04.18.10

Shocking New Knox Twist

In a surprising move this weekend, the prosecution appealed its own murder conviction of Amanda Knox. Barbie Latza Nadeau, author of the Beast Book Angel Face, says the move could put Knox in prison for life—or set her free.

Appeals were filed this weekend in the Meredith Kercher murder case in Perugia, Italy.

But Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, who were convicted of Kercher’s murder in December 2009, are not the only ones asking the Perugia appeals court to reconsider their decision. In a surprise twist, Perugia prosecutors are also appealing the court’s ruling.

Co-prosecutors Giuliano Mignini and Manuela Comodi are asking the appeals court to give life sentences to both Knox and Sollecito. Knox was sentenced to 26 years and Sollecito to 25 for the sexual assault and murder of Meredith Kercher. Knox’s additional year was for falsely accusing Patrick Lumumba of the murder. In the 13-page brief obtained by The Daily Beast, the prosecution is asking the court to reconsider the extenuating circumstances the jury found in the case. The jury did not give Knox and Sollecito life sentences due to a lack of motive, their ages, and the absence of a prior criminal record. But Mignini said the judge should have given a harsher penalty for the murder precisely because of those factors and that the murder was found to be so cruel and casual. “You must exclude the petty motive and give a punishment that fits this crime,” the appeal brief argues. “What the court described as a motive is indeed disproportionate between 'reason' and 'action'… the punishment must fit the crime.”

The prosecution’s decision to appeal is not good news for Knox or Sollecito. In their own briefs, each more than 200 pages long, attorneys focused on forensics and shoddy police work. The crime scene, they say, was not adequately secured during the collection phase, which lasted nearly two months. Sollecito’s team points to the fact that the house where Kercher was killed was broken into twice while it was still considered a crime scene. On one occasion vandals left candles and a knife. On another they stole items including a mattress.

book-cover---angel-face
Angel Face: The True Story of Student Killer Amanda Knox. By Barbie Latza Nadeau. 224 pages. Beast Books. $14.95. ()

Each team asked the appeals judge for independent analyses of the DNA evidence against them. Sollecito’s attorneys asked that Kercher’s bra clasp with his DNA on the metal hook be reexamined. The clasp was left for six weeks in the house between the time it was identified and collected into evidence. Sollecito’s attorneys are also asking the appeals court to reexamine phone and computer records that back up his alibi. Sollecito maintains that he was at his apartment the night Kercher was murdered. Knox’s attorneys have asked that all the DNA evidence uncovered with Luminol be reexamined.

Team Knox also wants the appeals court to reconsider the circumstances of the interrogation in November 2007 in which Knox confessed to being at the crime scene and accused her former boss Patrick Lumumba of Kercher’s murder. They say that she should have been given legal representation much earlier in the investigation since she was considered a suspect at the time of the murder, four days before she was arrested on November 6, 2007. In effect, her attorneys say she was trapped into making incriminating statements.

Knox and Sollecito have a good chance to gain ground in their appeal cases. Rudy Guede, who was convicted for his role in Kercher’s murder in October 2008, effectively halved his own 30-year prison sentence during his appeal process last December. He is now appealing to Italy’s high court. The prosecution did not appeal Guede’s sentence reduction.

But by filing an appeal in the Knox and Sollecito cases, the prosecution has put itself in the appeal judge’s chambers. Not only does it open up the possibility that the two could end up with longer or even life sentences, the appeal also allows the prosecution to essentially defend its original case. In yet another twist, Mignini told The Daily Beast that he and Comodi will not personally argue the case now that the appeal is filed. “With this appeal we have done our part,” he said. “The court will assign a substitute prosecutor to follow the appeal on our behalf.”

“What the court described as a motive is indeed disproportionate between 'reason' and ‘action,’” the appeal brief argues. “The punishment must fit the crime.”

The families of both Knox and Sollecito are hopeful that an independent examination of the forensic evidence will be enough to overturn the original convictions. But based on the 427-page reasoning released in March, the jury also relied on a lack of alibi and false statements the two made in the days after the murder. The appeal judge will also consider those elements of the case. Knox’s family told a Seattle television station that the prosecution’s appeal amounts to “harassment.”

The Perugia court will now set a date to hear the appeal within one year. It will likely be scheduled for October 2010. The hearing is expected to last five days and both Knox and Sollecito are both expected to testify.

Barbie Latza Nadeau, author of the Beast Book Angel Face, about Amanda Knox, has reported from Italy for Newsweek since 1997. She also writes for CNN Traveller, Budget Travel Magazine and Frommer's.