Troy Davis, Amanda Knox, Mark McPhail, and Meredith Kercher
Sunday saw the burial of Troy Davis, the man who millions believed was falsely convicted of murder and who was then, in turn, killed by the State of Georgia despite a massive groundswell of support, including from some of the finest political and legal minds in America and around the world.
Today sees the freeing of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito after their appeal against conviction for killing British student Meredith Kercher was upheld, primarily because the DNA evidence that had originally played such a large part in their conviction was effectively discredited.
The similarities and contrasts in the cases are striking.
In America and Italy, the credibility of the prosecuting police and legal establishment has been comprehensively called into question, and in both cases the fervour with which the appeals process was opposed speaks to the desire of law enforcement agencies to avoid having convictions overturned and, as a result, their competence inevitably called into question.
In one case, though, the burden of evidence seemed to be impossibly flawed, and certainly inadequate to sustain the ultimate penalty for fear of a mistake being made, and yet the state went ahead and carried out the execution anyway.
In the other, an element of doubt must still remain in many people’s minds as to whether Knox and Sollecito are, in fact, innocent, because their testimony and behaviour after the murder seemed confused and contradictory, and yet the court set them free, because the high standard needed to sustain a very long period of imprisonment was not met.
In one case, the family of off-duty policeman Mark MacPhail believe justice was served, but many hundreds of thousands of people who have informed themselves on the case believe the true killer is still walking free.
In the other, Meredith Kercher’s family are now left bitterly resentful of the fact that the defendants seem to have garnered all the publicity, and now, of course, wonder who else, if anyone, was involved in the violent death of their beloved daughter. (Local small-time drug dealer and petty thief Rudy Guede has also been convicted on the same charges as Knox and Sollecito but was tried separately and is serving a 16-year sentence after exhausting his appeals.)
In both cases, the passion with which the families of the accused fought for their children was brave, heartfelt, and touching. As was the desire for justice of the families of the dead.
It seems to me that, whatever private suspicions people might have about the guilt or innocence of Knox and her co-accused, one thing is clear. If the burden of evidence was inadequate, freeing them was the right decision. They are, unquestionably, innocent, because our system of laws demand that a person is either entirely innocent or entirely guilty. If we ever lose this unbreachable, unquenchable standard within our legal system then it seems to me we revert to the dark ages.
Reflecting on the Knox trial, it is also easy to imagine how a 20 year old American girl, living the high life in Italy, could become confused, scared and browbeaten when captured in the maw of a malevolent legal system, subjected to intense enquiry in an alien environment.
Certainly that is the popular feeling about the case in America.
Perhaps this explains how in her first interrogation, Knox said she was in the house at the time of the murder and she falsely identified the owner of a bar where she worked as a waitress as the killer. He was arrested but quickly exonerated.
In court last week, Knox apologised to him. Knox now says that she was with Sollecito at his house all night and that her initial comments were misunderstood and only given after heavy questioning. She admitted she was wrong, the court had to decide whether she was actually misunderstood or lying, and why she would lie, if guiltless. Perhaps Knox was indeed guilty and casting around in her confusion for a way out? Or perhaps she merely acted foolishly, in terror at the situation she found herself in, or as she says, perhaps she was simply misunderstood?
In short, we will never know for certain, and we offer up a silent prayer of thanks that it was not our child caught in such a situation. The judges and jurors in the appeal court agreed that the prosecution had failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, and as such, Knox must walk free, and without a stain on her character.
One can only imagine how the family of Troy Davis must feel when, as is surely inevitable, they review the news coverage of this case. In one jurisdiction, an appeals process established without question that the evidence originally submitted was highly questionable. In the other, the appeals process positively discriminated against hearing such evidence, preferring to focus on procedural niceties that seemed designed to keep the guilty man headed for the death chamber, no matter what. Remember: there was no DNA evidence linking Davis to the crime, and the murder weapon was never found. And yet the appeals process remained stony-faced.
And it must be said: in one case, the defendants were a pair of attractive middle-class lovers, young, beautiful – and white. In the other, he was a black man in a southern state of the USA.
Last but by no means least, let us reflect at length that Knox and her co-accused, in a different jurisdiction, could have been executed before they were exonerated. Yet within days, she will be walking the streets of her home town, considering, no doubt, book and movie deals, seeking to get her life back on track.
As you read this, hundreds of other death sentence appeals grind their way through the American legal system. Men and women sit on death row, under unimaginable strain, and sometimes for decades. Can anyone say with certainty that an indefinable number of those slated for execution are not, in fact, entirely innocent, when we know for sure that many posthumous pardons have had to be issued for innocent people who have been executed, in America and elsewhere?
One fact in these sad stories is indisputable. Troy Anthony Davis was buried in the cold ground of Savannah, Georgia on Sunday. I am Troy Davis.