(ANOTHER) UPREDICTED 
ITALIAN EARTHQUAKE

The criminal case of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito is, for all intents and purposes over.

The political circus is just beginning.

April 6, 2009, 3:32 a.m.: The quaint Italian town of L’Aquila, just 114 miles from Perugia, was struck by a 5.8 magnitude earthquake. 297 people died.

October 22, 2012: In an event which sent shock waves around the world, the earth moved in Italy yet again when six Italian seismologists were arrested and charged with manslaughter for not predicting the L’Aquila earthquake. Incredulous experts from around the world testified that earthquakes are scientifically unpredictable at this point in the history of mankind—a fact disputed nowhere on earth, except one Italian courtroom. The scientists were convicted and sentenced to 6 years in prison—each. The main damage in this quake was to six innocent seismologists and the justice system of Italy.
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The courts in L'aquila were devastated. In more ways than one.
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Certainly, Italian ‘justice’ has a history of preying on its own good people. The Italian Inquisitions of the 1500’s and 1600’s are infamous for the persecution of people propounding scientific truth. The legendary scientist and astronomer Galileo, for example, fell afoul of the inquisition for espousing certain theories of Copernicus; in particular, the theory that the earth rotated around the sun—which it did and still does. A lot of people are unaware that Galileo died under house arrest in Italy. 1,250 other people are alleged to have been executed for similar “heresy” during this time. One would hope that nearly 600 years later, Italian justice would have improved. One would be wrong.


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Tragically, on March 26, 2013, another feudal judicial decision was handed down when the Italian Court of Cassation, the Italian equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court, failed to formally affirm the full appellate exoneration of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, regardless of the fact that their innocence is almost as widely accepted and scientificlly proven as Copernicus’ theory.

Sadly, this is not an isolated anomaly. Italy is displaying with frightening regularity a type of vendetta-based ‘justice’ many are calling ‘medieval.’ In 1999, the very same Court of Cassation which failed to accept Knox and Sollecito’s proven innocence, ruled in a rape case that women wearing tight jeans cannot be raped. This was not the decision of a little back-water town judge remember, this was the Italian Supreme Court. The logic was based on the apparently inescapable conclusion that tight jeans could not be removed from a woman by an attacker. I suppose their conclusion is that man can predict earthquakes, but it is a physical impossibility for him to remove a woman’s jeans. The court ruled tight jeans could not be removed “…without the collaboration of the person wearing them.” I’m not making this up. 


However, just this last summer, the Court of Cassation outdid themselves; they ruled that it is a crime to tell someone “You don’t have the balls.” Seriously. That this case even got to the supreme court in Italy is mind-boggling and indicative of the juvenile/macho mentality of most of the judiciary there. Their decision is incomprehensible. The court found that the phrase inherently implied “…a lack of determination, competence and consistency – virtues which, rightly or wrongly, continue to be regarded as suggestive of the male gender.” This raises a question I’m sure it would take a legal scholar and a Ouija board to answer: Would it be a crime to tell a woman  “You don’t have the balls?” One could only assume it would depend on whether she was wearing tight jeans or not.

In the Knox/Sollecito case, a prosecutor (Giuliano Mignini) under indictment (ultimately convicted and sentenced to 16 months in prison) created an incredibly complex, imagination-based case against two innocent kids in order to, according to many experts, shield himself from conviction or even further prosecution. During the Italian Inquisition of the 15th and 16th centuries, the main charges besides heresy were sorcery, immorality and witchcraft. And Mignini’s allegations against Knox?  She was a “strega” (witch) and she engaged in “satanic sex rituals.” Sounds vaguely familiar, no? Also familiar is the fact that no evidence existed to support the claims of either the inquisition or Mignini. Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Mignini lied about evidence in public, violated any rule of evidence which did not support his case (in reality, nothing supported his case) and got a conviction he apparently hoped would raise no eyebrows. He was wrong.

When the case was appealed--almost automatic in Italy, where half of all cases are reversed on appeal--the first action of the appeals court was to order that Mignini’s “evidence” be reviewed by independent experts. Italy is not completely devoid of honorable justices; they are simply in the minority. The judge in this appeal had to be imported from northern Italy near Austria in the hopes that he would be free of bias. He was. He not only allowed modern science into the courtroom, he ordered it there.
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DNA which prosecutor Mignini had claimed implicated Knox and Sollecito was found to have never existed, was intentionally or incompetently attributed, or so badly read that Mignini’s ‘experts’ couldn’t even tell gender by reading DNA. The police forensic investigation in this case made the Keystone Kops look like CSI New York. In a stinging rebuke, the appellate judge and jury not only exonerated Knox and Sollecito, but declared that the evidence didn’t simply fail to prove their guilt, but that it actually proved their innocence. The two kids were released after four years of unjust imprisonment. And that is where it should have ended.

But in Italy, as opposed to most democracies, a prosecutor can appeal even a “not guilty” verdict. In Italy, a prosecutor can keep re-trying a case until he gets a conviction. This ‘2 out of 3’ jurisprudence results in a kind of “rock, paper, scissors” legal system, where even evidence as solid as a rock can be rendered moot by a single sheet of paper. Mignini appealed the ‘innocente’ verdict, and the Court of Cassation rendered a verdict as stunning in its ignorance as the failure to predict the earthquake decision.

At this moment, news outlets are providing incomplete or inaccurate information on the case. To set the record straight, I would like to point out certain facts which are true at this moment:

Amanda and Raffaele’s exonerations have not been vacated. By Italian law, they are still adjudicated innocent persons.

No retrial has yet been ordered.

Not until the Court of Cassation releases their “Motivations” document in approximately 70 days or so will any decision have the affect of law. Retrial is a possibility, of course, but so is limited re-examination of certain pieces of evidence not already reviewed by the independent authority. There is no indication that the court has in any way challenged the validity of the independent authority’s review of the main pieces of discredited ‘evidence’ which led to the exoneration in the first place.  

There is no indication that the court rejected any of the findings of the appellate court, their questions actually centering on why more of Mignini’s supposed “evidence” was not reviewed by independent sources. Still, the decision reminds me very much of the 1972 Olympic Basketball gold-medal game in which the Americans, leading the Russian team by 3 at the end of regulation, twice had the clock reset to 3 seconds by the Russian referees, until the Russians “won” on a miracle shot. 40 years later, nobody but the Russian team and referees believe that they won
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The Americans celebrate after they had won the game the second time. (They lost after the third time Russian referees inexplicably put time back on the clock.)
Absent more interference, however, any retrial would still favor Knox and Sollecito because:

A retrial would be removed from the feudal, Mignini-controlled town of Perugia, and placed in Florence. Perugia has the judicial integrity of 1963 Selma, Alabama. Knox and Sollecito's exonerations on appeal were only possible because a judge and jury were brought in from out of town due to the bias of the locals.
The city of Florence knows Mignini. They are the city that indicted him and convicted him of malfeasance, sentencing him to 16 months in prison.

Regardless of the outcome of the trial, however, not a soul seriously believes that Amanda Knox will ever spend another day in an Italian prison. Double jeopardy, corrupt prosecutors, absence of witnesses or credible evidence, perjury by the police, and the requirement that Giuliano Mignini present his case in an American federal court (which actually requires evidence, truth, and fairness) make the prospect of extradition at the request of a kangaroo court the stuff of Mignini’s dreams.

 Pratillo Hellman, the judge in the Knox/Sollecito appeal stands by his and the jury's unanimous decision to exonerate Knox and Sollecito, saying that there was absolutely no evidence of the involvement of the two in the crime. He also stated that he expected that the court of cassation would overturn his verdict, due to its close ties with the prosecutor.

Ultimately, regardless of the results of this modern inquisition, Amanda will never serve another unfair day in an Italian prison. The case, therefore has significance only to certain people:

1.      Prosecutor Mignini, still trying valiantly to clear his name of malfeasance and false prosecution charges while waiting on his retrial decision.

2.      The sadly deceived family of the innocent victim who have put their faith in a crooked prosecutor and a carnivorous Italian lawyer desperate for a share of a settlement from the wealthy Sollecito family.

3.      The sadly imbalanced, anonymous, basement-dwelling anti-Knox bloggers in Great Britain and America who have drunk the Kool-Aid of the prosecutor to the dregs and are focused more on hate than justice. This case will, for several more years give imagined purpose to their otherwise sad existence.

4.      Raffaele Sollecito, who is at this writing still a citizen of Italy and vulnerable to the whims of a judiciary largely based on innuendo.

In case the reader perceives this article as an indictment of Italy or the Italian people, let me assure you that is not the case. Since the appalling ruling came down, I have received texts, phone calls, E-mails and social media communications from prominent, published Italian forensic scientists, professors, DNA specialists, criminal profilers and lawyers, decrying the decision and offering their pro-bono assistance to the Knox family. Indeed, after the exoneration of Knox in October, 2011, I spent two days with Amanda in Italy and witnessed an almost non-stop stream of Italian citizens apologizing (sometimes tearfully) for what happened to her. They hugged, they kissed and they smiled. They know what its like to live under that system. The Italian people deserve a better justice system. They deserve more Judge Hellmans.

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While Amanda is in no real danger of ever being forced to submit to the corrupt Italian justice system again, (it’s a different story for Italian citizen Raffaele Sollecito), she can’t just do what the 1972 Olympic Men’s basketball team did and simply boycott a corrupt proceeding. They refused their silver medals and did not attend the medal ceremony. 

Amanda can't do that. She has to spend money to defend her name. It’s just a shame that two innocent kids got robbed. Again. It took the Russian referees three tries to steal the honest victory from the Americans in Munich. It may take even longer for the Italians to steal Amanda and Raffaele’s “innocence.” That’s the sad part. Nobody but the Russians doubt that the Americans won the 1972 Olympic Gold Medal, and nobody but Italians, the ignorant and the malignant doubt that Amanda and Raffaele are innocent.

Why then didn’t the Court of Cassation do the honorable and right thing and affirm the appellate decision? Why didn’t they act bravely and decisively? Why didn’t they exonerate two good kids in the face of overwhelming evidence of their innocence? Why didn’t they display the --in their own words--“determination, competence and consistency” which are suggestive of their own male gender? 

Are they corrupt? 

It seems to me that they just didn't have the balls.
 
 
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The Contract of Command

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No man or woman ever knows how they will react when their life is in danger. I hope, and I’m sure we all hope we would react in a such a way as to earn self-respect, if not honor—but we just don’t know. However, a decision to accept a position as a ship captain, airline pilot, fireman, policeman, Coast Guardsman; any position where danger is possible and the job gives you responsibility for the lives of others, is in effect a contract. A contract in which the implicit agreement is that the lives of others come before your own. It is a guarantee that you will do as promised. You are, as the old saying goes, acknowledging that  “You knew the job was dangerous when you took it.” So if it appears that anybody is being criticized in this piece for cowardice, it is not criticism of character or a human failing common to many, the criticism is aimed at a person who apparently defaulted on a contract; the contract of command.

A fence is never needed until something pushes against it. Similarly, courage can never be measured until fear is present. One can test a fence by simply pushing on it, but gauging a man’s courage is difficult absent imminent danger.

Fight or flight. At one time or another, nearly everyone wonders how they would react if their life was on the line and they had a choice of acting or running. Those who rise to the occasion are said to have “the right stuff.” There is no polite phrase for those who fail in those situations.  

Captain “Sully” Sullenberger answered all his own questions on January 15, 2009. His decisiveness, skill, and calmness are now legend. Sully’s friends describe him as “shy and reticent,” but beneath that shyness lay the makings of a hero. Finding himself in an engineless, 75 ton flying fuel tank over Manhattan with the lives of 148 people on his shoulders, Sullenberger knew that he had just one or two chances in a thousand to survive. Over the shouting of the electronic voice of the plane, “pull up pull up pull up pull up…..” the questions from air traffic control, and the attempts to restart the engines, he thought quickly, decided on the only realistic option, and flawlessly ditched the airliner in the Hudson River next to Manhattan.  Listening to his confident, decisive communications on the radio is nothing if not inspiring, if only for knowing what “the right stuff” sounds like.

Two days short of three years later, on January 13, 2012, Francesco Schettino, captain of the luxury Costa (Carnival subsidiary) Cruise liner “Costa Concordia” also answered his own questions and provided the world an example of what “the wrong stuff” sounds like, via his radio communications with the Livorno Port Authority.

Somehow, a cruise liner in good weather ran aground. It apparently did so during a “Salute” to the island of Giglio. A ship’s ‘salute’ is a close sail-by of land to generate excitement and is the nautical equivalent of the aviation “buzz-job,” itself one of the leading causes of fatal aircraft crashes. This ‘salute’ was allegedly intended to raise the visibility of the cruise line. It worked. Costa Cruise line rules allegedly prohibit the ship from coming within a half mile of land while underway. Schettino claimed to be no nearer to land than .29 miles. The charted rocks he hit, however, were 450 feet off shore. It is said that he might have been distracted by a beautiful 25 year old blonde who was somehow a guest on the bridge after witnesses say she and Captain Schettino split a carafe of wine. But the even more troubling issue than how it happened, is what occurred after the ship ran aground. The commander of the Livorno Port Authority is Gregorio De Falco, and De Falco had by Italian law, control of the scene. He contacted Schettino by radio after being told that the captain of the Costa Concordia had abandoned ship with passengers aboard.


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Gregorio De Falco: "Hello. Hello."

Francesco Schettino: "Good evening, captain."

De Falco: "Hello, I'm de Falco, from Livorno. I am speaking with the commander?"

Schettino: "I'm Commander Schettino."

De Falco: "Listen Schettino, there are people trapped aboard, you go with your lifeboat under the prow of the ship on the port side and you go aboard the ship using the rope ladder. You go aboard and you tell me how many people there are. Is it clear? I'm recording this conversation, Commander Schettino."

“I’m recording this conversation, Commander Schettino.” De Falco knew the gravity of the situation and he knew what he was saying. He was obviously stunned that the captain of a foundering ship had fled, leaving his crew and passengers behind. I must admit that I too am stunned, as is the world, likely. De Falco felt that it was necessary to threaten the captain with exposure of his cowardice if he would not return to the ship.

One cannot help but compare this to Sullenberger’s demeanor as his plane plummeted at over 200 miles per hour toward downtown Manhattan. Sullenberger’s words in the cockpit and on the radio were strong, decisive and inspiring. In contrast, Captain Schettino was speaking with such diffidence that De Falco had difficulty understanding him.

Schettino: "So, I'll tell you something..."

De Falco: "Speak louder."

Schettino: "Now, I'm in front of..."

De Falco: "Commander, speak louder, take the microphone and speak loud. Is that clear?"

Schettino: "Commander, right now the ship is skewed. [listing to starboard]"

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De Falco: "Understood. Listen,…….. you go aboard and you tell me the number of people and what they have on board. Is that clear? You tell me whether there are children, women or people needing assistance. And you tell me the number of each of these categories. Is that clear? Schettino, maybe you saved yourself from the sea, but I'll make you pay for sure. Go aboard, (expletive)!"

But even then, Schettino argued that his presence was not needed aboard.

Schettino: "Commander, please?"

De Falco: "Please, now you go aboard!"

Schettino: "I am on the life boat, under the ship, I haven't gone anywhere, I'm here."

De Falco: "What are you doing, commander?"

Schettino: "I'm here to coordinate rescues."

De Falco: "What are you coordinating there? Go on board and co-ordinate rescues from on board! Do you refuse?"

Schettino: "I'm not going because there is another lifeboat stopped there."

De Falco: "Go aboard: it's an order*. You have no evaluation to make, you declared abandon ship, now I give orders: go aboard. Is it clear?"

(* Once a captain has abandoned his ship, he no longer commands it, it is under the control of nautical search and rescue command.)

Schettino: "Commander I'm going aboard."

De Falco: "Call me from aboard, my rescuer is there at the prow of the ship. There are already dead bodies, Schettino."

Schettino: "How many dead bodies?"

De Falco: "I do not know. One for sure. You have to tell me how many!"

Schettino: "Do you realize that it's dark here and we can't see a thing?"

De Falco"And what, do you want to go home, Schettino? It's dark, so you want to go home...? Go on the prow of the ship, using the rope ladder and tell me what can be done, how many people there are and what are their needs. Do it now."

Schettino: "Here there is also the vice commander. I'm together with him."

De Falco: "Then go aboard together. Together. What's his name?"

Schettino: "Dimitri."

De Falco: "Dimitri what? You and your vice go aboard. Now, is it clear?"

Schettino: "Commander, I want to go aboard, but here there is the other lifeboat, there are other rescuers who stopped. Now I called other rescuers."

De Falco: "You've been telling me this for one hour. Go aboard. Go aboard. And you tell me right away how many people there are."

Schettino: "Ok commander."

Just because a man has the coordination and the skill to handle a ship doesn’t mean he has what it takes to be a captain, especially when lives are at stake. Skill at navigating a ship can no more guarantee suitability as a captain any more than the fact that a male can produce sperm guarantees that he would be an adequate father.

Not only did Schettino fail, but it appears that his flight led some of the crew to abandon the passengers with him. Undoubtedly, there were brave crew who stayed and may have even paid with their lives, but they did this in spite of their captain. But make no mistake, Schettino’s acts were not the first in the tragic string of events. Nor was hitting the rocks. It was that he had been given command in the first place.

In the cases I worked in the FBI, particularly those perpetrated by the most violent, evil men, there had been a trail of acts, behaviors and episodes where the person’s personality was tipped-off. And in each of the cases, innocent people lay dead because the responsible people had shirked their duties. Schettino was responsible for the safety of thousands of people. With apparent failure of courage this blatant, could it be possible that there were no indications of Schettino’s inability to handle fear prior to this crisis?

Carnival has a responsibility to determine the suitability of a man or woman to command. There is no excuse anymore in today’s world. There are ways to weed out those who cannot ‘cut it.’ Even more traditional methods could have determined his fitness for duty. Marine Boot Camp, as horrible and stressful as it has been described, is not that way as some kind of sick initiation, it is to weed out those who cannot function under extreme duress or fear. Drill Instructors and the fear they instill are two of the main reasons that cowardice under fire is not something that people think of when they hear the words “United States Marines.” In a perfect world, Schettino would not have been given command, and he would have been spared what must be the worst experience of his life. He is not evil, he was just incapable of what was asked of him. And somebody in authority likely knew that. They were simply betting on the odds that his courage would never have to be tested.

Fortunately, Costa Cruise lines has now realized the magnitude of the tragedy and has made quick, astute moves to prove to the passengers and the world that they understand the gravity of the situation: They have offered the surviving passengers (and I’m not making this up) a 30% discount on a future Costa cruise. If that doesn’t restore your faith, I don’t know what will.

De Falco’s soon to be famous statement to the fleeing captain; “Schettino, maybe you saved yourself from the sea, but I'll make you pay for sure,” ended with the Italian phrase, “Vada a bordo, cazzo!” “Go on board, ‘cazzo’!” Cazzo is Italian profane slang for male genitalia. De Falco had lost all respect for a Schettino and was goading him to “man up.” Interestingly, there are already T-shirts with the phrase, “Vada a bordo, cazzo!” being made. Possibly it will enter the lexicon as a phrase intended to shame cowards into meeting their duties. Finally and pitifully, Schettino later explained his departure from the ship by saying that he had “tripped into a lifeboat,” a statement which only exposes the depth of his deficiency as a captain.

But to be fair, Sullenberger is not perfect either. After he skillfully ditched his A320 in the Hudson river, he deviated from the aircraft checklist and did not comply with what a captain should do. The checklist told him to don a life preserver, open the cockpit window and evacuate the aircraft. 

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Instead, Sullenberger left the cockpit but not the aircraft. He left the cockpit through the interior door, going into the sinking rear cabin of the plane to ensure that everyone was out. Twice. When the last crewmember besides the captain boarded a raft, the airplane was halfway under water. Sullenberger, however, had one more thing to do. He went forward one last time to retrieve the aircraft’s logbooks to aid in the investigation of the crash before he departed—the last to leave the ship. The right stuff.