(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.
Picture
The courts in L'aquila were devastated. In more ways than one.
Picture
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.


Picture
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.
Picture
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
Picture
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.

Picture
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.
 
 

Is This Really Still About Meredith?

Picture
gra·tu·i·tous Adjective/grəˈt(y)o͞oitəs/

      1.    Uncalled for; lacking good reason; unwarranted.

          For the past several weeks as the appeal by Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito have wound through the courts, the family of the Meredith Kercher, the victim in this highly controversial case, has begged all who would listen to remember Meredith. They have spoken lovingly of their lost daughter and decried the fact that Meredith “has been forgotten.”

          Just two weeks ago, Meredith’s sister Stephanie wrote a letter to the family’s Italian lawyer Francisco Maresca which was immediately turned over to the press. Stephanie is quoted in the letter; “All those who are reading and writing about this case, please remember our beautiful Meredith.” I empathize with her; Meredith was truly beautiful and should be remembered. “We have not forgotten her,” she said in the anguished missive,“And we will continue our fight with the support of our lawyer Francesco Maresca.”  (Why she said that in a letter addressed to Maresca causes one pause.)

          Later in the correspondence to her Maresca, Stephanie continues; “In the midst of all this….Meredith has been forgotten…and so everything should be for her….”

          Today, someone had little heed for those anguished words. There were more important things than the memory of Meredith Kercher to one person this afternoon.

          Today, in the courtroom in Perugia, at 2:40 p.m., without warning, without dignity, without any apparent concern for Meredith or her grieving family, without decency, an attorney began to display eight foot square, gruesome, lurid and obscene naked full-frontal photographs of Meredith Kercher’s blood-smeared body, lying on the floor next to her bed where she had been murdered and sexually assaulted. She lay in the very position that Rudy Guede left her after putting a pillow under her hips to assist in the sexual assault. The photos were, to say the least, explicit, and press cameras immediately began clicking, as the courtroom spectators stood and moved toward the huge screen where the large photos were being displayed. Meredith was shown from the tips of her toes all the way to her eyes, fixed in a glassy, gruesome stare above a gaping throat slash. The audience gasped. More grisly photos followed; close-ups of the deep slash to Meredith’s throat, showing the severed muscles and larynx. But still the photos continued; photos which showed graphically the sputum foam which was the result of her labored breathing as the blood from her neck drained into her lungs. The photos showed her empty eyes and her blood-caked hair.

          Who would do such an abominable thing? Who would have such complete disregard for a young woman and her grieving family? Who would so obscenely desecrate Meredith and her memory with appalling, offensive, horrid images? Was it the defense attorneys?  No. Was it one of the three prosecutors who have been doing everything they can to create a case out of contrived evidence? No.

          Astoundingly, it was the Kerchers' own attorney, Francesco Maresca. The same Francesco Maresca of whom Stephanie Kercher said,  “We will continue our fight with the support of our lawyer, Francesco Maresca.” If Meredith was my daughter and my attorney did what he did, I would pull the plug on the projector, and end his presentation. I might end more than his presentation. If another attorney did that, I would do my best to ensure that they never again practiced law.

          Don’t think for a moment that this is an Italian legal peccadillo. This was scandalous especially in Italy. A well-known writer for one of Italy’s largest daily papers disgustedly called Maresca, “A barbarian,” after the pictures were shown. A British journalist, reporting on the case for a major television network, called the presentation, “...a disgrace.” In 25 years in the FBI, I had never seen such an abominable, disgraceful display; and for it to be at the hands of the very attorney protecting the feelings, interests and emotions of the family, as well as the “memory of Meredith,” it was inconceivable. Yes, difficult things must be shown in courts, but never without the simple decency of privacy and respect. It’s the least one can do. But apparently Maresca couldn’t come up with even the least.

           Why would Maresca do this? Sadly, it’s a simple equation. For Maresca, at least, money is more important than Meredith.

           Maresca is not the prosecutor. Maresca is not there to prove guilt. That is not his position in court. He is a CIVIL attorney. He is there for one reason and one reason only: Money. He is there to represent and protect the multi-million Euro judgment against Sollecito and Knox and awarded to the Kerchers.  You see, if Knox and Sollecito are exonerated (as they likely will be), the only defendant left (convicted and appeals exhausted, in fact) is indigent. Maresca has been working on this case for approximately four years, and appears to stand to lose an immense commission if the right people are not convicted. The man most of the press and public at the trial believed committed the murder; Rudy Guede is indeed indigent. Knox and her family’s finances have been decimated by a four year trial and appeal in Italy. Sollecito’s father, however, is a wealthy physician. If Knox isn’t convicted, then Sollecito isn’t convicted. And if Sollecito isn’t convicted, there is no money to award to the Kerchers. And no fees for Maresca to collect. Meredith’s dignity was simply another card to play, apparently.

          In case the reader might think that this display was anything but gratuitous, realize that Maresca has no obligation, no function, no reason, no excuse for attempting to prove guilt. He is there simply to help collect Euros from “whoever” is convicted.

          The graphic, obscene, desecrating photographs shown today had no evidentiary value. No legitimate purpose was served by the photographs. Nothing about the murder scene was in dispute in this session. Nothing about Meredith’s death, her condition at the time of death, or her body was in play. In short, there was no reason in the entire legal world to show detailed photographs of the violated body of his clients’ child and sister. No reason except money. The display was gratuitous, designed to horrify and shock a jury. And it horrified. And it shocked. But maybe only the conscience of decent people. Several people left the courtroom, and many were left traumatized.

          In any decent courtroom in the world, (and the practice in this courtroom in the past) when photographs such as these are required for evidentiary value, the courtroom (except for the jurors and the officers of the court) is cleared--out of respect for the victim and the victim’s family. But today, these photographs weren’t required, and today, the room wasn’t cleared. 

          There are many reasons that courts generally do not allow such gratuitous displays. But one of the major reasons is that unless the photos of the bodies are being used to prove a point, there is no reason to show them. It prejudices a jury for the simple fact that the lifeless body is horrifying no matter who killed the person. The tactic is simply designed to raise a rage and a desire for retribution in the minds of the jurors, and to focus their rage and need for revenge on the closest people to them: the defendants. Let alone the fact that the photo has nothing to do with whether the particular defendants are guilty or not.

          I understand that the Kerchers want people to remember Meredith. I applaud this. But is this how they want people to remember her? I had a gut-wrenching experience as a young FBI Agent many years ago. Several people had been killed in the course of an incident which the FBI was investigating as murder. It was my unfortunate task to witness the autopsies of the victims and to assist the coroner in the identification of the bodies. This was complicated by their advanced state of decomposition. Truly, it was a gruesome sight. The bodies were blackish green, bloated, and reeked of the peculiar smell of decomposing human flesh. The fingers, however, were almost impossible to print because of clenched fists (due to the peculiar manner of death). Ultimately, we had to remove each finger at the second knuckle with a pair of clippers and roll it individually in black ink, which produced a fairly good fingerprint.

          In the midst of this horrible task, we heard a commotion outside of the autopsy room. It was the wife of the person we were currently autopsying and she was hysterical. She had been told by her funeral director that her husband’s body was horribly disfigured and that the FBI was “cutting his fingers off.” The shock created in her a rage that needed an outlet, and she burst into the outer area of the autopsy examination room. I took a quick glance at the body, and it was truly one of the most macabre sights I had ever witnessed. I knew that if the woman made it into the room, she would never forget what she saw and it would haunt her to her grave. I ran from the autopsy room to try and intercept her, covered with gore, blood and ink. But before she got as far as me, a funeral director who was at the morgue to make a “pickup” saw the drama unfold and ran to her, catching her before I had to. She collapsed to the floor sobbing in unrelenting grief for her lost love. The funeral director comforted her as best he could and repeated several times, “This is not the way you want to remember him.”

          To the Kerchers, I ask; did you approve your attorney’s actions today? If not, something must be said. Maresca went too far. You have begged that Meredith not be forgotten. Is this the way you want Meredith remembered? Unless Maresca’s actions today are addressed publicly, the questions about motivation will haunt not Maresca, but the family; the most immediate being;

          “Is this really still about Meredith?”