Cast your minds back, if you will, to November 2007. George W. Bush was sitting pretty in the White House, whilst suicide bombers wreaked havoc in Afghanistan. The rest of the world, in particular Europe, gritted it’s teeth. Such wonder hits of “This ain’t your country anymore” by Mitch Benn (check him out, if you get the opportunity) graced the wireless on Radio 4. Such humour in Britain tends to stem from a particular dislike. In this case, a strong distain for the ponderous foreign policy of the USA, and consequently it seemed, against its citizens. Against this backdrop, an American student went to prison for the Murder of British Student Meredith Kercher.
That paragraph wanders perilously close to accusing the Italian authorities of discrimination, but I find it difficult to believe that this kind of sentiment did not contribute in a case which was as bizarre as it was distressing.
Initially I had taken the defense of Amanda Knox, framed as anti-Americanism run riot, as a patriotic charade. Then I read the case. And I found myself eating a large portion of vocabulary stew. This whole episode went from odd, through bizarre and out the other side of frankly wrong. In the interim, several cariacatures have been painted of Miss Knox, and a family hungry for justice have been left bewildered as well as bereft. All the while the people who have been stringing everyone along with misinformation, ignorance and incompetence have seemingly gone unchallenged.
First and foremost, prosecutor Giuliano Mignini. Mignini’s accusations varied wildly over the course of this story, and spoke of one posessed of intention rather than evidence. His opening gambit, bizarrely, was to accuse Knox of killing Kercher as part of a Satanic Ritual; a hypothesis, it seems, largely based on conjecture of the 1st November being the Italian Day of the Dead. It already seems off, but it is made more so by the fact that Mignini had attempted (and failed) to convict people of similar charges previously. Having suggested Kercher’s death was a cult killing, he then later denied that he made the suggestion. Rolling onwards in a torrent of various motivations for the murder, he steamed through a sex game gone wrong, that Kercher refused to take part in an orgy, that Knox and an Italian Man, Guede, (who, by the way, remains in jail for the murder) were at a rendevous so that Knox could purchase drugs from Guede, and Kercher happened upon them at the wrong moment, whereupon Kercher was sexually assaulted (why?) and murdered.
He then, somewhat counter-intuitively accused Knox of killing Kercher in a marijuana induced rage– a particularly odd accusation I might add, since for all the various papers and resources I have found for a multitude of side effects from the aforementioned, I have not found a reputable source (scientific or medical journal references) which details wrath as a side effect (though I’m always, always open to the fact I might not have found a reference that exists, and will happily retract this statement if one is presented to me.) This set of accusations, it seemed, all held very little weight, and do not make up the sum total of Mignini’s attempted character assassination. As if to further weird us out, he also picked as a witness a homeless heroin addict who has a habit of making murder testimonials.
All of these serve to show that this man, whom ostensibly is mandated to uphold the law in an honourable fashion, displayed instead McCarthy-esque bullying, a behaviour unsuited for the persual of truth and justice, and a single minded persual of an individual. Rather than concluding Meredith’s tragic tale with Guede, who has been convicted with extensive and irrefutable evidence, he instead persued Knox, and has left Knox with four years in prison, and the Kercher family, unsurprisingly but questionably, feeling as if they have been left once again without the full picture of the events surrounding their daughter’s death.
Not that it was he who charged them; and they were charged on the back of weak evidence. Details of a forensic report stated that the so-called “scientific police” (a term used in the court reports) mishandled evidence no less than 54 times. As a scientist with an appreciation for the workings of DNA analysis, I find that deeply concerning.
Ultimately, it transpired that there was no reliable evidence placing Knox or her ex-boyfriend at the scene of the crime at the time of the muder, no prints, no DNA, no murder weapon, and that the limited evidence that did exist (traces of DNA found on a knife beloning to Knox’s ex and some DNA evidence on Kercher’s bra clasp) were actually so limited that they could at best only form a partial match. This means the DNA is not a positive identifier, and could match a number of people. Hence, it should be treated with caution and used only in conjunction with other evidence (which, you may note, is lacking). Whether this evidence would have been more reliable had international standards of forensics been diligently followed, we will now never know. Perhaps the mishandling of evidence has allowed criminals to walk, certainly the presentation of such evidence as reliable is a distortion of the truth. In any event, the staff who gathered and presented this evidence should come under heavy scrutiny, and those who issued the charge on the basis of it also.
Evidence should be able to talk for itself, but the failure of those in authority to see to it that the evidence that existed was properly handled so that it might is a blight on this case, to say nothing of some people seeking to warp and twist what was presented beyond all proportion. And now neither the public, nor the family of Kercher, will know for sure whether that evidence was relevant or not. But we live in a world of innocent until proven guilty (thank goodness); and so Knox walks free, and rightly so, unless good evidence is brought to the contrary.