Meredith Kercher was found sexually assaulted and stabbed to death on November 1, 2007. Some of her belongings were missing. Her murder was reported to the police by American Amanda Knox, one of her roommates. She arrived the morning after the murder after staying at her boyfriend’s house and reported an apparent burglary. Within hours, the investigators concluded that the break-in was staged and that Knox was their prime suspect.
Rudy Guede, an Ivory Coast native and known burglar, whose bloody handprint, among other traces were found at the scene, was convicted separately in 2008, after being extradited from Germany where he had fled, and sentenced to 30 years in prison. On appeal, his sentence was cut to 16 years. In 2009, Knox was convicted on charges of faking a break-in, slander, sexual violence, and murder and sentenced to 26 years, Raffaele Sollecito, her boyfriend at the time, was sentenced to 25 years.
In 2010, Knox and Sollecito successfully appealed their conviction. Court-ordered forensic analysis ruled that the prosecution’s DNA evidence had errors. There was no evidence that Kercher’s DNA was on the alleged murder weapon, a knife. Independent experts found that Sollecito’s DNA fragments found on Kercher’s bra clasp were strongly suggestive of contamination. In 2011, Knox and Sollecito were declared not guilty. Knox’s slander charge was upheld and her sentence was increased to 3 years and 11 days in prison.
The court ruled that the guilty verdict of the original trial “was not corroborated by any objective element of evidence.” Police interviews were of an “obsessive duration” and Knox’s incriminating statements about herself and Patrick Lumumba, the man Knox falsely accused, were evidence of “great psychological pressure”. The judges further noted that the judge who found the pair guilty used the word “probably” 39 times in his ruling. The judges said that there was no evidence that Knox and Sollecito knew or ever communicated with Guede, despite the three being convicted of conspiring and killing Kercher together.
In 2013, prosecutors successfully appealed to the Italian Supreme Court, which set aside the acquittal and ordered a new trial. The court, also known as the Court of Cassation, instructed the lower court to give special weight to the judicial ruling in Guede’s trial, which found he did not act alone, as well as the incriminating statements made by Knox. Many criticized the ruling saying that the court was basically instructing the lower court on how to re-convict the defendants.
In January of this year, an Italian court reinstated the guilty verdicts of Amanda Knox, and her co-defendant, Raffaele Sollecito for the murder of British exchange student Meredith Kercher in 2007. Knox filed her new appeal in April with the Italian Supreme Court.
The appeal raises many issues, the three main issues brought up are constitutional questions, improper consideration of irrelevant and inadmissible evidence, and failure to evaluate the entire evidentiary record.
The issue of constitutional illegitimacy concerns the fact that the proceedings have an “eternal repetition” without limit in number of trials one defendant can be subjected to for the same charges. Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights and article 111 of the Italian Constitution provide for proceedings having an end in a “reasonable time”. Italian Law has established that this “reasonable time” clause is satisfied if a proceeding comes to a definitive verdict in six years. Italy does not have double jeopardy protections or appellate deadlines in the same manner as countries such as the United States do.
Knox’s proceedings have extended beyond such time limits.
The European Court for Human Rights has criticized Italy multiple times for this issue.
In their 2013 ruling, the Court of Cassation mandated a new trial, but they also mandated that every evidentiary element had to be considered without omission and that each element had to be preliminarily evaluated. The appellate ruling established that a new fact finding phase was required and is a legal obligation, but the Florence Court did not acquire new evidence.
The Court of Appeal of Perugia [acquittal] and the Court of Appeal of Florence [re-conviction] have come to opposite conclusions based upon the same evidentiary elements with the difference that the first one acquired the evidence, but the second only examined documents related to the evidence.
According to the appeal, the court did not explain in their ruling of guilt:
- The exclusive presence of Guede at the crime scene.
- Lack of connection between the supposed conspirators.
- The alleged murder weapon was allegedly carried in Knox’s bag, yet there is no physical evidence to corroborate this.
- The questions surrounding whether or not Meredith Kercher’s DNA was on the alleged murder weapon.
- No second weapon was ever found yet prosecutors allege its existence.
- Interpretation of Knox’s personality, behavior, and relationship with the victim or the lack of motive.
- Violation of Knox’s rights by investigators.
- Testimony that conflicted with the ruling’s construction of the crime.
- Damage sustained by the victim’s, Knox’s, and Sollecito’s computers.
- Knox and Sollecito’s alibi.
- Why Knox and Sollecito did not flee abroad, but Guede did.
The motive, while not a requirement to prove, is important in any trial and especially in circumstantial trials, such as this one. In all, 6 motives have been proposed throughout the proceedings, including by judges in their rulings:
- Hostility between Knox and Kercher.
- Clash caused by rent money.
- Housecleaning dispute.
- Evil for evil’s sake.
- Guede’s improper use of the toilet.
The appeal also states that the court wrongfully deemed admissible the use of DNA test results showing Kercher’s blood was found on the alleged murder weapon, despite the fact that a previous court’s independent review found no DNA. In addition, the appeal notes the immense amount of police contamination of evidence and the crime scene. This includes the fact that the alleged murder weapon was stored in a non-sterile cardboard box, which had previously been used for a Christmas present two years earlier. Photographic documentation, according to the appeal, shows numerous violations of protocols by authorities when acquiring and conserving evidence. The bra clasp is also contaminated, according to the appeal, more than a month passed before the police took into evidence the clasp. In addition, several male DNA profiles were discovered on it corroborating the possibility of contamination.
The appeal also challenges Knox’s charge of calumny or slander meant to hide another crime, which was based upon spontaneous statements deemed inadmissible in 2008 by a separate court. Amanda Knox was subjected to repeated interrogation over 4 days for more than 53 hours. The appeal accuses the English interpreter of working with the police to pressure Knox into confession, causing oppression and stress. They state that Knox made the spontaneous statements at 1:45 a.m. and 5:45 a.m. on the same day to get rid of the oppressive and coercive environment. Knox’s constitutional rights were violated by the abnormal pressure through physical means (slapping) and psychological means. In addition, Knox was told that if she requested a defense attorney, she would look guilty. The appeal states that the investigators, having a young foreign exchange student before them with limited knowledge of the Italian language, unaware of her rights under Italian law, and deprived of legal counsel, coerced her into making false incriminating statements.
The appeal also challenges the idea that the slanderous statements made against Lumumba were proof that she committed the murder of Kercher. The appeal says that to evaluate behavior you must consider the situation at hand. Knox was unable to understand or take action during her interrogation. In the context of the court’s ruling that Knox committed calumny with the aim of hiding a separate crime is contradictory. Knox was in such an extreme state of exhaustion and emotional stress that alleging that she could devise such an increased criminal will, goes against common sense and the facts of the case. The appeal says that the Florence Court should have deemed inadmissible everything that happened during the interrogations because of the serious breaches of law committed during them. Instead, the court attributes exceptional criminal ability, ethical indifference, and dangerousness to Knox.
“It is absolutely clear that methods and techniques were applied which influenced her free will in such a way as to alter her ability to remember and assess the facts…[Knox was in] such a state of abysmal shock…total deprivation of solace and support; it is evidence of an extremely serious emotional stress and not certainly of a sophisticated criminal mind devising such a wicked plan.”
The Court of Florence, according to the appeal, also neglected to take into consideration physical evidence of a break-in. Filomena Romanelli testified that she did not completely close her shutters and did not lock them that night. In addition, body hair and a presumed bloodstain were discovered on that window by the police. Rudy Guede’s known modus operandi and his previous offenses were not considered.
“How is it possible to have 14 [of] Guede’s traces in the victim’s bedroom and none from Knox?”
The appeal also points out that accusations of crime scene cleaning are unfounded. How could they clean up all traces of Knox and none of Guede’s traces? “A selective cleaning is a practical impossibility…” The appeal accuses the court of “factual errors and lack of reasoning” in their guilty ruling. The appeal cites the court’s error for not considering that one prosecution witness may have been “notoriety-driven”. He had previously testified in two other murder trials and stepped forward to authorities only after speaking to an Italian journalist nearly a year after the murder. In 2011, the judge ordered the prosecutor to stop asking questions that implied the answer because the above mentioned witness seemed unable to recount his own testimony by himself.
The appeal challenges the use of Guede’s judicial proceedings as evidence in Knox and Sollecito’s. Elements pertaining to Guede’s trial was “formed without their lawyers being able to participate” and without their presence or knowledge. Rudy Guede in 2011 accused Knox and Sollecito of murdering Meredith Kercher. The defense demanded that he be called to the witness stand and cross-examined by the Florence court, but the court did not do so. According to the appeal, “this is a manifest violation of article 111 of the Italian Constitution, since the defendants have the right to cross-examine (personally or through their lawyers) those who are accusing them, and if those accusing evade cross-examination, article 111 provides that their statements must not be used as evidence.”
When considering the defendants’ alibi, the Florence Court held police destruction of evidence against Knox and Sollecito. The court used in their ruling information from the single surviving computer as evidence against the alibi, but the other computers were rendered unreadable due to “electric shocks” caused by errors made by investigators. Investigator errors should not be held against defendants and the court should have assumed that the destroyed hard disks “could contain further evidence sustaining the alibi”.
In conclusion, the appeal argues that the court found “no direct evidence against Amanda Knox”. “They have contrived a conviction purportedly beyond any reasonable doubt without considering the elements favorable to the defendant, without even trying to explain them, evidence and its interpretation have been cherry-picked…”
The appeal asks for another new trial to be granted.