Knox and Sollecito—not guilty

(UPDATE: In late entries here and here, based on further reading, I reverse what I said in this entry. I was fooled by the pro-Amanda propaganda line pushed by the American media. The U.S. media has systematically presented only evidence tending to exculpate Amanda and suppressed all evidence pointing to her guilt. It is a disgrace.)

Below the quoted article about the problems with the DNA evidence, I lay out my own reasons for believing that the defendants in this case should have been found not guilty. Indeed, the investigation (including the 14 hour interrogation of Knox) and trial were a travesty. Italy has disgraced itself. Knox and Sollecito should be freed.

Here is the best explanation I’ve seen of why the DNA evidence that was used to convict Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito in the murder of Meredith Kercher is weak and does not show their guilt. The article appears at New Scientist.

Knox murder trial evidence ‘flawed’, say DNA experts
Updated 07 December 2009 by Linda Geddes

… In the final stages of the high-profile trial in Perugia, Italy, in which Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito are charged with the murder of British student Meredith Kercher, DNA evidence brought by the prosecution is being questioned by nine US specialists in DNA forensics.

… In an open letter, the US specialists outline their concerns with two pieces of DNA evidence that are central to the case against Knox and Sollecito.

The defence has already suggested that the amount of DNA allegedly linking the pair to the crime is too small to be definitive. The letter raises the possibility that this DNA was introduced through contamination of the evidence and concludes that the DNA test results “could have been obtained even if no crime had occurred.”….

The case against them largely hinges on two pieces of DNA evidence. One is from a knife recovered from the kitchen drawer at Sollecito’s apartment. The other comes from a portion of a clasp that was cut away from the bra Kercher was wearing. The forensic specialists question both.

In respect of the knife, the letter says contamination from other DNA present in the lab that did the analysis cannot be ruled out. The initial method used was standard: the DNA was amplified, then analysed using electrophoresis. This generates a graph consisting of a series of peaks, whose heights represent how much of certain DNA snippets are present. Taken together the peaks create a DNA “fingerprint” unique to an individual.

The lab says that DNA taken from the knife’s blade produced a series of peaks that matched Kercher’s DNA, while DNA from the handle produced peaks that matched Knox’s.

To minimise the risk that some peaks arise from contamination, most US labs only count peaks falling above a height threshold of 150 relative fluorescence units (RFUs) and all dismiss those below 50. The trouble with the DNA found on the knife is that “most of the peaks are below 50”, says Greg Hampikian of Boise State University in Idaho, who signed the letter and reviewed the DNA evidence.

Contamination fear

When this happens, samples can be rerun, but this doesn’t appear to have been done in the Knox and Sollecito case. This means contamination cannot be ruled out, the open letter claims. The same lab may also have been running DNA profiles from other evidence in the case at the same time, it says, and tiny amounts of this could have contaminated the knife samples.

What’s more, a sensitive chemical test for blood on the knife was negative, and it is unlikely that all chemically detectable traces of blood could be removed from the knife while retaining sufficient cells to produce a DNA profile. “No credible scientific evidence has been presented to associate this kitchen knife with the murder of Meredith Kercher,” the letter concludes.

Evidence from the clasp is equally inconclusive, according to the letter. What looks like a mixture of different people’s DNA was found on it, and Sollecito could not be excluded. However, because Sollecito had visited the women’s home several times before the murder, his DNA could have made its way onto the clasp “through several innocent means”, the letter says.

Neither Sollecito’s nor Knox’s DNA was found on the remainder of the bra, other items of Kercher’s clothing, objects collected from Kercher’s room, or in samples from her body—although Guede’s DNA was found everywhere, the letter points out.

[end of article]

The two main new facts here: one, that the amplification of the DNA evidence falls below the point that in the U.S. would result in dismissal of the DNA evidence; and two, that there was no blood on the knife. Did you know that? Did you know that the “murder weapon” only had DNA, and no blood? Did you know that while Guede’s DNA was all over the crime scene, there was no DNA of Knox and Sollecito in the crime scene, with the sole exception of the questionable bra clasp?

The weakness of the DNA evidence, combined with the total absence (to my knowledge) of any plausible motive and, even more important, of any plausible scenario by which two white college kids assisted a black drifter and career criminal in raping and murdering Meredith Kercher, would have compelled me, had I been on the jury in this case, to vote not guilty and to keep voting not guilty even if the whole world had said I was wrong.

Rudy Guede raped and murdered Meredith, there’s no controversy about that, and, indeed, his crime against her was typical of the extremely common crime of the sexual assault and murder of a white female by a black, many of which are catalogued here. By what cause and effect chain, by what narrative, would two friends and fellow students of the victim join with a black rapist in killing her? To illustrate my point, suppose that two white fellow employees of Anne Pressly at the Little Rock TV station where she worked had been accused of joining with Curtis Lavelle Vance, the convicted killer, in breaking into her home, raping and beating her, breaking every bone in her face, and leaving her for dead? By what plausible scenario could we portray two colleagues of Pressly as partners in crime with Vance in his obliteration of a white woman? That’s the problem with the case against Knox and Sollecito. The evidence against them that some consider damning—their lies, their perverse behavior after the murder, the questionable DNA on a bra clasp—is fragmentary; none of it comes together into any believable narrative by which they joined with Guede in raping and snuffing out the life of Meredith Kercher.

And as for their perverse behavior and lies, let us stipulate, just for the sake of discussion, that they are both morally vacuous, even morally depraved individuals who were indifferent to the murder of an acquaintance. That still wouldn’t make them murderers. Such moral indifference is not atypical of today’s youth. Consider the Colorado teenager I discussed in my 2001 NewsMax article, “The Revelation of Nihilism”:

We should be grateful to a sullen-faced Colorado high school girl for demonstrating—with absolute and final clarity—what America has become in the age of Clinton.

Her story, broadcast on a recent edition of ABC’s 20/20, concerned yet another threatened school slaughter in Middle America. When a male friend confided to her that he was thinking of shooting some of their classmates, she told no one about it. It was only after he began to talk about killing her along with others that she informed on him, which led to his arrest and judicial confinement at his parents’ home. Asked by 20/20’s Connie Chung why she had initially remained silent about a possible massacre of her fellow students, she replied: “I didn’t like them. I didn’t care if he killed them.”

Her matter-of-fact tone and expressionless eyes, as much as her chilling words, said it all: It wasn’t that she hated her friend’s prospective victims or had some special urge to see them killed; it was that she didn’t care if they were killed, and she wasn’t embarrassed to let the world know it.

Doesn’t that strike an echo with Amanda Knox’s shockingly indifferent behavior after the murder of Meredith? Raised in today’s culture where there is no right and wrong, she lacked a normal moral response to the murder of her housemate. But that doesn’t mean that she killed her.

As has been pointed out by numerous observers, if this murder had taken place in the U.S., not only would Knox and Sollecito have been found innocent, there wouldn’t even have been a trial.

Of course, I do not know that they were not involved in the murder. But in my view the probability of their having been involved in the murder falls way below the threshold needed to convict—so far, indeed, that they probably should not even have been indicted.

December 10

Robert G. writes:

One recurring theme I have encountered over and over again in my readings regarding the murder of Meredith Kercher was that so much damage was done to her body that more than one assailant had to have been involved. The inference is that one or two other people must have held her down. Multiple Italian judges reviewed the autopsy findings and concurred with this view. To my knowledge, that report has not been made available in English so I can only go by reports I have read. [LA replies: Curtis Lavelle Vance broke every bone in Anne Pressly’s face, and he did it all by himself. The damage to Pressly was much greater than the damage to Kercher.]

Just because a narrative cannot be conceived, does not mean someone is not guilty. And just because the DNA evidence is weak, does not mean someone didn’t commit the crime. [LA replies: But the subject at hand isn’t the POSSIBILITY that they did it; of course it’s POSSIBLE they did it. The subject is, is there enough evidence to declare them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt?]

A while back, you pointed to a story about a murder involving a cleaned-up car where investigators found one hair when the man said the woman had never been in his car and that this was enough to convict him. Only one contradiction and a hair strand! [LA replies: But that hair strand was absolutely sufficient DNA evidence, and given the circumstances of the case, it absolutely proved the victim, whom he only encountered the night of the murder, had been in his car, and that he was the one who had driven her to the place where she was murdered. The bra clasp is not decisive proof, as has been explained.] Well, Amanda and Raffaele were caught in dozens of lies and contradictions—not pertaining to everyday life—but rather pertaining to the events of the night of the murder. This wasn’t “lacking a normal moral response.” It was deception. Why? Vacuousness? No, I don’t think so. And there is plenty of non-DNA forensic evidence too. [LA replies: here’s an explanation: they are nihilistic young people who think everything is permitted and who have never been taught that reality is real and matters; and therefore have a tenuous relationship with truth, not even realizing the seriousness of murder. And this accounts for their lies and perverse behavior after the murder]

The problem with this murder is that it isn’t just a tidy “black thug kills a half-white woman (Meredith was half Indian)” story. And anyway, we don’t know that Guede delivered the final knife blow. There absolutely is controversy in this! Since no one is admitting to the murder and the crime scene was altered, how can we possibly know who delivered the deep wound to the neck that killed Meredith?

I’m still trying to figure out in your alternative, why Guede would have spent hours cleaning up a crime scene (someone did)—and went so far as to wash Meredith’s clothes for her—but didn’t bother to flush his own feces down the toilet. Or how he was doing this cleaning when he was at the disco. Or how he got into Amanda and Meredith’s house without a key. (Remember, the break-in was staged.) Or how Amanda walked through Meredith’s blood on her way to the bathroom (when she was supposedly at Raffaele’s house smoking dope) when Meredith’s door was locked from the inside … before Guede helpfully cleaned her footprints up so they later had to be lifted with Luminol. There is no conceivable way that only Guede was involved in this murder. The physical evidence (leaving aside the DNA evidence) does not support such a narrative. Nobody but you alludes to this. And you get the friendships mixed up. Amanda and Meredith were roommates and not friends. Meredith complained to her mother about Amanda’s hygiene and promiscuity. Amanda thought Meredith to be a snob. Raffaele and Meredith were not friends. Amanda and Guede were at least acquaintances. Meredith and Guede were not even acquaintances except insofar as she may have seen him hanging out with the men who rented the bottom floor of her house. You ignore physical evidence while mentioning “weird behavior” after the murder. Weird behavior proves nothing and was not the basis for the case. It is simply what led the prosecutor first to suspect Amanda and Raffaele’s involvement. This is the disinformation of the American media. If they say the case is about bad DNA evidence and “weird behavior,” then it’s easy to claim she was railroaded. But that is a huge lie by omission.

Since I don’t know anything about DNA evidence, I just ignored it when I studied this case and tried to draw my own conclusions. I would much prefer a black thug to have been the sole cause of this atrocity because it is compatible with my knowledge of their propensity for violent crime. But that is not what my review returned. Even though I don’t understand DNA evidence, I do understand bloody footprints, locks having keys, and blood being tracked from areas of higher concentration to areas of lower concentration. I understand the difference between a small, bare bloody foot print and a larger bloody shoe print. I understand that if a bloody foot or shoe print is not visible to the naked eye, but shows up after being sprayed with a chemical, that means it was cleaned up. I understand that glass from a window break-in is usually found below the clothes subsequently strewn about during the ransacking. I also understand that if Guede’s feces were found in a bathroom but no blood was found in that bathroom, then that means that he relieved himself before he murdered. I understand this places him in the category of guest rather than home invader, because if he were the latter, Meredith would have run away or called the police while he was relieving himself. I therefore understand that since Guede didn’t break in, he must have been let in. And since he was Amanda’s acquaintance/friend and not Meredith’s acquaintance/friend, I think that means it was likely Amanda who let him in. I also understand that if Meredith’s door was locked from the inside, it would have been impossible for a bare-footed Amanda to discover her body, walk through a bunch of blood and track it all the way to the bathroom floor mat. Amanda has no explanation as to why bloody footprints matching her size were found on the bathroom floor mat and in the hallway (cleaned up and revealed via Luminol). None of this is weird behavior. It is a (partial) list of facts and a (partial) logical sequence of events that suggest [that] she was involved.

As for DNA evidence in general, rather than adding clarity to criminal investigations, it has become an investigative tool that one side can claim is infallible (99.999 percent accurate) while simultaneously the other side can claim contamination, insufficient sample size or crime lab incompetence. How this adds to clarity, I don’t know. Dueling forensic experts are always available if enough money is available. So laypeople are then forced to default back to other evidence or emotional judgments.

It is always possible to sow doubt in a legal proceeding based on evidence and rules. Who do you think provided detailed DNA evidence to the nine U.S. specialists in DNA forensics cited in the NewScientist article? Not Time or Vanity Fair, that’s for sure. Why? Do those experts care about all the other details of the case that point to Knox’s involvement? Probably not. They’re specialists; they likely only care about their area of expertise. And that’s how doubt is created—by focusing on a weak area of a case and getting some expert to channel all of his efforts into undermining some detail of it.

That bloody, black glove was certainly an important piece of evidence for the prosecution and it clearly did not fit O.J. Simpson’s hand. I vividly remember watching him attempt to put it on his hand. So how could he have been the one who murdered Nicole Brown Simpson? He must have been framed. You get the point.

LA replies:

In many instances you reference evidence without putting it in perspective and demonstrating its meaning, and that is not useful. However, you also present some telling points. Your strongest point in my mind concerns the Luminol. If there’s no doubt that Amanda’s bloody footprints were cleaned up, then she must have cleaned them up. But if Amanda was busy cleaning things up, why wouldn’t she also have flushed the toilet? If the window was broken to produce the appearance of a break-in, why was the glass inside the room? If Raffaele and Amanda helped Guede kill Meredith, why is there no sign of them on her person? Was it only Guede’s semen on Meredith, or other substances carrying his DNA?

In any case I can see how, even in the absence of any plausible account of why and how the murder was committed by all three of them, the type of evidence you’re pointing to could have convinced jurors to convict. But for me there is still something missing here that would prevent me from voting guilty. It’s like what I said earlier today about the health care bill: I see the legs, I see the tusks, I see the big ears; but I don’t see the elephant. Also, as I understand it, that 14 hour manipulative police interrogation, which was so damaging to Knox, would have been completely thrown out in the U.S.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 09, 2009 09:51 AM | Send

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