Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Knox Appeal: The Defense Counters (14th Hearing)

The Knox camp got a boost today, as things seemed to go entirely their way Wednesday. The fourteenth appeals hearing started with requests by Prosecutor Manuela Comodi for new testing on the knife and bra clasp and to introduce newly discovered records about the DNA-testing machine used in the case. Furthermore, Comodi had requested to recall Luciano Aviello to the stand, a witness who had originally testified that his brother killed Kercher, who has since publically retracted this statement when questioned by Comodi in prison in July (Read more on this HERE).

Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellmann, however, rejected all three requests—all victories for Knox’s defense, who opposed the motions. Judge Hellman said the discussion regarding DNA evidence had been thorough enough for the court to form an opinion, and he said that new testing would be “superfluous.”

Other expert defense witnesses came forward as well today to counter expert prosecution testimony a day earlier. Much as he did in the original trial, Carlo Torre, one of Italy’s best-known forensics experts, presented a detailed technical argument about the DNA on the knife. Torre testified that the “smaller wound [on Kercher’s neck] is absolutely incompatible with the knife in question.” Torre is also a proponent of “one robust killer” as opposed to three attackers.

Dr. Torre’s assistant, Sarah Gino (who is a private coroner) also testified today. Reiterating some of what she said on the stand in the original trial, Gino added that Sollecito’s genetic material could have gotten onto the bloodied bra if it was on Knox’s clothes when they were washed with Kercher’s before the killing, a new theory now posed by Gino.

In her testimony earlier this week, Dr. Patrizia Stefanoni said that she stored biological evidence in the victim’s freezer on November 2 and 3 (2007), before bringing the samples to Rome. “This is a strange way of [collecting] evidence,” defense forensic expert Adriano Tagliabracci testified today, criticizing the methods used by Stefanoni. Taught methods of collection of biological evidence calls for them to be air-dried, because they are damp, thus should be packaged in a non-plastic contained to prevent mold or bacteria from creating a whole different kind of science experiment inside the containers.

It was certainly a good tactic by the defense to raise these concerns, although in retrospect, this procedure by Stefanoni didn’t affect her results, and the defense has a better chance of swaying the jury with the independent experts’ findings—because the plastic bag contamination (argument) would have a better chance ruining the possibility of receiving a DNA match rather than providing a match via contamination.

Kercher family lawyer, Francesco Maresca, told the media that the rulings were not a defeat, and that he understood why the judge rejected the requests.

Reminiscent of his enthusiasm and optimism during this time in the first trial, Amanda’s father, Curt Knox said (as reported by The Telegraph), “Amanda is happy and hopeful that she won't be spending too much more time in prison...”

Meanwhile, Nick Pisa, of The Telegraph and The Daily Mail, is reporting that a clearly frustrated Prosecutor Manuela Comodi said: "There is an ill wind blowing in this case. The judge and his assistant are clearly against us. I can see both Knox and Sollecito being freed which will be a shame as they are both involved."

However, it is ABC who has apparently interviewed Comodi and their take is very different than what Nick Pisa wrote. The Seattle Times is reporting that in ABC’s interview with her, Comodi said:

“We did our job. I am convinced by what I have said. I am fully convinced of their guilt and I would find it very serious if they were set free. Today’s decision could lead one to think that there is more of a possibility that they be set freed.”

Nick Pisa seems to have used his ill-will to twist the quote of Comodi in an effort to "sell papers" per say; and it seems to be working because today Sheppard Smith of FOX News used the quote verbatim and proceeded to slam Italian Justice and the case against Knox. Even I was fooled by it for a few hours.

A voice of reason in the most unlikely places also emerged today. After the session, Knox's lawyer Luciano Ghirga, warned that the court’s rejection of new DNA testing was not equal to a positive outcome of the whole appeals trial.

Judge Hellmann suspended the proceedings until 23 September 2011, at which time he announced that closing arguments will begin, with the prosecution going first, followed by civil plaintiffs, and then the defense.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Knox Appeal: The Prosecution Strikes Back

Amanda Knox entered the courtroom today for the second day in a row. This time she was wearing olive green satin blouse and black slacks, and gave a smile to her father, stepfather, and best friend as she was led to her seat. Dr. Patrizia Stefanoni (above) took the stand again today to dispute the DNA results given by the two court appointed experts, Professors Carla Vecchiotti and Stefano Conti.

Yesterday Dr. Stefanoni was armed with 119 PowerPoint slides to explain her analysis. During her presentation some had a hard time staying awake in the dimly-lit, hot courtroom; even Knox seemed to nod-off a bit. As Dr. Stefanoni took the stand, Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellmann joked about it saying, “I’m glad to see you have no slides,” he said with a wry smile. Still, Dr. Stefanoni did, however, use more slides. Under questioning by prosecutor Manuela Comodi, Dr. Stefanoni defended the methods and equipment used in the investigation.

Dr. Stefanoni told the court that the machine used for the DNA examination was clean, and she rejected suggestions that the clasp had been contaminated. Dr. Stefanoni said the knife was tested in a lab six days after investigators had analyzed a trace of Kercher’s DNA, and she insisted that contamination did not occur.

Dr. Stefanoni also insisted that during period of 46 days after the killing that it took to collect the bra clasp, “nothing from outside the victim’s room was brought inside.” She insisted that out of 133 specimens analyzed in the house of the murder—including 89 in Kercher’s room—Sollecito’s genetic profile was only found in a cigarette butt in an ashtray, mixed with Knox’s. “If Sollecito’s DNA had somehow traveled from the butt to the clasp, then there would be Knox’s DNA as well on the clasp,” she said. This is something that I have posited and discussed long ago (SEE HERE for further explanation).

Also called to the stand by the prosecution was Giuseppe Novelli, an expert on human genetics at Rome’s Tor Vergata University. Novelli said he reviewed the prosecution’s procedures and he “absolutely excludes” contamination on the knife and bra clasp. Then he made a very valid point of common sense. “If the origin and vehicle of contamination is not proved, this is just a hypothetical theory,” Novelli said, adding that experts did not state precisely how the two items may have been contaminated with DNA.

The prosecution also called Francesca Torricelli, the director of a Genetical Diagnostic Center at the University of Florence. She argued that the DNA evidence was credible, and she had looked at the data and came to the same conclusions as Dr. Stefanoni. Professor Torricelli assured the court that Meredith’s DNA was on the blade of the double DNA knife.

Vecchiotti (above w/ Conti) testified in an earlier hearing that the knife tested negative for blood and the amount of DNA said to be Kercher’s was so low that it could not be examined again with any conclusions. But Torricelli refuted this claim, saying that she had witnessed the work of Vecchiotti and Conti, and that the machinery they used during their investigation could check extremely low quantities of DNA. Meanwhile, Novelli told the court that for him, and others, it was not a question of “quantity of DNA, but rather quality” to carry out a successful examination.

Outside the courtroom, prosecutor Comodi said she considered that Stefanoni and Novelli had clearly proven the good work they had done.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Knox Appeal: Resumes Today After Summer Recess

With the verdict in the appeals trails of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito expected at the end of this month, tensions are high on both sides. After a summer recess, the trial continued today with the prosecution questioning the court appointed forensics experts regarding their results of two key pieces of DNA evidence that helped convict Knox and her former boyfriend of murdering Meredith Kercher back in 2007. Knox arrived at the courtroom today looking anxious and drawn.

In their 145-page report to the court, the experts—Carla Vecchiotti and Stefano Conti—questioned much of the evidence that was collected in that original investigation, saying procedures to obtain it fell below international standards and may have led to contamination.

Questioned today over the extraction of DNA profiles from the bra clasp, Carla Vecchiotti said the data was so mixed that a very high number of genetic profiles could be extracted, depending how one combined the data “I could find yours, too,” Vecchiotti told the presiding judge. “I’m there, too,” she said, adding that some data was compatible with her own DNA. This was a bizarre comment by Vecchiotti, which if we take what she said at face value could call into question her own methods and possible contamination on her part. However, she was most likely facetiously stating that there were a number of profiles on the clasp. She added that Kercher’s profile was the only certain one.

The prosecution and Kercher family lawyer, Francesco Maresca, are now in a touchy situation as they are forced to attack the reputations of the court appointed experts, which might be viewed as an attack upon Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellmann—who appointed them.

The key witness today was Dr. Patrizia Stefanoni, the police forensic scientist who carried out the original investigation, defended the collection procedures used and the results obtained. Dr. Stefanoni told the court that DNA analyses were carried out from behind a glass wall to avoid the risk of contamination. She also said some of the standard protocols cited by the experts were published after she finished her report in May 2008, also pointing out that there are no internationally accepted international protocols for DNA collection. Using some of the 119 PowerPoint slides she said she had prepared, she challenged the experts' finding over DNA quantity, analysis and evidence collection techniques. Dr. Stefanoni’s testimony will continue Tuesday, where she is expected to defend her team's handling of the bra clasp among other things.

After the session, Maresca commented to CNN reporters regarding Dr. Stefanoni’s testimony today. “Stefanoni has thoroughly and calmly clarified the principal elements of the work she carried out—in a clear manner, given the complex subject…during the examination at the time…I think she managed to get the court’s full attention and to have damaged the independent forensic work.”

Just ahead of the hearing, in a letter (Read complete letter HERE) released by Francesco Maresca, Kercher’s sister, Stephanie, wrote: “In these last few weeks we have been left seriously anxious and greatly troubled by the news regarding the original DNA findings. It is extremely difficult to understand how the results, which were obtained with great care and presented in the original trial as valid, could now be regarded as irrelevant.”

Stephanie Kercher concluded by writing, “My sister, a daughter brutally and selfishly taken from us nearing 4 years ago…and yet a not a single day goes by that we can grasp any peace or closure…We ask that the Court of Appeal assess every single (piece) of evidence, both scientific and circumstantial, as well as any witnesses who have taken the stand independently of any other information or media,” she wrote.

Continuing her verbal campaign to free her daughter, Knox’s mother, Edda Mellas commented on the contents of the Kercher letter: “I saw in her letter where she stated that it [the evidence] was collected appropriately,” Mellas, told ABC News. “Well, perhaps they should go and review the crime scene videos, because clearly it was not.”

The appeals hearings are expected to continue through the week. After rebuttals later in September, an appeals verdict is expected by the end of the month.