“Foxy Knoxy” – Femme Fatale or Victim of Italian “Justice” System?
If the trial of Amanda Knox and her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito was any indication, the Italian system of justice is a lazy, undisciplined folderal. Though it may embrace many Anglo-American judicial principles, in practice their “criminal” trials are a caliginous mix of toxins – a cauldron within which to stew the unwary accused.
The case was tried before a jury on Fridays and Saturdays only, and resumed after a lengthy summer long hiatus. The sheer length of the trial, together with the number of half-baked “witnesses,” calls into question just what these jurors recalled of the evidence when they retired to deliberate. Moreover, since the jurors weren’t sequestered during the trial and off time, they were free to read whatever information, reliable or not, on the Internet about the case. Unlike our system here in the U.S., the jury was comprised of six citizens and two judges – one who steers the deliberations. The trial judge himself, as is common practice in Italy, was not a disinterested umpire calling balls and strikes. Instead, he was an active participant in the trial, often interjecting himself into the questioning, allowing the jurors to glean his none too subtle desire to see Knox convicted. And while the jurors were instructed to apply the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard to the evidence, their verdict need not be unanimous – a simple majority was sufficient.
The inadequacies of the jury aside, the prosecutor, Guiliano Mignini, conducted himself as though unbound by any rules of ethics or of evidence, or obligated to abide by the rulings of Italy’s highest court. That court had ruled, because Knox had been interrogated without the presence of a lawyer, that her statements/confession to the police could not be introduced at the trial. Nevertheless, and apparently without judicial interference, Mignini referred to that confession on five occasions. During his closing argument, he repeatedly maligned Knox as a “she-devil.” Any American judge would have declared a mistrial for either infraction. In Italy, it’s met with a shrug.
If none of this is enough to cast doubt on the verdict, this murder trial was not exclusively a criminal proceeding. Within this single trial, Kercher’s family’s wrongful death suit against Knox and Sollecito and Patrick Lumumba’s defamation suit against Knox, who had accused him of the murder after fourteen hours of aggressive interrogation led by the prosecutor, were also tried. As Knox’s defense lawyers battled the perfidious prosecutor, the attorneys for Kercher and Lumumba attacked Knox’s character without mercy and played on the jurors’ sympathies for the Kercher family and Lumumba. In no serious judicial proceeding would a criminal defendant be forced to stave off assault from so many directions.
None of this may have mattered if the prosecution possessed compelling evidence of Knox’s guilt. But, there was precious little forensic evidence that Knox was involved – some DNA in the home within which she resided and on a knife seized from Sollecito’s home. That large knife was both incompatible with two knife wounds inflicted on the victim and inconsistent with a bloody knife print discovered on Kercher’s bed sheet. So little of Kercher’s DNA was found on the knife that no confirmatory testing could be performed in accordance with accepted forensic practices. The remaining witnesses provided a mish mash of circumstantial evidence that cast Knox as unfeeling femme fatale, but did nothing to identify the murderers.
Kevin J. Mahoney is a Cambridge Criminal Defense Lawyer, published author, and on-air legal analyst.