Saturday, December 18, 2010

Knox & Sollecito Get Early Christmas Present

The final hearing of 2010 took place today in Perugia, Italy for Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito’s appeal. Amanda Knox entered the courtroom fearing the worst; walking-in with her head down, she was seen greeting a friend. Knox’s lawyer, Carlo Dalla Vedova, took his normal stance before court, telling journalists that the case against her was “full of gray areas” and that it was “a huge miscarriage of justice.”

Last week Knox and Sollecito’s lawyers asked the appellate court in Perugia to overturn their murder convictions, requesting new witnesses and a complete review of the forensic evidence used against them in the original criminal trial. The defense maintains that DNA traces presented at the first trial were inconclusive and also contends they might have been contaminated when they were analyzed. Prosecutor Giancarlo Costagliola had opposed the review request as “useless,” asserting that “this court has all the elements to be able to come to a decision.” Kercher’s family lawyer, Francesco Maresca, insisted that there is no need to review the forensics. “We have heard this all before,” Maresca told the court. “If we don’t trust the state’s analysis of forensic evidence, we’ll have to reconsider every trial.”

After just over an hour in his chambers, Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellmen, assistant judge-Massimo Zanetti, and the six-person jury told the court that, in the interest of justice, they do need an independent review of at least some of the key forensic evidence—a bra clasp with Sollecito’s DNA and a kitchen knife with Knox’s DNA on the handle, and what the prosecution contends is Kercher’s on the blade. “If possible, the tests must be redone,” Judge Hellmen told the court. “If they can’t be re-tested, then the procedures must be closely examined.” The judge appointed two experts from Rome’s Sapienza University (Professors Stefano Conti and Carla Vecchiotti) to review the evidence. The experts will be formally given the task at the trial’s next session on 15 Jan. 2011.

The judge also asked to hear several witnesses from the criminal trial including homeless man Antonio Curatolo, who testified that he saw Knox and Sollecito gazing over the house where Kercher was killed late the night of the murder. During the criminal trial, Curatolo testified that he also saw other students on a bus that night coming from a disco in town. Lawyers for Sollecito maintain that there was no disco that night, and that Curatolo was confused. Helmen wants to hear from the manager of the disco and the bus driver. This is important because Curatolo's testimony otherwise appeared concise, reliable, and very clearly articulated.

Helmen denied a request to examine a pillowcase found under Kercher’s body that had the footprint in blood that the prosecution attributed to Knox. That pillowcase also had a spot of semen that had never been tested. The defense wants the spot tested to see whose it is, but the prosecution maintains that it likely belonged to Kercher’s boyfriend Giacomo Silenzi. The judge decided that it was not relevant in this murder. The judge also denied the reexamination of the time of Kercher’s death. He reserved the right to call two witnesses the defense insists will set their clients free. The first is Mario Alessi, a convicted child killer who says Guede told him that Knox and Sollecito had nothing to do with the murder. The second is Luciano Aviello, a Camorra mobster who says his brother is the real assassin. The judge may or may not call these two witnesses.

Although today’s decision seemed like a glimmer of hope for the Knox and Sollecito camps, there is bad news to report for them as well. Two days ago Italy’s highest criminal court upheld the conviction and 16-year-prison sentence of the third person convicted in the murder, Rudy Guede of the Ivory Coast. The high court’s ruling, which cannot be appealed, is significant because it states that Guede took part in the slaying but did not act alone, prosecutors and lawyers said.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Tearful Beginning: Knox up to Old Tricks

Today was the first formal hearing in the appeal against conviction for Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito. No one is sure just how long the trial will be, but one thing is for sure; Amanda Knox has had enough of prison living. Knox, now 23, broke down several times as she delivered an emotional twenty-minute address to the court; her voice sometimes quavering as she claimed that she had nothing to do with Miss Kercher’s brutal death. Her nervous, rambling statement—reminiscent of the court address she made at her 4th preliminary hearing back on 18 October 2008—was once again a limited, evasive, non-explanation of an explanation. It was an “I didn’t do it but I am so sorry for Meredith and her family anyway” kind of address. The fragile yet defiant Knox insisted that she did not kill Kercher and pled with the judge and jury to give her back her “shattered life,” calling her conviction unjust and an “enormous mistake.”

On 2 December 2010, Meredith Kercher’s (the victim), father, John Kercher, wrote a letter in which he made a strong plea for the cruel, callous, and inaccurate PR games, of Knox’s family, to stop. The well informed Kercher family has remained singularly cool-headed, dignified, and truthful throughout. On the other hand, the Knox family has continued to lie about the basic facts of the case; and unlike Edda Mellas, Knox’s mother, they have read Judge Massei’s sentencing report.

During Knox’s address to the court, Kercher family lawyer, Francesco Maresca walked out of the courtroom. Maresca later said he left because he wasn’t interested in comments he felt were “inappropriate, out of place and untimely.”

She went on to apologize to the Congolese bar owner, Patrick Lumumba, who spent nearly three weeks in jail after Knox told police he had killed Kercher. Lumumba was later cleared of all connection to the crime.

“Patrick: I'm sorry,” she said, turning in the direction of the courtroom where he was sitting with his lawyers. “I was naive and not at all courageous because I should have put up with the pressure that pushed me to hurt you. You didn't deserve what you went through and I hope you are able to find your peace.”

In a break after Knox’s statement, Lumumba told reporters that he felt her apology lacked sincerity, however. “If she had said it to me in the first weeks, after I got out of isolation, and we were both going in front of the judge, well then I would have believed her. But now, three years later, well, it seems like strategy. It's as if she's playing a card game and she's losing, so she’s playing every card she's got.”

Knox’s lawyer, Carlo Dalla Vedova, in his formal requests later in the day, asked for a complete review of “dubious” forensics in the case, and criticized the first judge’s sentencing report as full of personal reflections and conjecture that resulted in “perhaps one of the biggest judicial errors to happen here in recent years.”

Lawyers for Knox and Sollecito requested the court hear testimony from two new witnesses, convicted child killer Mario Alessi, who was housed in a prison cell across from Rudy Guede and says he heard another version of what happened, and mafia snitch Luciano Aviello, who claims his own brother killed Kercher and asked him to hide the murder weapon. On Friday, Perugia police raided Aviello’s prison cell on the grounds that Aviello is slandering his brother with a false homicide accusation. Italian newspapers hinted that police had sequestered documents or letters from Aviello’s cell that show his story was fabricated, but the matter was not brought up in court.

The prosecution and civil parties give their arguments next Saturday (Dec. 18). Knox’s appellate trial is expected to last for several months, with hearings held only on Saturdays.

See video footage of today's hearing