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Helpless Female 101

As a semi-professional cynic, I like to brag about how I am never, ever surprised regardless of the feats of absurdity exhibited by humans and by instututions made of humans. But I must admit defeat. Vassar, that prestigious college in NY, has got my number.

A Strong Woman

Mary Claire Walker transferred to Vassar as a sophomore in 2011. A strong, confident woman, she was also a superb student and a fine athlete. She made friends and found a boyfriend too. One of her friends was Peter Yu, a freshman. She and Peter were both on the crew team and, as college chums will do, they confided to one another their romantic interests.

Rebounding

One night in February 2012, Mary Claire and Peter were hanging out together at a team party. Mary Claire had just broken up with her boyfriend and she told Peter. After the party, the pair, already drunk, walked arm in arm to a nearby drinking spot where they drank more and made out some. The would-be lovebirds made phone calls to their roommates to see if they could negotiate the guarantee of some precious privacy. The roommates couldn’t be reached but Mary Claire and Peter made their way to his room regardless. The two drunk athletes climbed four flights of stairs, split up to visit the bathrooms, and met at Peter’s room; Peter’s roommate wasn’t there. So far so good.

First the Oral Sex

Peter felt a little embarrassed. He was a virgin and he told his friend this would be his first time. Peter was also a little shy about how his body looked. Mary Claire kindly reassured him saying she knew what to do and that he looked fine. She decided a little oral sex would be a good start and she took on the role of teacher. Peter, a top student in more formal settings, was a quick study. Mary Claire complimented him on his technique expressing surprise that he would be so adept his first time. “Did you learn this on the internet?” she asked. Better and better.

Interruption

According to court documents filed many months later in what became a bitter dispute between Vassar College and Peter Yu, Mary Claire Walker outfitted her “student” with a condom and took his virginity. Neither Vassar nor Ms. Walker deny Peter’s version of events. The court documents also reveal that Peter’s roommate showed up while Peter and Mary Claire were engaged in sexual intercourse. The interloper left immediately, but the interruption caused Mary Claire to rethink what she was doing: She no longer wanted to have sex with Peter. She talked about her previous relationship, lamented its demise, got up, got dressed, and walked out as she of course has a perfect right to do even if it isn’t the nicest way to treat your virgin friend.

So much for that magical first sexual experience.

A Brief Aside

Mary Claire’s extensive communications with Peter after their sexual encounter are a monument of kindness and caring: she had hurt her friend and felt terrible about it. Her messages (most of which were sent to Peter via Facebook) are described and quoted below and can be read in full in public court documents. Ms. Walker was evidently a responsible young adult.

A year after Ms. Walker took full responsibility for hurting her friend, Vassar officials produced a new and bizarre account of her drunken sexual episode. Peter was suddenly NOT a hurt ex-virgin who watched his first lover walk away in the middle of sex; he was a now drunk man who took advantage of his friend who was so drunk she could neither consent nor resist.

Vassar says Mary Claire changed her mind. She eventually decided, according to Vassar officials, that actually she was “in shock” and “in denial” when she wrote to Peter in the weeks following their interrupted intercourse. According to Vassar officials, Mary Claire ultimately realized that she had written the messages “out of fear” although no threats or hostility from Mr. Yu was in evidence or even alleged.

Mary Claire’s wild change in perspective is, to put it mildly, suspicious. When you read her Facebook messages, it becomes clear (I think to anyone) that her reversal is so extreme that it implies manipulation. Human beings, in my experience, do not dramatically shift their entire view of reality unless they are being influenced from without, usually by multiple authority figures.

Don’t take my word for it. Here are the facts taken from court documents. Mary Claire’s detailed, extensive, unequivocal, crystal clear Facebook messages are quoted below. I did not cherry pick: it’s all there. Perhaps you’ll read what follows and find that you disagree with me though I don’t see how.

A Woman of Character

The day after their encounter, Mary Claire and Peter discovered that two people had noted Ms. Walker’s drunken condition and had reported their concern that Peter might be taking advantage of his friend. Mary Claire immediately communicated to Peter her firm belief that “you did nothing wrong” as well as her clear intention to “stand up for you” should it become necessary.

But Mary Claire wasn’t just powerful ally, she was an empathetic friend too. She went out of her way to explain to Peter that her lack of interest in pursuing a relationship with him wasn’t due to anything he had done; she just wasn’t ready for another relationship so soon after her breakup. She then explicitly apologized.

“I led you on,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

But even that wasn’t enough. “I had a wonderful time,” she assured the rejected freshman. “I don’t think less of you,” she said kindly.

Unless you have a heart of stone, you cannot fail to be impressed, upon reading Mary Claire’s messages, with her simple human decency and maturity. Almost a year later, Vassar officials ascribed all the messages to “fear” without any explanation.

Vassar would never present any evidence indicating Peter had ever caused anyone to be afraid of him nor would they present any evidence that he had done anything at all to make Mary Claire afraid. Not only was no such evidence ever presented, no one, not Vassar, not Mary Claire, not any witnesses, even made any unsubstantiated claims that Peter ever did or said anything remotely threatening. The phrase, “out of fear,” would simply be thrown around like some kind of bizarre incantation that explained the unexplainable.

The person who Vassar claims later realized she had been writing out of fear, told Peter via Facebook that she “should have known better” than to drink right after breaking up with her boyfriend. Indeed, the introspective young woman overtly took full responsibility for what happened. “I did not treat you very well,” she said. Her own actions she called “disrespectful.”

I never, ever meant to hurt you,” was an especially heartfelt part of Mary Clair Walker’s consolation to her friend who had lost his virginity with her. Yes, she made a mistake. But she did everything she could to make it right — until Vassar officials got their grubby hands on her.

My high opinion of Ms. Walker is based only on the Facebook messages, but they speak volumes. Unfortunately, when faced with authority figures with their own strong motivations, even the best of us can be influenced and pushed and coerced.

Mary Claire is obviously a strong, confident, kind, empathetic, ethical, sensitive, thoughtful, introspective, and caring young woman with a powerful sense of personal responsibility. She’s an amazing 21st century young woman who couldn’t quite stand up to malicious older adults determined to turn her mistake into a deeply anti-feminist political statement infantilizing all women while denying that a young woman can ever be mature and responsible and powerful.

People like Mary Claire Walker often attract scum determined to bring them down. Half the time these useless weaklings, acting in concert, succeed in their inveterate desire to keep their own low level as populous as possible.

I obviously have a pretty low opinion of certain Vassar officials although, as you’ll see, the president of Vassar herself shares my concerns.

Enter the Time Travelers

I can’t explain the details of what Vassar did in a rational way. It makes so little sense to me that I had to come up with a fantasy to explain it: Some people from the 1940’s traveled more than 70 years into the future, passed themselves off as modern people, and got jobs at Vassar. Nothing short of that can explain Vassar’s outrageous behavior.

In 1940 in the the United States, a woman could never become an adult. No matter how old she was, she would always be, to a certain extent, a child, not fully responsible for her actions. So Mary Claire Walker, a modern adult woman who appeared to be as responsible as any adult male ever was, was an impossibility as far as the time travelers were concerned.

Almost a year had passed. It was very nearly too late to file any sort of sexual misconduct complaint against Peter. Vassar has a one year statute of limitations on such complaints. But the tight timing actually worked out rather well for the time travelers.

Under the influence of the time travelers, Mary Claire tossed aside everything she had written to Peter and created a brand new narrative that made no sense whatsoever — this is how we can identify a narrative created by people who weren’t there. Nonsense is the telltale.

So Mary Claire had NOT led Peter on. Actually, she didn’t remember what happened. She had NOT mistreated Peter either. Actually, Peter had taken advantage of her drunkenness and she, Mary Claire, had been “unable to resist.” Finally, she had NOT been disrespectful to Peter. Actually, Mary Claire now said, she had been “helpless.”

The revisionism went on and on. Mary Claire had suddenly NOT had a wonderful time and now did NOT think Peter did nothing wrong. Needless to say, she was NOT going to stand up for him, just the opposite in fact. All she could say now, a year later, was that she didn’t remember much because it was “fuzzy.”

But wait! There’s more.

After their sexual encounter, Mary Claire Walker invited Peter Yu to come to her and her parents’ home for dinner. The invitation was a text message and was not saved, but Mary Claire doesn’t deny sending it. Did she invite him to her home “out of fear”? Is this Vassar’s claim? Do Vassar officials all have Ph.D.’s in making ridiculous claims while keeping straight faces? What is going on here?

Peter the Rapist

We don’t know what really happened. How could we? For all we know, Peter’s account of the night in question is entirely fabricated. Peter’s account wasn’t contradicted by Mary Claire or by anyone else, but then again we don’t have video do we? All we have are Mary Claire’s Facebook messages which are quite clear, but which do not contain a minute by minute account of events.

So Mary Claire may or may not have made the “my how quickly you learn” comment about Peter’s supposedly brilliant oral sex technique. Mary Claire may or may not have called her roommate to see if she could arrange for some privacy where she could take the young man’s virginity. I think these things happened, but we have only Peter’s word and Mary Claire’s “I don’t remember,” to go on.

Suppose Mary Claire had successfully contacted her roommate. Suppose the sex had taken place on Mary Claire’s bed. Would Peter have still been kicked out? Probably not. I doubt even the grubby little Vassar officials could have stomached going that far, but I may be underestimating them.

I can just imagine Vassar investigating Peter’s alleged sexual misconduct. “Do women ever want to have sex with virgins?” they would ask. “Could she really have had ‘a wonderful time’ having drunken sex with a virgin?” Obviously Peter’s virginity makes him more likely to be guilty of taking advantage of his friend. Obviously.

Maybe it’s just as well they didn’t bother with an investigation or even an attempt at appearing to be fair. Vassar ignored Ms. Walker’s Facebook messages, avoided questioning the young woman, reached a foregone conclusion, and unceremoniously kicked Peter Yu’s sorry butt out of their precious college without a second thought. The whole process took all of 18 days: Vassar is a model of efficiency.

I note here that Vassar’s president, Catherine Hill, has given the college’s policies and their appropriate application some real thought and has expressed concern that the policy essentially just says that any drunk woman is considered unable to consent. Since this policy has never been and would never be applied to a man, Ms. Hill is rightfully concerned: It is very scary. Two drunk kids, both out of it. Is it always the male at risk [for a sexual misconduct charge]?

So it’s not like everyone at Vassar is a dirt-dwelling grub. But Ms. Hill’s clarity of thought didn’t help Peter.

Now tossed out on the street, as it were, the high-achieving student who was no longer a virgin found that he had been blacklisted at every other top school from coast to coast. Gotta love that! Meanwhile Peter’s bewildered parents received a massive bill from Vassar for the balance of his sophomore year tuition.

Peter is now attending a fine college you have never heard of.

Good Luck with the Lawsuit, Dude

Of course, Peter is suing Vassar for discrimination — a team of New York lawyers took his case (while rejecting many similar, but less outrageous, cases). I don’t think the New York lawyers are claiming a time traveler invasion at Vassar, but they might as well be. No man has ever filed a complaint against a woman at Vassar for taking advantage of his drunkenness, so how can you prove discrimination?

Here’s the simple answer: You can’t.

Of course, Peter himself could, theoretically, have been the first man to claim he was too drunk to consent and, if his complaint had been ignored, he could then have claimed discrimination. Unfortunately for Peter, there’s a one year statute of limitation on sexual misconduct complaints.

Can you say, “No counter-complaint”? I knew you could. Mary Claire’s complaint was timed to perfection. Both parties were violating Vassar’s policy by having sex with a drunk person, but only one complaint would ever be filed.

You see, Vassar officials made sure Mary Claire filed her complaint exactly on the one year anniversary of her taking Peter’s virginity. So by the time Peter found out about the complaint against him, it was too late for him to file a counter-complaint against Mary Claire.

It’s beautiful when you think about it. Satan is grinning from ear to ear. Yes, the clock had run out on Peter Yu!

Peter’s civil lawsuit against Vassar has been as successful as his sex life. Judge Ronnie Abrams made things perfectly clear: If a man at Vassar got drunk and slept with a virgin woman and walked out on her and then apologized profusely to her for leading her on and then, a year later, tried to have her kicked out for taking advantage of him, and if the man was ignored by Vassar and the terribly dangerous woman who used to be a virgin was not prosecuted simply because she was a woman, then, and only then, would there be a basis for a discrimination claim. So Peter Yu has no case.

Got that? Peter and his lawyers “vehemently” disagree with this logic and are appealing.

What of Mary Claire?

Peter will be fine. He’s not at a name school, but that won’t matter. He’s a brilliant student and will get a great education anyway. He’ll avoid drunk women and probably casual sex in general and he’ll find success and happiness for his own reasons and maybe also just to spite the invaders from the past who tried to ruin his life. Good for him.

I wish I could say the same for Mary Claire. She didn’t say much at Peter’s hearing; she mostly just cried. That’s not the Mary Claire who wrote heartfelt notes to Peter.

I care about you and I never ever meant to hurt you and we were both drunk. — Mary Claire to Peter, April 2012.

I felt helpless and wrote the Facebook messages out of fear. — Mary Claire’s brand spanking new story as told by Vassar officials, February 2013.

Her change of heart is not just suspicious: it’s grotesque. What happened to Mary Claire Walker between April 2012 and February 2013? Who is responsible? I suspect Vassar is liable.

New Male Buddy System

Women have been using a buddy system for decades to protect one another at social gatherings that involve a lot of drinking. Men should do it too. It’s simple: when you see your friend about to leave the party with a drunk woman, you stop him.

“Dude, she’s drunk.”

“So am I. Whatever.”

“Dude, she can’t consent. You could get screwed.”

“That’s the plan! And she just gave me a hickey for god’s sake.”

“Dude, it doesn’t matter, she might not remember tomorrow. Or she might change her mind a year from now.”

“No way, she’s a friend of mine. She totally wants to hook up, she’s standing right here nodding her head and smiling. So back off.”

“Dude, it’s way too dangerous.”

“But, my good friend, facing danger is an important part of growing up, is it not?”

“Dude, she could text you the next day she had a wonderful time and they can still kick your ass out.”

“Can’t I face just a little danger?”

“Dude, no.”

The landscape has changed for men and this isn’t all bad. Encouraging men to scrupulously avoid even the appearance of taking advantage of a drunk woman certainly has benefits especially considering the prevalence of sexual misconduct on college campuses. On the other hand, women are obviously NOT made safer when we kick men like Peter Yu out of college. Also, denying even a woman’s self-proclaimed full responsibility has severe drawbacks for anyone who considers himself or herself a feminist or even a feminist sympathizer.

Actions taken at Vassar and other colleges perpetuate the pernicious idea that women are perpetual children. By ignoring Mary Claire Walker’s own sense of personal responsibility and kowtowing to the time travelers, Vassar has delivered a big fat backwards kick to women everywhere.

No one at Vassar said, “Mary Claire, from your Facebook messages it looks like you are an adult who got drunk and made a mistake. Is it possible that’s exactly what happened?” Instead, we were treated to another installment of the woman-as-perpetual-helpless-child meme. The fact that a woman can be incapacitated by alcohol and/or overpowered by a larger, stronger male does NOT mean she is a vulnerable infant in every situation.

Unless we want to go back to the 1940’s, we must affirm an adult woman’s absolute right to get drunk and have bad sex.

Repeat After Me 

Mary Claire was in the room with the Vassar employees who told her she had not had drunken sex on the rebound and was not a strong, confident, adult woman who had made a mistake. Vassar officials convinced her she needed to complete a special project to pass Vassar’s required “Helpless Female 101” course. Repeat after me: “You were taken advantage of.” Repeat after me: “You are a child.” Repeat after me: “You are helpless.”

Ms. Walker gave in and completed her special project. She became a victim (perhaps a lifelong victim) and the young virgin she hurt was kicked out of Vassar a year after surrendering his virginity.

Of course, I don’t know the whole story. Maybe there’s more to it than I imagine. But based on the court documents, I’m simply not buying Mary Claire’s sudden wildly contradictory change of heart. Anything is possible. Maybe she is so vicious that she got angry at Peter over something or other and went after him out of sheer malice. But this, too, seems wildly unlikely.

Mary Claire had expressed herself strongly, clearly, and repeatedly: her Facebook messages are utterly unambiguous. At the hearing, all the poor girl — her adulthood having been cruelly taken from her by Vassar officials — could do was cry hysterically and say she had been helpless.

WHAT HAPPENED? It seems obvious. Vassar should answer for their manipulation of the young woman. Even worse, Mary Claire’s father is a professor at Vassar and he was right there with a front row seat for the whole sordid mess. He allowed Vassar officials to destroy his daughter. Peter Yu will be fine. But what of Mary Claire Walker? Will she ever recover?

Professor Walker and the Vassar officials are not evil people. Have they lost their minds?

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 wasn’t Guede 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 inside Meredith’s body, 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 had engineered Guede’s release from a Milan jail. Now a visiting student had been brutally murdered. They had Guede in custody and enough DNA evidence to convict him of being the Devil.

Case closed? Of course not. Time for 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, make sure not to release negative controls done by the lab technicians since they will also show tiny signals, keep a straight face. Easy as pie.

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 doesn’t have to worry about 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, suppress the negative controls, and claim that contamination can’t be an issue. You see, the Knox defence didn’t have access to the lab data. Since it is standard procedure followed by all labs, there were undoubtedly negative controls run alongside the negative sample, but the police lab released only what it wanted the court to see.

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 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 Steffanoni got her conviction 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 turn over the negative controls, she repeatedly refused, stating that the court had all the information it needed. Patrizia snarled at the court going so far as to tell the judge that any further requests would be regarded as accusations of misconduct, a veiled threat to institute one of Italy’s ubiquitous slander suits.

The second court never got the negative controls but it threw out the convictions anyway. 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 lack of negative control data and provided the most concise characterization of Stefanoni’s negative equals positive charade on record: “incomprehensible.”

And that was that. The morons-in-fancy-robes were 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.

Junk Science Can KIll

I’ve been reading up on the DNA testing that put Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito in prison for four years. They are free because the courts had the testing checked by an independent lab which concluded the original testing that convicted them was utter nonsense.

We’re not talking about a dispute among scientists here. We’re talking about the difference between science and believing that the moon is made of green cheese. Let me explain.

Genetic testing is pretty reliable but there is a new kind of testing called Low Copy Number (LCN) testing which is basically the same as the old testing but involves just a few cells and so is more delicate. LCN testing is controversial and many scientists say shouldn’t be used to put someone in prison.

There are some scientists who say LCN testing can be used if a series of precautions are taken. No scientist anywhere in the world (not a single one) says it’s okay to use LCN testing in court without these precautions.

Just so you know, here are the precautions that are mandatory when testing DNA from just a few cells. Suppose you are testing an alleged murder weapon for the victim’s DNA. First, the lab doing the test must never have had any of the victim’s DNA anywhere in it. Second, along with the murder weapon a control object must be collected from the same place and must be treated in exactly the same way and must test negative for the victim’s DNA (so if you take a knife from the alleged murderer’s house, you have to take a spoon as well and test that too). Third, the LCN test has to be done twice, once on half of your sample and then again to make sure your results are accurate. Fourth, the person doing the testing must not have access to the victim’s DNA profile so that it doesn’t influence the results (you can subconsciously try to make your profile match the one you know it is “supposed” to match) .

Let’s review: 1) separate lab; 2) control object; 3) double sample; 4) blind test.

Some scientists say if four out of four of these procedures are followed then LCN might be okay to use in a criminal trial. For the evidence that put two kids in jail who had no motive and no history of violence, ZERO out of four of the procedures were followed.

The Scientific Police in Italy conducted an LCN test of a knife in a lab and on machines that had tested items loaded with the victim’s DNA. For all we know, based on the records the lab has released, items with large amounts of the victim’s DNA could have been tested during the same hour as the knife. There was no control object – if there were, it would probably have tested positive. There was only one sample. Finally, the test was not done blind.

Not only that, the scientist who did the test was seen on video handling multiple pieces of evidence from the case without changing gloves each time as is required by strict international protocols.

So we have a demonstrably incompetent scientist doing a test that no geneticist on earth recognizes as valid producing evidence that was the sole cause of Amanda Knox’s conviction. The murder victim was covered with a veritable truckload of DNA from the real killer who is currently in jail. The idea of putting two additional people in jail under these circumstances is grotesque in its barbarism.

Even worse, with Knox out of jail and safe in Seattle, there was an appeal and the Italian bozos overturned the acquittal which had overturned the first conviction and produced a second conviction that is now being reviewed by Italy’s highest court which is presumably also staffed by bozos.

I’m not sure what the problem is here. It’s hard to understand how Italian officials can be so clueless. They aren’t stupid. The problem, I think, is the court doesn’t have an independent panel of experts with the power to exclude from any consideration what might be called “witch hunt science.”

A lot of smart people mix up science and magic. If one sorcerer says one thing and another sorcerer says the opposite, the response, even from a experienced judge, might be, “well, who can know the truth.” However for an expert panel of say five geneticists, many things that are controversial and confusing for a judge would be cut and dried for them.

Any five geneticists from anywhere in the world, would discount the knife DNA “evidence” in the Knox case. It would be an easy 5-0 decision. The only geneticist in the world who thinks the knife DNA is reasonable is the person who actually did the analysis. And actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if this woman knows that what she did is utter nonsense. Dr. Patrizia Stefanoni’s boss was actually hired by the prosecution as a consultant – so her job became effectively to find a DNA trace if it was humanly possible to do so and she did succeed, by literally ignoring every precaution in the book.

The bottom line: courts, including U. S. courts, need independent scientific panels with the power to block junk science from being used in the courtroom.

Knox is out of jail, but Todd Willingham, also obviously innocent, is dead, also due to junk science.

When There Are No Good Guys

I’ve been studying the Amanda Knox case recently. According to the prosecution, she and two men attacked her housemate, raping and killing her. One of the men was a known burglar who carried a knife and had threatened burglary victims with it on at least one occasion. This man left traces of his DNA inside the victim’s body and on the victim’s body and in the victim’s room along with bloody handprints and footprints and fled to Germany after the murder where he was caught.

Amanda and her boyfriend, Raffaele, supposedly helped this man kill Amanda’s housemate but left no DNA or other physical evidence at the scene. They returned to the house the morning after the murder and called police who broke down the door to the victim’s bedroom and discovered the body and a grisly scene. The prosecution says all three participated in the rape and murder, but Amanda and Raffaele removed their DNA and other traces while leaving an avalanche of forensic evidence implicating the known burglar.

The prosecution did not explain exactly how Amanda and Raffaele accomplished the selective forensic sanitization, but they did leak to the press a photo of the bathroom in Amanda’s house which, in the course of the investigation, had been treated with a chemical that made all the walls pink. It looked like blood was everywhere. Everyone following the case knew that Amanda had returned home from her boyfriend’s house the morning after the murder and, with the the victim still lying undiscovered behind a locked door, had taken a shower. So the photo with the blood seemingly everywhere made it look like Amanda had psychotically showered in a blood-drenched bathroom that would terrify any normal person. She had not of course, but the photo played well for the tabloids.

Jurors in Italy aren’t sequestered.

The prosecution also hired as consultant the chief of the forensics lab that was analyzing the physical evidence for the case. Dr. Renato Biondi was in charge of the lab and it was one of his subordinates, Dr. Patrizia Stefanoni, doing the analysis. This is legal in Italy since it is assumed the analysis will be done objectively.

Police had removed a knife from Amanda’s boyfriend’s kitchen that they thought looked very clean and that looked about the right size to have been the murder weapon. Of course, this knife had Amanda’s DNA on it since she used these utensils. Using shockingly sloppy techniques not in accord with any known standard of practice, Stefanoni managed to get a positive result despite the fact that the amount of DNA initially on the knife was too low to be measured prior to the magnification step carried out by the lab in which even a few cells-worth of DNA can be turned into enough material to analyze using something called a “polymerase chain reaction.” A random knife from a random person’s apartment would probably also have yielded a positive result, but the lab did not perform this routine control procedure.

The court, in its wisdom, ordered the test repeated by an independent lab in Rome. The second test found no blood on the alleged murder weapon, no DNA from the victim, no traces whatsoever from the victim, but they did verify that Amanda had handled that particular knife. The second lab took the trouble to carefully list all the departures from internationally accepted forensic procedures taken by the first lab.

The knife is still part of the evidence in the case. The jurors have access to all of the scientific back-and-forth between the two labs.

Let’s move on to the rest of the prosecution’s case.

Before Amanda’s arrest, she was interrogated all night long by a half-dozen or more police who (she says) yelled and threatened and hit until she implicated both her boss and herself. Her confession was ruled inadmissible because police had not recorded the interrogation, but she was charged with and convicted of slander for implicating an innocent man. Police later explained that they did not record the interrogation and confession because they were initially questioning Amanda as a witness and witness interviews need not be recorded under Italian law.

Of course, all jurors know all about the improperly-obtained confession even though it is not part of the court proceeding.

Let us summarize the prosecution’s case: we have a theory of a clean up that may be termed surprisingly adept, we have leaked photographs that spiced things up for the tabloids, we have an unrepeatable positive lab test on a knife from Raffaele’s kitchen. The prosecution says the second lab found nothing on the knife only because there was so little of the victim’s DNA present that it was used up during the first testing procedure. They also say the internationally recognized testing procedures that were not followed are just technicalities, so, they say, the knife should be considered damning evidence.

The prosecution also says Amanda acted like a guilty person trying to shift the blame when she fingered her boss in the wee hours of the morning while being interviewed/interrogated. Since the conversation wasn’t recorded, we don’t know exactly how she came to implicate her boss and also confess to being present at the scene of the crime. Amanda claims police told her what they wanted her to say and she eventually said it, but this cannot be verified or refuted because the interrogation wasn’t recorded (this is why unrecorded interrogations of suspects are illegal in Italy).

Looking at the prosecution’s argument, there is (obviously) no need for a defense.

We have a trial in which the accused, the defense, the prosecution, and the judge all know there is no case. It’s just a question of how gullible and/or ill-informed and/or unscientific and/or susceptible to tabloid journalism the jurors are. In an Italian courtroom, you need only a majority and it’s important (obviously) to have the press on your side.

The really scary part is this is a story with no good guys. If you look at the courtroom in Italy, it’s just the bad guys and their victims. My guess is the successful prosecutors, the subordinate in the testing lab, the respected judges, the rapt tabloid journalists, and the hard-working police all sleep pretty well each night.

I’m not a fire and brimstone kind of guy, but I can’t help hoping and praying that there is, in fact, a Hell and a devil and the eternal fires and the whole damn thing.

In case you didn’t know, Amanda and Raffaele were convicted and served 4 years before the conviction was overturned. Recently, another court declared them guilty again. Amanda is relatively safe in Seattle. Raffaele is in Italy and may go back to jail.

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