Amanda Knox: "Justice Served" or "The Italian Job?"

Amanda Knox, the Seattle college student, was convicted of murdering her British roommate in an Italian courtroom. This case doesn’t begin to describe the word “high profile.” The media circus surrounding this prosecution makes the first O.J. Simpson trial seem tame in comparison. The question in my mind is whether the Italy hybrid jury (six laypersons plus two judges) reached the verdict correct. As an attorney who litigates many wrongful conviction cases, I have serious doubts about this case.

From what I have been able to determine, this case has all the ingredients of a wrongful conviction including:

  • Coercive questioning techniques tracking the Inbau and Reid method of interrogation;
  • Contaminated crime scene investigation;
  • The Government’s key witnesses changing testimony under circumstances that suggest that he was trying to obtain leniency;
  • A case on which a prosecutor appears to be building a political career;
  • Questionable forensic evidence appearing very late in the game in a place where it should have been found very early; and,
  • Trial by Media;

At this time, it worth reflecting back on an Op-Ed piece written this past summer in the New York Times entitled “
An Innocent Abroad.” The article apparently mirrors the report done by an independent investigation by CBS News that called the case: ““the railroad job from hell.” Another prosecutor who looked at the case for CNN stated: “It’s probably the most egregious international railroading of two innocent young people I’ve ever seen,” investigation and trial amounted to “a public lynching based on rank speculation.” Click here to read the Christian Science Monitor Article that I am paraphrasing.

The New York Times author of the piece (Timothy Egan) was a veteran New York Times reporter (from Seattle) whose daughter was also attending school in
Perugia, Italy at the time. HIs article paints a distressing picture of a case involving all the ingredients for a miscarriage of justice including a prosecutor with a debatable ethics history and political ambitions, informant testimony, and a run away media circus. Read the Center for Wrongful Convictions website and the stories underlying many of their exonerees and you will see too many commonalities with this case.

While I was not a student of the trial or Italian evidence law, I was troubled to watch the prosecutor impeach the defendant with her nickname “Foxy Knoxy” completely devoid of the context in which it was bestowed on her and impeachment of her with a civil infraction ticket for a loud party where the prosecutor ad libbed in allegations of sex, drugs, and other vices.

The Government’s principle witness against Ms. Knox (Guede) fled Italy to hide in Germany. When he was first arrested, he told police that he was having sex with the deceased , went to the bathroom, and returned to see a strange man with a knife standing over Knox. Guede later changed his story to implicate Amanda Knox and her boyfriend Sollecito.

The Italian interrogators apparently took a trick from our own Inbau and Reid school of interrogations. In an interrogation that lasted into the night, they started posing “hypothetical questions” and treated the answers as a confession. Thankfully an Italian Court threw most of these statements out.

The case also involves the infamous police expert testimony about how a suspect should behave during a murder investigation. While Amanda was left locked for hours in a police station cell or room, she did yoga and stretches to pass the time. The police were permitted to testify that the “bizarre” behavior was some evidence of her guilt. How is an innocent person locked at a police station in a foreign country thousands of miles from home supposed to behave? There is no norm from which this can be benched.

In many of the homicide cases that I have worked on, I have been particularly troubled by about homicide detectives testifying about inappropriate displays of grief. I’ve had them testify that my client was too cold and too distressed. Only they can declare the medium. This seems to be exactly the same issue. There is no normal behavior for a person locked in a foreign police station accused of murder.

While I am a firm believer in Freedom of the Press, there was absolutely no self-restraint on the part of the press in this case particularly the British tabloids. When the police locked Amanda Knox out of her flat, Ms. Knox went to a local store to buy basic personal needs including underwear. The British tabloids photographed her with these underwear and blasted these photographs around with titles such as a “g-string celebration” by remorseless killers.

The blogosphere seems to be more divided then the defense and the prosecution. One of the better summaries I found appears on the Seattle Post Intelligencer
website. Because of the format, the story appears in reverse order. I recommend working your way to the beginning and moving forward.

Seattle Post Intelligencer also has an excellent
website regarding the different blogs. The victim’s (Meredith Kercher’s) family that naturally tells a very different story. That blog is extensive and I cannot summarize everything in a simple article. Like most crime victim families, however, they have drawn sides and appear incapable of recognizing any of the flaws in the prosecution team.* The Kercher camp’s presence and simultaneous libel suit also horribly changes the dynamics of the case. In many ways, the case has become Kercher v. Knox instead of Italy v. Kercher. The question in any criminal case is whether the Government has carried its burden in proving the accused guilty by a sufficient quantum of evidence. Stated another way, the question should not be “innocent or guilty,” but “proven or unproven.” While I am not an Italian law expert, this process seems to distort the fundamental purpose of a criminal trial.

Reading the libel charges that have been hurdled or instigated is particularly troubling because it can be a tool of speech repression. European law (unlike American law) does not seem to recognize the free speech defenses that we do. Therefore these allegations are easy to throw and shut down speech. I was particularly troubled to hear that the Italian prosecutor has sued a Seattle Newspaper in an Italian Court for libel.
Click here for more details. This surely nothing more than filing a press release because the prosecutor should be aware that U.S. Courts refuse to enforce foreign libel judgments from countries which fail to recognize a good faith right to report defense. See, e.g. Mastusevich v Telkniff, 877 F. Supp. 2d 1 (D. DC, 1995). As the Yahoo v. La Ligue Contre Le Racisme, 433 F. 3d 1199 (9th Cir. 2006), demonstrates, American website owners have the right to seek a declaratory ruling about the unenforceability in an American Court. Undoubtedly, the Seattle newspaper will do precisely that. Once such an action is filed, the newspaper would be entitled to conduct full civil discovery against this prosecutor. I’m sure he would love that.

In conclusion, I don’t pretend that the American criminal justice system is perfect. Obviously I was not present and am formulating my opinion based on my readings about the case, but I have a bad feeling about this investigation. At least from this side of the pond, it has many of the ingredients of a wrongful conviction.
*Some of the site’s pages were down including the tab “rebutting the myths.”