Reasonable Doubt

03.27.13

Why Retrying Amanda Knox Is Important

Italy’s high court essentially said that there is still some question about Amanda Knox’s involvement in her ex-roommate’s murder. Barbie Latza Nadeau on why a retrial is important.

Let’s go back to November 2007. Meredith Kercher, a bright and beautiful 21-year-old from Leeds, was enjoying the happy-go-lucky life of an exchange student. She had just settled into a funky little villa that hung on the edge of a rolling hill in Perugia, with views of the Umbrian countryside. She was close to school and a few easy steps from the historical center. She was creating memories she would have talked about for years. 

The memories she was making instead ended abruptly the night after Halloween when she choked to death on her own blood after an assassin, or assassins, slit her throat. Her black panties were rolled up on the marble floor near her feet, right beside her jeans. Her autopsy showed signs of manual penetration, but no evidence of forced rape. Her bra had been cut from her body, but whoever did it had only pulled up her shirt, not bothering to completely remove it. Her hands were soaked in her own blood with tiny wounds on the palms consistent with wounds from the tip of a knife. Her fingers were crimson from touching her own wound. She was very likely alive when whoever killed her locked her bedroom door and pulled it closed, and then wiped their fingerprints from the outside handle. Since that day, when her body was found partially covered by a blood-speckled duvet, no one has ever been able to discern exactly what led up to her death. 

The only certainty in the case is that Rudy Guede, a 20-year-old sometimes student, oftentimes drifter, from the Ivory Coast was very involved in Kercher’s murder. His DNA covered the murder room, and his feces were left unflushed in a toilet on the other side of the apartment. He was convicted of his role in Kercher’s death in October 2008 on the same day Knox and Sollecito were indicted for what the ruling judge at the time believed was their role in Kercher’s demise. After appeals played out, Guede’s 30-year sentence was cut to just 16 years. Italy’s high court has ruled definitively on his case and his appeals are complete.

More than a few journalists covering the appeal noted at the time that the so-called independent experts were particularly chummy with Sollecito’s very wealthy family.

Knox and Sollecito then faced their own trials, the outcomes of which are well-known by now. A guilty verdict in 2009 was reversed on appeal in 2011, and reversed back once again this week. Now, Knox and Sollecito, each with their own stories logged in their memoirs, are under an even darker cloud of judicial suspicion. While there is scant forensic evidence linking either to the murder—and that which was used to originally convict them was discounted in the appellate process—Italy’s highest court just ruled that there is still some question about their involvement in Kercher’s tragic end.

And that is why retrying the appeal is so important. Even Knox’s own lawyers agree with that. “This is part of a process that all cases go through,” Carlo Dalla Vedova told The Daily Beast. “The final word on this case is yet to come.”

Redoing the appeal is more than a formality. The high court has not yet released its reasoning for its reversal, but among the many points of law discussed in closing arguments on Monday were prosecutorial accusations of everything from blatant errors made by the appellate judge and jury to allegations of corruption against the team of independent experts who nullified forensic evidence. More than a few journalists covering the appeal noted at the time that the so-called independent experts were particularly chummy with Sollecito’s very wealthy family. They were seen by many huddling together in coffee bars in Perugia. But the real issue is the fact that these experts were given only a few choice items of forensic evidence to review. That is likely the crux of why this acquittal was reversed. The prosecution argued that they should have reexamined the entire body of evidence, not just what tied the former lovers to the crime.

Until the final reasoning is released, trying to determine just why the high court didn’t buy the acquittal verdict is akin to reading tea leaves. But one can deduce that the reason or reasons are among the points brought up by the prosecution in the high-court appeal. Some issues were technicalities, like the application of “reasonable doubt” to specific facets of the case instead of to the case as a whole. And then there is the so-called Rudy factor that the prosecution believed should have been made more a consideration in the Knox ruling.

The prosecution also insisted that an independent review of the forensic evidence be carried out on the entire body of evidence, not just a few exhibits. Other issues brought up in the high-court appeal instead touched on the mysteries of the case, including the appellate court’s dismissal of Knox’s previous admission that she was in the house when the murder took place. The prosecution also asked that Knox’s false accusation against Patrick Lumumba, her former boss at a club where she waitressed, as Kercher’s killer be considered as evidence. After all, the same appellate court upheld her conviction of slander for the accusation. Why not consider it a clue to the mystery, it argued. Finally, the prosecution asked the supreme court to examine the truth behind why Knox and Sollecito turned off their cell phones at the same time—for the first time ever—the night Kercher was murdered.

But just because the appeal has been sent back does not necessarily spell trouble for Knox and Sollecito. If the new appellate judge orders a full reexamination of all the forensics and is able to square all the unsolved aspects of the case, they could still be acquitted a second time—if those results prove them innocent. But leaving all those unanswered questions hanging would have been the wrong choice if this case is ever to be closed satisfactorily. And, more important, if the mystery of Kercher’s murder is to ever be solved.