Italy’s highest appeals court has criticised “glaring errors” in the investigation into the 2007 murder of British student Meredith Kercher. Ms Kercher, 21, was stabbed to death in a Perugia flat she shared with Ms Knox.
The court acquitted Amanda Knox and her ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito of the murder in March.
Critically, it said there was an “absolute lack of biological traces” of either defendant in the room where Ms Kercher was killed or on her body.
The Court of Cassation, which exonerated the pair, published its reasoning on Monday, as it is required to do under Italian law.
It issued a damning assessment of the quality of the prosecution case, saying its high profile nature had an effect on investigators.
“The international spotlight on the case in fact resulted in the investigation undergoing a sudden acceleration,” the court said.
Several mistakes in the investigation were outlined by the court in its reasoning, including the fact that investigators burned Ms Knox’s and Ms Kercher’s computers, which could have yielded new information.
Kercher murder: Timeline
- 1 November 2007: Kercher is killed at her apartment in Perugia. Police find her a day later.
- 6 November 2007: Kercher’s American housemate Knox is arrested, along with Sollecito and Congolese national Patrick Diya Lumumba.
- 20 November 2007: Rudy Guede detained in Germany and extradited to Italy. Mr Lumumba released without charge
- 28 October 2008: Guede sentenced to 16 years. A judge rules Sollecito and Knox will face a murder trial
- 4 December 2009: Knox and Sollecito found guilty of murder and sexual violence, and jailed for 26 and 25 years
- 3 October 2011: Knox and Sollecito acquitted
- 31 January 2014: Convictions re-instated
- 28 March 2015: Court of Cassation acquits Knox and Sollecito in final verdict
The court also wrote that the Florence appeals court which convicted the pair last year ignored expert testimony that “clearly demonstrated possible contamination” of evidence and misinterpreted findings about the knife allegedly used to slit Kercher’s throat, in what prosecutors had described as a sexual assault.
“The kitchen knife, found in Sollecito’s house and the supposed crime weapon, was kept in an ordinary cardboard box,” the judges noted, adding that no traces of blood were found on it.
The judges said that one of Ms Kercher’s bra clasps, which had been a key part of the case and which prosecutors argued carried a trace of Mr Sollecito’s DNA, was left on the floor of the murder scene for 46 days, and then “was passed from hand to hand of the workers, who, furthermore, were wearing dirty latex gloves”.
Another man, Rudy Hermann Guede, born in Ivory Coast, was convicted of the murder in a separate trial and is serving a 16-year sentence. The court’s ruling against Guede stated that he did not act alone, but the acquittals of Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito mean that no-one now stands convicted of acting with Guede to kill Ms Kercher, who remains frozen in time in the photograph of her that is now so well known. Who acted with Guede? Will we ever know, now so much time has passed pursuing Knox and Sollecito?
So what was Amanda Knox guilty of? Possibly just of being terrified of being questioned in a tense atmosphere by Italian police when her own command f the language was rudimentary, and giving nonsensical answers as a result. Guilty of being young, and in a foreign land. Guilty of trying to blame someone else, for which she has been punished, and for which she has apologised, in a desperate attempt to get out of the Kafkaesque situation she found herself in. Guilty of occasionally smoking a joint, and having a sexual relationship with someone her own age.
It appears Sollecito was equally “guilty”.
And perhaps, she was guilty of not constantly look suitably “guilty”? Smiling at her parents. Composing herself (most of the time) in court. In fact, Knox’s public demeanour led some people to assume she was somehow sociopathic or hiding something. It never seemed to occur to some people that she considered it important to behave in a collected and discrete – even shy – manner, because that was her natural persona.
Australians in particular will remember how that same character trait condemned another woman to years in jail for a crime she didn’t commit, also convicted on the basis of dodgy forensic evidence. That, of course, was “A dingo’s took my baby” Lindy Chamberlain and her husband Michael.
“Why didn’t Lindy cry in court?” was the constant refrain of journalists and armchair commentators at the time.
The final resolution of that notorious case was triggered entirely by a chance discovery. In early 1986, English tourist David Brett fell to his death from Uluru during an evening climb.
Because of the vast size of the rock and the scrubby nature of the surrounding terrain, it was eight days before Brett’s remains were discovered, lying below the bluff where he had lost his footing and in an area full of dingo lairs.
As police searched the area, looking for missing bones that might have been carried off by dingoes, they discovered a small item of clothing. It was quickly identified as a crucial missing piece of evidence from the Chamberlain case, namely, baby Azaria’s missing matinee jacket
Discussing how that scandalous episode could occur, Lindy’s own website comments:
Was it because Lindy was never seen to be crying on television? That does not mean she didn’t cry, it only means that the controllers of what you saw on television did not choose to show that. Was it because she didn’t behave like people thought they would in such circumstances? Sure, that was part of it, but how does anyone know how they would react under horrific circumstances they will most likely never have to face? There are no guidebooks written to help one through such circumstances, and Lindy was doing her best to keep it all together. She is proud of her independence, and only shows her emotions to those very close to her. A lesser woman would probably still be in prison today.
Let us hope other miscarriages of justice are addressed with equal attention, but we suspect they will not be. Knox had the advantage of being beautiful and having a family who could – at great personal cost – organise a defence on her behalf. There are plenty of poor, ugly people who get locked up without her advantages. She served four years – disgraceful and avoidable – but they frequently serve a life sentence, or worse.
Imagine if Australia or Italy still imposed the death penalty, and as arbitrarily as some other states do. There would be no bringing Knox and Sollecito, or Lindy and Michael Chamberlain, back from that.