06.18.11 3:33 PM ET
Can Prison Gossip Free Knox?
Five super-witnesses took center stage in a Perugia courtroom in defense of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, who are appealing their convictions for killing Meredith Kercher.
Security was tight in Perugia on Saturday as a string of blue prison vans pulled into the back parking lot of the central courthouse carrying some of Italy’s most notorious convicts. Along with Amanda Knox and her erstwhile boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito at the hearing, there was a child killer, a heavily accented Neapolitan Mafioso, and a police informant who had to testify behind a blue screen. The presiding judges took nearly two hours to hash out various details before the inmates were allowed to testify. Once the testimony began, it was pure theater.
The first witness, Mario Alessi, was on the stand briefly before he turned pale and took ill and had to leave the courtroom. After nearly an hour, he returned to tell the court a very convincing story about how Rudy Guede admitted that Knox and Sollecito were not part of Kercher’s murder and that a “drunk man” and a “fat guy” killed her instead. He started by recounting how he and Guede found a quiet spot in the prison yard out of the view of the closed-circuit television camera and Rudy poured his heart out, telling him the real story of Kercher’s murder. Alessi’s account was rich in detail as he explained how he tried to convince Guede to “tell the truth.” The only problem with Alessi is the fact that he is one of Italy’s most notorious murderers himself, convicted for the 2006 kidnapping and murder of a two-year-old boy. The lawyer representing the Kercher family Francesco Maresca held up a photo of the child and asked Alessi, “Do you know who this is?” “No,” Alessi replied, looking away. “That’s ok, we know who he is,” replied Maresca.
Three more witnesses followed, each backing up Alessi’s account of Rudy’s story, each one more colorful than the previous. Obviously a day out of prison was an opportunity not to be missed and one of the witnesses delivered what seemed like an oratory on truth and its importance in the context of prison life. At times, the jury chuckled and the judges and prosecutors could scarcely keep a straight face. The witnesses’ stories all followed the same line, even when the judge asked for clarification of certain details, but their credibility was deemed questionable based on the fact that they were convicts and the essence of their testimony was prison-yard gossip.
The final witness threw a curveball in a day that was going largely Knox’s way. Luciano Aviello took the stand to tell the court that his brother was the real murderer. He explained that he was just out of prison for mafia collusion and living in a “mini apartment” in Perugia “thanks to your generous justice system” he added, looking at the judge for effect. Then he explained that on the night of November 1, after he got back to Perugia after a quick trip home to Naples, his brother came to his apartment at around 10 or 11 at night. “My brother came in and sat on the sofa. The right arm of his jacket was ripped and he could see blood on his arm. My brother then pulled out a pocket knife and a set of keys. He was very afraid. He didn’t want to create problems for me in Perugia. My brother was very emotional.”
Aviello then went on to explain that his brother had met up with an Albanian man who offered him “work” in the form of a robbery. The Albanian had inadvertently jotted down the address incorrectly and they went instead to the house where Kercher and Knox were living. Having found Kercher home alone, they started to attack her sexually and then they killed her. “I’m not telling you this because I have hate inside me for my brother,” he said. “I am coming forward because it is the right thing for me to do.”
At one point he lectured the prosecutor about jumping to conclusions too quickly. “Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito are innocent,” he said. Then under cross examination he lost his temper and exploded into a near-rage of wild gesticulation and Neapolitan dialect that was largely incomprehensible. The police officers behind him had to calm him down by restraining his shoulders. A yelling match ensued as he wagged his finger at the prosecutor when he was asked about a series of previous slander convictions against the young Neapolitan. The judge also decided he needs to hear from Guede himself to clarify the prison gossip. That hearing was scheduled for June 27. And Guede will testify.
Knox, who was dressed in a conservative skirt and blue blouse, looked dismayed during most of the hearing. Her appeal is winding down and she knows well that every trial date should count towards proving her innocence, and potentially setting her free. Saturday’s hearing was something of a cross between a Neapolitan comedy and bad reality television. Whether prison gossip and brotherly accusations will make any difference to the judges deciding her appellate case is anyone’s guess, but her time is running out to prove her innocence. On June 30, the independent analysts re-examining key forensic evidence will submit their results to the court. Things will take a turn more serious in late July when the court finally starts focusing on the evidence and not the theatrics.