“It’s one of the many failings of Italian justice that it never delivers conclusive, door-slamming certainty. What usually happens is that the door is left wide open to take the case to the next level, first to appeal and then to the cassazione, the Supreme Court.” — Tobias Jones, the Guardian
Did Italy do an injustice to Knox? I think it’s apparent, Italy’s liberal appeals system did Meredith wrong. After one trial, three appeals and two guilty verdicts, one can safely say, evidence exists in this case, and the quality of that evidence could very feasibly have resulted in a conviction in America. The fact that the same evidence that resulted in two guilty verdicts which could then be re-scrutinized on appeal, under the basis that the defense simply disagreed, is a much harsher indictment of Italy’s appeal system than it is of their justice system, or investigators, as a whole.
The murderofmeredithkercher.com provides a cogent summary of how the American legal system differs from Italy’s:
In the United States, once you are convicted, an appeal is limited to arguments over procedural and legal errors. After the initial verdict, questions of fact and the introduction of new evidence is only allowed in exceptional circumstances. That is not the case with the Italian legal system. The second stage in the Italian criminal process is a second examination of some elements of the evidence with new triers of fact. That being said, the second trial is not a complete retrial.
Simply put, each successive appeal in Italy does amount to interrogating successively smaller and smaller pieces of the true crime pizza. If the original trial is the pizza, then the first appeal applies itself to a small fraction of the case file, the second to an even smaller fraction, and the final appeal is left to juggle a few toppings picked off a final slice.
A graphic produced by the Wiki team at themurderofmeredithkercher.com illustrates this fragmentation process at a glance. What it doesn’t show [because there is almost nothing left to show], is the final layer, the toppings, where Knox’s case was broken down even further into a controversial final appeal heard by Marasca/Bruno which she and Sollecito ultimately won*.
The murderofmeredithkercher.com also provides the ambit of the Hellmann-Zanetti appeal in a nutshell:
- Hellmann…ruled that the Appeal Court would like to hear again from a witness (Antonio Curatolo) who put Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito in the vicinity of the crime scene, thus invalidating their alibi.
- Hellmann also decided to appoint experts to re-evaluate two items of evidence — the knife allegedly used in the murder and the victim’s bra clasp that was found to contain Sollecito’s DNA.
- During the trial Hellmann would expand the scope of the case to allow five prisoners to examine the veracity of Guede’s accusations against Knox and Sollecito.
A typical excuse for why a defendant ought to have another chance in court is because of a [usually unfair] “trial by media.” As it happens, any case that attracts massive media attention tends to involve massive police resources. Because the community are in uproar, there is more pressure on the cops than usual to deliver a suspect.
What’s crazy is how the defense invariably accuse the cops of mischief while they scramble under the unmitigating glare of the media. It’s when the media are watching that the cops are least likely to take any short cuts.
So each and every case that’s in the media, like Knox, like O.J., like Madeline McCann, will inevitably get heightened attention from the police. It will also get heightened criticism of the investigation. That’s every defense team’s golden ticket – lousy crime scene technicians and corrupt police. Can you name one high-profile case in America in which the defense didn’t attack the investigators for sloppy work somewhere along the line?
Now, let’s get back to the premise of this chapter. Would Knox have been convicted if tried in America? Is the evidence burden sufficient? Given the evidence burden against her, she would, in my view, have faced the same odds as O.J. Simpson or Stephen Avery.
- In America, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the overall percentage of verdicts that are reversed on appeal is 12%. Nearly 50% of all cases are overturned on appeal in Italy, according to the Guardian.
- An important factor to consider within this contention that Knox would have been acquitted in America, is simply how few cases in America actually make it back to court on appeal.
In Italy, and certainly in the Knox case, the qualifications to re-present certain aspects of a case are shockingly light. Take for instance the new experts brought in to review the DNA. If you want to pose the question: would a similar review be granted as easily in America? Most certainly no, it would not.
Appeals for criminal cases in America are heard on the basis of error in trial procedure, or in terms of a judge’s misinterpretation of the law. Appeals aren’t granted willy-nilly based on sheer disgust of a verdict. You would never see DNA being argued on appeal in America simply because the defense felt it wasn’t sufficient. If that were the case American courtrooms would also be backlogged until 2170.
To apply the appeal standard in Italy to a high-profile case in America, the appeal attempts of Michael Skakel are worth noting. Skakel was convicted of Martha Moxley’s murder in 2002. He unsuccessfully petitioned for appeals in 2003, 2006, 2007, and 2010, mainly using an argument that two other individuals had knowledge of a different killer, and all five times he was denied an appeal.
It wasn’t until later in 2010, when Skakel filed an appeal on the basis of incompetent representation** [by lawyer, Mickey Sherman] that he was finally able to bring his arguments to court.**
- A final point to consider is the argument about a backlog of cases in Italy having some bearing on this case. Italy is back-logged by millions of cases, but what does that have to do with Knox? Her appeal was granted and went to trial just one year after her original conviction.
In 2013 The Atlantic rued the “Tragedy of Italian Justice”. As if any failing of their justice system should automatically render Knox’s case unfair. But, how many times have Americans disagreed with criminal verdicts? How about O.J. Simpson, Stephen Avery, Casey Anthony, Robert Durst, Jodi Arias [sentencing] and Michael Jackson, to name a few.
Would you then make the claim that the entire American justice system is a sham and nobody’s good at their job, like local blogger Frank Sfarzo did so emphatically about the justice system in Perugia.
“Nobody here’s good at their job. If they were, they wouldn’t be in Perugia.” — Frank Sfarzo to Rolling Stone***
Italy hates Amanda Knox for the same reason America loves her. It’s more pride than anything else. A few years back, I was one of those who thought the case was a mess. But the lousy English translations of the testimony, and the British and American media’s interpretations**** didn’t help these impressions either.
“There is a feeling that the whole case is flawed***** and that a US citizen should not have to go to jail because of that.” — Express UK
*The third appeal [effectively the fourth final trial leading to Knox’s eventual acquittal] is covered in the final narrative of this series: Denouement. Despite “winning” their respective appeals, neither were able to claim compensation for “wrongful imprisonment.” It is one thing to find someone not guilty by the fairly strict criminal standard of reasonable doubt, but suing for compensation has another burden to deal with, although it’s a lower standard on the legal ladder. In civil law the burden is to prove, on a balance of probabilities whether one is entitled to compensation. O.J. Simpson famously won his criminal case [acquitted based on reasonable doubt] but lost the civil case lodged against him by the Goldman family [convicted based on a balance of probabilities.]
**The spurious nature of Skakel’s accusations against his lawyer are borne out in the redaction by the Stamford Advocate of the story announcing the appeal, and Skakel’s unfounded [as it turned out] accusations against his attorney.
Though Michael Skakel won his appeal when it was eventually granted in 2013, the Connecticut Supreme Court reinstated Skakel’s murder conviction with a 4–3 majority decision in December 2016.
***Frank Sfarzo’s allegations about Italy’s Justice system as quoted by Rolling Stone have since been redacted.
****It’s seldom acknowledged that Knox’s PR company took it upon themselves to translate the Italian court transcripts for and behalf of their American client to English-speaking [British and American] media. The impact of this and other stratagems to subtly texture [and shift] the narrative in the English-speaking mainstream, is analysed in detail in the next book in this series: Extradition.
*****The “feeling” that the Italian justice system was flawed didn’t materialize by accident. According to the New York Times in October 4th, 2011 [immediately after Knox’s acquittal when such admissions didn’t matter]: “…a neighbor of Ms. Knox’s who is a superior court judge in Seattle, said that he spoke about the case to Senator Cantwell, a friend of his. When Ms. Knox was convicted in 2009…Cantwell issued a statement saying in part, “I have serious questions about the Italian justice system and whether anti-Americanism tainted this trial.” This was an ironic statement in itself, because by vaunting “Anti-Americanism” in its reasoning, America was admitting their own anti-Italy views, in terms of undermining Italy’s justice system.
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