Wednesday, October 5, 2011

They sprung Foxy!

Amanda 'Foxy Knoxy' Knox
As the world watched, rapt with attention, the Eye-tie judge read out his verdict: acquitted on all charges, other than the defamation of her former boss. Foxy slumped forward and burst into tears, as well she might. After serving four years in an Eye-talian jail, and facing another 20-odd years of same, she was now free to leave Italy and return home to the USA. 

I first read about the Knox case in the New York Times a few years back, when she was convicted of the murder of Meredith Kirchner, along with her ex-boyfriend Rafael Sollecito and another dude, Rudy Guede (the most likely candidate for the deed).

The case had attracted a ton of media attention because a) Knox with her clean-cut American looks was damned easy on the eye and b) the circumstances were juicy and salacious. The Eye-talian media were alleging that Knox and Rafael had been engaged in 'sex games' while high on pipe or whatever, had then tried to rope in Kercher to make it even more exciting, and Kircher resisted. This resulted in Knox and Sollecito murdering Kercher in a frenzy of drug-fuelled rage, stabbing her 20 times and slashing her throat with a kitchen knife.

Well, as tasty a story as this could hardly be resisted by the world's media and cue mucho column space devoted to speculation as to whether the pair had really killed poor Meredith, or were they the victims of a railroad job by the prosecutor, a dodgy individual by the name of Mignini, who concocted a pretty fantastic theory that the three had all been members of a Satanic sex cult.

Yeah, its pretty hard to make this stuff up! In any event the prosecutor was known to favour this theory and had even used it in a former trial of the so-called Monster of Florence case. So this guy has this pet theory that he trots out for every case he tries? Very dodgy stuff. Clearly, he had spent much time as an impressionable youth studying famous prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi's lurid account of the Manson murders, Helter Skelter, and it had forever left its mark on his young mind.

The real issue around which the case revolved, of course, was hard physical evidence. As every fan of that great TV series Medical Detectives knows, it is properly collected and processed physical evidence that makes or breaks a case. As it turns out, the rube Eye-talian coppers had botched the crime scene, letting all manner of people handle critical physical evidence which was then contaminated and should not have been permitted to factor into the case. As it turns out, the judge to hear the initial trial was not inclined to eliminate the evidence and so it played a role in convicting Knox and Sollecito of Kercher's murder.

The defence appealed and were able to obtain an independent forensic analysis of the evidence which determined several critical points:
  1. The knife which was said to be the murder weapon did not match the wounds on the body. The knife was big, the wounds were small - doh!
  2. The DNA evidence on Kercher's bra clasp which was critical to the prosecutor's case (placing Sollecito at the crime scene) was too insignificant to be positive. The clasp had also been handled by several police men and was therefore contaminated.
  3. The Knox DNA evidence on the handle of the knife was determined to be inconclusive in proving that Knox had used the knife to murder Kercher.
Without that evidence, the case was as leaky as a paper boat in a thunderstorm and the judge had no alternative but to reverse the conviction. There was reasonable doubt, and plenty of it.

And so the pair were sprung. Proof yet again that securing a crime scene is the most important part of ANY murder investigation. If you think back to the OJ trial, this is the critical aspect that lead to his acquittal - poor DNA evidence collection by the attending detectives.

Actually its usually the first responders who are typically at fault. The hapless patrol cops, arriving on the scene, go blundering through the joint, stepping all over vital evidence that could lead to a successful conclusion to the case. Following proper procedure of securing the scene, allowing NO-ONE to enter it, and maintaining that vital perimeter until forensic analysts arrive is the most crucial step towards finding the perpetrators and ultimately securing a conviction. The latter being the nut of it. Its all very well to find and arrest a killer (no easy thing) but that's just the beginning of it. You then have to try the perp in court.

A jury or judge has to be convinced of their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. And nothing convinces like physical evidence. With the 'CSI factor' very much in play, juries WANT physical evidence. Everything else can be attacked - eyewitness testimony, circumstantial evidence, character, motive - all of it can be tested and found wanting. But physical evidence is irrefutable, IF it has been collected and processed properly. A single hair can send a man to the gas chamber. Less than that even. A few tiny pods of pollen have been enough to convict a murderer. Its importance in a successful prosecution cannot be overstated.

Otherwise you can end up with a scenario where the guilty go free, and the innocent are jailed for crimes they did not commit.

Do I think Knox and Sollecito were innocent? One never knows for sure. The whole thing is hinky. They had means and opportunity sure, but they lacked that final critical part of the three-legged stool - motive. The prosecutor tried to manufacture a motive - they were high on drugs and caught up in a sex-fuelled frenzy - but that just rang hollow. They murdered the girl because she wouldnt join their orgy? Knox despised Kercher and wanted her dead from revenge? It all seemed too bizarre and fantastic. Either that, or Amanda Knox is a brilliant actor.

In any event, the case was botched by the cops and the prosecution's case was shaky from the start. They got lucky with a biased judge and together with the hostile and conservative Eye-talian media, it was enough to get the initial conviction against the pair. But as it turned out, it was a house of cards that didn't stand up to rigorous scrutiny.

While the Eye-talian justice system has been hauled over the coals for a supposed miscarriage of justice, the pair of young perps can count themselves lucky. The appeal court did the right thing and sprung them based on the independent report. Another country might well have tried to save face and embarrassment by upholding the conviction. If I were Amanda and Rafael, I would be sending that judge a bottle of the finest Irish whiskey every Christmas for the rest of my days.

Naturally, the cult of celebrity has now turned Amanda into a household name. Her fresh-faced good looks are more than enough to create a little mini-industry of interest in her story. A whole batch of books have already been written about the case, movies are in the works (Haydn Pannatierre is set to play her). The whole circus is in full swing... ain't it grand!

In the meantime Foxy is home in Seattle, and trying to get back to a 'normal' life. Undoubtedly, she will wake up in a cold sweat from nightmares for many nights to come, imagining she is back in that dank Eye-talian jail, with a fat dyke guard bending over her, about to commit some terrible act with a broomstick... possibly she will always dream in Italian from now on... 

My advice to her? Stay home. Travelling - it ain't all it's cracked up to be.