Tuesday, December 28, 2010
In the three years since Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were arrested in the murder of Knox's British roommate, Meredith Kercher, public opinion appears to have swung in their favor in Italy and abroad. Crime novelist Doug Preston says this may have an effect on the appeals trial, which opened with a preliminary hearing this month. While Amanda didn't make it home for the holidays this year, she may be home for Christmas next year.
The shift in opinion began when the original prosecutor in the Knox/Sollecito case, Giuliano Mignini (photo right), was convicted of abuse of office and sentenced to 16 months in prison. Then, the original trial judge, Giancarlo Massei, issued his massive 427-page conclusion. At least here in America, many judicial experts were disturbed, if not shocked, by the sheer amount of unsupported surmise, conjecture, and speculation that formed the backbone of the opinion. The loquacious Massei speculated freely, without offering evidence, about such basic issues as motive, the murder weapon(s) used, how the murder was committed, and why.
Also during the past year, a range of American experts re-examined and/or commented on the forensic and DNA evidence, which was exactly the kind of independent examination that the original trial court had denied the defense. These experts include the notable FBI special agent Steve Moore, a DNA expert and former Air Force scientist Mark Waterbury, criminologists Paul Ciolino and Larry Kobilinsky, and forensic specialist Ron Hendry. All concluded that the evidence collection had been grossly incompetent and that the scientific analysis of that evidence was deeply flawed. The DNA experts said the DNA conclusions, crucial to the conviction, had been deliberately manipulated and did not meet even the most minimal international standards. None of these scientists had been hired by the Knox family or accepted fees for their work, making it hard to question their independence.
This past weekend, the Italian Courts ordered a complete independent review of the forensic evidence. This was a major victory for Amanda. It is a good sign that the names have been made known in advance of the January 22, 2011 trial date, which suggests a more open process this time around. It is important to maintain the spotlight, demanding professionalism and expecting that an unjust verdict will be overturned so all parties concerned may finally move on and an innocent young woman can put this nightmare behind her for good.
Criminalist Mark Waterbury explains that if the forensic review burrows down into identification details, alleles and profile correspondences, they are deliberately missing the point. Larger issues render that evidence meaningless. You can't just twist a knob and make a new machine, technique or protocol. The standards that were not met are not meaningless red tape, but, rather, necessary steps to produce valid results.
One can directly witness Italian criminologist Stefanoni using very poor sample acquisition techniques, yet she is the same person who claimed that she had never seen contamination in her lab. She also testified that she "only changed gloves after handling a specimen that was particularly contaminated with blood." Material transfer is a surface energy phenomenon. It does not require dripping liquids to happen. Pet a cat. I rest my case. Stefanoni betrays ignorance of the basic physics of materials that cause the most contamination and is not competent to claim that those physics do not apply to her.
This speaks directly to her further claims about the knife, that DNA could not possibly have come from contamination in a lab full of Meredith's DNA. No responsible researcher would make such a claim. Many of the details of her unique test have not yet been revealed, which further compromises the integrity of the results. Full disclosure of the DNA data files and procedures to both the reviewers and the defense is critical.
Will Knox and Sollecito be acquitted? Per Preston, nearly 50 percent of all Italian criminal convictions are overturned on appeal. Indeed, in Italy, so common are reversals, that you are not actually considered convicted until you’ve been convicted on appeal. This is the main reason Mignini has not lost his job as he continues to appeal his own sentence for abuse of office. He is still acting as a prosecutorial consultant in the Knox appeal, and he has been busy filing criminal slander charges against many of his critics in Italy and America.
Everything hinges on whether the appeals court will decide to retry the case or just re-examine certain parts. Sources in Italy say that the judiciary would like to find a way to convict Amanda on lesser charges, proclaim time served, and get her out of the country. That would save face for the powerful interests who convicted her in the first place, while getting rid of a thorn in the side of U.S.-Italian relations. Italians are deeply embarrassed at the bright light this case has shone on their criminal justice system. They are acutely aware of its shortcomings and have been trying to reform it for years, and they are not happy that its flaws are on display in this case, exposed to outside criticism.
Among the many "Friends of Amanda Knox" are prominent authors, judges, attorneys, scientists and law enforcement experts such as Doug Preston, Paul Ciolino, Michael Heavey, Tom Wright, Mark Waterbury, Bruce Fisher, Charlie Wilkes and myself. Our Christmas wish this year was granted as the court in Perugia embarked upon an ongoing examination and criticism of the forensic evidence in the Knox case. Even world-renowned forensic expert Dr. Cyril Wecht has offered his assistance to Amanda Knox as she continues her quest for vindication. John Douglas, the inventor of modern FBI criminal profiling methods, declares in the current issue of Maxim magazine that "Amanda Knox is innocent." Let's hope Amanda is granted her dream of justice and freedom--if not during this holiday season, then certainly sometime soon in the coming months.