood warm when thou feel’st it cold.”

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In theory you can write this as a personal letter in your twenties to a teenage Earl who you think should get married. In reality, probably not. 

Third sonnet: Shakespeare shares nostalgic memories of the boy’s beautiful  mother: “Thou art thy mother’s glass, and she in thee calls back the lovely April of her prime.”

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Shakespeare of Stratford did not have the opportunity to meet the Earl of Southampton’s mother in the lovely April of her prime or at any other time. He showed up in London for the first time when Southampton was already a teenager and probably never met him or his mother.

Sonnet 22: “My glass shall not persuade me I am old, so long as youth and thou are of one date.”

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Whoever Shakespeare was, he strongly identified with the Earl to the point where one suspects a familial connection.

Sonnet 73: “That time of year thou may’st in me behold, when yellow leaves or none or few do hang, upon those boughs which shake against the cold, bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang . . .”

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Again, the writer is overtly representing himself as a generation removed from Southampton. 

Sonnet 126: “O thou my lovely boy,” beware of “nature” and of “time’s fickle glass.” “Fear her” and remember that “her audit (though delayed) answered must be.”

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The Earl of Southampton was not Shakespeare of Stratford’s “lovely boy.” No way. Sorry, Professor.

The writer of the sonnets so far seems to be an older peer of Southampton, a fellow nobleman who can give his lovely boy advice. We have our suspicions at this point, but we don’t really know. We don’t know, that is, until we read Sonnet 125.

Here, the author directly states that he is, in fact, nobility. He writes, “Were it aught to me I bore the canopy with my extern the outward honoring . . . ” A commoner could not have sensibly written any such thing.

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ONLY nobility bears a canopy in a royal procession. 

This is a near-disaster for the mainstream, almost a coup de grâce to the traditional theory. If you bore the canopy during a royal procession, but your true loyalties lie elsewhere, with Southampton, you are most certainly NOT a commoner from Stratford. You are what you have been representing yourself as for 124 personal, private letters: an older nobleman closely allied with Southampton.

But maybe we’re misinterpreting the reference to bearing the canopy. Maybe a commoner was just imagining how it would be if he were to bear the canopy. After all, he said, “Were it aught to me . . .” So maybe it was hypothetical.

Fine and dandy. Desperate in my opinion, but fine and dandy. You’ve yet to be convinced, but perhaps your mind is open, perhaps you will admit a sliver of doubt tickling your skeptical mind. Let us keep reading.

As far as the mainstream theory is concerned, we’ve gone from “not so great” after reading the first three sonnets to “Houston we have a problem” after reading the aging sonnets all the way to “uh-oh” upon seeing the canopy sonnet.

But it could still be Much Ado About Nothing.

Next stop: catastrophe.

The great author brimmed with confidence that his letters to Southampton would ultimately take their place amongst the greatest writing of all time. He said his sonnets would outlast “tyrant’s crests” and “tombs of brass.” Not having any truck with modesty, he declared, simply, “such virtue hath my pen.”

As the sonnets flowed from the genius’s pen, the epic poems, dedicated to Southampton, had been printed and reprinted, the plays had become popular, and the name Shakespeare was famous. “Your monument shall be my gentle verse, which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read . . .”

“Your name from hence immortal life shall have . . .”

“. . . Though I (once gone) to all the world must die.”

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If he had written, “I am using a pseudonym” I’m sure Professor Shapiro would find a reason to ignore the line.

Smoking gun in Sonnet 81. (Be nice. Don’t say, “Thor Klamet, I’ve read Shakespeare and you are no Shakespeare.” A rhyme’s a rhyme and will be for all time.)

Even this doesn’t give the mainstream pause. It’s as if a tornado has just blown your house away and you are smiling and saying everything is fine. I might admire your sense of perspective though I’d be concerned about your sanity.

We have now pretty well shot down the traditional theory that some young commoner who apparently never met Southampton was absolutely, positively Shakespeare. The author went so far as to state outright in a personal letter that he was writing under a pseudonym!

Even so, maybe we’ve misinterpreted everything. Maybe, a 20-something commoner writing under his own name wrote to his friend Southampton and we’re guilty of code-breaking and over-interpretation to fit a predetermined conclusion. “Though I (once gone) to all the world must die” might mean, “I’m just a lowly author and a commoner, who cares about me, you’re the subject of these lines, a great Earl, you will be remembered, the writer is nothing, a mere afterthought, especially a commoner like me. I’m famous now, yes, but it won’t last.”

After all, the next two lines say, “The earth can yield me but a common grave, When you entombed in men’s eyes shall lie.” Maybe he’s just saying he’s a commoner.

And he didn’t actually, literally, say, “I am writing under a pseudonym.” So you still have a right to be skeptical. If you are so, then good for you. After all, if the Shakespeare thing is true, it’s the greatest hoax ever perpetrated, so it is proper to demand overwhelming evidence.

Doubts aside, it does begin to feel a little like beating a dead horse at this point. There are no books, letters, or manuscripts, no personal literary contacts, even his neighbors in his home town knew nothing, his own children couldn’t read his work; the actual writer was a man steeped in falconry who could write personal admonishments to a young earl, who represented himself as a middle-aged nobleman; even though he said his writing was so great it would last forever and even though he knew the name Shakespeare was already famous, he nevertheless implied his name would be lost to history.

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Your name from hence immortal life shall have, Though I (once gone) to all the world must die.

It could be confimation bias causing me to see these lines as a smoking gun, but honestly, I don’t think the horse is even quivering at this point. But we will press on just the same. In fact, what we will do is shoot the already-dead horse one last time. There is another bullet in our smoking gun for you hard-core skeptics.

When the sonnets were finally published, the lucky publisher included a dedication wishing Southampton the same “all happinesse” Shakespeare had wished him in one of the epic poem dedications as well as the same “eternitie” the sonnets themselves were promising.

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“All happiness” echoes the 1594 dedication to Southampton

Like “all happinesse” and “that eternitie,” the “our ever-living poet” phrase is, appropriately, Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare.

Here is a Shakespearean eulogy: “. . . our scarce-cold conqueror, that ever-living man of memory, Henry the fifth. . .” intoned over the dead body of the former King in Henry VI Part 1, Act 4, Scene 2 (First Folio version).

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Again, I’m sorry, but that’s that. It’s a eulogy. Shakespeare the commoner was still living in London in 1609; he moved back to Stratford the next year and did eventually die, but not for another six years. Thomas Thorpe was a contemporary observer in a position to know. He held the original sonnets in his hands. He could not have been mistaken about whether the author was still alive and his Shakespearean eulogy could not be more clear.

The only way out is to argue that “ever-living poet” isn’t a eulogy and I wouldn’t want to have to make that argument. So I feel for the mainstream, I really do.

The gun smokes anew, the body of the horse begins to decay, and the mainstream thinks it’s still mounted in the saddle galloping along with the wind in its hair.

Nevertheless, you can hold your nose and ignore the decaying horse and argue that “ever-living poet” might not be the eulogy it appears to be. You can note that Southampton’s initials were H. W., not W. H., and that as an Earl, Henry Wriothesley should not be addressed as “Mr.”

Or, you can argue that even if the sonnets were personal, they weren’t necessarily personal to Shakespeare. Maybe they were commissioned by an older nobleman who was close to Southampton. Maybe Shakespeare was writing about someone else’s pathos. All or any of this is possible.

These arguments should be, nay, must be, made. But that’s not what the ivy league professors say. They say there is no issue at all. They have certainty. The professor doth protest too much, methinks.

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In Hamlet, Gertrude, watching the play within a play, is uncomfortable because the character of the Queen says she will never remarry, no matter what. “The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” says Gertrude, squirming.

If (1) Shakespeare was, in fact, forty when he wrote “when forty winters shall beseige thy brow,” if (2) he knew Southampton’s mother personally in the “lovely April of her prime,” if (3) he ever actually “bore the canopy,” if (4) he truly believed his name would be lost to history when he lamented, OR if (5) Thomas Thorpe meant “our ever-living poet” as a eulogy, if any ONE of these things is true, then Shakespeare of Stratford didn’t write Shakespeare.

I believe Shakespeare was the age he represented himself to be in his sonnets, I believe he knew Southampton’s mother before the boy was born, I believe he did bear a canopy in a procession after the Queen’s death, I believe he thought his incomparable poetry would last forever but his name would be lost, and I believe an ever-living poet is a dead poet simply because the sonnets don’t make sense twisted into some kind of impersonal wordplay.

We are human, we understand context. The sonnets have context. The writer said he was a fellow nobleman, a generation removed from the lovely boy. Why should we not believe him? If his own testimony is untrue, there is no context and if there is no context, there is no humanity.

“He was a genius” doesn’t explain away context. It is likewise inconceivable to me that the sonnets were written for someone else, i.e., that they were commissioned, someone else’s pathos. So I’m stuck with Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare. As unlikely as it sounds, I’m stuck with it.

But if Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare, he was set up as the apparent author. Why do that?

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Monument to Shakespeare in Stratford built within a few years of his death. “The judgment of Nestor, the genius of Socrates, the art of Virgil. The earth encloses, the people sorrow, Olympus posseses. Stay passenger, why goest thou by so fast? Read if thou canst whom envious death hath placed within this monument — Shakspeare: with whom quick nature died whose name doth deck this tomb far more than cost since all he hath writ leaves living art but page to serve his wit.” Whatever that means. 

Why have a conspiracy to make it look like Shakespeare the illiterate commoner was Shakespeare the great author? Why hide the real author? Why weren’t the sonnets published sooner with a direct connection to Southampton and with the real author’s name? For that matter, why not include the sonnets in 1623 when all the plays were compiled into the famous First Folio when the number of published plays was doubled at a stroke? Where did all those unpublished plays even come from? Why would Queen Elizabeth and King James go to so much trouble to hide the true author and make it look like it was Shakespeare of Stratford? How did the whole thing even get started?

Was Shake-Speare chosen as a pseudonym to match the name of an obscure actor and confuse everyone or was it a coincidence that someone had a name to match the pseudonym? Was there some advantage to using a front-man instead of an ordinary pseudonym?

Some time after Shakespeare died in Stratford in his bookless house, a monument was erected implying he was a great thinker; it makes an interesting brother to the gravestone with the doggerel that Mark Twain made fun of. Shakespeare’s Stratford origins were alluded to in the preface to the First Folio written by Ben Jonson in 1623. These bits of hard evidence setting up Shakespeare of Stratford as both an actor and great author for the first time, years after his death, were, conspiracy theorists say, the beginning of the great hoax.

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Shakespeare’s Stratford home called New Place where he retired. He died there in 1616. His three-page will meticulously distributed his belongings. No books were mentioned. 

But why? What was going on? We read the sonnets as written, fine. We become suspicious, fine. But then what of the post-death alleged conspiracy — the monument and the preface to the First Folio? What the Hell?

The outline of an answer is easy enough to sketch though far from definitive. Shakespeare’s dedicatee from the two epic poems, Southampton, was a controversial figure as you already know. But you may not know the half of it.

The young woman the young man was implored to marry in those first sonnets happened to be Lord Burghley’s grand-daughter: the great Lord had commanded this marriage take place. Since Burghley was the Queen’s closest advisor and the most powerful man in England, his grandchild wasn’t someone you refused lightly.

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The great Lord Burghley. If given the opportunity to marry his grand-daughter, say YES. 

Shakespeare told the young man, “From fairest creatures we desire increase, that thereby beauty’s Rose might never die” and then went on for 16 more sonnets imploring the stubborn Earl, his tender churl, to marry Burghley’s grand-daughter and make an heir. It did no good. Marrying into Burghley’s family would have increased the scope of Southampton’s powers greatly. He was a fool to refuse, but refuse he did. We don’t know why.

The word “Rose” in the second line of the first sonnet quoted above was mysteriously capitalized and italicized in the original publication just as it is here. No one knows why.

Ten years or so after the stubborn Earl refused to become a member of Burghley’s family, the Queen lay dying. Southampton, now a strapping 20-something, and his ally, the popular Earl of Essex, and a dozen or more men now attempted to gain access to the expiring Queen. The Tudor Rose dynasty seemed to be coming to an abrupt end. Elizabeth had no acknowledged children. No historian believes the flirtatious Queen was actually a virgin and it is considered quite possible that she had one or two illegitimate children, but these bastard offspring, if they existed, would not have been eligible to inherit the throne, not without a lot of powerful backing. As things stood in 1601, there would be no continuation of the Tudor bloodline and there was no clear succession. The uncertainty was frightening for much of the public throughout Elizabethan England.

The two Earls seemed to have good timing although it is by no means clear what they intended to do once they gained access to her majesty’s bedchamber. Presumably, they had a plan to try to control the succession. It didn’t matter, because Essex and Southampton were in over their fool heads. Fools and their heads are soon parted, as you know.

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The Tower of London today. Earth to Southampton: Marry the grand-daughter; messing with Lord Burghley is NOT healthy.

Burghley, who had been secretly planning the succession for years, outsmarted the Southampton-Essex amateur hour and had them and their lot arrested and tried for treason. All were convicted of course, the outcome of the trial never being in doubt. Essex, despite his popularity, had his date with the axeman, though it was a little on the brief side as dates go. Some lower-ranking members of the conspiracy did not fare so well as the pretty young Earl: they were tortured to death.

But not Southampton. He was sentenced to die and watched his friend die, but, as he waited fretfully in the Tower of London, his sentence was mysteriously commuted to life in prison. There is no formal record of the legal proceeding that allowed this extraordinary thing to happen, but it did happen. No one knows how or why.

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The Second Earl of Essex didn’t make it past 35 years of age. Many thought his sentence would be commuted. His head rolled despite his popularity. Burghley is the WRONG person to mess with.

The sonnet-writer was chronicling these events and may have had inside information. Sonnet 87 has both a happy and resigned tone as if a big decision has been made. It says to Southampton, “The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing” which could mean a lot of things. In the same sonnet, we are told of a “great gift upon misprision growing” and we find out that this gift  “comes home again on better judgment making.”

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What is being released? What is the charter of Southampton’s worth? Why the legal term, misprision? What was the better judgment?

Misprision of treason means you knew about treason, but didn’t report it. This is a legal term that was common in Elizabethan times. Misprision of treason was a crime, but not a capital crime. If you love Southampton, this is obviously a “better judgment” than plain old treason. Something about Southampton’s “worth” may have led Queen Elizabeth to spare the young fool.

Maybe. This sonnet is not nearly as direct or clear as “Though I (once gone) to all the world must die.” All we know for certain is that Southampton was not executed.

Southampton was not only not executed, the convicted traitor was in fact released after the Queen died. As soon as King James I had safely ascended the throne, Southampton felt the warmth of the sun on his face. Shakespeare, or rather the actual author, who we can now surmise cannot possibly be the young commoner named Shakespeare, celebrates this event in the famously ebullient Sonnet 107, the poem most clearly linked to Southhampton, not only by crazy conspiracy theorists, but also by mainstream scholars for centuries.

After the “mortal moon” (Elizabeth) suffers her “eclipse” (death), Shakespeare’s “true love” who was “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom” in the Tower now “looks fresh” as “peace proclaims olives of endless age” (James has peacefully acended the throne) and the “sad augurs mock their own presage” (people who predicted a civil war now look silly).

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Whoever wrote this was pretty happy about the turn politics had taken. Meanwhile, Southampton began his second chance at life though without his great friend Essex.

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Burghley wanted it to be King James so it was King James. He peacefully ascended the throne in 1603. Southampton was then released from the Tower. 

Some people think Southampton’s idea that he could control the succession together with the mysterious pardon plus Shakespeare’s enigmatic mention of “beauty’s Rose,” make everything perfectly clear: Southampton was obviously Elizabeth’s son, a possible heir to the Tudor Rose dynasty if he were ever acknowledged. If he had married Burghley’s grand-daughter, beauty’s Rose might indeed never have died.

According to this theory, Southampton had refused to marry Burghley’s grand-daughter, so he didn’t have the great man behind the idea of continuing the Tudor Rose dynasty; meanwhile, Elizabeth, for her part, wasn’t keen on dropping the virgin Queen thing, acknowledging Southampton as her son, and letting him become King. On the other hand, she wasn’t going to kill her own son even though he had been convicted of treason. This is called the “Prince Tudor” theory.

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Queen Elizabeth I. She had no acknowledged children. The Tudor Rose dynasty ended with her. Of course, she was not a virgin; she had sex AND retained power. 

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Queen Elizabeth II in the lovely April of her prime 340 years after the death of Elizabeth I. 

If Southampton was really Elizabeth’s biological son — he wound up in the royal household because his supposed father died when he was very young — it would explain the fact that he committed treason but lived past 30 anyway and would also explain why he thought he could get away with trying to barge into the Queen’s bedchamber with armed men. It would also explain why the sonnets were too hot to handle — if they told of a possible heir to the throne, they were political dynamite.

Without exhuming bodies and doing DNA tests, we will never know the ins and outs of the succession battle that took place in the early 1600’s. All we really know is that Essex didn’t fare very well. We also know that Burghley was not to be trifled with.

The craziness of the Prince Tudor theory drags us in like a siren, beckoning, offering more goodies. Crazy begets crazier. Hold on to your hat.

The father of the girl Southampton was supposed to marry, Edward de Vere, may be the most likely writer of the sonnets if you believe the Prince Tudor theory. He was a brilliant and dashing nobleman and happened to be one of the Queen’s lovers (contemporary eyewitness account) AND had married Burghley’s daughter. If he was also Southampton’s father, then the plot thickens considerably and the context of the sonnets begins to make sense.

The boy was being asked to marry his half-sister. This could explain his refusal.

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Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford, the highest ranking earl in Elizabethan England. Burghley’s son-in-law, the Queen’s lover. Was he also Shakespeare? Was he also Southampton’s father?

But could Edward de Vere really be Shakespeare? In a word, yes. One connection is the First Folio. In 1623, only 18 plays had ever been published. A big part of the canon, including many of the most important plays, existed only in manuscript never having seen print. Suddenly, the First Folio, a massive project, appears, beautifully printed. Now there are 36 plays, preserved for posterity. How was this accomplished?

Well, the First Folio was dedicated to the Earl of Montgomery, who just happened to be married to Edward de Vere’s daughter. Montgomery probably bankrolled the project (hence the dedication) while his wife, Oxford’s daughter, presumably supplied the manuscripts. This is the same daughter who was supposed to marry Southampton in the early 1590’s, the same daughter whose hypothetical hand was presented so beautifully in the first 17 sonnets, the “marriage sonnets” as they are still called today.

The connections continue. Oxford’s brother-in-law visited Denmark and the court at Elsinore for six months in 1581-1582  and produced a handwritten, unpublished document upon his return to England. The document mentioned two courtiers, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Of course, that could just be a coincidence.

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford is the reason traditional scholars have to embarrass themselves trying to argue Polonius is not a caricature of Burghley. The relationship and the animosity between Polonius and Hamlet is an almost perfect parallel to the historical conflict between Burghley and Oxford. The minute you admit Polonius is Burghley and accept Oxford as an authorship candidate, the autobiographical nature of Hamlet becomes virtually impossible to refute. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are the tip of the iceberg. And that’s just the one play.

Oxford was known as incomparably brilliant and received during his whole life an unprecedented 1000 pound yearly stipend from the Queen that was continued by King James. There was no official reason for the stipend. Think about that. Meanwhile, here are some signatures to ponder.

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Another poor attempt.

As countless non-mainstream academics and reputable intellectual leaders in many areas, even including the living descendant of the great Lord Burghley himself, regularly point out, the sonnets and other evidence create an eminently reasonable case that Shakespeare of Stratford may have been cast by the powers that were (Elizabeth, Burghley, James) as a front-man in perhaps the greatest and most successful hoax of all time.

The Prince Tudor – Edward de Vere theory is another matter, of course.

If Shakespeare was really Edward de Vere and if he was really Southampton’s father and if Southampton was really the last member of the Tudor Rose dynasty, then Sonnet 33 is pregnant with meaning, literally.

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When Shakespeare says, “Even so my Sun one early morn did shine, With all triumphant splendor on my brow, But out alack he was but one hour mine . . . ” what is he talking about? The weather?

Who was “Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace”? Was it the s-u-n sun setting? Or was it the Queen herself of necessity hiding her belly full with Edward de Vere’s bastard s-o-n son.

According to this admittedly cryptographic analysis, Edward de Vere got to hold his son, who would become the Earl of Southampton, for just one hour before the “region cloud” (the Queen) “hath masked him from me now” (took him away).

Code-breaking, of course, is not especially reliable. Still, if you decide Southampton was probably the Queen’s son, it fits perfectly to make Edward de Vere his father and author of the sonnets. So “O thou my lovely boy . . . ” would be taken as from father to son. The sonnets, then, would be a monument written by the Earl of Oxford, the Queen’s former lover, to his son who might have become King and elevated the brilliant spendthrift Oxford to royalty in the eyes of history.

This is the full crazy theory. It is built out of “beauty’s Rose” in the first sonnet (code-breaking) and “Sunne” in the 33rd sonnet (more code-breaking). Though the code-breaking embellishments must be regarded as questionable, the foundation is reasonably solid: (1) Shakespeare does appear to be a pseudonym for an older nobleman very close to Southampton (sonnets); (2) Southampton did try to control the successsion and was spared despite being convicted of treason (historical fact); (3) the Queen did have an affair with Edward de Vere (contemporary eyewitness).

For all of this to really hold together, the biography of Edward de Vere would have to fit with the plays and poems. The appearance of the names Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as a pair in de Vere’s life is my favorite connection in this regard and is, in fact, merely the tip of the iceberg. A number of biographies of the Earl of Oxford have been written at this point and the relationship between his life and the plays is nothing short of astounding.

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Elsinore, a real place where Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, real people, were met with Edward de Vere’s brother in law, a Baron named Peregrine Bertie. Bertie married Lady Mary, Oxford’s sister, and took her to the country where the two reportedly drank heavily and argued ferociously (letters exchanged amongst a number of eyewitnesses). Sound familiar?

Rylance and Jakobi note wryly that the connection is so strong that whoever wrote the plays had to have known all about Oxford’s life.

Another example: Oxford at age 30 got Anne Vavasour, one of the Queen’s nubile ladies-in-waiting, pregnant at age 18. The Queen chucked them both into the Tower (along with the infant!) for this transgression. Vavasour’s and Oxford’s people fought in the streets as a result of all of this and the battles were finally stopped by the Queen a la Romeo and Juliet.

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The Birmingham Royal Ballet presents the Montagues and the Capulets fighting it out in the street in a presentation of Romeo and Juliet. Anne Vavasour’s uncle Thomas Knyvet’s servants and the Earl of Oxford’s men spilled real blood on the streets of London in 1581.

The connections between Oxford and the plays go on and on and on (and on). I would say the case has been made by the Oxford partisans incredibly convincingly. They may even have proved it by now; I don’t know enough to say precisely how convincing it is, only that it has convinced me.

I have never seen an argument for ignoring the sonnets worth repeating. The best I’ve seen is that the sonnets may possibly have been commissioned and this would explain them. But there is not one tiny shred of evidence that the sonnets were commissioned. Ignoring the sonnets altogether qualifies as irrational. If they weren’t commissioned they are a strong indication of pseudonym.

Edward de Vere was probably Shakespeare. If so, there is an uncomfortably high probability that he and Queen Elizabeth were the parents of Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. It would explain a great deal and is plausible given that he and the Queen were certainly lovers. If you include Southampton’s ill-fated attempt to control the succession and his pardon for treason, it actually hangs together rather well.

 

The Marching Morons

In Kornbluth’s great short story, humanity arrives at a future in which most people are so stupid they believe everything the tabloids tell them. A few million intelligent people remain; they must live out their lives surrounded by billions of morons whose stupidity and violence represents an ever-present danger.

We’re live in Kornbluth’s world today. Millions sincerely believe Amanda Knox is guilty. Amongst them is a Harvard law professor. A large fraction of the Italian judiciary could be characters in Kornbluth’s story.

The story has a happy ending; unfortunately, the modern day crystallization of Kornbluth’s dark vision appears horribly permanent. To soothe myself, I made a list of the seven most moronic antics in the Knox case.

Here it is, The Marching Morons by Cyril Kornbluth — the 100% true to life version.

7. The Psychological Method

Patrick Lumumba was known throughout Perugia for his gentleness. But one of his employees was the stunning Amanda Knox. When Knox’s roommate, Meredith Kercher, was murdered by a deranged maniac, police focused their attention on the quirky but compelling young woman. They eventually came up with a really brilliant theory: Knox and Lumumba had together murdered Meredith.

The physical evidence in the case had yet to be analyzed, but that had never stopped a group of morons before. Police openly bragged about how they used what they called “the psychological method” to quickly solve the case. “We don’t need to rely on other kinds of investigation,” one officer helpfully explained.

Chief Moron Arturo de Felice and at least 11 other officers used a classic tag team interrogation technique to break the distraught Ms. Knox who had hardly slept in the days since finding her roommate dead. Terrified and “howling,” as one of the officers put it, she confirmed their Lumumba theory. Knox even (briefly) believed it herself.

The great thing about morons is they don’t know they’re morons. At a triumphant press conference the next day, the idiot Felice actually laid it all out for the international crowd of reporters: “Initially the American gave a version of events we knew was not correct. She buckled and made an admission of facts we knew were correct and from that we were able to bring them all in. They all participated but had different roles.”

Yes, of course. Patrick Lumumba was not the kind family man he appeared to be: not at all; he was actually a psychotic killer. Officers arrested Lumumba that same night; the sweet hippie kid from Seattle who trusted everyone, especially police, went straight from the interrogation room to a jail cell; Knox’s bewildered Italian lover was also arrested and jailed. And so police had, in custody, the three least likely suspects in Perugia.

You know the guy who loses his keys in the woods but searches under the street lamp because the light is better? Well, it happened in Italy. Meredith’s other two (Italian) roommates lawyered up immediately following the murder; they knew better than to trust the police. Knox, on the other hand was an easy (and lovely) target.

Today, the Knox confession is gospel to millions of morons all over the world.

6.  See You Later for a Quick Little Murder

Arresting the three least likely suspects in a city has to be some kind of moron high water mark for murder investigation. As word of the amazing arrests spread from Italy to England to the United States, witness after witness came forward patiently explaining to dumbfounded police that Mr. Lumumba had been in his bar all night serving drinks just as he was every night, night after night. After all, he was a bartender. Hmm.

Since they had neglected to measure the temperature of the victim’s body (!), they did not have a precise time of death. So they kept Lumumba, Knox, and Knox’s fantastically unlucky boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, imprisoned. After all, Lumumba might have slipped out of his bar at some point, murdered Kercher, and might then have returned, serving drinks, bantering with customers, smiling and laughing, and setting up his alibi. Clever fellow.

Knox went back to the story police had so forcefully rejected — she had been at Raffaele’s apartment all night getting high and having sex. Raffaele himself, who had been a lonely virgin a week before, simply couldn’t believe the whole thing wasn’t a bad dream.

But the morons were committed at this point so they stuck to their guns.

You see, Lumumba’s text on the night of the murder to his beautiful young waitress — “slow night, don’t come in” — and her reply —”okay, see you later” — had convinced the imaginative officers that the Congolese bar owner and the American student must have been conspiring. So they made Knox say so.

Police told Knox she had repressed her “memory” due to shock. If she didn’t “remember” what they wanted her to remember, she would never see her family again, they told her. A couple of slaps to the back of the head from officer Rita Ficarra did the trick. Knox suddenly had what she called a “vision” about her and her boss Lumumba paying Meredith a visit on the night of the murder just as police suspected. Amanda’s “vision” became the “facts” police “knew were correct.”

The moment the weepy college kid signed their little paper, police celebrated, hugging one another in a charming display of camaraderie. But now Lumumba was spoiling all the fun. He claimed he had been at his bar all night. Even worse, he could prove it. No one said being an Italian cop was easy!

Lumumba’s lawyers eventually documented a minute-by-minute account of his activities the entire night and police had to let him go. The innocent businessman returned home, but was unable to reopen his bar.

Meanwhile, the forensics people did their jobs. Someone had left a complete handprint with a clear fingerprint in the victim’s blood on the wall. The fingerprint was matched to Rudy Guede, a habitual burglar well known to police. Guede had fled to Germany. He was quickly found by German police and extradited to Italy.

Knox, the winner of the world’s least believable confession award, and Sollecito, winner of the unluckiest computer geek in the universe award, remained in jail. Police apparently couldn’t bear to admit their outrageous mistake. So they tweaked the story a little and, in the process, filled tabloid hearts with joy for thousands of miles in every direction.

5. Amanda Knox: Controller of Men

Kercher had been murdered by a troubled drifter with a terrible abuse history going back to childhood. Rudy Guede was burlarizing her apartment when Meredith came home at 9 pm and surprised him. They would have recognized one another as they had seen each other around town. At some point he attacked. Guede stabbed her in the throat twice with a pocket knife which hit bone, slipped, and sliced his fingers. Guede, an extraordinary athlete with mental problems, was obviously quite dangerous, but he had never killed before and didn’t really know how. His minor injuries had not yet healed when he was caught.

Kercher could not defend herself against Guede. His third stab plunged the knife to its hilt into the soft part of Meredith’s throat. The deranged man slashed sideways tearing open a gaping wound. Two liters of Meredith’s blood poured all over Guede and onto the floor saturating Meredith’s clothing. Kercher went down, still alive, but drowning in her own blood, feebly struggling. As she died, she exhaled a bloody mist while Guede removed her blood-soaked clothing and sexually assaulted her.

All of these details were determined by the Italian forensics team. Once they had identified Guede, the police had his friend contact him via Skype from the police station. “She was clinging to me very hard,” Guede told his friend. Guede claimed she had been attacked by someone else and that he tried to save her. But this did not explain why his DNA was found in her vagina.

Police knew Rudy Guede well. He had broken into at least three buildings in the two months prior to his murder of Kercher. He was caught in Milan in a building he was in the process of looting and he had on his person stolen goods from two previous burglaries. Milanese police arrested him and confiscated the loot, and let him go. No charges were filed. Most rational experts assume the kid-gloves treatment was due to Guede acting as a police informant. We’ll never know. Five days later Meredith Kercher drowned in her own blood while Guede molested her.

We don’t know why Guede wasn’t jailed for the burglaries. We do know that Arturo and his friends will never be topped. They will simply never, ever be topped unless something happens that is beyond imagination. Guede didn’t just burglarize buildings in the months before he killed Meredith. Let’s talk about a man named Christian Tramontano.

During his crime spree, Guede invaded a home in Perugia where he pulled a knife on the resident. Christian Tramontano called the police. Christian Tramontano visited the police station three times. Christian Tramontano did NOT report that Guede had by his side his trusty accomplice, a sweet hippie girl from Seattle brandishing a kitchen knife. He tried mightily to get the attention of the police, but apparently suffered from an unfortunate lack of female curves.

On 1 November 2007, Guede’s life of abuse and abandonment, of desperation and poverty, hit rock bottom. The mentally ill 20-year-old, who apparently possessed some sort of get out of jail free card, left a nightmarish scene in Meredith’s bedroom and went dancing. Yes, he went dancing. Witnesses at the dance club later reported an odd body odor exuding from the first-time murderer. Two days later, the athletic burglar from Ivory Coast who had transformed into a monster fled to Germany where he slept on trains for a few days.

Guede’s DNA was found not only inside Meredith’s body, but also on her clothes and in her purse. No other DNA on the scene was found by the police lab other than the victim’s. Perugia police engineered Guede’s release from a Milan jail. A visiting student lay brutally murdered. Guede was in custody and there was enough DNA evidence to convict him of being the Devil.

Case closed? Of course not. It was time for MAJOR ass-covering. And don’t forget how pretty Amanda was back then. She’s behind bars, terrified. Let’s keep the party going.

The Perugia morons now knew the truth: Knox, Sollecito and Lumumba were all innocent; even worse, they had been protecting the killer. To non-morons this probably seems like the ultimate crash and burn. It wasn’t. In fact, for the Perugia police force, it was actually no problem at all.

In the new “news” story fed to the tabloids, the teary-eyed beauty now sitting in a jail cell was actually a dangerously clever adversary whom police had outwitted using their amazing psychological techniques. The tantalizingly flexible Knox — she had performed a split at the behest of an admiring officer — had fooled the decent and honest police officers when she said “yes, sir” to their idiotic Lumumba theory.

That’s right. New story. Reset everything. Here we go.

Knox convinced her virginal Italian boyfriend — she had broadened the computer geek’s horizons just six days before — to assist her and the deranged Ivorian, also in her thrall, in the brutal murder of her beautiful British roommate whom she hated. Later, under questioning, she desperately substituted an innocent black man for the real black perpetrator in an last-ditch attempt to evade the tightening net of brilliant police work that had ultimately uncovered the shocking truth.

Moron’s everywhere smoked from the tabloid pipe — it was legal ecstasy.

The Knox confession remains exhibit A for the moron crowd: Amanda was in the house when Meredith died — the yoga aficionado had outright admitted it to police in the wee hours one morning and that’s all you need if you are a moron. The confession as a whole — with every single word written in Italian and consisting of 100% utter nonsense without the slightest relationship to any of the facts of the actual murder — was a real charmer for the morons. Knox signed the document. She had not only admitted to being present, she had even gone so far as to accuse an innocent man — her boss, Patrick Lumumba — of murder and cruelly ruin his life.

The police — who were almost as flexible as the delectable Knox herself — took the opportunity to charge the jailed beauty with slander.

Yes, really. They also conveniently claimed they had forgotten to turn on the recording equipment in the room where Knox was interrogated. But they were lying. The recording equipment in that room was on all the time. While waiting in that very same room, Knox and Sollecito had been recorded again and again. When the two hungry kids talked about getting some pizza after they were done at the police station, they were recorded. The first thing the police did after the murder was to tap their cell phones; every call was recorded. All of Knox’s later conversations with her family and her lawyers while imprisoned were recorded. And forty thousand (40,000) calls made by Sollecito’s family members in the succeeding years as the endless legal battles went on were also recorded.

In fact, just about the only thing the Perugia cops are good at is recording conversations. Of course they recorded Knox’s “confession.” They just couldn’t release it. Arturo and his bright boys and girls were bright enough to know what would happen if anyone actually listened to their little game of “let’s make the pretty girl say what we want her to say.” For all anyone knows, the recording may still exist.

Much of the world blithely went along with the Perugian brainiacs. In Boston, a Harvard law professor nodded his head in agreement. In England and in Italy, the tabloid photographers polished their camera lenses and buttoned up their designer shirts. Morons by the millions stood impatiently in line to purchase the latest photo spread of the hot young murderess.

Even Meredith Kercher’s own family went along with the same morons whose gross incompetence (remember, Guede had pulled a knife on a Perugia resident in addition to the multiple burglaries) had killed their beloved daughter and sister.

4. The Presumed LCN Sample

As joy spread across the tabloid universe, police tested a large kitchen knife taken from Sollecito’s apartment and found no DNA of any kind on the blade, no human residue on the blade, and no blood on the blade. The triple negative result presented no difficulties whatsoever for the prosecution and the knife took its place as the central piece of physical evidence in the case.

If you’re not a moron, you may need to pause here and re-read that last paragraph (there are no typos, read it again). The thought process of a moron can have a wonderful simplicity to it that is almost artistic, but it does take time and effort to fully appreciate this particular kind of art. Do read it again, you’ll be glad you did.

Ready? Okay, I’ll tell you how they did it. You may want to sit down if you aren’t sitting already. If you’re sensitive like me, you may want to find someone you trust and hold his or her hand. Okay. Here we go. Hold on. It’ll be over quickly. I promise.

Negative = Positive.

Yes, that’s it. The perfect solution. It is a thing of beauty, is it not?

Negative = Positive was the brainchild of the Moron Queen, Patrizia Stefanoni, who looked at the three negative tests on the most important piece of evidence in the most important trial of her career and “accidentally” wrote the word “positive” on a form due to what the second court diplomatically called an “understandable oversight.”

Now the great Queen Patrizia could do PCR. PCR on a negative sample is the standard test for contamination in a genetics lab — even the slightest contamination shows up clearly on a blank sample magnified by the magic of PCR. “Negative controls” are used routinely in all labs — advanced labs with reverse pressure and ultraviolet decontamination and low-end labs like Patrizia’s — to check for the ever-present contamination. A microscopic spec of dust carrying DNA can easily contaminate a sample even in advanced labs with careful technicians.

So a negative sample doesn’t always come back negative after amplification. Just because the knife tested negative three times doesn’t mean it would always be negative. Patrizia’s approach was brilliant in its simplicity. Call the negative sample positive, amplify it using PCR, hope to get a tiny signal, say your lab doesn’t have contamination, and, above all, make absolutely sure that under NO circumstances, including a court order, do you release negative controls done by the lab technicians since the contamination will show up there as well of course. Then all you have to do is keep a straight face as you take away someone’s life. Easy as pie if your name is Stefanoni. After all, even though the knife DNA was contamination, it was obvious Knox did it; just look at her.

And so it came to pass that the great Queen Patrizia strode into the courtroom with her fashionable boots and her mane of thick black hair and stated clearly and unequivocally that contamination simply doesn’t occur in her lab. The tiny signal she got from the negative sample that matched Meredith’s DNA was therefore not contamination and the original triple negative result must have been wrong. The great Patrizia had in fact made a very fortunate mistake in classifying the negative sample positive because the amplification result proved that the sample had actually been positive all along and the kitchen knife, far from being used to cut bread, was actually part of a murder most foul.

The Stefanoni gambit created a wondrous Kornbluthian phrase, never before uttered in a courtroom: “presumed LCN sample.” Let us parse this wondrous phrase. The knife swab was presumed to be a sample that, if only it had been analyzed more accurately, would have registered as LCN (meaning extremely tiny) rather than as triple negative because it must have really had blood on it even though it seemed not to. And there is one and only one forensics genetics lab in the world that never has contamination — the one controlled by the great Queen Patrizia.

No one before had ever had the balls to even try to introduce a negative sample as evidence, withhold the negative controls, and claim that contamination simply was not an issue. The Knox defence didn’t have access to the lab data so they couldn’t get their hands on the routine negative controls that are automatically run. Stefanoni released only the data she chose to release.

And so the Massei court became the first court in history to find someone guilty based on a DNA sample that started out negative, became positive only after amplification, and was presented with no control data to back it up.

In the U.S., the initial negative result would immediately disqualify the sample and it would not be admissible at all, much less become a lynchpin in a murder conviction. Peter Gill, the inventor of modern forensic genetics and probably the world’s foremost forensic geneticist, said in his book that the knife sample gave a “classic” contamination signal. But Knox was put away anyway.

Knox once said of her beauty, “I’m not that pretty . . . I’m not Helen of Troy.” But she is. How many women can say they turned negative into positive? Launching a thousand ships was nothing.

Years later, when the second court repeatedly demanded that Stefanoni finally turn over the negative controls, she repeatedly refused, stating that the court had all the information it needed and issuing veiled threats to institute one of Italy’s ubiquitous slander suits over the court’s vile insinuations that she was hiding something.

The second court asked two of Italy’s top geneticists (not morons) to examine the DNA evidence — such as it was. The independent experts noted the triple negative result and the likely contamination and the unfortunate lack of negative control data. They provided the most concise characterization of Stefanoni’s negative-equals-positive-no-negative-control charade on record: “incomprehensible.”

And that was that. The moron judge was over-ruled by an honest judge and Knox boarded a plane where, in the exhuberance of her deliverance, the emotional young woman, now fluent in Italian, kept forgetting to speak English to her parents.

Peter Gill is, like the Kerchers, a British citizen. Peter Gill, like every other geneticist in the world, regards the Knox case as a grotesque miscarriage of justice. If a rational word is spoken and there are only morons there to hear it, does it make a sound?

No. The Kercher family still, to this day, believe Knox is a vile murderer. Will they ever see the light of day? Will they ever realize the Perugia police first killed their daughter by releasing Guede and then cynically used them to railroad Knox and Sollecito? Are they stupid or just gullible?

The fact is, without the support of the Kercher family, the case against Knox and Sollecito would never even have gone to trial. Had they declared the police case absurd from the start, their moral authority as the victim’s family would have carried the day. Arturo de Felice, Giuliano Mignini, Patrizia Stefanoni, Rita Ficarra, and the other morons would have been laughed out of town.

But it was not to be.

3. Anything is Possible, Mr. and Mrs. Kercher

Having lost their daughter to a deranged maniac with a pocket knife and no money, the Kerchers wanted to believe their daughters death was something less horribly banal. So they believed the knife story concocted by police morons.

The kitchen knife police took from Sollecito’s apartment was much too large to have been the murder weapon, so it didn’t actually matter whether the lab found anything on it because the wounds on Meredith’s throat were obviously made by a pocket knife, not by a large kitchen knife. But Amanda’s lovely hands had cut bread with Sollecito’s knife meaning her beautiful DNA was on the handle.

The “presumed LCN sample” gambit turned water into wine for the prosecution: Meredith’s DNA was officially on the blade of a big kitchen knife randomly selected from amongst the many kitchen knives in Sollecito’s drawer. Amanda on the handle, Meredith on the blade: done deal, likelihood be damned.

The too-large knife was inches from being the official murder weapon. But it was way too big. What to do?

No problem. We cannot in fact say all three wounds on Meredith’s throat were caused by a pocket knife. Theoretically, the final slashing wound that opened up Kercher’s throat before she drowned in her own blood could have been made by any sharp object — from a broken bottle to an axe to a pocket knife to a carefully-wielded kitchen knife.

Police told Meredith’s grieving family that two knives must have been used on their beloved’s throat with the assailants switching from the small pocket knife that made the first two, non-fatal wounds to the too-large, randomly selected, triple-negative-but-really-positive kitchen knife. Yes, in the middle of the assault, the assailants switched knives and carefully made a pocket-knife-sized slash with a large kitchen knife. It’s possible. Knife switching happens all the time. Well it could, theoretically happen. Besides, Meredith’s DNA was found on the knife blade after the three negative tests were ignored and the sample was amplified anyway. So there.

Morons everywhere believe and still believe this bushwah wholeheartedly. The Kerchers follow along, ever gullible.

2. Every Horror Movie Needs a Bloody Shower Scene

The oops-we-forgot-to-record-it confession confirming the nonsensical police theory and the gigantic triple negative knife that magically became positive in the lab that doesn’t release control results even when the court requests it have their places as true derring do in the annals of morondom. But the Perugia police may have set unbreakable records in this case. They may have found a low point in public stupidity that makes a good case for rivaling what you might see in a Monty Python sketch.

I know, it’s hard to believe. Read on.

Amongst the weaponry employed by Italian police officers are such diverse elements as phenolphthalein, cameras, and tabloid reporters. The Perugian Inquisition gave the gullible public and Meredith’s family a real treat when they treated Knox’s bathroom with phenolphthalein and waited a few hours. The bathroom now appeared to be covered in blood. Get out the camera. Now we have a weapon to wield against the beautiful Amanda.

And wield it they did.

The police made no statements whatsoever about their psychotic little photograph. They simply released it to the press. Morons were, as you might expect, rapturous, but in no danger of overdosing as there is no known limit to the stupidity a moron can ingest without ill effect.

The picture of the “bloody bathroom that Amanda Knox showered in after the murder” even made it onto a CNN newscast, proving once again that morons lurk everywhere.

Perhaps the best of Monty Python Comes to Perugia is not the Spanish Inquisition sketch, but the witch scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “We did do the nose. And the hat. But she’s a witch.”

Worth a watch if you haven’t seen it.

1. Logic is a Wreath of Pretty Flowers Which Smell BAD

When grotesque stupidity lurks under a judges robes, be afraid.

Knox left footprints in her own house. The footprints, needless to say, tested negative for blood. In fact, ALL tests to determine Knox’s involvement in the murder were negative except for the stand-up-to-a-dozen-police-officers-in-a-foreign-country psychological test which she failed.

But a thousand negative chemical tests would not sway the great Judge Massei. He is a man with the courage of his convictions! As part of his 400-page decision he wrote that negative tests don’t matter. Here it is word for word from page 282 of the English translation:

“It must be noted that the negative result for blood does not necessarily indicate that no blood was present.”

The best part of this is that Judge Moron is entirely correct! He gets 100 percent on his moron exam. It is indeed true that the fact that a scientific test is negative for blood does NOT mean there was no blood. Indeed, there might well have been blood. We don’t know and will never know that Knox had NOT stepped in Kercher’s blood and had NOT tracked it all over her house. Maybe she did. In fact, Amanda Knox might be guilty, guilty, guilty even if a million chemical tests come out negative.

Morons do so enjoy dropping science like a load of bricks.
But wait! We can do that ourselves, just for kicks.
The great Judge Massei will be our gracious host;
he’ll tell us all that Knox is a very shapely ghost.
How else could she commit a grisly murder and leave no trace?
Indeed, science can never prove that that was NOT the case.

Our hero, Dr. Massei, explained the damning evidence against Knox with such wonderful clarity and detail: a sample swabbed from a large area of the girls’ bathroom sink which they had shared for weeks did in fact contain DNA from (guess who?) both girls — shocking evidence of murder; Knox’s footprints in Knox’s house tested negative for blood, but might really have been positive if only the test had been more sensitive; the knife tested negative three times, but if PCR shows a faint signal and Patrizia says there is no contamination that’s good enough — who needs negative controls?; the experienced and athletic burglar named Rudy Guede would have found it so terribly difficult to climb a few feet up a wall and so Knox had obviously let him in — the defence video showing someone scaling that very wall in less than three seconds is irrelevant; finally, and most important, Knox’s transparent attempt to implicate poor Patrick Lumumba and fool the honest police who just wanted the truth implicates her — we don’t need a recording of the interrogation.

Massei distorted no facts and made no false statements; he simply confiscated Knox’s twenties and thirties and explained himself in full detail.

The Massei decision is, in fact, a beautiful document, perhaps more beautiful even than Amanda Knox at her most alluring peak. It is as fine an example of a self-refuting document as exists since reading it once is more than enough to convince non-morons that Knox and her absurdly unlucky virgin are innocent beyond a shadow of doubt. No defence team was needed at all. If only Kornbluth were here to see the reality of his vision: 400 pages of pure word play trying to pass itself off as a legal decision.

Case closed. Those were the beautiful words uttered by the world class idiot Felice at his frighteningly mindless press conference in 2007 when the terrible loss of Meredith Kercher was still fresh. Today, the Italian Supreme Court having vacated Knox and Sollecito’s convictions in their shocking move on Friday 27 March 2015, the not-quite-so-delectable Amanda Knox lives and writes relatively quietly. I note here, sadly, that Kercher’s family members — John and Arline and Stephanie and Lyle — were unhappy that the whole absurd case was put to rest and have thus been formally inducted into the panoply of morons where they will most likely remain for eternity.

I’m so sorry for all concerned, including the survivors.

Posting in the Crazy House

It is painful, even excruciating, to realize that my fellow humans may lack empathy, embrace cruelty, and/or renounce rationality. Somehow our ability to put innocent people in prison after a careful process involving highly trained scientists, police, lawyers, and judges and leave them there or even kill them (Todd Willingham, Earl Washington, Anthony Yarbough and many others besides Amanda Knox) is worse than anything else we humans do; even a war in which 50 million die is not, in some ways, quite so unreasonable as Yarbough spending 20 years of his life in prison or Willingham being executed or Washington’s confessions to numerous crimes (including giving Eve the apple) being believed.

Knox, with her case followed by millions and, at length, spawning books, BBC documentaries, movies, comments on news sites, comments at the same level from Harvard professors (maybe Dershowitz should write for the tabloids), and widespread incredulous outrage from human beings, has created a whole new class of injustice in which it’s not just the system failing us, it’s whole nations, whole peoples. Perhaps this is why I, without good reason, think about the Knox case so much even though others have suffered more.

As an exercise, I posted comments on a news site in which I argued that Amanda and Raffaele were guilty. I did this to the best of my ability but did not stoop to leaving out crucial facts or making up nonsense. I tried to argue powerfully, eloquently, and honestly, but did not entirely eschew the occasional low blow. Of course, when one does this, it reads as nonsense. Nevertheless, I did learn something. The mindless people – not stupid people as they do not all have low IQ’s as Dershowitz proves – who believe in the modern-day Perugian fairy tale have, I think, an extremely simple set of beliefs: first, no one would tell police, under any circumstances whatever, that they were present at a murder when they were, in fact, not; second, once you have what amounts to a confession, all other evidence may be interpreted from the standpoint of guilty until proven innocent. Indeed, Massei’s verdict overtly reverses the usual standard of justice. This is assuming, of course, that at least some of the people who say they believe Knox is guilty actually do believe this and are not simply monsters who know she is innocent. Maybe they just think it’s all a big game. Who knows?

What follows below are two comments I posted on news sites where the typical commenters are, for the most part, “people” who cause me to doubt what species I belong to.

Comment 1:

Knox and Sollecito are obviously deranged but dangerously clever. They used a kitchen knife to make a wound that looked like it came from a pocket knife and then they cleaned the kitchen knife exceptionally well and then used it again for cooking and just tossed it into a drawer with half a dozen other knives. They probably figured no one would test a knife that didn’t seem to fit the wound. But they thought wrong. The investigators not only zeroed in on the correct knife right away, but they also didn’t stop after three tests on the knife came up negative for blood, for anything human, and for any type of DNA. Thank goodness they broke international protocols and did the amplification procedure anyway on the apparently-clean knife. Their positive result matching Meredith’s DNA obviously does NOT mean the lab was contaminated; in fact, it means Knox and Sollecito didn’t clean the knife quite well enough. The pair of murderers left at least one cell from Meredith on the knife which the PCR procedure amplified into the DNA equivalent of a billion cells which were then analyzed and matched to Meredith (it was a perfect match, absolutely unassailable unless you believe the contamination theory).

And thank goodness for the persistence of the Perugia cops. They knew Knox was lying and they knew she and Lumumba had killed Meredith. They explained this at the post-arrest press conference: “Initially, the American gave a version of events we knew was not correct. She buckled and made an admission of facts we knew were correct and from that we were able to bring them all in.” Later police explained that they used what they called the psychological method to solve the crime, essentially studying Knox’s behavior and reactions to identify her as the killer. They clearly succeeded and they are clearly a formidable investigative team.

It was just a matter of breaking Ms. Knox. Once they got her to admit that Lumumba had sex with Meredith and then killed her, they were able to arrest both the Congolese bar owner and the Seattle native Knox. Later the cops were able to nail Knox for slander when they found out that actually the bloody handprint belonged to Rudy Guede who removed Meredith’s blood-soaked jeans and then sexually assaulted her while she was choking to death on her own blood (the blood on the front of her jeans and Guede’s DNA in her vagina make it clear that the fatal wound preceded removal of the clothing). Knox was there of course (as she admitted) and knew what really happened, so she was obviously purposely misleading the police when she described the sexual assault and the murder in the wrong order. Really Knox should have gotten two extra prison terms for her vile slander: one for saying Lumumba raped Meredith and one for saying he killed her. It’s a good thing Knox’s boss had enough customers that night to give him a minute-by-minute alibi completely covering the time that Knox, Sollecito, and Guede spent murdering poor Meredith.

If only the cops had collected the bra clasp early on when they first picked it up. If they hadn’t left it lying around for so long (46 days, come on guys!), they would have been able to identify all four (or five or six or more) of the male DNA signatures on the bra clasp and arrest ALL of the people who were involved in Meredith’s murder. We’ll never know exactly how many people committed this murder because of this serious oversight on the part of the cops who otherwise did a terrific job except for a few mistakes: not taking the body temperature of the victim when she was discovered, not taking proper care of the computer hard drives they took into custody, and, worst of all, allowing the bra strap itself to degrade so that it cannot be retested to 1) confirm Sollecito’s presence in the room and 2) identify the rest of the gang. When I think of all the murderers who are still at large, a whole deranged group who murdered that poor girl for fun, it makes me sick.

The true genius of the pair of murderers we do know about is the cleanup job they did or seemed to do. What most people don’t realize is that they didn’t simply clean up their DNA and leave Guede’s. They clearly planned the whole thing from the beginning. They undoubtedly both wore gloves and probably caps too to prevent any hairs from them from becoming part of the crime scene. They must have purposely let Guede do most of the dirty work and they undoubtedly thought that no one would believe that they could have killed Meredith without leaving any DNA behind (except for the bra clasp which they probably figured the police wouldn’t bother collecting – and they were almost correct).

This explains why they acted in such an obvious way, kissing each other at a murder scene(!); they thought their DNA trick would prevent anyone from suspecting them no matter how they acted. But they didn’t realize that the Perugian police would see right through their plan. The police and forensic investigators weren’t fooled, they didn’t focus on the lack of DNA at the scene AND they kept at it with Sollecito’s kitchen knife until they got a positive result AND they collected the bra clasp eventually AND, most important of all, they broke Knox who obviously isn’t nearly as tough or smart as she thinks she is.

Most importantly, we have to thank Judge Massei and the rest of the panel for finding them guilty in the first trial. Faced with the luminol footprints that tested negative for blood, he could have just left it at that, but he realized that luminol reacts to blood and, just because one test seems to show that there was no blood and just because the luminol print could, theoretically, be bleach or fruit juice, doesn’t mean you have to discount this evidence. Also, he knew that the swab taken in the bathroom sink that showed Meredith’s and Knox’s DNA mixed together could have been explained away because Knox used the bathroom. But Judge Massei, looking at all the evidence together, was able to conclude that the luminol footprints probably actually were blood and that the swab with the mixed DNA in the bathroom probably actually was a result of the murder. Of course, these things alone might not have been enough for a conviction. The key for Massei was seeing the big picture, from Knox’s admission that she was present when Lumumba raped and murdered Meredith all the way to the luminol footprints and the mixed DNA in the sink.

And, for the record, all police interrogations are a little harsh. It doesn’t mean all confessions should be ignored. Even if one of the cops gave Knox a smack in the back of the head to jog her memory (this cannot be proven and there was no bruising or any identifiable injury at all), it wouldn’t matter. She obviously needed a little help to do what she needed to do and tell the police what happened.

Comment 2:

I really don’t see why everyone thinks I’m being sarcastic. People who agree with me that Knox was there think I’m really a Knox supporter and Knox supporters are complimenting me. It’s surreal.

I think Knox was there because she said she was there and I believe her. It’s as simple as that. I don’t believe the backpedaling she’s done since her statements at 1:30 am and 5:45 am on 6 November 2007.

She said, and I quote, “I do not recall whether Meredith was there or arrived afterward. I struggle to remember these moments, but Patrik had sex with Meredith with whom he was infatuated, but I do not recall whether Meredith had been threatened beforehand. I recall confusedly that he killed her.”

That statement speaks for itself. Her other statement about 4 hours later reads in part as follows:

“I cannot recall how much time they stayed together in the room but can only say that at a certain point I heard Meredith screaming and I, frightened, covered my ears. Then I don’t remember anything anymore, I am very confused in my head. I do not recall whether Meredith was screaming and if [I? she?](*) also heard thuds [tonfi] because I was involved, but I was imagining what could have happened.”

Again, this is pretty clear and stands on its own.

I realize that Lumumba didn’t (and would never) kill anyone. He’s a gentle, decent man. But he never admitted to being present when Meredith was killed. Guede did admit this as did Knox. I realize also that no one had sex with Meredith and that the brutal attack came before the sexual assault.

Here’s what I think happened: Probably Knox let Guede in, helped him subdue Meredith, slashed her “friend’s” throat with the kitchen knife while Guede held her down (or perhaps it was the other way around), then helped him remove Meredith’s bloody jeans, and then watched in fascination as he fingered Meredith’s vagina as she was dying. Knox, of course, was smart enough to wear gloves. Feeling a little guilty about having helped to murder her housemate and “friend”, she covered the victim’s body. This is something the police, who spoke at length about the psychological method they use to solve crimes, realized that only a woman would do.

The fact that Knox twice says she was confused and says “do not recall” or “I was imagining” or “I don’t/struggle to remember” seven times in the above excerpts doesn’t mean we should ignore her confession. She confessed. Period. She, like Guede, is obviously a very confused person with many serious issues.

It’s true that her confession doesn’t fit in some ways with the actual crime as it happened and it’s also true that experts say that confessions that get the details wrong may be false confessions. But Knox did get a detail correct. As others have pointed out here, Knox said the victim screamed and that she (Knox) covered her ears. That seems like a pretty precise detail to me.

Once a Knox supporter (I used to be one but I changed my mind) realizes that the confession should be taken for what it is, it is easy enough to realize that the other evidence, such as the kitchen knife, should not be discounted.

Without the confession, the fact that the knife was tested for blood (TMB) and this test was negative and that it was tested for anything human (“species-specific test”) and this was also negative and that it was tested for DNA of any kind (Q-bit fluorometer) and this was a third negative would lead me to doubt the knife evidence. But the police knew Knox had confessed. They knew she was guilty, so they did the PCR amplification in spite of the three negative tests and did get a positive match to Meredith Kercher’s DNA (there is no question about this match as others have pointed out).

As Italian jurists have repeatedly explained, an “osmotic” evaluation of the evidence, in which each piece of evidence affects the evaluation of each other piece of evidence so that the evidence may be seen as a whole, allows us to conclude that the DNA found as a result of the PCR amplification was NOT due to contamination and was in fact on the knife from the beginning despite the three negative tests.

And suppose it was contamination after all. Knox supporters should remember: she confessed to being present when Meredith died.

NOTE: The second comment actually received a neutral response from a guilter and it showcases I think the power of scenarios. When you just make up what might have happened, as is legal in Italian courtrooms, you encourage all concerned to suspend disbelief as if watching a movie. The result: reality and logic go out the window.

Down the Rabbit Hole with Amanda Knox: Forsaking Legal Shangri-la

In polite society, we are supposed to presume an accused person is innocent and piously lay the burden of proof squarely upon the shoulders of the prosecution. Few of us actually do that, however, when evaluating a case. How can we? Even as members of a jury, it is difficult or perhaps even impossible for human beings to avoid saying to themselves, “Suppose she’s guilty, what would that look like?”

“Innocent until proven guilty” is legal Shangri-la, a perfect world that even the most disciplined juror is likely to depart from at some point, perhaps fleetingly, but more likely for a modest interval. Let us do that here, openly, with the Amanda Knox case. Let us admit that part of anyone’s decision process must be to assume guilt and see where it leads.

Amanda Knox was Meredith Kercher’s housemate and does not have an airtight alibi. Thus, she may have murdered Ms. Kercher and we will assume she did just that. She had means if her boyfriend (Raffaele Sollecito) and Rudy Guede were willing to help her as the prosecution theorized. Knox did not have an identifiable motive unless there was something going on between her and Meredith that no one knew about, which is of course possible. She certainly had plenty of opportunity as Meredith was home alone on 1 November 2007 and Knox was close by with keys to the house.

Means? Maybe. Motive? No. Opportunity? Yes.

The first hurdle we must cross with our presumption of guilt is Rudy Guede. A drifter/burglar, Guede was present in the room when Kercher died; he fled to Germany the next day after spending time at a dance club the night of the murder. On the run in Germany, short of cash and sleeping on trains, he spoke to his friend via Skype and described the events that caused him to literally have Meredith’s blood on his hands. He first told his friend that he wasn’t in the house at all, but then said he was there and had been making out with a willing Kercher when he left her briefly to go to the bathroom. He heard the doorbell ring and then heard Kercher scream at which point he left the bathroom, fought with her assailant – a man slightly shorter than himself who insulted him in Italian and then ran off – and finally tried to save Meredith who was bleeding to death. He said Knox was not there and indicated he didn’t know who Sollecito was – by this time, both were in jail. Guede also said that Meredith had complained to him of missing money and, at the same time, told him she had quarreled with Amanda. There is no evidence Kercher had any prior association with Guede.

The police heard every word of the Skype conversation.

Since we assume Knox was present at the murder scene, it must be the case that Guede was purposely concealing her participation. Based on his conversation with his friend, he seemed to be trying to make it look like Amanda was innocent of the murder, but guilty of stealing Meredith’s money. Guede of course is not a reliable witness: he had been arrested for burglary a week before but had been released, he was implicated by hard evidence in two other burglaries, and he almost certainly murdered Kercher. Since we don’t have any reason to trust him – he dramatically changes his story even during the brief conversation with his friend – we are free to discount his statements and to assume Knox and Guede are guilty.

However, Guede’s claim that Amanda was not there is bolstered by the physical evidence. Quarts of Meredith Kercher’s blood were spilled in the room. Guede himself was covered in blood: he left bloody handprints and bloody footprints in multiple places in the room. He also left DNA traces on the victim’s clothing and on her purse and inside her body. Knox lived in the house, but there was no trace of her in Kercher’s room at all: no DNA; no handprints, gloved or otherwise; no footprints; nothing. (Small footprints that could have belonged to Amanda or to her housemates were found using luminol, but these tested negative for blood.)

So we have one unreliable witness as well as missing physical evidence indicating Knox was NOT present at the crime scene. But she may still have been there. We can say that in addition to being willing to kill for no apparent reason and being surprisingly persuasive, Amanda Knox was also extraordinarily cautious: she undoubtedly wore gloves (probably multiple layers) and seems to have convinced Guede to lie for her during any phone conversations he might have after the murder.

And Ms. Knox was exceptionally well informed. She apparently knew Guede’s MO for breaking and entering and attempted to duplicate his usual entry method by breaking her other housemate’s window (Filomena’s) with a rock. Thus, she set up a scene that looked a lot like something the Perugia cops were rather familiar with – a Guede break-in. It was good enough to hoodwink the second jury who acquitted her and allowed her to walk away after serving 4 years in prison (Knox returned to Seattle in 2011). Her handiwork, though well done, was not sufficiently professional to fool the first and third juries who saw through it and convicted her not only of the murder but also of staging a crime scene.

Our presumption of guilt remains intact although it does now depend upon Knox having some unusual abilities and knowledge. One last hurdle remains.

After committing what was almost the crime of the century, a dangerously-persuasive, glove-wearing, burglary-scene-staging, no-motive-needed murderess made an interesting pair of decisions that are somewhat troubling: first, she retained no lawyer; second, she offered the police her full, unreserved cooperation. Her two surviving housemates hired lawyers immediately, made statements with their lawyers present, and went home. Ms. Knox chose instead to spend all night at the police station the same day her victim’s body was discovered.

Our presumed guilty case must now be reconciled with this behavior. In the days after the murder, Knox spent 20-40 hours (accounts vary) at the police station frequently repeating her claim that she was at her boyfriend’s house the night of the murder, but finally broke down sometime after midnight on the fourth day and admitted she was present at her house while her housemate was being raped and murdered. Unfortunately, her statements are filled with uncertainty and, of even more concern, she got the details wrong. This presents us with our most intransigent problem thus far.

Here are excerpts from her two statements, taken down by police in Italian and later translated into English. One statement was signed by Knox at 1:45 am and the other at 5:45 am on 6 November 2007.

I felt confused . . . 
I do not recall whether Meredith was there or arrived afterward . . .
I struggle to remember these moments . . .
I do not recall whether Meredith had been threatened beforehand . . .
I recall confusedly that he
[P. Lumumba] killed her . . .

I am very confused in my head . . .
I heard Meredith screaming . . .
I don’t recall whether Meredith was screaming . . .
I imagined what could have happened . . .
When I woke up . . . I was in bed with my boyfriend.

Patrick Lumumba, a bar owner, was Amanda’s boss and was, as usual, at his bar making his living; he raped no one, murdered no one.

Normally, “breaking” a suspect and getting a load of garbage for your trouble is very bad news. In fact, police usually withhold some details from the press hoping to hear them related by the suspect: a confession containing unpublicized details is rock solid, unshakeable. Knox’s confession was, from this standpoint, a disaster: A bizarre fairy tale, it was every bit as accurate as a wild guess.

Knox’s cooperative behavior and fabricated confession need not derail our presumption of guilt, however. Consider the following: “The naiveté was pretense; in reality, she was a daring young woman, overconfident and arrogant, eager to play cat and mouse with police interrogators. When they finally broke her, she gave them nothing but nonsense as a ruse in a last-ditch effort to save herself.”

In fact, Knox’s claim that Lumumba murdered her housemate was itself a crime (calumny) for which she would later be convicted. As for the interrogation, we do have to admit no lawyer was present which made it technically inadmissible in the murder trial. But this changes nothing. We remain free to assume what many say is obvious: she was lying about Lumumba but telling the truth about watching her housemate die.

How is our “house of guilt” doing? We’ve constructed it assiduously; however, the support beams do appear to be a trifle weak. We would be much happier if Knox had mentioned Guede in her early morning breakdown (even police didn’t know about him at that time) or if she had left some DNA on Meredith’s body or if Guede had told his friend she was the ringleader.

Unfortunately, as it stands, it wouldn’t take much of a temblor to bring our presumption of guilt down upon our heads. In Italy, by the way, if there happens to be an earthquake and if, God forbid, your house should fall on you and kill you, your family can actually charge seismologists with a crime. The seismologists might even get prison sentences. (Yes, really.) Now suppose our house of guilt should collapse. You will be crushed, rhetorically, but you will have no legal recourse, even in Italy. Thus, I am bound to remind you in the most emphatic possible way, you can walk out of this little house we’ve built any time. Please remember, earthquakes of all kinds are quite common in Italy. I’m just saying.

Let’s get back to the story. It is difficult to fathom the reasons for Lumumba’s arrest. The night of the murder, he was – surprise! – pouring drinks for customers. Knox told police he had texted her telling her not to come in as it was a slow night.

But in the 1:45 am statement – written by police in Italian and signed by Knox – Knox changed her story:

I received a message on my cellular phone from Patrik, who told me that the premises would remain closed that evening, because there were no customers, and thus I would not need to go to work. I responded to the message by telling him that we would see each other at once; I then left the house, telling my boyfriend I had to go to work.  

Police might have wondered how Knox got it into her pretty little head that this popular, gentle, family man, who had been living and working peacefully in Perugia for many years, had killed Meredith. “What are you smoking, Ms. Knox?” was one possible response. They could have brought Lumumba in for questioning and verified his alibi. They didn’t.

Virtually the moment the exhausted college kid “remembered” leaving her boyfriend’s house, meeting her boss, and sitting in her kitchen while Patrick raped and murdered her housemate who may or may not have been screaming, police arrested the nonplussed Lumumba.

They held the law-abiding businessman for two media-filled weeks with the result that his business shut down permanently; years have passed and he still has not been able to re-open his bar. Later, police indicated they were shocked, shocked to find out he was serving customers when Meredith was murdered.

No one knows what they were thinking. I can feel the ground shaking.

Amanda Knox has repeatedly claimed she was heavily pressured by police interrogators and told exactly what she was supposed to “remember.” According to Knox, the Lumumba-dunnit squad came up with their own nonsensical narrative and forced it on the one surviving housemate who hadn’t hired a lawyer. Perhaps she’s lying.

It’s too bad the interrogation wasn’t recorded. Police recorded every one of Knox’s cell phone calls starting 3 November, but unfortunately neglected to record the interrogation. The lead prosecutor, a man by the name of Giuliano Mignini, explained why in a CNN interview: Perugia’s police had “significant budget problems,” he said.

No one has ever calculated the total amount of money spent investigating the Knox case, so we can’t  compare it to the estimated cost of establishing a colony on Mars or to the value of the gold in Fort Knox. We can only say they spent lavishly. In addition to the phone taps, police were recording Amanda and Raffaele as they conversed alone in the waiting room. Later, they recorded conversations on prison phones as well as almost forty thousand calls made by Sollecito’s family members over a multi-year period. But there was not enough money to record the interrogation. Another decision in the difficult to fathom category.

The air of mystery surrounding the behavior of Perugia’s police is becoming a dense fog. The windows are rattling.

When the sun rose after Knox’s wee-hours Lumumba-dunnit session, it was the 6th of November 2007. Knox, Sollecito, and Lumumba were all jailed. At a triumphant press conference, the chief of police made the following statement.

Initially, the American gave a version of events we knew was not correct. She buckled and made an admission of facts we knew were correct and from that we were able to bring them all in.

Mr. de Felice meant to brag but instead let the cat out of the bag. And “difficult to fathom,” found a whole new level. There is a low-pitched rumbling now. I do hope you got out of the house.

The guilty 20-year-old American girl we’ve been concocting with no history of violence and no motive who teamed up with someone she didn’t know to murder her housemate and got this man to lie to his friend for her and who somehow left no trace at a horrific crime scene while also staging a burglary fitting the man’s MO and who then practically lived at an Italian police station for four days – an act, it must be said, whose stupidity is so extreme it cannot be measured on any normal scale – where she chose to put an end to an aggressive interrogation (remain silent, IDIOT girl!!!) by confirming the cops’ ridiculous theories, all the better to fool us, is not going to come into focus, now or ever, despite all our attempts to conjure her.

The chief of police and the lead prosecutor themselves wrecked our presumption of guilt. While Guede was sleeping on trains in Germany, these public officials were busy dreaming up a “version of events” they “knew were correct,” putting their story into a young woman’s mouth during an unrecorded interrogation, and then, relying on what has to be the most hesitant “admission of facts” in the long history of interrogations, arresting the husband, father, and local bar owner known as Patrick Lumumba, a man we can confidently describe as the least-likely suspect in all of Perugia.

Knox and Sollecito were likewise unlikely suspects, to put it mildly, but that would be remedied. It was just a matter of rearranging the pieces on the chessboard while your opponent gets a cup of espresso. Police and prosecutors have provided us with many years’ worth of sick entertainment with their willingness to do whatever was necessary to make Knox and her hapless boyfriend look like suspects who might be detained by competent officials.

The twisted story of the vicious, seductive, insane Foxy Knoxy, written with the assistance of the tabloids, began in earnest when police released without comment a terrifying photograph of the blood-soaked bathroom where Knox had showered the morning after the murder, before she and her unfortunate boyfriend called the police. Knox claimed, incredibly, that she didn’t realize anything was wrong with the bathroom. Her bizarre, psychopathic behavior is truly amazing.

Except for the ‘truly’ part. The bathroom wasn’t actually covered in blood – there were a few drops on the sink and a dull footprint on a bathmat, that’s it. Actual pictures of the bathroom found in court documents are night-and-day different from the nightmarish vision released by police.

Here’s what happened: The police, while investigating the murder, treated the entire bathroom with phenolphthalein, a chemical that turns a delightful pink after a little while. The cops then snapped a dramatic photograph and – wink, wink, nudge, nudge – released the pic to a hungry press corps.

Stories about the shower in the bloody bathroom are still being told.

It doesn’t stop there. Prosecutors claimed, before the first trial, they had receipts that proved Knox had purchased bleach the morning after the murder in order to wash the house clean of her DNA. No such proof made it to the trial, however. Cleaning your DNA from a murder scene while leaving someone else’s untouched is impossible in any case, but that’s unimportant if your only goal is to get a million idiots to line up behind you.

It’s hard to imagine, but it gets worse. Once Knox was in prison, awaiting trial, a prison doctor told her she was HIV-positive and got her to list all her past lovers. This list was – you guessed it – promptly leaked to the press by the next corrupt official down the line. Amanda was of course perfectly healthy.

I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice. Hippocrates did not protect Amanda Knox and space considerations force us to stop here, with the phony HIV diagnosis. There is no need to continue in any event. We can simply say the list of prosecution tricks is a lot longer than the list of Knox’s lovers and leave it at that.

Here, in the land of rationality, we did not fall for the stories promulgated by the bizarre alliance between the tabloids and the prosecution, but we did assume guilt. Indeed, we labored mightily, but failed to create a portal by which Amanda-Knox-the-deadly-siren might enter the real world. We are left with the horribly banal: beautiful Meredith in the prime of life cut down by a nobody with a knife because she arrived home ten minutes too soon.

Our presumption of Knox’s guilt buckled, you might say, under its own weight. If even a presumption of guilt cannot stand, then Knox is innocent beyond a reasonable doubt. Of course, we still have some doubt. Maybe she did an amazing job pretending to be a naive young girl (she sure fooled her parents!). There is always doubt. But reasonable doubt? Not in this universe.

Post Script

After the police had spent four days and countless hours of expensive overtime for the interrogation team breaking a delicate young woman suffering from trauma and sleep deprivation, threatening her with prison, telling her that her boyfriend had disputed her account (he had not), getting her to doubt her own memory, and convincing her to fabricate a nonsensical story implicating both herself and her innocent boss, they shuffled off to her boyfriend’s house and found a knife in a drawer that could not possibly have been the murder weapon (it was much too large) and took it to the lab and tested it. Not surprisingly, lab tests confirmed no DNA on the knife and no blood on the knife.

HOWEVER, the lab proceeded with the full testing procedure anyway in violation of every international standard in the book and performed a duplication process called PCR capable of producing significant DNA from a single cell. This lab had tested dozens of samples containing large quantities of the victim’s DNA and was not, by any stretch of the imagination, properly equipped to guard against single-cell contamination. Of course, they got a positive result for the victim’s DNA on Raffaele Sollecito’s too-large kitchen knife and the prosecution declared they had found the murder weapon.

The violation of international standards by the police lab was confirmed by independent court-appointed DNA-testing experts at one of the most prestigious universities in Italy; their report was scathing and stated unequivocally that the knife could easily have become contaminated with a microscopic trace of the victim’s DNA while it was being handled and analyzed at the police lab.

Given that the knife was actually too large to have been the murder weapon anyway, you might wonder how the prosecutors kept observers in the courtroom from laughing at them. They came up with the following theory, beautiful in its simplicity: Meredith Kercher was murdered with two knives, not one. Guede and his accomplices grabbed her, pulled her hair, struck her, sexually assaulted her, and stabbed her twice in the throat with a small knife. This knife hit bone and slipped, cutting Guede’s hands. The trio of murderers then switched knives. Since the final, slashing wound could, theoretically, have been made by any sharp object, the prosecutors ask us to imagine that it was the kitchen knife, not the original smaller knife, that made the wound that left Meredith Kercher choking to death on her own blood.

And now we have the prosecution’s case in its full glory and at its full power. The two-knife theory explains why there was a microscopic trace of Kercher’s DNA on Knox’s boyfriend’s knife which explains why Knox eventually admitted to being present at the murder scene which explains why the Guede break-in appeared to have been staged which shows how diabolical Knox really is which helps to explain how she managed to avoid leaving any traces at the murder scene, why she thought she didn’t need a lawyer, and how she succeeded in confusing the police with her misleading accusation of an innocent man. As far as how she got Guede and Sollecito to go along with her desire to end her housemate’s life, that’s easy enough to explain: just look at how seductive she is. Add in some drug use and don’t worry overmuch about a motive and you’ve got yourself a murder.

We’ve come full circle. Previously, our presumption of guilt collapsed rather spectacularly. But I had withheld information. Is it now possible, keeping in mind the two-knife theory and the DNA evidence, to imagine Knox killing Kercher?

Certainly, if you’re Meredith’s parent or sibling, you are going to reasonably ask, “What exactly is my daughter’s/sister’s DNA doing on Raffaele Sollecito’s kitchen knife?” Explaining that it was a laboratory error (oops!) may, understandably, not carry much weight with the Kercher family. Even though the prosecution has abandoned logic and honesty and simply engaged in a witch-hunt, the Kerchers may have legitimate questions about the DNA testing. They have no motive to falsely accuse anyone, so we must assume the Kerchers really believe Knox and Sollecito murdered their beloved.

For the rest of us, however, the case is quite clear. We humans are good at telling stories like the two-knife theory. We could make up a story about how you must have paid Guede to murder to Meredith. That trip to the bank you made in October 2007 was rather suspicious. Why did you go to the bank on that particular day when it’s not your usual routine? Are you saying you can’t remember what your account balance was? Are you saying you suddenly gave up on years of good financial habits that particular October? We know you’re lying. With a dozen cops, the tag-team interrogation technique, and a few credible threats, we could have quite a party. Maybe we’ll even take you to a foreign country to have our little celebration. I’m sorry, but I don’t think you will enjoy it much.

Most people involved with the prosecution or on the various juries presumably know Knox and Sollecito are innocent; after all, they have quite a bit of information at their disposal, more than enough to prove the them that the two kids are innocent. It would be interesting to subject a number of the participants in what is essentially a noir farce to lie-detector tests in an effort to determine who actually harbors irrational beliefs and who is feigning irrationality. However, this assumes the prosecutors and jury members have actually taken the trouble to form an opinion about the case. They may not have. A child can wholeheartedly believe something he or she knows nothing about, simply parroting a parental belief. A weak student can memorize an idea and spit it back without having thought about it. For all we know, most of the people involved in the Knox case, including jurors, have no opinion about it at all!

 

The Tragedy of Dershowitz

I just watched him talking about how Amanda Knox could, if she had been tried in this country, possibly have received the death penalty because of the “considerable” evidence against her.

This is very frightening to me. The fact that a man like Dershowitz, a brilliant Harvard professor, a legal expert, could throw all reason into the trash and say something so utterly preposterous is deeply, deeply terrifying. It means anything goes. Perhaps I should buy a gun. Without reason, there is no civilization; we might as well be chimpanzees.

It’s not simply a matter of a difference of opinion. Whether or not we should keep soldiers in Afghanistan is an opinion. The Knox case has nothing to do with opinion. Saying there is “considerable” evidence against her is like saying there is “considerable” evidence that the holocaust never happened. It’s such nonsense that even talking about it is costly because you are lending legitimacy to an absurd idea.

There are many people who, like Dershowitz, give up any intellectual credentials they may have and make comments that are so stupid they can only be described as obscene. It is difficult to provide a clear, sensible explanation for this behavior: it could stem from a desire for attention or perhaps it is an indication that we are fundamentally irrational as a species, destined to never go far beyond the techno-chimp stage or maybe we should think of it in religious terms as ever-present evil manifesting itself. I don’t know.

No matter how you look at it, if some supposedly serious person “reasons” as follows: “heads I win; tails you lose,” you immediately know person in question is intellectually a child, incapable of adult reasoning. That Dershowitz, who I have to believe knows better, pulls this off while keeping a straight face (mostly) is certainly a sight to see.

Dershowitz ticked off five pieces of “very, very considerable” evidence, each one more nonsensical than the last, but I have the stomach right now to discuss only the first piece of “evidence” he mentioned. Of course, no one who has given up reason is going to be convinced by my discussion, but the rest of us need to see Dershowitz and many others who hold positions of respect and trust for what they really are: mere prancing royalty. So here we go.

Four days after Meredith Kercher was murdered, Knox was at the police station for her second all-night session with police. Knox had spent many hours during the three days previous at the police station, including the entire first night after the murder. During the final all-night session, the police may have pressured her to some extent. This is not necessarily wrong as the police do have a job to do, as long as they don’t overdo. The interview or interrogation (call it whatever you want) was not recorded and no lawyer was present even though the interrogation of a suspect is inadmissible under Italian law unless a lawyer is present. This fact doesn’t necessarily mean all that much either. Police may have decided not to do an admissible interrogation for any number of reasons – they needed information so perhaps they decided it was worth cutting corners if they were able to find the killer. Police all over the world will sometimes push the envelope and bend the rules to get results.

You’ll notice I am being extremely charitable to the Italian police here, taking their side as much as possible without throwing away all logic. The paragraph above is one-sided, but not absurdly so. Thus, I can present the prosecution’s side, but I am not allowed, as a serious commentator, to spout absurdities. If I do, I have sunk, like Dershowitz, to the level of the tabloids.

Let’s get on with the story. After maintaining repeatedly that she was at her boyfriend’s the night of the murder, Knox broke down sometime after midnight on the fourth day. She signed two statements that said she was present at her house when her housemate was murdered and that her boss, with whom she had had a text exchange the evening of the murder, was also there and that it was he who killed her housemate. These statements can be called confessions, admissions, or just statements, whatever you prefer.

Now comes the part where Dershowitz throws away his reputation and his standing. How do we interpret Knox’s statements about her boss? What are we allowed to say whilst retaining our credibility? We know Knox’s boss, a bar owner, was nowhere near the house that night – he had a rock-solid alibi.  Thus, Knox’s confession did include supporting details that only a witness or perpetrator could recite accurately, but the details were nonsense. What police got from Knox was no more accurate than if they had interrogated a random person off the street and asked them to make up a scenario for what might have happened the night of the murder.

Now what? Heads I win, tails you lose? Yes, says Dershowitz, this is how we do things downtown.

Had Knox’s confession contained actual details about the crime that were not common knowledge, this would obviously strengthen it as evidence. Accurate details of this sort are called “corroborating statements” in the interrogation business. In fact, a recorded confession containing corroborating statements is extremely strong evidence and could, by itself, be enough evidence for a jury to convict a suspect. Heads I win.

However, Amanda Knox provided no corroborating statements; she tried to, but they were fabrications. Aha! says Mr. Dershowitz. These fabricated statements, like correct statements, ALSO point to Amanda Knox’s guilt. Tails you lose.

Clever, clever girl she is, providing false details about the crime in a vain effort to throw us off. But she can’t fool us; we know she’s guilty. I’m Alan Dershowitz, I’m a Harvard professor, I understand logic. Heads I win, tails you lose. If she were tried in the U. S., she might very well get the death penalty (smile)! Oh, yes.

Of course, if you are an idiot and you begin with the premise that she is guilty, you will naturally interpret her apparent lack of knowledge about the crime as an attempt to throw us off the trail or confuse us or deflect blame from herself by implicating an innocent man. Knox knew her boss was at his bar that night surrounded by patrons, but this is irrelevant. It is obviously all part of her fiendish plot. Everything points to the guilt we know is there.

Knox’s ridiculous fabrication is actually exculpatory: As Dershowitz and every cop and every judge and every lawyer in the world knows, when a suspect confesses with fabricated details, we immediately have strong reason to doubt the person was even a witness much less the perpetrator.

When you include the fact that the police overtly treated Knox as a suspect but didn’t treat the interrogation in accordance with Italian law, you have an open and shut case of a coerced confession (the law was passed specifically to prevent coerced confessions). Italy’s highest court declared Knox’s confession inadmissible; needless to say, this has no effect on Dershowitz’s dazzling display of intellectual power.

“We know she’s a liar,” Dershowitz said. In fact, we know nothing of the sort. We know someone fabricated details about the murder during Knox’s late-night interrogation. Knox’s claim that it was the police who fabricated those details and pressured her to repeat them is entirely plausible and, in the absence of a recording, cannot be convincingly refuted.

Maybe all of this seems terribly complex and subject to many opinions. It is not. Knox got the details about the crime wrong in her confession. Period. She got it wrong. Dershowitz has chosen to interpret correct details as damning evidence AND also to interpret incorrect details as damning evidence. I would say his reasoning powers are at the level of sixth-grader, but this would be an insult to sixth-graders.

When Dershowitz dies, someone should scratch “Heads I win, tails you lose” on his gravestone.