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.
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!