Thursday, October 06, 2011
That said, the Sun's headline was revealing on its own terms, referring to a bizarre economy of racial affect. Consider it next to the many articles that juxtapose Knox's name with that of Troy Davis, and you begin to realise that for our media, the racially victimised, oppressed subject is not the woman of colour who has been murdered, and whose family has seen no justice, but a wealthy white woman who had US senators, Hillary Clinton, the Berlusconi administration (which has its own fights with the Italian legal system over Berlusconi's alleged crimes), a rich suburban family and the greater part of the Anglophone media behind her. She is the victim of, what else?, anti-Americanism. And, indeed, the sympathy of the Anglophone press for Knox and her family, from the Sun to the New York Times to Rolling Stone, is staggering. The relentless dissemination of claims obviously originating from either the defence or Knox's family or their PR firm is no less so.
As you will have gathered, the appeal hinged on the quality of forensic evidence, which a panel of reviewers decided was unreliable. Once the review panel had reached its findings, it was inevitable that the defence would focus on that as the weak link. They didn't have to attack the whole prosecution case. Now I'm not in a position to dispute the validity of that procedure, but you wouldn't know, judging from the responses in the press, that the whole case hadn't just been demolished. You would get the impression from the news reports that Knox was convicted on comically risible evidence, and that an innocent woman spent four years in jail for nothing. They had the killer, Rudy Guede, with abundant evidence supporting their argument for his guilt, but insisted on dragging two innocent people, Knox and Sollecito, into their account of what happened. This, so the logic goes, required elaborate imaginative leaps, singular feats of interpretation from paltry evidence.
Let me take an example. This is Timothy Egan in the NYT: "In search of evidence to back a faulty narrative, prosecutors pulled a knife from the kitchen of Sollecito. Of course, Knox’s DNA was on the handle — she used it to cut bread at the home of her boyfriend. The prosecutors said there was a trace of Kercher’s DNA on the blade, a claim that was nearly laughed out of court by an independent panel of experts. These experts in the appeal found instead a kernel of starch on the blade — from cutting bread, most likely." Thus, from less than a bread crumb, you would think, a murder case was developed. How could a guilty verdict have been reached on the basis of that? In fact the panel of exerts was in no position to 'find' anything on the blade, starch or otherwise, since it didn't examine the knife but the manner in which forensic evidence was gathered. It did not deny that DNA evidence was found on the knife, but disputed the handling and thus reliability of that evidence. The fact that experts testifying for the prosecution thought differently, ie that the DNA had been gathered according to international standards, is no reason in itself for me to dispute this conclusion. But it is a reason for journalists not to caricature events. Yet, this distortion is in an ostensibly serious piece.
Egan adds that the prosecution was particularly culpable in its attempt to supply a motive for the killing: "This is where any defender of women’s rights, or modernity, should howl. Standing in front of the crucifix that adorns Italian courtrooms, prosecutors and lawyers for their side called Knox a “she-devil,” a seducer, a “witch,” someone who manipulated Sollecito into an orgy with Kercher and Guede." This is an argument that has been repeated many times. Now, the evidence on which Knox was convicted is discussed in the Massei report (pdf, or summarised in detail here) outlining the reasons for the court's guilty verdict. If you've read through this, two things are clear. First, while the motive is discussed in the Massei report, it isn't a very important plank of the conviction. Second, whatever the misogynistic rhetoric, the jury which convicted her didn't base its conviction on that rhetoric. It rejected a number of prosecution claims concerning the motive, specifically any pre-meditated component. It infers from the circumstances that both Knox and Sollecito spontaneously decided to help Rudy Guede as he tried to force himself on Meredith Kercher. There is no she-devilry, and no witchcraft. You would not know this from Egan's account. Nor would you know that the "she-devil" remark was made not by the prosecutor but by a lawyer for Patrick Lumumba, and not during the original trial process but earlier this year.
Before going any further, I want to briefly summarise what I understand to be the main points in the Massei report. The report describes the circumstances of the murder, and indicates a number of points at which Knox's descriptions of what happened were drastically at variance with material evidence. It notes that Knox's falsehoods would, if verified, have provided her and Sollecito with an alibi. On the other hand, as she was seen at a grocery shop purchasing cleaning products when she claimed to have been in bed, her alibi is untenable. It touches on Knox's attempt to frame her boss, a bar owner named Patrick Lumumba, for the killing. (She claimed, when the case against Lumumba collapsed, to have 'imagined' hearing Meredith Kercher scream as she was sexually assaulted and murdered by Lumumba.) It describes the incompatibility of the wounds with the 'single attacker' theory, suggesting that multiple attackers must have restrained Meredith Kercher and assaulted her from different angles while preventing her from engaging in defensive movements. It describes how the kitchen knife recovered from the apartment, allegedly with Kercher's DNA on the blade, was compatible with the large, fatal stab wound to Kercher's neck; and how Knox had shown distress on being shown the knife, and conveyed her concern to her parents about precisely that piece of evidence. It describes how a bloody footprint in the bathroom matched those of Sollecito. It describes several instances of Meredith Kercher's blood being mixed with Knox's DNA, dismisses the idea that this was due to ex-foliation on Knox's part, and suggests that it was due to the vigorous scrubbing of hands and feet, which resulted in the blood and DNA being found spattered over the bidet and sink. It describes evidence of blood being traipsed about the house by Knox and subsequently cleaned up vigorously with bleach. It describes the expert testimony concerning the DNA evidence. It describes evidence indicating that the killers had staged a burglary of the flat after the murder was committed to give the impression that the killer had broken in. It concludes that Rudy Guede initiated sexual advances on Meredith Kercher, that Kercher refused, that Knox and Sollecito then joined in when Kercher resisted, and that the situation escalated spontaneously from a sexual assault to a murder.
Having read the above, I invite you to download the Massei report and compare it with any number of articles making the case for Knox's innocence - the Rolling Stone article is a real peach, its author doing a word-perfect imitation of an amanuensis for Gogerty Stark Marriott. What you find is that public opinion is being decided by factors that have nothing to do with evidence, court procedures, police conduct or anything of the kind, and everything to do with resources. Reasonable doubt liberates Amanda Knox and Rafaelle Sollecito, while Rudy Guede is in jail, and is unlikely to be freed. It is beyond my competence to say whether this is legally appropriate. This would only become clearer in light of a further appeal. Yet, if the Massei report holds for the evidence not discounted by the review panel, it would seem that he could not have committed the crime alone. Only Sollecito could have tramped Meredith Kercher's blood into the bathroom to make the footprint on the mat, only Knox could have left the bloody footprints subsequently cleaned up and traced with Luminol, and only Knox could have scrubbed the blood off her hands and feet in such a way as to leave her DNA spattered on the bidet and sink, mixed with Kercher's blood. So it may be legally appropriate that the appeals court acquitted Knox and Sollecito. But it doesn't look like justice to me.