THERE is little more unedifying than the xenophobic trashing of a foreign justice system which has mishandled a high-profile investigation, particularly one involving a British citizen.
We witnessed it in Portugal in 2007. When Kate and Gerry McCann were made “arguidos” in the hunt for their missing daughter Madeleine there was national outrage, as if our police had never arrested an innocent person. Now we’re seeing a similar phenomenon in the US as newspapers cry foul over the reinstatement of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito’s convictions for the murder of Meredith Kercher at an Italian appeals court. “It couldn’t have happened here,” scream the headlines in a country that continues to hold foreign terror suspects without trial in Guantanamo Bay.
All the same, it’s impossible not to baulk at the incompetence which seems to have infected the case, from the earliest moments of the police investigation right through to last week’s guilty verdicts. Even allowing for cultural differences, how can it be fair that more than six years after Kercher’s death, four years after their original conviction and two years after their acquittal at appeal, Knox and Sollecito have effectively been tried for the same offence, though not a shred of new evidence has come to light? Or that the grounds for this latest hearing were no more or less than a distaste for the outcome of the previous one?
The Italians, some of them anyway, claim the endless retesting of evidence makes their system more robust, but all it seems to mean is that there is no definitive outcome to any case; that, even once defendants have been acquitted, they are expected to live their lives in suspended animation as they await the next verdict and the one after that. This case has been particularly problematic, but surely all the flip-flopping over the past few years shows that the case against Knox and Sollecito never has, and never will be, proved beyond reasonable doubt?
To be fair, the international interest the case has attracted – almost all of it focused on the angel/devil figure of Knox – has placed unprecedented pressure on those charged with delivering justice. When the first guilty verdicts were announced, there were howls of protest from Knox’s supporters who claimed she was being targeted for the way she reacted to her flatmate’s death as opposed to the part she may have played in it. And the subsequent acquittals brought a similar backlash from the Kercher family, who believe Meredith has disappeared from view as journalists fixate on “Foxy Knoxy”.
The most recent example of the obsession with Knox has been the dissection of a TV interview she gave on Good Morning America. Under the headline, “Shameless in Seattle”, the Daily Mail analysed her hairstyle, clothes, posture and delivery, suggesting her performance was “calibrated for a majority of sympathy votes”. Having watched it, I’d agree Knox knows how to manipulate. But it doesn’t matter if she is likeable. It doesn’t matter if she is good. For the purposes of justice, it doesn’t even matter if she’s forgotten Kercher is the victim. All that matters is whether there’s enough evidence to establish her guilt, and that is where the case falls down.
The prosecution has made much of discrepancies in Knox and Sollecito’s testimonies and the pair do seem to have changed their accounts of the hours leading up to the discovery of Kercher’s body several times. These anomalies make them appear shifty and odd, but do not come close to placing them at the scene or giving them a motive for her murder. And some of the reasoning the investigators have given to justify their belief in Knox’s guilt is bizarre. She must have been involved, they say, because only a woman would have thought to place a duvet over the corpse. Eh?
So what about forensic evidence? There’s even less of that. There are website pages devoted to the question of DNA but the prosecution case is founded on two main claims: that Knox’s DNA was found on the handle of a knife in Sollecito’s kitchen and Kercher’s on the blade, and that Sollecito’s DNA was found on a bra clasp in Kercher’s room. As injusticeinperugia.org points out, the knife has never been established as the murder weapon and was subject to a controversial testing procedure after traditional methods failed to find a match. As for the bra clasp, it was gathering dust on the floor for 47 days before it was found by police and even then was badly handled.
Kercher died in a bloodbath, but this is the only DNA evidence linking Sollecito to the scene. There is no DNA linking Knox to it. Nevertheless, last week their convictions were reinstated. Hours later, Sollecito, who has been told he must not leave the country, was arrested near the Austrian border while, if the judgment is ratified by the country’s supreme court, extradition proceedings are expected to be launched against Knox.
Kercher’s parents know they may never find out what exactly what happened to their daughter, although drug dealer Rudy Guede has been jailed for the killing. Perhaps their pain would be assuaged by the thought of Sollecito and Knox behind bars. But the case against the pair was compromised from the start. More than six years on, it is damaged beyond repair. This latest appeal hearing was a travesty of justice. Hopefully the next one will find in their favour. And that it will be the last. «