(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.
 
 

Amanda Knox; An Innocent Girl 
Finally Goes Home

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     I met Amanda Knox for the first time a few days ago, following her release from an Italian prison after serving four years for a crime she did not commit.  I am grateful that I had not met Amanda before I got involved in the case.  

     Not meeting Amanda prior to my involvement in the case probably saved me from prison time myself.  Had I known her personally, I do not know if I could have waited for the agonizingly slow wheels of Italian justice to free her. Amanda, you see, turns out to be a truly spectacular person; even more intelligent than I had expected, even more empathetic than she had been described, and even more gentle than I had anticipated. More and more, the fact that she of all people was targeted by a malicious, psychologically-challenged rogue prosecutor raises the level of irony to almost absurd levels.  So at a time when I should have been feeling only relief and gratitude, I had to fight a seething vicarious anger at four years taken from a good person. Amanda herself seems to bear no malice, and wonders only how anybody could believe she did what prosecutor Giuliano Mignini charged her with.

          The events of the last week have washed over me like a tidal wave, and I have not caught up with the emotion, the reality or the impact of what took place. I do not feel that I am ready to write at length about the events in Perugia last week, but I wanted to communicate a few thoughts in the meantime.

          The most beautiful part of the “Not Guilty” verdict for Amanda and Raffaele came in the way Italian law demands that a verdict be couched. In Italy, a person can be found not guilty for two reasons (and I paraphrase the language):

       1.       Not guilty due to insufficient evidence. (Not guilty)

       2.       Not guilty due to the fact that the person did not commit the crime. (Innocent)

          The first option is a passive statement, but the second is a positive declaration ofinnocence, not simply lack of guilt. It says not that the prosecutors failed to meet their burden, but that the evidence proves that person charged did not commit the crime. It is not simply release, it is full exoneration. That is the verdict Amanda and Raffaele received: Not guilty because the evidence proved that they did not commit the crime.

          In a piece in Wednesday’s International Herald Tribune,  New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Timothy Egan wrote, “There was no way, based on forensic evidence that was a joke by international standards and a nonexistent motive that played into medieval superstitions, to find Knox and Sollecito guilty….” The claim of the prosecutors that there was a trace of the victim’s DNA on the blade of a knife used by Amanda to cut bread was, “….nearly laughed out of court by an independent panel of [DNA] experts.” The independent experts did find something on the blade, though: Bread Starch. (Rye).  Out of nowhere.

          It must be pointed out that Amanda’s exoneration did not come from an American court. The U.S. State Department (God knows) didn’t do anything to help her. The U.S. government abandoned her in a despicable, cowardly way, frankly. No, the exoneration of Amanda and Raffaele occurred in an Italian court. A court in the same Italian city in which they were first convicted by a judge who, if he is not corrupt, has not even a basic understanding of evidence and the rule of law. The kids were exonerated in the same courtroom in which the first trial was held. By a jury of Italians, not Americans. Jurors who wore sashes in the colors of the Italian flag. They were once again prosecuted by the same prosecutor (who is still appealing his own prison sentence for corruption). Only the judge was different.  And this judge demanded evidence. And this judge demanded justice. Judge Pratillo Hellmann made Italy justifiably proud.  I have been in more Federal Courtrooms in the United States than I can count. The controlled, careful and fair manner in which Judge Hellmann conducted this trial was, if anything, superior to what I have come to expect even in a U.S. federal court.

          In Italian law, after a not guilty verdict, a defendant already incarcerated in prison obtains their release several hours later at the prison. Only very rarely will a judge order that a defendant be “released immediately.” On those rare occasions that this occurs, according to Italian attorneys I spoke to, it is considered a ‘slap’ at the prosecutor(s).  Judge Hellmann ordered that Amanda and Raffaele be “released immediately.” The immediate release was an obvious signal of the judge’s extreme dissatisfaction the prosecution.

          Following the verdict, a crowd of over 1,000 Italians formed around the courthouse, and a cheer went up when Amanda’s sister Deanna spoke of her release. Many times in Perugia, I experienced an indication of the overwhelming Italian sentiment of Amanda’s innocence. Italians would learn that I was involved in the case, and I would find that my drinks had been paid for, unrequested desserts came to the table, and strangers came to encourage or to hug me. People who spoke no English would walk past and cross their fingers in the “good luck” sign, smiling. The Italian public had figured this one out. 

          At the end, the Italian (legitimate) press was vociferously in Amanda’s corner. Immediately following the verdict, I looked over at two of my newfound friends in the Italian television media, and tears were rolling down their smiling cheeks. The prosecutor Mignini tried to couch this trial as racism (the actual murderer was black), and then as nationalism (big, bad America trying to step on poor little Italy). But in doing so, he only managed to prove the truth of Dr. Samuel Johnson’s immortal 1775 quote: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Insightfully, the judge, the jury and the Italian public chose to disregard his attempts at jury nullification and decided this case on fact rather than jingoism and prejudice.

          Sadly, the vindictiveness of a corrupt local system is not easily escaped.  About half an hour after the initially popular verdict, a “spontaneous” anti-Knox demonstration began outside the court. In a striking bit of serendipity, the “spontaneous demonstrators” just happened to have megaphone with them that night, and all knew what they would chant. Though in jeans and polo shirts, the demonstrators (all men between their middle-20’s and late 40’s) bore startling, almost eerie individual resemblances to the dozens of policemen who had originally signed the warrants against Amanda and Raffaele, and who had been in court that night in a “show of solidarity.” Many of those officers are the same ones suing Amanda for claiming that she had been slapped in her interrogation. (The required tape of the interrogation of prisoners in Italy is inexplicably absent. Go figure.)

          After the ‘impromptu’ demonstration, the men began individual fist-fights with Italian Amanda supporters, (I counted at least five such fights) and generally shamed the town of Perugia at a moment when the city deserved to be basking in the glory of the world spotlight. I want to point out here that the people of Perugia are good, honorable people, by and large. The Carabinieri (military) police in the town are honorable and professional. But the local police and the local prosecutor ruthlessly run the town. As an example, while we were in Perugia, five people were arrested---in the courtroom---by the local police. All for criticizing the prosecutor in some way or another. My wife was one of those arrested, and awaits a decision as to whether she will be charged with “contempt” which carries with it a possible three-year prison sentence.

          The relief I feel at Amanda and Raffaele’s release is indescribable. I also feel additional relief that on-line Amanda-haters are by and large a thing of my past. We had dealt with them until now only to counter their hateful propaganda in front of an uninformed public.  Now, it’s not even important to answer them because truly, nobody cares about what they say anymore.

          They and others who refuse to accept this Italian court verdict (while arbitrarily accepting the first court’s verdict) are already receding into insignificance, and even the echoes of their hateful diatribes and death threats are fading into the ether. I do not think that they will ever be convinced of Amanda’s obvious innocence, nor do I think they are done spewing propaganda. Frustration produces anger, and like an infant who throws a tantrum when put down for a nap, I assume they will make a lot of indiscriminate noise that does nothing but irritate those around them. But they can now be grouped by society with those who claim to have been kidnapped by UFO’s, doubters in the moon landings and 9/11 conspiracy theorists. As one of my favorite philosophers, Stan Marsh of “South Park,”once said to Eric Cartman about such conspiracy mongers: “25% of society is crazy.”  This is truth, and it is truth that the anti-Amanda crazies will continue to validate. But now they have been refuted by the same justice system they touted for years, and eventually, like the child put down for a nap, will become distracted and move on to other things. They will soon be looking for new things and people to hate. (Though those of them who crossed the lines of civil and criminal behavior will soon find that they have not been forgotten and that legal redress waited only for Amanda’s repatriation.)

          What remains is to ensure that this does not happen again. As Egan said, “Perhaps the tide from Perugia will lift other boats.” For this to happen, though, pompous prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, forensic perjurer Patrizia Stefanoni, and mind-reading detective Edgardo Giobbi (and others), must be prosecuted for their corruption. The judge who rubber-stamped the lies in the first trial, Massei, must also be called to the bar of justice—or back to law school. That is what will occupy some of my time for the next few years, I’m sure. But for right now, I am in the mood to bathe in the warmth of the freedom of Amanda Knox. The sunshine of the justice she obtained should warm the entire world.

          At this moment, I find that the word “elation” is woefully inadequate to describe my emotions.  Euphoria might be a closer word, but euphoria eventually fades. As long as I live, I will remember that late night in the courtroom when two innocents were rescued from a cabal of evil men.

 
 

Salem, Italy

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Posted from Florence, Italy, September 28, 2011

          The Perugia Witch Trial continues…..

          Well, the façade is down. No more trying to hide it. This is a witch trial. These are not my words, but the words of Carlo Pacelli, an attorney fighting to obtain monetary damages from Amanda Knox. Pacelli finally said (in court, on record) what everybody already knew the prosecution thought:

          “Amanda Knox is a witch!” 

          Like the Salem inquisitions and other publicly sanctioned murders, the initial trial was based on rumors, lies, accusations, and a “confession” obtained from (psychological) torture techniques that the prosecutors in Salem would have killed for. Finally, any and all evidence clearing an innocent person was intentionally disregarded.

          Patrick Lumumba is suing Amanda Knox for €80,000 for implicating him in the murder, a statement the detectives forced and beat from her after an overnight foodless, sleepless interrogation, using techniques developed by the North Koreans to brainwash U.S. pilots during the Korean War.  (See injusticeinperugia.com for details.) Being sued for something you were forced to do is kind of like being rammed by a drunk policeman, then being ticketed for littering because the body of your passenger is on the freeway.

          So, at least it’s finally out in the open and we can go on, confident that, at least we understand each other.

In other news:

          On September 28th, 2010, Pepperdine University and I parted company, at their request. I am no longer at liberty to discuss why. (But it was not a mutual decision. Pepperdine and I settled "out of court" the lawsuit I subsequently filed. I can't speak for Pepperdine, but I am very satisfied with the resolution of the suit.)

          At Pepperdine, I shared responsibility for security of their worldwide campuses and the students that studied there (including those in Florence, Italy). In a magnificent display of God's sense of irony, today I find myself in Florence, Italy. 

          When something you initially perceive as bad (or really bad) occurs, remember that it could be God intervening to change your course for the better. I believe this is the case with my change of direction one year ago today. I have not felt so fulfilled, at peace, and certain I was on the right side of an issue in my life. It might be the best bad thing to ever happen to me, and that's saying a lot. Pepperdine is a fine, even spectacular university and I hope and pray that they flourish all over the world. Their students are among some of the finest people I have ever met.

          So, today, in Florence, Michelle and I will celebrate God's provision for us, not mark a somber occasion.