Category: DNA and luminol

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

A Welcome To New Arrivals #1: An Experienced Trial Lawyer Recommends How To Zero In On the Truth

Posted by Some Alibi



[Merediths window is seen on the top floor of the house in the lower foreground]

Welcome To Common Sense

This briefing was first posted with slightly different opening paras at the start of the annulled Hellmann appeal. New arrivals often tell us this helped them the most.

If you’ve come to this website because of the Amanda Knox book and interview, then welcome.  Like all of us who come to this case, you have one key question: did they do it?  The Knox book and interview seriously cherrypick the case, and perhaps haven’t helped you at all.

On the Internet, you will find people who are passionate in their defence of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito; and you will find people who are passionate in their support of an exceptionally talented girl who died, of a fine justice system previously untainted by PR, and of the prosecution’s very strong case.

Click here for the rest


Monday, April 08, 2013

Experienced Trial Lawyer: There’s Far More Evidence Than UK/US Courts Need For Guilt

Posted by SomeAlibi




The false claim “there is no evidence”

Some amateur supporters of Knox and Sollecito have committed thousands of hours online to try and blur and obfuscate the facts of the case in front of the general public.

Their goal is simple: to create an overwhelming meme that there is “no evidence” against the accused, and thereby try to create a groundswell of support. Curt Knox and Edda Mellas and Ted Simon have all made this “no evidence” claim many times.

At least some some of the media have eagerly swallowed it.

The amateur PR flunkies make up myriad alternate versions of what created single points of evidence, often xenophobic scare stories designed to trigger emotional reactions, which they hope will be repeated often enough to become accepted as “the truth”.

And where things get really tricky, another time honored tactic is to go on at great length about irrelevant details, essentially to filibuster, in the hope that general observers will lose patience with trying to work it all out.

But time and again we have shown there is actually a great deal of evidence.

Evidence is the raw stuff of criminal cases. Let me speak here as a lawyer. Do you know how many evidence points are required to prove Guilt? One evidence point if it is definitive.

A definitive evidence point

If you’re new to this case or undecided, what is an easy example of ONE definitive evidence item that might stand alone? Might quickly, simply, and overwhelmingly convince you to invest more time into understanding the real evidence, not that distorted by the PR campaign?

In fact we have quite a choice. See the footprint which was second on that list.

Now see the table above. I recommend the use of this table of measurement to avoid the lengthy back and forward of narrative argument which so lends itself to obscuring the truth. I would like to present you with this single table of measurements to give you pause to question whether this line that there is “no evidence” is really true or whether it might be a crafted deception.

I present here a summarized view of critical evidence which suggests with devastating clarity that Raffaele Sollecito was present the night of the murder of Meredith Kercher. No lengthy text, no alternate versions, just measurements.

This FIRMLY places Sollecito in the very room where Meredith was attacked and killed.

In the small bathroom right next to Meredith’s bedroom was a bathmat. On it was found a bloody naked right footprint of someone walking straight towards the shower in the bathroom. The blood is that of Meredith.

The footprint is not Amanda Knox’s - it is too big - but we can compare it to the prints taken of Rudy Guede and Raffaele Sollecito.

In Judge Massei’s report the multiple measurements were detailed in the narrative over many sentences and, in that form, their immediate cumulative impact is less obvious. It is only by tabulating them, that we are forcefully hit by not one but two clear impressions:

The measurements are extremely highly correlated to the right foot of Raffaele Sollecito in twelve separate individual measurements. In themselves they would be enough for a verdict of guilt in all but a few court cases.

But they also show a manifest LACK of correlation to the right foot of Rudy Guede, the only other male in that cottage on the night. Have a look for yourself.

If you were the prosecution, or indeed the jury, and you saw these measurements of Raffaele’s foot versus the print, what would you think? Answer the question for yourself based on the evidence admitted to court.

Then, if you compare further, exactly how plausible do you find it that the measurements of the bloody imprint are Rudy Guede’s instead?

Not only are some of the individual measurements of Rudy’s imprint as much as 30% too small, but the relative proportions of length and breadth measurements are entirely wrong as well, both undershooting and overshooting by a large margin (70% to 150%).

Conclusions that must follow

Presented with those numbers, would you consider those measurements of Rudy Guede’s right foot to show any credible correlation to those of the footprint on the mat?

Supporters of the two have tried frantically to create smoke screen around this - the wrong technique was used they say (ruled not so by the court) / they are the wrong measurements (all 32 of them? that Raffaele’s are matching exactly or within a millimetre but Rudy’s are out by as much as -30% to +50%...?).

The severity of the impact on the defence is such that there was even a distorted photoshopped version circulated by online supporters of Raffaele and Amanda until they were caught out early on in coverage. But it is hopeless, because these are pure measurement taken against a scale that was presented in court and the data sits before you.

Have a look at the measurements and understand this was evidence presented in court. Whose foot do you think was in that bathroom that night? Rudy Guede? Or was it Raffaele Sollecito on twelve counts of measurement?

And if you find for the latter, you must consider very seriously what that tells you both about the idea there is “no evidence” in this case and who was in the cottage that night…


Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Hellmann-Zanetti Appeal Court’s DNA Consultancy Looks Even Worse In Face Of The Latest Science

Posted by Fly By Night



[Above: images of typical modern analysis DNA facilities similar to Dr Stefanoni’s in Rome]


The Galati appeal to Cassation comes down very strongly against the work and conclusions of the appeal court’s DNA consultants Vecchiotti and Conti.

Dr. Galati argues that the consultancy should never have happened at appeal level, that its methods were slipshod and out of date, that its conclusions were mainly innuendo that left the prosecution case untouched, and that the consultants should not have refused to test a remaining sample from the large knife collected at Sollecito’s place.

In July 2011, about the midpoint of the appeal trial, I took strong issue with the C&V science and essentially mirrored in advance what Dr. Galati would argue to Cassation nearly a year later. Many other TJMK posters including our legal posters James Raper and Cardiol took issue with legal and other aspects.

With a Supreme Court ruling on the 2nd level (first appeal level) outcome scheduled for early next week, it’s the perfect time to re-examine the role of DNA in that outcome against the latest science. I want to include some excellent observations from our contributing poster “Thoughtful” as expressed in her recently published book Math on Trial.

I’ll start off with an overview of the science of DNA analysis and describe recent developments in analysis approaches, techniques and capabilities.  Incidentally, one of my resources for this information is a chapter in “DNA Electrophoresis Protocols for Forensic Genetics” published shortly after the Hellmann verdict for the first appeal (circa early 2012); a chapter in which Carla Vecchiotti is cited as providing technical assistance.

Given Vecchiotti’s involvement in recent academic publications we can be certain that at the time of the Hellmann verdict Vecchiotti was well aware of the rapidly evolving and improving nature of DNA testing procedures and capabilities.  And in contrast to her courtroom allegations that Dr. Stefanoni had not followed “internationally established forensic science standards” in her DNA analysis techniques, Vecchiotti has recently contributed to sources claiming that today’s critical challenge is to develop general guidelines for DNA evaluation and promulgate clear and universal laboratory practices while recognizing that a multitude of labs exist, each with its own specific protocols and personnel.

We will return to the Conti-Vecchiotti report shortly, but first let’s have a quick look at the history and state-of-the-art of DNA analysis.


Brief History of DNA Testing

The literature reveals that the USA has never been at the forefront of forensic DNA analysis.  The first court cases to successfully employ DNA “fingerprinting” techniques occurred in England during the mid 1980s.  A case involving a double rape/homicide of teenage girls in 1986 turned out to be prophetic in that it involved the first use of DNA to exonerate an innocent suspect and also was the first to apply DNA “databases”, issues which still give rise to disputes nearly 30 years later.

Over time, a variety of procedures were developed to extract DNA from biological samples but all worked on the same basic principle of breaching individual cell walls, removing the protein surrounding the DNA, isolating the DNA, and finishing with the purification and quantification of the DNA.

An important milestone in DNA fingerprinting was the development of the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) in 1985.  The PCR quickly became an important analytical method for forensic samples because of its sensitivity, specificity, rapid analysis, and ease of automation.  PCR amplification technology permitted the analysis of forensic samples with low quantities (less than 1 ng) of extracted DNA, unlike earlier methods that required at least 50 ng.

While PCR was far more sensitive than earlier procedures, problems with mixed DNA samples and DNA degradation led to the use of genetic markers known as Short Tandem Repeats (STR). STR analyses were fast and reactions could be multiplexed permitting multiple loci to be amplified in a single run.

In 1997 the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Laboratory in the USA launched an effort to establish a set of 13 core STR loci for use within a national DNA database known as CODIS (Combined DNA Index System).  Similar sets of STR markers had already been selected by the European Union and elsewhere but, in general, a DNA profile obtained using 12 or more STR loci was found to yield a composite genotype frequency of less than 1 in a quadrillion.  This high degree of accuracy results from the hereditary nature of STR distribution and enables a very powerful method for biological identifications.

STR typing of extracted DNA has traditionally been very sensitive to the quantity of input DNA with ideal levels ranging from 0.5 to 2 ng.  Either too little or too much DNA could produce imbalanced amplification results resulting in incomprehensible outcomes.  The STR process is further complicated by “stutter” in the interpretation of multiple contributor DNA samples.  Stutter is an artifact of the PCR process that produces “false alleles” one repeat shorter than a primary allele.

In recent years DNA analysis techniques have evolved rapidly as equipment manufacturers upgrade STR systems to tolerate even the smallest of samples and samples that have been highly degraded.  The improved sensitivity of today’s STR kits along with the development of new strategies for the amplification of low levels of DNA now allows samples which previously could not be analyzed to produce viable results.

Low-level DNA samples often contain mixtures of DNA, which has complicated the detection and interpretation process due to stochastic sampling effects that include peak imbalance, enhanced stutter, allele loss (allele drop-out), and un-attributable alleles (allele drop-in).  With this in mind, strict guidelines have been developed including a careful determination of analytical thresholds and the use of replicate analyses in a profile to properly interpret low-level mixed-DNA samples.  More importantly, new analytical techniques such as laser micro-dissection and fluorescence in-situ hybridization have been developed enabling the identification, capture, and amplification of DNA from individual cells prior to “electrophoresis”, eliminating the problem of mixed profiles altogether.

In addition to today’s far more precise DNA analysis machines and methods there are also compelling arguments for the use of statistical or probabilistic models within the DNA analysis process to augment traditional “consensus allele” electropherogram evaluation approaches.  In short, the efforts of both scientists and statisticians are now creating powerful next generation approaches to DNA analyses as we progress through a second decade of highly successful STR typing methodologies.


Logic and Science on Trial

In my 2011 report I challenged Carla Vecchiotti’s contention that Dr. Stefanoni had not followed “internationally established forensic science standards” in her DNA analysis techniques.  Vecchiotti herself has conceded to the challenge through her contributions to publications that clearly describe a need to develop generally accepted guidelines for DNA evaluation and to create clear and universal laboratory practices that can be accepted by the diverse population of analytical labs currently operating under divergent operational protocols, all under the direction of professional and expert personnel.

In her excellent and recently published Math on Trial book, contributing poster “Thoughtful” accurately describes how DNA analysis expert Dr. Patrizia Stefanoni proceeded in her laboratory analysis of a small DNA sample found on the blade of a knife confiscated from Raffaele Sollecito’s apartment.  Not having what she felt was a sufficient sample to divide for replication of her analysis Dr. Stefanoni took the chance of running her entire sample in a single run.

As is typical of all DNA analyses, Stefanoni proceeded to amplify the results to a point where an electropherogram would reveal meaningful “peaks” and found that a resultant 13 pairs of peaks corresponded precisely to peaks derived from a known sample of Meredith Kercher’s DNA!

In this case it is pointless to attempt to argue that Stefanoni somehow exceeded the amplification limits of her equipment.  As outlined in the DNA discussion above, the typical problems associated with an amplification of low levels of DNA are related to peak imbalances, enhanced stutter, allele drop-outs, or allele drop-ins.  In this case there was nothing but a perfect match for Meredith that even Carla Vecchiotti and Stefano Conti could not deny in court.

Stefanoni had clearly identified an identical match for Meredith’s DNA on the blade of Sollecito’s kitchen knife, leaving Vecchiotti and Conti no other option than to argue for “contamination” in court.  However, it was convincingly demonstrated by Stefanoni and all evidence handlers that from knife collection through laboratory analysis no reasonable opportunity for contamination with Meredith’s DNA existed.

In the first appeal trial, Judge Hellmann was thus presented with exceptionally compelling evidence that Meredith’s DNA was in fact found on the alleged murder weapon that had been confiscated from Raffaele Sollecito’s apartment.  Astonishingly, Hellmann rejected this evidence on an expressed assumption of non-compliance with testing techniques established by international scientific community standards; compliance standards that Vecchioti herself admits do not exist via recent academic and scientific publications as discussed above.

As “Thoughtful” carefully explains in Math on Trial, Hellmann’s faulty reasoning in excluding the knife evidence did not end there.  Hellmann provided Vecchiotti and Conti with an opportunity to retest any remaining DNA on the knife if they felt it was warranted.  Vecchiotti and Conti declined to perform any retests on the basis that that only a few cells might still exist on the knife, thus invalidating any potential results according to a false assumption that “international testing standards” somehow prohibited such low-level DNA tests even though, as outlined in the DNA discussion above, single-cell DNA analysis had at that time already become an acceptable possibility and Vecchiotti knew it.

Hellmann, however, accepted Vecchiotti and Conti’s reasoning by essentially stating that repeating an “invalid” DNA analysis procedure twice can do nothing towards resolving a DNA identification problem because two wrongs do not make a right.  In Math on Trial, “Thoughtful” artfully explains the complete failure of logic of Hellmann’s line of reasoning.  Hellmann claims that running an experiment independently two separate times and obtaining the same result each time can do absolutely nothing towards increasing the assurance of reliability for an event.

However, “Thoughtful” describes how successfully repeating Stefanoni’s low-level DNA analysis technique could easily carry a probabilistic result from a “not beyond a reasonable doubt” percentage range to a highly convincing 98.5% or higher probability.  “Thoughtful’s” arguments in Math on Trial are completely in line with today’s efforts to embed statistical and probabilistic models within the DNA analysis process for a much higher precision and accuracy standard.


Conclusions

In 2011 I concluded that Vecchiotti and Conti’s expert report findings actually boiled down to two primary debates: (1) Issues surrounding the small sample (Low Copy Number ““ LCN) DNA analysis techniques employed by Dr. Stefanoni, and (2) Issues surrounding the probability of excluding all possible sources of contamination from the evidence.

In 2013, on the eve of the Court of Cassation ruling on the first appeal outcomes of the Meredith Kercher murder trial, it appears to me that all issues related to DNA analysis and contamination have been powerfully addressed by both the prosecution and “best available science” considerations. 

The errors in Judge Hellmann’s logic and reasoning that set Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito free have been shown to be plentiful and astounding, as evidenced by the few DNA related examples that have been examined in this report.  In light of all of the above and the powerful legal arguments raised by the Galati appeal to Cassation, it seems that there can be no other option than to send this appeal outcome back for a thorough lower court re-evaluation.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Raffaele Sollecito’s DNA In Meredith’s Room Could Be Definitive Proof Of Guilt For New Appeal Jury

Posted by James Raper





Have you followed our series on the hapless independent DNA consultants Conti and Vecchiotti?  And our series on the hapless appeal judges Hellmann and Zanetti?

And our series on their formidable nemesis, Umbria’s Chief Prosecutor, Dr Galati? Who may very well convince the Supreme Court to throw out all of their work?

This post explains why their work probably deserves to be thrown out as it applies to Sollecito’s DNA in Meredith’s room, which still lacks an alternative non-damning explanation for it being there, and which could see him back serving his term in Capanne or Terni Prison before too long. 

I want to start this analysis with the following verbatim quote taken from John Follain’s Death In Perugia.

“Comodi asked Vecchiotti about the alleged contamination of the bra clasp: “Is it possible for [Raffaele’s] DNA to end up only on the bra clasp?”

“Possible”, Vecchiotti said.

Comodi insisted: “Probable?”

“Probable”, Vecchiotti retorted.

Anyone who has read the Conti-Vecchiotti Report will be amazed by Vecchiotti’s above reply under cross-examination by Prosecutor Comodi. This for the simple reason that the said report did not at all evaluate the “probability” of any contamination of the bra clasp. It merely did not rule out contamination.

The Conti-Vecchiotti report with regard to the bra clasp: “It cannot be ruled out that the results obtained derive from environmental contamination and/or contamination in some phase of the collection and/or handling of the exhibit.”

On any level of understanding, if one can not rule something out then that makes it possible. But it certainly does not make it probable.

Worse was to come, with the conclusion of Hellmann-Zanetti, that contamination was probable. This though was not so surprising in as much as Hellmann-Zanetti had already indicated in their reasoning underlying the need for an independent report that they would accept the independent experts’ conclusions.

Which they did, apparently accepting Vecchiotti’s above statement on oath as definitive and which, as we can see, they appear to subsequently improve on, since the circumstances referred to below were not mentioned in the Conti-Vecchiotti Report.  From Hellmann-Zanetti:

In the opinion of this Court contamination did not occur during the successive phases of treatment of the exhibit in the laboratory of the Scientific Police, but even before it’s collection by the Scientific Police.

Note that (1)  the suggestion is that contamination occurred when there was no video recording (thus permitting free speculation), (2) the word “probably” is omitted here seemingly making it a definite occurrence, and (3) “even before” does not exclude contamination when the Scientific Police were there, but the circumstances described below make it, in the opinion of Hellmann-Zanetti, even more probable, it seems. Again from Hellmann-Zanetti:

..it is certain that between the first search by the scientific police, directly after the discovery of the crime, and the second search by the police, on the 18th December, the house at villa della Pergola was the object of several other searches directed towards seeking other possible elements useful for the investigation, during which the house was turned topsy-turvy, as is clearly documented by the photographs projected by the defence of the accused, but actually made by the Scientific Police. And, understandably these searches were made without the precautions that accompany the investigations of the Scientific Police, in the conviction that at that point the exhibits that needed to undergo scientific analysis had already been collected. In this context it is probable that the DNA hypothetically belonging to Raffaele Sollecito may have been transported by others into the room and precisely onto the bra clasp”¦”¦”¦..the fact that [this] is not an unusual occurrence is proven by studies cited by the expert team and also by the defence consultants”¦”¦..

So Hellmann-Zanetti are talking about the ordinary police investigators being primarily responsible.

As the Vecchiotti quote at the beginning of this post is not put in any context, it is impossible for me to know whether she was referring to the Scientific Police as seen in their videos or whether she was alluding to other recorded searches, say, by the ordinary police, but which were not on video.

What we know of the police searches is as follows. From the Massei trial sentencing report:

While forensic activity was still in progress (Note: it having been going on since the 2nd) “the house was accessed on November 4th 2007 involving, accompanied by staff from the Perugia Police Headquarters, the three occupants and housemates of the victim.

The days of November 6 and 7 were taken up by the search activity of personnel from the police headquarters of Perugia”¦.on November 6” (Note: the day after conclusion of the Scientific Police activity) “no-one entered Meredith’s room other than the three performing the search. On November 7 there was another entry into the house “for the problem of the washing machine, to collect the clothes; but I (Napoleoni) know that they did not go into the other rooms…..

They wore gloves and shoe covers….

Massei also records that Profazio stated that whilst he was aware from Stefanoni that the bra clasp had not been collected, nevertheless he had not seen it on the 6th and 7th.

As we know, the Scientific Police returned to the house on the 18th December specifically for the purpose of collecting the bra clasp (the first thing they did) and using luminol, and in addition to this being on video the defence lawyers were watching the live recording outside. It was observed by the defence lawyers at that stage that the mattress was in the living room and that articles had been moved around (topsy-turvy) in her bedroom.

From the above it might be reasonable to conclude that it was not only the Scientific Police who took the photographs but that it was predominantly they who had already moved items around and taking - it not having been demonstrated to the contrary (because not on video) - such precautions appropriate to their field of expertise (or at least such as may be determined from the videos).

However the point is, of course, what entitles Vecchiotti and Hellmann-Zanetti to talk about probable contamination at all?

Incidentally, pause here to notice that Hellmann-Zanetti give no credence to environmental contamination, in the sense of DNA floating around on specks of dust, by virtue of not mentioning this at all.

It would seem that the notion that a speck of dust, with Sollecito’s DNA attached, floated into the room and landed bang on a tiny hook, somehow adhering to it, is improbable to even them. It is transfer by manipulation (  tertiary transfer, about which more later) - basically that someone must have stepped on or touched the bra clasp or hook - about which they are talking and as a result of which they deem contamination to have probably occurred.

Without that probability -  that is if it remained only a possibility - then the case for direct transfer (directly from the owner of the DNA to an object), rather than tertiary transfer (where the DNA is collected after direct transfer and transferred to another object), would not be undermined as the more probable scenario. This is because, in this context, no-one can rule out possibility, ” possibility” being firmly rooted in the abstract.

What Hellmann-Zanetti think entitles them to talk about the probability of contamination are, and as it transpires only are, the precautions which they say were not followed in collecting and handling the exhibit and for which they suppose the non-scientific police were most likely responsible.

Compliance with these, they say, “guarantees” the reliability of the result. They refer to the Do’s and Do Not’s of successful crime scene management as listed by Conti-Vecchiotti and taken from guidelines from the Louisiana State Crime Police Laboratory, from the U.S Department of Justice, and more relevantly from Evidence Manuals from the New Jersey State Police, Missouri State Highway Patrol and North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.


There is a predominance of American references but they do also refer to the Good Practice Manual for Crime Scene Management promoted by ENFSI (European Network of Forensic Science Institutes). From Hellmann-Zanetti -

Regarding above all the identification of a genetic profile in an exhibit, it is important that the entire procedure be followed with complete observance of the rules dictated by the scientific community, which are not, to be sure, juridical rules (it is not a law of the State, as Dr. Stefanoni observed), but which do represent a guarantee of the reliability of the result. And since these rules also contain precautions necessary in order to avoid possible contamination, one can understand that the respect of these precautions cannot simply be assumed, but must be proven by anyone who bases his accusations on this result.

Rules and guidelines are not quite the same thing, still less are there standardised guidelines dictated by the scientific community, but let’s not be pernickety. What compliance with the guidelines does, of course, is reduce the risk (the “possibility” and yes, if there are elements supporting it, “the probability”) of contamination, not guarantee that there is not contamination. As any expert in the field will concede, contamination is always possible.

Conti-Vecchiotti listed, apparently, some 54 examples of breach of the aforesaid guidelines. Significant among these (because we know of them and the most was made of them) are the following listed by Follain in his book Death In Perugia-

1. The team failed to put on new gloves after bagging each sample ( probably, as with 2 below, accounting for the great majority of the examples, and Stefanoni admitted this did not happen every time).

2. Items were handled by more than one person without changing gloves (again, as above, admitted).

3. There was a smudge on one of the fingertips of one of the gloves which touched the clasp, so the glove was dirty.

4. The officer who picked up Meredith’s bra clasp passed it to a colleague before placing it back on the floor and then bagging it.

5. Stefanoni’s gloves were smudged with blood and split over her left index when she picked up a sample ( this need not detain us since it is an irrelevant and highly speculative and prejudicial observation, if not entirely erroneous, based on what can be seen from the video).

6. The officer filming the police video walked in and out of Meredith’s room without changing his shoe covers.

7. No security corridor was created for internal access with anti - contamination criteria between the various environments.

8. The initial position of discovery on the floor of the clasp was not the same after 46 days.

The idea of a security corridor which, given the confines of the cottage, and particularly the access to Meredith’s room, would mean, for instance, placing planks on the floor, is a good one, and obviously not followed in this instance though not actually a specific recommendation (though it can be inferred) in any of the guidelines referred to by Conti-Vecchiotti. It would have reduced the risk of carrying DNA into Meredith’s room on the soles of shoe covers.

The alleged breaches were not, of course, outlined in the Conti-Vecchiotti report. They were only mentioned in oral evidence accompanying the showing of the crime scene video in court.

Hellmann-Zanetti, in their report, mention two specific cases only, 3 and 8 above. In respect of “the smudge” they acknowledge, interestingly, that there is an unresolved issue of interpretation as to whether this is a shadow or prior staining! But why even posit a prior staining when it is obvious that the operative had to finger the fabric of the clasp (which was “dirty”) in order to pick the clasp up and show it to the camera? What was the dirt and what was the meaning of this in the context of a transfer of Sollecito’s DNA to the hook? They neither discuss not evaluate. They simply accept Conti-Vecchiotti’s observations as being pertinent and damning without question.

In contrast to Hellmann-Zanetti Massei does discuss and evaluate the probability and the logistics of contamination, with regard to the bra clasp. In fact he spends quite a bit of time on the subject. But before turning to that, let’s have a brief look at the subject of DNA transfer and then remember what Stefanoni (as quoted by Massei) says on the subject.

Primary transfer might occur between a subject (such as myself) and an object. I touch or sneeze over it. Secondary transfer could occur if the said object was moved and “placed” against yet another object so that my DNA is transferred from the first to the second object. Tertiary transfer could occur if someone touched my DNA on the first object and then touched the second object. There are three steps there but one can imagine scenarios with four or perhaps more such steps but with the inherent limitation that the quantity of DNA being transferred is going to reduce with each such step.

It is obvious that when the prosecution produce DNA evidence they are going to argue primary transfer by the accused and just as equally obvious that the defence are going to try and argue contamination, i.e that the presence of their client’s DNA is the product of secondary or tertiary transfer.

Stefafanoni said that secondary or tertiary does not happen unless (1) the DNA is in a substance which is still fresh and reasonably watery after primary transfer, not dried, and/or (2) there would have to be more than mere touch but friction, or at least pressure, as well. Whilst there could be isolated exceptions in practice this makes a lot of sense to me as a layman but in addition I also note that she was not contradicted, at the trial, by any of the defence experts, nor has she been contradicted by Conti-Vecchiotti in their report.


Returning to Massei.

Sollecito was at the cottage 3 or 4 times prior to the murder though on each occasion with Knox. It is thus possible that he left his DNA somewhere there. There is no evidence that he was ever in Meredith’s room before the murder. Thus, if he was not involved in the murder, one must hypothesize that his DNA from somewhere else in the cottage was transferred into Meredith’s room and onto the bra clasp by someone other than him.

Apart from the clasp there was only one other place where his DNA was to be found, mixed with Knox’s DNA, which was on a cigarette stub in an ashtray sitting on a table in the kitchen. From Massei, my numbering:

(1) Certainly, it can be observed that every single place in the house was not tested, and one might think that Raffaele Sollecito’s DNA might have been located in some other places. One can consider the possibility that his DNA from some other place that was not found was transferred onto the bra clasp, but this would have to have been done by someone manipulating the object.

(2) But simple contact between objects does not transfer DNA. Amanda’s and Raffaele’s DNA were both found on the cigarette stub, not just one of them, transferred by the other. It is also important that the bra was the one that Meredith was actually wearing, and the clasp was found under the pillow which was under Meredith”¦”¦. At this point it should also be mentioned that the piece of bra was (then)  found under a small rug in Meredith’s room [which protected it] “¦”¦”¦.

(3) It is also observed that the small rug did not show itself to be a good transmitter of DNA. Underneath it there was a sock, and analysis proved that on this sock there were only DNA traces of Meredith. Also the circumstance by which DNA was found on the (tiny) hooks - so on a more limited and rather less absorbent surface than the material attached to them - tends to exclude that Raffaele Sollecito’s DNA could have landed on the hooks, precisely on the hooks, by contamination or by transfer from some other unspecified object.

(4). “¦”¦.any transfer of DNA from the surface of the rug under which the small piece of bra was found would imply that between the two objects there was more than simple contact, touching of each other, but an actual pressure exercised on the rug under which the piece of bra lay. This hypothesis was set aside after Dr. Stefanoni reported “¦”¦.. the deformation of one of the hooks was the same. Vice versa, if some pressure had been exerted on top of it, if in one of the police activities someone had stepped on it—then that deformation would not have remained identical; but the small piece of material and the hooks and eyes had the same form, the exact same type of deformation “¦”¦.. she additionally stated that, having seen the small piece of bra in the early hours of November 3rd rather quickly, the images of it taken on that occasion allowed her a more prolonged and attentive observation, enabling her to declare that the deformation had remained unmodified and unchanged, as did the side on which it was set on the floor.

(5) Objects were moved, necessarily moved, but every object that was in a room, if it was not actually taken away, remained in the same room, without ever moving to another room, or being taken out of the room and then back in. The only parts of the house through which operators from the various places all passed were thus the living room and corridor. One might thus assume that some DNA of Raffaele Sollecito that had been left somewhere in the living room or corridor was moved, and ended up on the hooks. Such a movement of DNA and its subsequent repositioning on the hooks would have had to occur either because one of the technicians walking on the floor on which the DNA was lying hit it with his foot or stepped on it, causing it to end up on the hooks, or because by stepping on them, he impressed onto them the DNA caught underneath the shoe-cover he had on in that moment.

But these possibilities cannot be considered as concretely plausible: to believe that, moving around the house, the DNA could have been kicked or stepped on by one of the technicians, who in that case would have been moving about, and to believe that this DNA, instead of just sticking to the place it had been kicked or stepped on by (probably the shoe, or rather, the shoe-cover), having already been moved once from its original position, would then move again and end up on the hooks, seems like a totally improbable and risky hypothesis.

(6) “¦..and more importantly, none of the operators, after having touched some object which might have had Raffaele Sollecito’s DNA on it, then touched the hooks of the small piece of bra so as to make even hypothetically possible a transfer of DNA (from the object containing Sollecito’s DNA to the gloves, from the gloves to the hooks). In fact, none of the operators during the search of November 6th and 7th even took note of that little piece of bra, and thus in particular no one picked it up.” [Note that this observation is a direct contradiction of the unproven suspicion that this had in fact occurred - Massei had, of course, also watched the crime scene videos, seen the relevant clip and heard the argument.]

(7) Movement of objects, in particular of clothing, may have induced the movement of other objects, and this is what the Court considers to have occurred with respect to the piece of bra which was seen on the floor of Meredith’s room on November 2nd-3rd and left there. Deputy Commissioner Napoleoni, referring to the search of November 6th, has declared that she recalled the presence of a bluish rug; one can thus conclude that this rug was looked at during the search and entered into contact with the operators making the search, and like other objects, was moved from its original position, but always remaining on the floor of the room; during this movement it must have covered up the piece of bra (which was on the floor of the same room and yet was not noted during the search), thus determining by its own motion the accompanying motion of the small piece of bra, making it end up where it was then found during the inspection of December 18th: under the rug, together with a sock, in the same room, Meredith’s room, where it had already been seen. So it underwent a change of position that is, thus, irrelevant to the assertion of contamination.

Now, whatever one makes of Massei’s observations, he has at least considered, on a plausible level, the dynamics of secondary and tertiary transfer, generally and in this case - unlike either Hellmann-Zanetti or Conti-Vecchiotti. Furthermore, and in consequence, he concluded that contamination was simply not probable.

We should also recall the following words with regard to second and tertiary transfer, in the quote from Hellmann-Zanetti above”¦”¦”¦”¦”the fact that this is not an unusual occurrence is proven by studies cited by the expert team and also by the defence consultants”¦.”

What studies? Unfortunately Hellmann-Zanetti do not elaborate on these studies, and the proof therein allegedly contained, nor can we see them cited in the Conti-Vecchiotti report!

This leads me to the suspicion that Hellmann-Zanetti are trying to pull the wool over our eyes here. Yes, certainly secondary and tertiary transfer is not an unusual occurrence but the circumstances as to when this is likely, or not, is not discussed, let alone evaluated. It seems to me that this is not unimportant and the omission is surprising.

What Conto-Vecchiotti actually say about the subject in their report is mind-boggingly amateurish, trite and misleading. So much so that one doubts that they are really experts.

The relevant section about contamination (such as it is) in Conti-Vecchiotti is under the heading “Notes On Inspection And Collection Techniques”. Reading this I note, in the second paragraph, being in, it would seem, Conti-Vecchiotti’s own words:

The starting point is always Locard’s Principle according to which two objects which come into contact with each other exchange material in different forms. Equally the same principle scientifically supports the possibility of contamination and alteration [of the scene] on the part of anyone else, investigators included, who comes into contact with the scene.


Far from being just a starting point Locard’s Principle seems to be all that Conti and Vecchiotti know about the transfer of DNA.

For what it is worth Edmond Locard established an early crime lab in 1910 ( being a fan of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories) and wrote many articles as a result. However he never actually wrote any words approximating to “with contact there is an exchange of material” (which is not exactly a law of physics in the same manner as the laws of motion are) nor did he mention anything concerning a principle.

What he did write was “It is impossible for a criminal to act, especially given the intensity of the crime, without leaving traces of his presence.”  Sherlock Holmes would have said the same.

Incidentally it is science that supports a principle, and not the other way around. I would have expected Conti-Vecchiotti to know that.

I have surfed the internet for articles on the subject of tertiary transfer and there does seem to be “a lack of published data on the topic”, to quote one site I found.

Furthermore if they existed one might expect to find that they are referred to by the scientists in the FOA camp, but again I do not see these or that those that are referred to, eg by Halkides, add anything to what has already been discussed above.

Which leaves the “probability” element of contamination undemonstrated. Whatever the opportunities for contamination that there may have been arising from breach of guidelines (contentious in some if not all cases) these remain hypothetical whilst the probability of contamination remains undemonstrated.

But for Hellmann-Zanetti, conveniently, there is no need to demonstrate anything, because of the following:

Now, Prof. Novelli and also the Prosecutor stated that it is not sufficient to assert that the result comes from contamination; it is incumbent on one who asserts contamination to prove its origin.

However, this argument cannot be accepted, insomuch as it ends up by treating the possibility of contamination as an exception to the civil code on the juridical level. Thus, one cannot state: I proved that the genetic profile is yours, now you prove that the DNA was not left on the exhibit by direct contact, but by contamination. No, one can’t operate this way.

In the context of a trial, as is well known, it falls to the PM who represents the prosecution before the court (the terminology is used in Art. 125 of the implementing provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure), to prove the viability of all the elements on which it is based, and thus, when one of these elements is completed by a scientific element represented by the result of an analytic procedure, the task is also to prove that the result was obtained using a procedure which guarantees the purity [genuinità ] of the exhibit from the moment of collection right through the analysis.

“¦”¦.. when there is no proof that these precautions guaranteeing that the result is not the fruit of contamination were respected, it is absolutely not necessary to also prove the specific origin of the contamination.

The use of the word “absolutely” is interesting, as if this was the last word on the matter, and any evaluation is to be declined.

Now I sense the presence of a premise which is already a conclusion. This being that because there are (as Hellmann-Zanetti hold) breaches of guidelines, then the DNA result is unreliable for that reason.

As it happens, this is exactly what Conti-Vecchiotti say. But as it stands this is an unargued proposition. For this to be a valid deduction “for that reason” should be explained by the inclusion of another premise which we can at least accept as true - “A breach entails that the possibility of contamination cannot be excluded”. Then we can formulate a simple deduction, though it would be unsound until we can answer the question “Does the possibility of contamination render the result unreliable?”

A scientist may explain what “unreliable” means to him. But I want to answer the question in juridical terms, and this can be done quite simply.

Any element of evidence in juridical proceedings is weighed only by the probability that it represents the truth. The possibility that it does, or it does not, is simply to be discarded as having no weight either way. Accordingly, for the purpose of the argument, and for any proceedings in court, it cannot be accepted that the possibility of contamination renders the result unreliable. Whether it is unreliable or not has to be looked at in a different way, according to the balance of probabilities.

Getting back to the quote, I would say that both Hellmann-Zanetti and Novelli are right, and they are also both wrong.

Hellmann-Zanetti are of course right in that the burden of proof remains with the prosecution with regard to all elements.

And the way Prof. Novelli puts it is somewhat incorrect, but only because he is a scientist and not a lawyer.

That the burden of proof remains with the prosecution does not alleviate the defence of any burden with regard to an issue such as contamination.

There is also an issue to be discussed as to whether the burden on the prosecution is to demonstrate non-contamination beyond a reasonable doubt or merely that contamination is not probable.

Let’s start with whether there is any burden on the defence.

There is a general principle to which even criminal proceedings are subject. “Onus probandi incumbit ei qui dicit, non ei qui negat.”  My Latin is not great but roughly translated “the onus of proof is on he who says it, not he who denies it.”

Dr Galati, in his Supreme Court Appeal Submissions, puts it this way (more forcibly than I would) -

In other words, if a piece of circumstantial evidence must be certain in itself, and if therefore even scientific proof must be immune to any alternative-explanation hypothesis, this does not alter the fact that this hypothesis ought to be based on reasonable elements and not merely abstract hypothetical ones. And if the refutation of a scientific piece of evidence passes via the affirmation of a circumstance of fact (being the contamination of an exhibit), that circumstance must be specifically proved, not being deducible from generic (and otherwise unshareable) considerations about the operative methodology followed by the Scientific Police, absent demonstration that the methods used would have produced, in the concrete, the assumed contamination.

I do not myself think it is realistic for the defence to have to prove a specific contamination path from point A to point B. That would be unrealistic. But certainly if the issue of contamination is to be raised the defence must go beyond an abstract hypothetical explanation that in the event, as is the case here, is devoid of known origins for the contamination. (Save for the trace on the cigarette stub, so that if that was the source there would be Knox’s DNA mixed in with Sollecito’s on the clasp). Otherwise how is the prosecution to respond? With what level of proof?

Should it be beyond reasonable doubt? How Hellmann-Zanetti would wish! “Beyond reasonable doubt” is the standard to be applied to the prosecution’s case in its entirety, to any attribution of culpability for the crime to the accused. It is not parcelled out to each and every element.

The correct standard to apply to an element such as contamination (as it is for any piece of circumstantial evidence) is “the balance of probability having regard to other elements”. The alleged breaches of crime management guidelines are in themselves only circumstantial, requiring, for any weight to be attached to them, corroborative or supporting elements as to which, as I see it, there are none. So the correct question is: Is contamination probable or not? (This is not to exclude that there may sometimes, somewhat rarely, be circumstances where it can be proved beyond reasonable doubt)

So we are back to probability again. It is a battle (if at all)  of probabilities and we must not confuse what is possible with what is probable, however much our eyes are opened to what is possible.

That it is such, is tacitly acknowledged by Hellmann-Zanetti when they argue that Sollecito’s DNA being on the bra hook but not on the fabric of the clasp is improbable. My response to that would be to say that it is far more probable than that there was contamination of the hook.

The absence of any argument as to probability may have been a thought that popped into Vecchiotti’s head when she retorted “probable” (feeling a bit sick about the answer afterwards I hope). However that she could make that assertion does not fill one with much confidence when considering that she also maintains that there were errors in Stefanoni’s interpretation of the electropherogram result, even whilst accepting that Sollecito”˜s profile was there, not least because his Y chromosome was as well.

Don’t expect Conti and Vecchiotti to be re-invited if there is any replay of the appeal trial.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

DNA Proof 40 Years After A Cowardly Murder Shuts Down A Fact-Fogging Campaign For The Murderer

Posted by The Machine



[Above: the murder victim Michael Gregsten and Valerie Storie who survived]

Relevance to Meredith’s case

You maybe thought journalists, politicians, human rights campaigners, lawyers, writers, filmmakers and celebrities campaigning on behalf of someone who evidence strongly suggested was guilty was peculiar to Meredith’s case?

Think again. Exactly the same thing has happened more than a few times. This is one. The UK’s notorious A6 murder of 1961.

On the evening of 22 August 1961, Michael Gregsten, a government scientist, and his girlfriend Valerie Storrie, a laboratory assistant, were sitting in his car next to a cornfield in Berkshire, just west of London, when a masked gunman tapped on the car window. He demanded Gregsten’s wallet and Storie’s handbag.

He then forced Gregsten to drive 60 miles to Deadman’s Hill at Clophill in Bedfordshire where he shot the scientist twice in the head, killing him instantly. Next, he raped and shot Ms Storie five times. She survived the attack, but was left paralysed from the waist down.



[Above: Convicted murderer James Hanratty and his campaigning father]

Trial and evidence

James Hanratty, a petty thief, was arrested after cartridge cases from the murder weapon were found in a London hotel where he stayed the night before the murder. Valerie Storie picked out Hanratty at an identity parade from her hospital bed and she also made a voice identification of him. 

At the trial at Bedford Assizes, James Henratty changed his original alibi that he was staying with friends in Liverpool on the day of the murder and said that he had gone to Rhyl, in north Wales, and stayed two nights in a boarding house. The jury didn’t believe him and James Hanratty was found guilty of murdering Michael Gregsten.

The families of the victims (one dead, one crippled for life) expressed relief that a unanimous verdict was reached.

Hanratty was hanged at Bedford Prison on 4 April 1962. The day before he was hanged, he told his family: “I’m dying tomorrow but I’m innocent. Clear my name.” 

The pressure for an appeal

After James Hanratty was hanged, his father launched a campaign to clear his name. A number of high-profile public figures lent their support to the campaign, including John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and prominent politicians David Steel and Norman Fowler.

In 1971, a hundred MPs signed a petition demanding a public inquiry. The Conservative government refused to open such an inquiry.

Three years later the Labour Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, commissioned a report from Lewis Hawser QC who sat in secret and came to the conclusion Hanratty was guilty.

In 1999, the case was sent back to the Court of Appeal. In March 2001, Hanratty’s body was exhumed and DNA tests were carried on it to see whether his DNA matched DNA traces found on Valerie Short’s knickers and her handkerchief that was found wrapped around the gun.

DNA tests confirm a right verdict

Forensic scientists from the Forensic Science Service (FSS) found that there was a perfect match and concluded that the DNA found on these exhibits was 2.5 million times more likely to belong to Hanratty than anyone else.

A report from the Daily Mail.

James Hanratty was guilty of the notorious A6 murder for which he was hanged, sensational scientific evidence has revealed. A DNA sample taken from his exhumed body has been matched by forensic experts to two samples from the crime scene.

They now believe that there is only a 1-in-2.5million chance Hanratty was innocent.  The results of the tests, released to Hanratty’s defence team, are a crushing blow to campaigners who have insisted he was not guilty.

In 2002, James Hanratty’s conviction was upheld at the Court of Appeal and a bid to take the case to the House of Lords was rejected. Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, who with two colleagues - Lord Justice Mantell and Mr Justice Leveson - considered the posthumous appeal, said the DNA evidence established Hanratty’s guilt “beyond doubt”.

Lord Woolf for the Supreme Court on 10 May 2002:

We have already stressed the importance of looking at a case such as this in the round. The grounds of appeal are of differing significance and although we have dealt with them individually it is also necessary to consider them collectively in asking ourselves the critical question is the conviction of James Hanratty of murder unsafe either on procedural or evidential grounds?

As to the evidential issues they all ultimately relate to the single issue which dominated the trial and this appeal, the identity of the killer. In our judgment for reasons we have explained the DNA evidence establishes beyond doubt that James Hanratty was the murderer.

The DNA evidence made what was a strong case even stronger. Equally the strength of the evidence overall pointing to the guilt of the appellant supports our conclusion as to the DNA.



[Above: journalist campaigners Paul Foot and Bob Woffinden]

The 40-year media campaign

Forty years of excruciating hell for the families and friends of the victims, one dead, one crippled for life .

Investigative journalists such as Bob Woffinden and Paul Foot wrote articles and books about the case, stubbornly certain that James Hanratty was innocent and that the case was a miscarriage of justice.

Paul Foot was a highly-respected campaigning journalist who worked for Private Eye, the Daily Mirror and The Guardian. However, his reasons for believing that James Hanratty was innocent were flimsy to the say the least.

From the BBC obituary for Paul Foot:

Beyond his obvious triumphs, Foot sometimes got it terribly wrong.

The Hanratty affair is a case in point. Twenty-five-year-old James Hanratty was hanged in 1962, after being found guilty of killing scientist Michael Gregsten and raping and shooting his mistress Valerie Storie.

Foot’s interest began in 1966 and, for the next 34 years, he consistently and eloquently demanded justice for Hanratty.

The case was finally reopened in 2000 and, after Hanratty’s body was exhumed, so DNA samples could be scraped from his bones, his guilt was proved beyond doubt.

The main crux of his argument for innocence was that James Hanratty was in Liverpool and Rhyl on the day of the murder. There were no positive identifications of Hanratty, just a couple of people who claimed that they had seen a man who looked like him.



[Above: John Lennon and Yoko Ono with Hanratty’s parents]

A report of John Lennon’s involvement.

On Side One of John & Yoko’s “Live Jam” album (recorded on 15th December 1969) Yoko can be heard to shout “Britain, you killed Hanratty you murderer!”, she then chants Hanratty’s name throughout the opening bars of Don’t Worry Kyoko.

As the [1960s] progressed, the view that Hanratty had in fact been the victim of a gross miscarriage of justice began to gather momentum, another man was even seen to confess to the murder on British Television in 1967. Together with Hanratty’s parents, John and Yoko discussed the idea of making a film to back the campaign for an enquiry and this was announced at an Apple press conference on December 10th 1969.

The one and only public screening of the 40-minute colour result was eventually shown in the crypt of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church, London on 17th February 1972.

29 years later DNA evidence from the exhumed body of Hanratty was said to prove that he DID commit the murder, although it has been argued that the retained evidence may have been cross contaminated in storage.

Supporters of James Hanratty have come out with the predictable excuse that the DNA evidence must have been contaminated. However, the forensic scientists who worked in the case said this highly unlikely and pointed out that they had found no other DNA profiles on the two exhibits.

Implications for PR campaigns

The DNA tests carried out by the FFS that finally provided definitive proof that James Hanratty killed Michael Gregsten and raped and shot Valerie Storie more or less stopped the bandwagon dead in its tracks.

But there had been for decades almost fanatical and very vociferous support for someone who’d been unanimously convicted of murder, many of whom stood to gain, though it didnt have too much effect except to have the case looked at and found solid twice.

James Hanratty’s supporters claimed that he had no motive, that the police framed him, and that the DNA evidence was contaminated by the government’s experts. NONE of this was proved. Unless there is actual proof of dastardly plots and contamination, these claims against the authorities are unfruitful and unfair.

The most important lesson to be learnt from the A6 murder case is that a bandwagon of journalists, politicians, human rights campaigners, lawyers, writers, filmmakers and celebrities being absolutely convinced of someone’s innocence does not make him or her innocent in fact.

Even intelligent and well-intentioned people like Paul Foot and David Steel can mistakenly believe a killer is innocent and shrug off the pain the victims’ families must feel.

Implications for Curt Knox’s campaign

There are a number of parallels to the campaign against justice for Meredith. The families of the victims for one were put through years of hell, the real evidence was wildly distorted, and many good justice professionals and reporters were impugned. .

Hopefully the judges at the Italian Supreme Court will order a new appeal trial early next year, and the new tests the prosecution requested at the appeal on the remaining sample from the large knife can now be carried out.

Professor Novelli testified that it is possible to extract, amplify and attribute DNA with just 10-15 picograms of DNA using cutting-edge technology.  Conti and Vecchiotti extracted approximately 100 picograms of DNA from the blade of the knife.

Sollecito seemed to know there could be incriminating DNA evidence on that knife, and Knox had an extreme reaction not yet accounted for in an innocent way when she was shown a drawer full of knives.

There is enough DNA for more than one test. If Meredith’s DNA is indeed identified once again, the already strong case against Knox and Sollecito can be closed once and for all. And Curt Knox’s PR will be gone.


[Below: the then Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf]


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Ominous Development For Sollecito And Knox: A DNA Conviction Based On A Tiny Sample Of DNA

Posted by The Machine



[Burgess, image below, murdered Yolande Waddington and, above, Jeanette Wigmore and Jacqueline Williams]


There is a HUGE dagger hanging over Sollecito and Knox. A UK case resolved this week indicates why.

New tests on the DNA sample on the large knife found in Sollecito’s house which the independent DNA experts refused to do, and the judges failed to re-order despite a strong prosecution request, could result in Knox and Sollecito being ultimately convicted and secure Knox’s extradition to serve out her term.

Lawyers consider it a dead certainty that the Supreme Court will order those tests -  that is if they dont throw out the entire Hellman/Zanetti judgment for illegal scope, or throw out the DNA report for illegally having been ordered in the first place.


(1) Summary of the UK case

David Burgess this week was convicted in Reading of murdering Yolande Waddington, 17, some 46 years after the crime was committed, thanks to all the advances in DNA technology. Back then, he was already convicted of killing Jeanette Wigmore and Jacqueline Williams.

Burgess is the latest person in Britain to have been finally found guilty of murder years after his crime was committed. Nat Fraser, Gary Dobson and David Norris had been convicted of murder this year after evading justice for a number of years.

In September 2010, Thames Valley Police reviewed the case and with advances in DNA techniques finally gathered the evidence which resulted in Burgess being convicted of Yolande Waddington’s murder.

Forensic experts obtained a partial DNA profile from the blood samples using a new technique called MiniFiler. It differs from previous methods as it can obtain information from smaller pieces of DNA. This is ideal for older cases where samples have degraded over time.

According to the manufacturer’s website

[The MiniFiler kit] increases your ability to obtain DNA results from compromised samples that previously would have yielded limited or no genetic data. This means cold cases can come off the shelf for re-analysis and new, challenging samples have a better chance of delivering interpretable results.

When David Burgess attacked Yolande, he left blood on a number of Yolande’s items, including her hair band and comb. Tests showed the chances of the DNA found on the comb and hair band not being Burgess’s were not more than one in a billion.


[Below: David Burgess then and now who had taunted the police a year ago to “prove it”]




(2) Here are the implications for RS and AK

It puts the 46-day delay (caused by the defenses) in retrieving the bra clasp into perspective.

It’s not the first case of somebody being convicted of murder decades after the crime took place on the strength of DNA evidence. Ronald Castree was convicted of murdering Lesley Molseed 32 years later.

It also highlights the arrogant negligence of the DNA consultants Stefano Conti and Carla Vecchiotti who had refused to carry out ordered test on the knife for flimsy reasons (“the technology is experimental” when it wasn’t) that no US or UK court would have accepted. They had been specifically instructed to do the tests if possible by Judge Hellmann.

At trial in 2009 it was accepted that Amanda Knox’s DNA was found on the handle of the knife sequestered from Sollecito’s kitchen. There still is no argument about that.

And a number of independent forensic experts - Dr. Patrizia Stefanoni, Dr. Renato Biondo, Professor Francesca Torricelli and former Caribinieri General Luciano Garofano - had all confirmed that Meredith’s DNA was found on the blade.

Even Greg Hampikian, a forensic expert who argues Knox is innocent, concedes that Meredith’s DNA was definitely found on the blade.

Stefano Conti and Carla Vecchiotti didn’t know that Dr Stefanoni analysed the traces on the knife a long six days after last handling Meredith’s DNA. Contamination couldn’t possibly have occurred in the laboratory after so long a gap.

At the appeal, Professor Guiseppe Novelli testified that there are a number of laboratories that now have the latest accepted technology to carry out a new test on the remaining DNA on the knife.

The fact that Judge Hellmann denied the prosecution the opportunity to present evidence to the contrary was a violation of the procedure code. Italian law states the following:

If new evidence about a point is admitted, evidence a contrario proposed by the opposing party must always be admitted too.

Dr Giovanni Galati has now argued in his appeal to the Supreme Court that Judge Hellmann should have allowed a new test to be performed because the technology is NOT experimental but cutting edge. Summary here:

The second [point concerns] the decision to not allow a new forensic investigation requested by the prosecution at the end of the ruling discussion. In the appeal to Cassation it is written that the Appeal Court’s rejection reveals “contradictoriness/contrariness and demonstrates manifest illogicality in the grounds for the judgement/reasoning report”.

As remarked at the top, if the entire judgment or the DNA report are not thrown out for illegal scope, Judge Hellman’s refusal to allow the prosecution’s request to allow a new test on the knife will be the main reason why his verdict will be revoked.

Under Italian law RS and AK still stand accused until the Supreme Court signs off. Anyone who is concerned with the truth and justice and what Meredith stood for and the good name of Italy will want to know whether the remaining DNA on the knife is Meredith’s.

If Meredith’s DNA is identified on the knife it should make conviction and extradition a slam dunk..


[Below: ViaDellaPergola’s video first posted 18 months ago and still relevant]


Tuesday, January 03, 2012

UK High Court Convicts Two After 18 Years When Defense DNA Contamination Claims Lose Traction

Posted by The Machine



Gary Dobson and David Norris have been found guilty of murdering Stephen Lawrence in 1993 by a jury at the Old Bailey.

There are some parallels between this case and the Meredith Kercher case: the police were accused of making a catalogue of errors and the defence lawyers claim forensic evidence was contaminated.

Gary Dobson was acquitted of Stephen Lawrence’s murder in 1996. However, the Court of Appeal quashed the acquittal. The case against David Norris collapsed before it reached court.

It’s heartening that Dobson and Norris have been finally brought to justice. Forensic scientists used advanced techniques which were not available to the original investigators to recover bloodstains, clothing fibres and a single hair belonging to Stephen Lawrence from the clothes of the suspects.

Rosalyn Hammond from LGC Forensics explaining in today’s Telegraph:

Their convictions come after a five-week trial during which forensic evidence linking the two to the murder was shown to the jury.

The discovery of the fibres, blood and hair on the clothing was the evidence upon which the trial was based. A spot of Stephen’s blood was found on the collar of Dobson’s jacket, while hairs belonging to Stephen were found on Norris’ trousers.  As well as the blood spot, fibres from Stephen’s clothing were found on clothing taken from the homes of Dobson and Norris.

At one point in the 1990s Dobson contacted the Metropolitan Police to ask for the return of his clothes. But, after considering his request, Scotland Yard declined. Even today the force retains the clothing of all of the suspects so that they can be tested as forensic techniques develop.

A further criticism could be laid at the door of the scientists who failed to discover the blood spot in the 1990s.  But experts pointed out that even if it had been discovered then, it would have been useless as DNA testing had not yet developed enough to be able to clarify that such a small stain was blood belonging to Stephen Lawrence.

The tiny stain found on Dobson’s jacket is believed, by forensic experts, to be the smallest piece of forensic evidence upon which a trial has ever been mounted.

The decision to base the prosecution against Dobson on such a small piece of evidence was a risk, however. After his conviction was quashed, the current law allows only one further attempt at prosecution. It meant that if he was found not guilty, Dobson could never have been charged again.

The Italian Supreme Court should order another appeal trial on the grounds that the court consultants Vecchiotti and Conti failed to carry out a newly available test on the knife. That was despite the fact they were specifically instructed in their initial instructions to do so.

Also that Judge Hellman late in the appeal arbitrarily denied the prosecution request for precisely that test of the DNA without any good reason.

The prosecution grounds for their appeal to the Italian Supreme Court due this month are expected to repeat this request and we can see no grounds that could allow the Supreme Court to deny it. There are a number of laboratories that have the technology to carry out a test on the remaining DNA on the knife.

The requested test on the knife should go ahead.



Monday, October 24, 2011

The Casey Anthony And Sollecito/Knox Outcomes Spark A New Discussion Of The CSI Effect

Posted by Peter Quennell



That seems a good explanation of the so-called CSI effect in the Fox Kansas City video above.

Many crime shows such as the BBC mysteries and the Law & Order series and spinoffs show investigators solving their crimes in the old-fashioned way. Lots of witness interviews and alibi and database checking, and walking around and loose ends and lying awake at night puzzling. And often there’s a big stroke of luck. 

But if you watch the very popular CSI Las Vegas series and its spinoffs in Miami and New York, and the various clones on other networks, you will see something very different indeed.

When those shows first began airing worldwide in the late nineties, the producers explained that audiences increasingly appreciate learning something new when watching a show, and it is true, one sure can load up on the trivia.

But you will also see the US equivalent of Dr Stefanoni and her forensic team in those shows, roaming far beyond the narrow crime scene, interrogating witnesses and checking alibis and finding a lot of non-forensic evidence, and even at times drawing guns.

Most unreal is that, time and again, the forensic evidence testing is clearcut and takes just a few minutes and instantly clinches the case.

  • There are several articles like this one and this one on whether the Casey Anthony jury was affected by a shortfall in the starkness of the forensics when the behavioral evidence seemed so strong.
  • There are several articles like this one and this one on whether the appeal verdict outcome in Perugia might be affected in the same way.
  • There are many articles like this one and this one and this one and especially this one saying there is a tough added burden on investigators and juries without a commensurate improved outcome.

With conviction rates declining in the US and Europe, professionals are taking a scientific look at whether the CSI Effect is one big cause of that decline.

At the macro level in the US this writer doubted that the CSI Effect is fatally unbalancing takes on the wider evidence. The same conclusion was reached in this first major study at the micro level.

But the belief in the CSI Effect continues. Articles like this one on an Australian site talk of a backlash against too many acquittals. Some articles like this one argue that maybe lay juries are out of their depths.

The graph at bottom (which we’d like to see updated) showed how the US Feds are still winning juries over and maintaining amazingly high conviction rates.  And at state level and lower, judges and lawyers are also taking countermeasures.

In Ohio and many other states prosecutors and judges are acting against a possible CSI Effect in their selection and briefing of juries. And an NPR report came up with these findings.

Some states now allow lawyers to strike potential jurors based on their TV habits. Judges are issuing instructions that warn juries about expecting too much scientific evidence based on what they see on TV.

In the field, Shelton says death investigators sometimes run useless tests, just to show they went the extra CSI mile.

“They will perform scientific tests and present evidence of that to the jury. Even if the results don’t show guilt or innocence either way, just to show the jury that they did it.”

This is coming at a time when death investigators in America have no resources to spare. An investigation by NPR, PBS Frontline and ProPublica shows some states have already opted not to do autopsies on suicides, others don’t autopsy people who die in traffic accidents, and many don’t autopsy people who die over the age of 60.

But Murphy, the Clark County coroner, expects things to get worse.

“You know, we’re in budget cuts right now. Everybody’s in budget cuts. Las Vegas is no different than anybody else. We’re hurting. We’re going to feel that same crunch as everybody else,” he says.

One of Zuiker’s great disappointments is that, for all its popularity, his fictional Las Vegas crime lab didn’t generate more political support to fund death investigation.

“I’ve done my job. You know, we’ve launched three shows that cater to 73.8 million people a week and is a global phenomenon and the largest television franchise in history. We hoped that the show would raise awareness and get more funding into crime labs so people felt safe in their communities. And we’re still hoping that the government will catch up.”

The jury is still out on what really swayed the Perugia appeal jury. Their sentencing report is due out in the New Year. They sure didnt look at very much except for a small fraction of the DNA.

Which leaves us with a big question. How did Judge Hellman brief his jury? Did he warn against the CSI Effect? We’re told this might be his first DNA case, so Cassation will surely look closely at that.




Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Excellent Sunday Times Report On The Many Killer Questions The Second Appeal Next Year Might Answer

Posted by Peter Quennell



[Rome: St Peter’s and Vatican in foreground; Supreme Court large white building in right background by River Tiber]


It really ain’t over until it’s over, and knowing the hyper-cautious Italian justice system, maybe not even then.

Now the drama moves to Rome.

Before any verdict and sentence in the case can become final, under Italian law and the constitution the verdict and sentence must be endorsed by the Supreme Court of Cassation.

If either the prosecution or defenses demand that issues be looked at by Cassation (as we know, the prosecution will) Cassation will do so, and it may punt the case back down to the first appeal court to re-examine questions or even run a complete re-trial at first appeal level.

At Cassation level the prosecution is likely to have at least five advantages.

    1) A confusing Hellman sentence report seems likely which won’t be able to dispose of the Massei and Micheli reports because the Hellman court did not re-examine all issues

    2) Cassation’s ruling on the final appeal of Rudy Guede which points to three perps, and Cassation’s general tendency to side with trial courts against first-appeal courts.

    3) The likelihood that only the prosecution will file issues for consideration by Cassation and not the defenses and so the prosecution will dominate all proceedings.

    4) Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito and entourages seem unlikely to be there in person for the Cassation hearings or a retrial, and emotive factors would be less in play.

    5) The Italian media and Italian public opinion and increasingly UK and US opinion seem to be taking the position that the Hellman appeal decision was unsatisfactory.

Two days ago, the Sunday Times ran this fine analysis below by their reporter on the case, John Follain, of the open issues that will be facing Cassation and possibly again facing the lower appeal court. 

With a dozen books out John Follain has by far the largest and most impressive book publishing record of any reporter on the case.

Publishers Hodder and Stoughton have announced that his book Death in Perugia: The Definitive Account of the Meredith Kercher Case will be released first in the UK later this month - on 25 October.

KILLER QUESTIONS; The acquittal last week of Amanda Knox only deepens the confusion surrounding the murder of the British student Meredith Kercher. John Follain, who has investigated the case for four years, unpicks the evidence How could one man pin Meredith down and inflict those injuries?

By John Follain in Perugia.

They may have been coached to hide their true feelings, but the expressions of the judges and jurors were an open book. Surprise and shock registered on the faces of the appeal tribunal in Perugia as they watched a video taken by the forensic police who searched the whitewashed cottage where Meredith Kercher was murdered.

That summer’s day in the medieval, vaulted Hall of Frescoes was the pivotal scene of the 10-month appeal trial of Amanda Knox, 24, and Raffaele Sollecito, 26 “” the moment that freedom suddenly became possible, if not probable, for the former lovers.

The rotund, bespectacled Stefano Conti, one of two specialists in forensic medicine appointed by the court to review two crucial traces of DNA evidence, gave a sardonic running commentary on the behaviour of the Roman scientific squad searching for clues in the cottage. They failed to use clean protective gloves to handle each item of evidence or biological sample, Conti pointed out. They passed Meredith’s bra clasp to one another before placing it back on the floor where they had found it. The officer who picked up her bra wore no gloves at all.

As the senior appeal judge, Claudio Pratillo Hellmann, recalled last week after acquitting Knox and Sollecito of sexually abusing and murdering Meredith, the DNA review was “the most difficult moment” of the trial.

“The prosecutors understood that their case was at risk, and it was at that moment that the trial became a battle with no holds barred,” he said.

The courtroom fight over this international cause célèbre ended with a sobbing Knox being rushed out by guards and flown home to a heroine’s welcome in Seattle.

But, far from resolving the mystery of how and why Meredith died, the acquittal has fuelled the unanswered questions over her fate. Are we “back to square one”, as Meredith’s brother Lyle said after the verdict? What are the mysteries still to be resolved? And will we ever know what truly happened? MEREDITH, a 21-year-old language student from Coulsdon, Surrey, was found lying virtually naked, her throat cut, in her bedroom in the house she shared with Knox and two other young women on the afternoon of November 2, 2007. “Case closed,” an overoptimistic police chief proclaimed just four days later.

The investigators thought Knox had handed them the keys to the mystery. Under questioning she placed herself at the crime scene on the night before the body was found. She had been in the kitchen, with her hands over her ears, she said, while Patrick Lumumba, a Congolese bar owner for whom she worked as a waitress, killed Meredith.

Police promptly arrested Lumumba, Knox and her boyfriend. But Knox later went back on her testimony, insisting she had been with Sollecito at his flat all night.

Investigators were forced to release Lumumba after witnesses testified he had been working at his bar on the night of the murder. Knox and Sollecito stayed behind bars.

Forensic evidence then prompted the arrest of another African immigrant, Rudy Guede, an Ivory Coast drifter. Part of his palm print was on a cushion under Meredith’s body, his DNA was in her body where he had apparently groped her sexually, and his DNA was mixed with hers in drops of blood inside her shoulder bag.

The prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, accused Guede, Knox and Sollecito of killing Meredith when she resisted their attempts to force her into a sex game.

Certainly, there appeared to be compelling evidence that Knox was lying. She had tried to frame Lumumba. The defence now claimed that an intruder had broken into the cottage and attacked Meredith; but the break-in had clearly been staged. Amateurishly, a room had been ransacked before the window into it was smashed “” the glass lay over the strewn clothes instead of under them. Was this to cover Knox’s tracks? There were mixed traces of Knox’s and Meredith’s blood in the bathroom and another room. Bloody footprints had been left by Knox and Sollecito in the bathroom and in the corridor. Knox had behaved bizarrely at the police station after the murder, kissing and caressing Sollecito and doing yoga exercises. Sollecito had said he spent much of the murder night on his computer, but this was disproved by experts.

Still, this was all circumstantial evidence rather than proof. The Rome forensic police came to the rescue of the prosecution team. They reported that Meredith’s DNA was on the blade of a kitchen knife found at Sollecito’s flat “” and Knox’s was on the handle. This was believed to be one of the murder weapons.

Forensic pathologists said Meredith’s wounds had been caused by two knives, pointing to more than one killer. The team from Rome also reported that Sollecito’s DNA was on Meredith’s bra clasp. (Only much later would it emerge that the police had retrieved this from the bedroom floor a full 46 days after first spotting it.) The case rapidly became a sensation. The prime suspect was an intelligent and alluringly pretty American, only 20 at the time, who, reporters joyously discovered, had been nicknamed “Foxy Knoxy” back home in Seattle. That this was for her skills on the soccer pitch was lost in the rush to find out more.

Dozens of witnesses and expert consultants passed through Perugia’s Hall of Frescoes during the first trial, which lasted for much of 2009.

Knox was portrayed by the lawyer for the bar owner, Lumumba, as an unscrupulous and manipulative she-devil, and by her defence team as “a wholesome girl” wrongly accused.

The prosecution case was that Kercher, a hard-working young woman from a modest background, had become exasperated by Knox’s slovenly and promiscuous behaviour as a housemate.

She had remarked to her father that “Amanda arrived only a week ago and she already has a boyfriend”. She told friends that Knox left a vibrator and condoms in the bathroom and brought “strange men” to the cottage. Investigators leaked Knox’s diary, in which she had listed seven sexual partners, three of whom she had slept with after her arrival in Italy, including a man she had met on the train on her way to Perugia. On Facebook she had put down as her interests: “Men.” Unable to prove exactly what had happened on the night of the murder, Mignini offered a plausible scenario based on Meredith’s 43 knife wounds and bruises.

He suggested that an argument between Meredith and Knox escalated when Guede and Sollecito joined the American “under the influence of drugs and maybe of alcohol” in trying to force Kercher into a heavy sex game that ended in murder. The sensational 11-month trial ended in guilty verdicts and jail sentences of 26 years for Knox and 25 years for Sollecito.

Some months later, in August 2010, I met Knox briefly in Capanne women’s prison, which is a short drive from Perugia. She had cut her hair and looked younger and more frail than during her trial. She wore a red Beatles sweatshirt, black leggings and silver nail varnish.

When I arrived, she was pushing a trolley down a corridor.

A guard explained that her job was to collect orders from other prisoners for small goods they could buy: newspapers, cigarettes, coffee, magazines and “” at that time of year “” strawberries. We were allowed to talk for only a few moments, but a guard told me: “She’s pretty well. Amanda’s confident that the future will bring freedom for her. She doesn’t break down in tears. It’s nothing like the night of tears after the verdict, when we had to comfort her.”

I was told she had been reading “” in Italian “” the 427-page summary by the two judges at her trial, who had dissected the inconsistencies in her evidence.

This summary included the judges’ own reconstruction of what might have happened on the night of the murder, based on the evidence that had been put before them.

They suggested that Knox, Sollecito and Guede had arrived at the cottage at about 11pm. Knox and her boyfriend had gone to her bedroom to have sex, and, excited by a situation “heavy with sexual stimulus”, Guede had walked into Kercher’s room wanting to have sex with her.

Kercher rejected him “” she was tired, and had a new boyfriend anyway “” but Knox and Sollecito intervened to assist him. According to the judges, they were probably drugged on hashish and seeking “erotic sexual violence”. Forcing Kercher to yield to Guede was a “special thrill that had to be tried out”.

They suggested Sollecito cut Meredith’s bra with a small knife he always carried “” collecting knives was a hobby. As Guede sexually assaulted Kercher with his fingers, Sollecito stabbed her in the neck. Kercher screamed “” a neighbour heard her “” and Knox stabbed her in the throat with a kitchen knife, the judges argued. She took several minutes to die as she inhaled her own blood.

THAT was the lurid and damning case that Knox had to fight when she returned to the Hall of Frescoes last November for her appeal.

Her demeanour had changed. Gone was smiling and self-confident “Foxy”, whose manner may have helped secure her conviction. After three years in prison, Knox was much more demure.

The appeal hearing began auspiciously for her when the deputy judge remarked: “The only certain and undisputed fact is the death of Meredith Kercher.”

The comment prompted prosecutors to complain that the court had already made up its mind, but it was a portent of what was about to be revealed.

The appeal court’s decision to grant a defence request for an independent review of two items of DNA evidence “” the kitchen knife and the bra clasp “” proved devastating for the prosecution’s case.

The two experts “” Conti and Carla Vecchiotti, from La Sapienza University in Rome “” said the DNA trace on the knife blade could not be attributed to Meredith because it was too slight. They said Sollecito’s Y chromosome was on the bra clasp, but it could have been the result of contamination by police mishandling of the evidence. From then on, the prosecutors fought a losing battle to discredit Conti and Vecchiotti.

Outside the courtroom the Knox camp’s media offensive exploited the experts’ conclusions.

Knox’s family “” her mother, father, stepfather and friends “” had come well primed for battle. Homes had been remortgaged and funds raised.

With the help of a PR company in Seattle, they dominated prime-time shows on the leading American TV networks, dramatically influencing public opinion there “” so much so that the prosecutor Mignini thundered in court that he had never seen a convict hire a PR firm to prove her innocence.

Mignini himself was a key target. In what appeared to have been a turf battle with prosecutors in Florence, he had been given a suspended 16-month prison sentence for abuse of office after tapping the phones of police officers and journalists in a separate investigation into a serial killer. It was a reflection of the fragmented and politicised condition of the Italian justice system.

The prosecutors tried but failed to switch the focus away from the forensic evidence by introducing Guede, the third party to the murder. He had been prosecuted separately because he had opted for a “fast track” trial that offers a lighter sentence as an incentive. Jailed for 16 years for murder, he had appealed to the Supreme Court in Rome “” Italy’s highest court “” which confirmed his conviction, ruling that Guede had sexually abused and murdered Kercher with “unidentified accomplices”.

This was an insight into the mystifying processes of Italian law. How could justice be served by trying Guede separately? Why had he not been brought to give evidence at the first Knox trial? Why were his accomplices “unidentified” when Knox and Sollecito had been convicted of joining him in the murder? The answers lay in the fact that his supreme court appeal started just after Knox’s appeal began in Perugia “” and the two cases overlapped, a bizarre way of seeking out the truth.

Once Guede’s Supreme Court appeal had been dismissed he was summoned to the witness box in Perugia, where his contribution was damning yet so limited that it did not sway the judges and jury.

Rather than taking him through the events of the killing, Mignini read out a letter in which Guede had written of “the horrible murder of a ... wonderful girl by Raffaele Sollecito and Amanda Knox”. Challenged by one of Knox’s lawyers, Guede stood by the letter, saying: “It’s not as if there is my truth, and the truth of Tom, Dick and Harry. What there is is the truth of what I lived through that night, full stop.”

A lawyer for the Kerchers detailed the injuries Meredith suffered, arguing it would have been impossible for Guede to hold her down, sexually assault her, try to suffocate her, try to strangle her and wound her with more than one knife.

But it was too late. The appeal panel of judges and jurors had made up their minds. A juror confided after the “not guilty” verdicts had been delivered that the court had decided to acquit because of doubts over the forensic evidence, and because it saw no motive for the murder.

Pratillo Hellman explained: “To convict, the penal code says you have to be persuaded beyond every reasonable doubt. The smallest doubt is enough to not condemn.”

But he added enigmatically: “Maybe Knox and Sollecito know what happened that night, because our acquittal verdict stems from the truth which was established in the trial. But the real truth can be different. They may be responsible, but there isn’t the evidence… So, perhaps they too know what happened that night, but that’s not our conclusion.”

The judge’s comments earned him a new nickname, which investigators texted to each other delightedly: “Pontius Pratillo”, after Pontius Pilate, who washed his hands of responsibility for the execution of Jesus Christ.

The prosecution scored one potentially significant victory. The court found Knox guilty of slandering the former bar owner Lumumba by initially claiming he had killed Kercher. It sentenced her to three years in prison, but released her as she had spent almost four years behind bars.

“That’s absurd, absurd,” Mignini fumed. “Knox accused Lumumba to throw the police off her tracks. Why else would she accuse him?” IN PERUGIA, at least, the prosecution can count on overwhelming backing. After the verdict, a crowd several thousand strong massed outside the courts, amid jeers at defence lawyers and chants of “Assassini, assassini!” (murderers, murderers) and “Vergogna, vergogna!” (shame, shame). In bars across the picturesque city, and on the main cobbled street, Corso Vannucci, many dissected the case for days afterwards “” the consensus was that Knox and Sollecito were at the cottage when Meredith died, but no one agreed on what role they played.

For the Kercher family no outcome could have been more bewildering. As Knox flew home, Meredith’s mother Arline, her brother Lyle and her sister Stephanie spoke to me.

“It almost raises more questions than there are answers now,” Lyle said, “because the initial decision was that [the murder] wasn’t done by one person but by more than that. Two have been released, one remains in jail, so we’re now left questioning: who are these other people or person?” Did they believe that Knox and Sollecito were guilty? “In a way we have to believe what the police say because they are the ones compiling the evidence,” Arline replied. “We haven’t a clue. I think that’s what he was saying. It’s the police “” it’s their job.”

“It’s difficult for anybody to make a valid opinion on any case, not just this one, unless you’re a trained expert,” Lyle echoed. “There are forensics, detectives, psychological profilers and so on, who are trained to do this and read the information and draw the hypotheses from that, which of course no lay person really is. So if that’s the conclusion they come to, then we’re happy to stand by that.”

“We have to accept, don’t we, just like now we have to accept this,” Arline said.

“And that’s why it’s so disappointing, because we don’t know,” Stephanie added.

It is not over for the Kerchers.

Last week’s acquittal is far from the last word on the case. The judges have 90 days to draft a report explaining the reasons for the verdict. Then the prosecution and the defence will have a further 45 days to lodge a new and last appeal. Only rulings by the Supreme Court are considered definitive in Italian justice.

Guede’s lawyers said he would appeal for a new trial if the Supreme Court confirmed Knox’s acquittal “” on the grounds that it would contradict the Ivorian’s conviction for killing Meredith alongside unidentified accomplices. “So I’m supposed to be Meredith’s only assassin?” Guede is reported to have told a prison visitor. “I’m supposed to have struck that poor girl with a knife 40 times? I confessed my responsibilities and I accused those who were in the house with me.

“I’m in prison, and the others are free and happy at home. If it wasn’t them in the house that damned evening, who are the other accomplices supposed to be? The money made available to Amanda and the media strategy helped to free her.”

Many investigators and lawyers admit privately that the Italian judicial system may simply never come up with a full and convincing explanation of Meredith’s death.

Italian justice is agonisingly slow. Judges and lawyers attend several trials in the same week, with the result that the appeal trial saw 20 days of hearings over no fewer than 10 months. It is also full of safeguards for defendants, including long preliminary hearings enshrined in the post-war constitution to eradicate the caricature of justice delivered by the courts under Mussolini.

Many of the most notorious cases in Italy’s post-war history have yet to be resolved in court. Silvio Berlusconi, the billionaire prime minister, is embroiled in a string of corruption, fraud and sex offence investigations and trials, and claims that leftist prosecutors are plotting to oust him.

This week Berlusconi will push through parliament a bill banning publication of phone and other intercepts before a case reaches trial “” a measure that has become a priority for him, as investigators are expected to release within a few weeks dozens of intercepts of reportedly embarrassing conversations between Berlusconi and a convicted drug dealer.

In such a climate Italian justice itself is on trial. The truth of what happened to Meredith Kercher may emerge one day, but it’s no safe bet that it will do so in an Italian court of law.


Friday, October 07, 2011

US And UK Media: Make RS & AK Answer The HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS Of Open Questions

Posted by The TJMK Main Posters





It seems Judge Hellman has begun sweating.

Maybe Judge Hellman already sees as much of the Italian public and commentators do that he’ll have a REALLY tough time answering all the open questions in his December sentencing report as he is required to.

Constitutional requirement of Ministry of Justice never met?

That so many questions exist but are not generally even known about, especially in the US and UK, is because a key requirement of the usually very careful Italian justice system seems to have been (illegally) ignored.

The key requirement is built into the justice system by the Italian constitution. It is that trial and appeal sentencing reports MUST be made available to the maximum extent, so that the general public (usually only the Italian public) can readily check on the legitimacy of trial outcomes.

Italy is the only country in the world that has that public check and balance on trials.  Under that requirement, if it existed in the US, Barry Scheck of the US’s Innocence Project would likely find that most of the travesties of justice his team uncovers would never have happened in the first place.

Here is how things are meant to work. 

Back when the Micheli Report on the Rudy Guede sentence was released in January 2009 with Judge Micheli’s reasons for remitting Knox and Sollecito to trial it was released in THREE formats.

    1) It was released digitally (in a Word Doc) to the media with the one requirement that it not be posted in full. We translated most of our copy and posted an extensive summary (scroll down) in English in four parts (three by Brian and one by Nikki) in September 2009.

    2) It was released in printed document form by the Ministry of Justice in Rome and anyone in Italy could buy a copy.

    3) It was also posted on the website of the Ministry of Justice in text and Acrobat document format. It appears that this Internet version was checked out by hundreds of thousands and quite possibly even by millions.

Now when the Ministry of Justice in Rome released the Massei sentencing report for Knox and Sollecito (links at top of this page) in March 2010, they released it in only ONE format.

The Ministry of Justice released it ONLY on paper, and it was obtainable ONLY by the press and by those in the general public who managed to figure out how to buy a copy of the book-sized document from the Ministry.

To our knowledge the Ministry of Justice never ever posted the required Internet version.

The effect of this serious and seemingly illegal shortfall by the Rome Ministry has been that even in Italy few people have ever read the Massei Report. The number of Italian readers might be only in the hundreds and at most in the low thousands. Way, way less than ever read Micheli.

As a result only very few people in Italy may have ever realized how powerful, logically complete and conclusive that report is. Probably few or no peers of the lay judges in Perugia have ever read it. The most important document in the entire case is essentially unread.

In August 2010 a PMF team finished translating the Massei Report and made available the Masssei report in English in Acrobat format on the PMF forum and on TJMK.

In June 2011 Skeptical Bystander and a PMF team posted a Massei summary in text on TJMK and PMF.

This English language version has been downloaded close to 30,000 times and there are many people in the US and UK who are very well informed on the conclusions.  Every lawyer we know who has read the report has agreed that it arrived at the right conclusions. Many say and several do right here in these posts (scroll down) that the case would have been way more than enough for a US or UK conviction.

A slam dunk in effect. Evidence overkill.

But few of the busy people in the US and UK media have read the Massei Report and no one in the media to our knowledge has extensively analyzed or quoted from it. None of the books out so far go into the Massei Report in depth.

WHY did the Italian Ministry of Justice fail to fully distribute the Massei Report, and in particular not post it on their website? And is the Supreme Court of Cassation aware of this huge shortfall in its distribution?

This is such a serious mistake that our Italian lawyers believe that the Supreme Court or even the President of the Republic of Italy if he is petitioned could throw out the entire Hellman proceedings, verdict and sentence.

The hundreds and hundreds of open questions

Arising from the Massei Report are literally hundreds of questions for the released defendants and their teams. They have been around since early 2010. The defense teams and PR campaign have never ever tried to answer these questions, or for that matter to produce a convincing alternative scenario that hangs together implicating Guede but not Knox or Sollecito.

Here are four lists of the many, many outstanding questions.

Here from the Daily Beast are those ten questions with the Beast’s annotations showing how they are STILL unanswered:

1. Why did you and Raffaele Sollecito turn off your cell phones at the same time the night of Nov. 1, 2007, and on again at the same time the next morning? You told the police that you and Raffaele slept late the morning of Nov. 2, 2007, but phone records show that you both turned your phones back on very early that morning. How could that be? This question was never addressed fully in the appellate process except when Giulia Bongiorno for Sollecito said that perhaps the cat stepped on the phone and turned it on. At that time the prosecutor Manuela Comodi quipped, “I’ve got a dog and he has never done that.”

2. Why were you bleeding? Your lawyers agree with the prosecution’s findings that at least one of the spots of Meredith’s blood found in the house where she was killed had your blood mixed with it. Your mother told me that you had your period. Your stepfather told others that your ear piercings were infected. Which was it? Even if this mixed blood drop is contentious in its genetic makeup (all blood or blood mixed with DNA), the appellate court was shown a picture of a drop of blood attributed entirely to Knox on the faucet.

3. Once you realized your mistake in blaming Patrick Lumumba for Meredith’s murder, why didn’t you tell the authorities? You told your mother that you felt bad about it, so why didn’t you alert an official so Patrick could be set free?

4. Why did you go with Raffaele to the police station on Nov. 5, 2007? You were not called in for questioning. Did you realize at that time that you were both under suspicion?

5. Why weren’t your and Raffaele’s fingerprints found in your house after the murder if the two of you had spent time there that morning and the day before? Only one half-print on a glass in the kitchen has been attributed to you, yet you have claimed that you took a shower there that morning. How did you spend so much time there and leave virtually no trace? Much of the crime scene has since been determined to have suffered from sloppy investigative work, meaning the absence of fingerprints in any room of the house may be due to that rather than any sort of cleanup.

6. Why did you take the mop and bucket from your house over to Raffaele’s house? You told the prosecutor during your testimony in June 2009 that you took the mop and bucket to his house to clean up a leak under his kitchen sink. But by your own testimony, the leak was minuscule and could have been easily cleaned up without it. What were you really doing with the mop?

7. What would you do differently if you had a chance to rewind the clock back to Nov. 3, 2007? Would you go to the memorial service for Meredith? Would you still have gone to the police station with Raffaele? Would you have left for Germany when your aunt asked you to?

8. What do you think happened the night Meredith was killed? You have professed your innocence. Who do you think killed her and under what circumstance? Your supporters say Rudy Guede was the lone killer. Do you agree? Or do you think there are still others out there who were involved in your roommate’s murder?

9. What do you really think of the Italian justice system? You told an Italian parliamentarian that you got a fair trial, and you even thanked the prosecutors for trying to solve the mystery of Meredith’s death, but your supporters at home in Seattle maintain that the Italian system is corrupt and unfair. In your appellate hearing you said you lost faith in justice and the police. Now that you are out, what do you really think of the system that has both convicted and acquitted you?

10. Is there anything you wish you would have said in court during your (initial) trial (in which you were convicted)? You talked about your vibrator and about how you did not want an assassin’s mask forced on you. But in your final appeal after the closing arguments on Dec. 4, 2010, why didn’t you say the words, “I did not kill Meredith Kercher”? Raffaele did when it was his turn to speak. Why didn’t you? You have said on many occasions during the appellate trial that you did not kill her and you have never hurt anyone. This question has been addressed with your denials. What about the rest?

Judge Hellman may be able to answer all of these unanswered questions AS HE MUST under Italian law in his sentencing report. He cannot simply address points defense raised about small parts of it. He must be able to explain the totality of the evidence or his report risks being thrown out by Cassation and a retrial at the first appeal level ordered.

Possibly Judge Hellman might be able to achieve this. But why do we seriously doubt it?


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fifteenth Appeal Session: Prosecutor Manuela Comodi Starkly Explains All The Forensic Evidence

Posted by Peter Quennell


This is a translation of key parts of a detailed report from the AGI news service - the excellent reporter is not named.

On Ms Comodi’s opening remarks to the court.

In Perugia the hearing of the appeal of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, in the first instance [at trial] convicted for the murder of Meredith Kercher, has resumed. This morning, the prosecutor Manuela Comodi began her part of the indictment.

“Regardless of the scientific evidence, your decision can only be the confirmation of the decision at first instance [at trial],” the prosecutor said. During the day the prosecution will make its request for a tougher sentence for the ex-lovers who are present in the courtroom next to their defence teams.

Ms Comodi on the strength of the forensic evidence.

“Quite apart from all the scientific evidence, the outcome of this process can only be at least the confirmation of the conviction of first degree”...The prosecutor judge then began to attack the independent expert report on the traces of DNA ordered by the Court.

“That ploy may have led you to believe you do not trust the results for the knife proposed as the murder weapon and the hook of the bra worn by the victim when she was killed. Those conclusions are strongly challenged by the prosecution.” Then Comodi talked of “the awkward performance of experts who have betrayed your trust… [with] their absolute inadequacy and incompetence.”

She then mentioned the lack of experience in the field of the experts appointed by the Court. “Would you trust your daughter’s wedding to a cook who knows all the recipes but has never cooked?”. In the initial phase of her indictment the prosecutor also mentioned the process carried out in England to indict Danilo Restivo…

The Guardian has a good report on how Danilo Restivo was caught in part by incriminating DNA some TEN YEARS after his crime.

And Ms Comodi on the DNA on the knife and bra clasp.

“Who wielded the knife [that killed Meredith Kercher] was Amanda Knox.” The prosecutor said in court, mimicking the way according to the defense reconstruction that knife was contested by the murderer of Meredith.

“They will tell you, She used it at some other time while staying at Sollecito’s house, but Amanda’s DNA was found in the wrong place for normal use. Give it a try, you will see that in cutting bread or meat the hand rests on the back, not there.”

“Starch on the knife? It could come from the powder present on the “vast majority” of rubber gloves used by personnel involved in investigations.” The prosecutor was recalling the words of a senior advisor to the defense of Amanda Knox, according to whom the starch was derived from the cutting of food such as potatoes and is a sign of lack of washing of the blade on which should have been found traces of blood of the victim if it was used for the crime….

“Talc is present on most sterile disposable gloves, such as those used by the scientific and the Flying Squad in Perugia. It is totally unfounded, the thesis of the non-washing of the knife.”

“The hook of the bra collected 46 days after being found missing? What of the DNA of Elisa Claps [in the Danilo Restivo case] analyzed after nearly 20 years? There is no way this could be contamination because Sollecito had not since been in the house.

Here is a very strong report from Il Mattino which after mirroring the AGI report above adds this:

“In addition to the knife and the bra hook there are other tracks that connect the presence of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito to the crime scene” said the prosecutor in her indictment.

“Traces of the mixed blood of Meredith and Amanda have been found in the bathroom, where there was an imprint of a foot of Raffaele Sollecito in Meredith’s blood. Footprints of Raffaele and Amanda in Meredith’s blood were found using Luminol in the hallway and the room of Amanda.”

The prosecutor pointed out that under the bed, in Meredith’s room, the lamp of Amanda was found. In Meredith’s room there already was one lamp. Amanda’s lamp was there “because they had to find something to take away, maybe a bracelet or a ring that Amanda might have lost.”

And the prosecution concluded by asking for life sentences and some solitary confinement for Sollecito and Knox as the crime was “aggravated - carried out for trivial reasons” and asking for the exclusion of the mitigating factors that Judge Massei had allowed.

Some of the Italian media reports carried headlines quoting Ms Comodi saying “They killed her for nothing”.


Good Reports By Seattle PI And Daily Beast On Mignini Summarising The Evidence Presented At Trial

Posted by Peter Quennell



[Above: The indomitable victim’s proponent Giuliano Mignini preparing for court today with Giancarlo Costagliola]


Click the image above for Andrea Vogt’s report on Mr Mignini’s afternoon in court. Tough points Mr Mignini made:

“They know the truth because they were at Via della Pergola along with Rudy,” said Prosecutor Giuliano Mignini said emphatically, pointing to Knox and Sollecito in his last remarks to the court. “Not only the young man of color should pay.”...

[Mr Mignini] sometimes seemed to obsess on small and bizarre details, but at other times showed an incredibly effective use of courtroom oratory. Just before showing the jurors gruesome autopsy photos of Kercher’s wounds, for example, he told them softly how he would never forget “the wide open eyes of the victim and the composed, immense pain of her parents.”

He reminded the appeals jurors that it was not a U.S. court, but rather one in the Italian republic and urged them to ignore “improvised detectives who give their superficial opinion from 10,000 kilometers away.”...

[Mr Mignini] went over all the witness testimony, described how a break-in in the apartment Kercher and Knox shared had been staged and frequently cited Knox’s own statements on the stand during her first trial, especially on the topic of a large drop of Knox’s blood on the bathroom faucet and mixed traces of blood and DNA of Kercher and Knox in the bathroom.

Highly worth reading the entire thing. Barbie Nadeau covers the same ground equally well in the Daily Beast and notes that today could be the final scene changer. The embattled Sollecito defense counsel Giulia Bongiorno was reduced to making this preposterous claim:

Sollecito’s attorney Giulia Bongiorno told reporters that Mignini was desperately clinging to old arguments because the independent experts’ report had demolished two key pieces of evidence : a knife and a bra clasp.

Demolished?! The independent experts didn’t retest the DNA material with modern techniques when they could and should have and they even admitted that was Meredith’s DNA profile the scientific police had produced the first time around.

They ended up looking weak and evasive. Hardly the silver bullet Bongiorno wants.

By the way, no sign of Mr Mignini being fazed by the presence (surely unhelpful to Knox and her lawyers) of the muddled “ex FBI agent” Steve Moore whose bizarre and often defamatory takes on the case and Italian justice officials we have again and again shown to be wrong.

Perhaps Mr Mignini should ask Steve Moore to publish his own detailed resume. So far, all requests for it have been stonewalled.


Thursday, September 08, 2011

Fourteenth Appeal Session: Judge Hellmann Consults Jury And Concludes They Have Enough To Wrap Up

Posted by Peter Quennell


Judge Hellman took the jury into chambers for half an hour yesterday and they decided not to delay matters for a further DNA review.

Final arguments will therefore take place later this month (dates in our right column) and a verdict on the appeal could be announced by the end of the month.

Defenses didn’t ask yesterday to put their clients on the stand, no further impromptu remarks from the defendants were made, and no defense request for review of the very damning mixed blood traces was advanced.

Our Italian lawyers are not rating chances of a full acquittal above one or two percent. They believe the groundwork for that has simply not been laid.  The judges and jury dont have what is needed to upend the detailed outcomes of two trials and two other appeals. And the Italian system is nothing if not very cautious and lacking in surprise. 

The Supreme Court has accepted that THREE attackers had to have been present on the night. Not the slightest evidence of any perps other than the three put on trial has been advanced. No scenario has been offered in court for Guede having committed the crime on Meredith alone - in fact Guede accused the other two of being there right to their faces in court.

Free-lance reporter Nick Pisa (image above) who we often quote on the occasions when we think he’s got it right reported yesterday in the Daily Mail that Prosecutor Comodi expressed frustration with the judge and predicted an acquittal due to bias.

This is not confirmed by any Italian source and Ms Comodi is simply reported there as saying she had expected the request for further tests to be turned down and the defendants COULD still walk. Nothing more.

TJMK main poster Will Savive offered this explanation for Nick Pisa’s apparent serious mistake in a comment on our previous post.

ABC News is also reporting that they spoke to Comodi after the session and it is a big difference than what Pisa wrote.

In fact, it is ABC who has claimed that they interviewed her. According to ABC, Comodi informed them that there is “a possibility” that Knox and Sollecito could win the appeal. There is also a possibility that the sun will fall from the sky, so it is all in the context and translation of how she said it. Then ABC quoted her as saying, “I would find it very serious if they were set free.”

FOX News also reported Comodi speaking out. Sheppard Smith put Comodi’s alleged quote on the screen and it read word for word what Pisa wrote. FOX has been decent, in my opinion, thus far on reporting on the case, but Sheppard and his two cronies today were amateur at best and clearly not educated on the case.

It is very likely that Pisa twisted her quote to fit his agenda and make news; I wouldn’t be surprised!

HOWEVER”¦

The Seattle Times has the best piece on it I think.  In their article they write the interview as going like this:

COMODI: We did our job. I am convinced by what I have said. I am fully convinced of their guilt and I would find it very serious if they were set free. Today’s decision could lead one to think that there is more of a possibility that they be set freed.

So in essence, she never said that there is a possibility, in her opinion. She said that the hearing today “could lead one to think that there is more of a possibility that they be set freed.” It seems as though only Pisa is reporting it the way he did.

The Seattle Times included this: “Knox’s lawyer Luciano Ghirga warned that the court’s rejection of new DNA testing was not equal to a positive outcome of the whole appeals trial.”

As discussed at length on PMF (link just below) the present Knox PR hype is very reminiscent of the hype just before Judge Massei’s blunt and unequivocal verdict was read out.


Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Twelfth Appeal Session: Prosecution Start To Undermine The Independent Experts’ More Tenuous Claims

Posted by Peter Quennell



[Above: Dr Stefanoni head of the Scientific Police’s Rome DNA labs with her prosecution interrogator Ms Comodi]


Monday’s Italian reporting suggests that Dr Stefanoni is coming across as highly competent and very objective.

Her team’s DNA handling and testing seems to have cut no corners. Her testimony will spill over into Tuesday.  The AGI News Service describes Dr Stefanoni on Monday running through her procedures and precuaions and denying that contamination could have taken place.

She hit point by point on all the complaints made by the consultants of the Assize Court of Appeal at Perugia about the police work in the context of scientific investigations into the murder of Meredith Kercher. She strongly defended the specialist work done by her laboratory. Stefanoni has categorically ruled out a possible contamination of the findings, pointing out that “the contamination is not ‘a thing that comes out of something abstract.”

The expert then recalled that the DNA of each operator that operates within the laboratories of the scientific police is ‘duly filed and that any possibility of contamination, whether by a person or from sample to sample, is tested on a regular basis. Dr Stefanoni also described how the “wet samples” collected on the first day of the murder investigation were kept in the refrigerator of the house and then brought to Rome.

And La Nazione in describing the same testimony adds that the defenses are taking quite a gamble in their all-or-nothing approach where a full acquittal seems increasingly unlikely and where the prosecution are asking for tougher sentences for Knox and Sollecito based on a waiver of Judge Massei’s mitigating circumstances.

The huge volume of evidence not being re-examined in the current appeal (about 95% of all evidence including a majority of the forensic evidence) is highlighted in many of the reports. Rudy Guede’s direct accusation of Knox and Sollecito to their faces in one appeal session is also recalled.

No mention of the position of the no-nonsense Supreme Court of Cassation position but that gorilla has to loom large in Judge Hellman’s mind. Judge Hellman does not have the final word on this appeal in Italian law, and a final outcome may take another 18 months. And if there is any funny business suspected, appeals can always be made to Cassation instantly.

In light of these two circumstances, the defense teams are still much more pussyfooting in Italian in the appeal court than the shrill PR claims in English-language media, while still not making the smartest move in Italian courts when defendants seem cooked and evoking some sympathy for them.

Knox’s best chances seem to be falling between those two stools.


Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Powerpoints #17: Why The Totality of Evidence Suggests Knox And Sollecito Are Guilty Just As Charged

Posted by James Raper With Kermit





Please load Powerpoint Viewer if not on your system, and click here for the slides. The Powerpoints consist of 150 slides, the outcome of many hours of work, and should open in 30 to 60 seconds. 

Impartial lawyers like myself tend to look at a tough case like this and think, “Now what would I have done differently?” The problem for the defences here is that there are literally hundreds of evidence points, many created by the appellants themselves as they behaved erratically both on the night Meredith died and subsequently.

The Knox family legal advisor Ted Simon (who in our view was brought in far too late to be of real help after all the bull-in-a-china-shop damage of the PR) himself recognized this, on Dateline NBC late in 2008, when he said that a whack-a-mole approach to creating reasonable doubt would fall short in this case. (Whack-a-mole is a popular fairground game where “moles” keep popping up out of various holes, and you win if you can whack them all.)

Judge Micheli set out a big picture for the conviction of Rudy Guede in October 2008 and the remitting of Knox and Sollecito to stand trial. Judge Massei clearly created a big picture in all of the fine detail he neatly tied together in his 425-page report. The Supreme Court of Cassation understood the big picture in declining Guede’s final appeal.

The defences have never really managed to respond with their own big-picture approach. Nitpicking of a few evidence points, which is really all the defence and the campaign have done, will only very rarely destroy such an edifice. At the end of the DNA rebuttal this September, the DNA collection and analysis is unlikely to be fully discounted, and already it seems that more ethical and competence question marks hang over the independent consultants than over Dr Stefanoni and her team.

This for your consideration is an overview of all of the main evidence. Check it out as you go through and you will see that after the nine long months of the appeal process it is all almost entirely left standing. If they really want to see Knox and Sollecito released, the defence lawyers now need to bite the bullet and prepare their clients properly and let them try to explain from the stand.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

Eleventh Appeal Session: Judge Overrules Defense Objections and Stefanoni Will Return to the Stand

Posted by Peter Quennell



[Above Dr Stefanoni today with Ms Comodi and the Sollecito defense team minus Giulia Bongiorno]


The session has begun with prominent DNA expert Dr Luciano Garofano again in the audience.

Mentioned in previous posts is that he has spoken out nationally several times recently about his concern about the “CSI effect” where DNA evidence becomes in some trials a make-or-break issue even when other evidence is widespread.

Dr Stefanoni is of course also present with her team and other prosecution DNA witnesses are also prepared. TGCom have reported this as the first item to have been covered.

The President of the Court of Assizes of Appeal of Perugia, in opening the hearing, read a letter from the Director of the Scientific Police, Piero Angeloni, to the Court iin which reference is made to the criticisms of certain experts of the laboratory’s work in the context of scientific investigations into the murder of Meredith Kercher.

In the letter Angeloni emphasized the powers of the science, pointing out that “every year 4,500 investigations” are handled. He described how the laboratories are equipped with quality certification. “The laboratory is equipped with a computerized system for tracking objects” Angeloni said in the letter..The technical equipment is modern and the staff have many years of experience.” 

Angeloni stressed that “never before has asurveys of this nature been advanced, as here, into the work of the national forensic laboratory.” The service had never been subject to criticism before and used state-of-the-art equipment, his letter said.

Carla Vecchioti and Stefano Conti were first questioned by the Knox defense team. The Sollecito defense team have said that they will have no questions. ADNKronos reports that Carla Vecchioti in response to a question said that there was no DNA of Meredith found remaining on the knife when reexamined. Some starch was found.

Prosecutor Comodi then pressed the two on what is the standard lower limit of DNA traces to be subjected to low-count DNA testing and on this there was apparently not a concrete answer.

The court next moved into closed session. The defenses have objected to the prosecution’s DNA experts being allowed to take the stand. We may not know the outcome until after the break for lunch.

Okay the defense objections are overruled. The lead judge decided that the court will reconvene on September 5 to give Dr Stefanoni plenty of time on the stand. No more witnesses for today. Mr Angeloni’s letter may have had some effect. His labs should only be criticized (for the first time) with proven great care and no bias.

Oddly, the independent review team largely ignored the European state-of-the-art on low count DNA testing which, at strong prosecution request, the judge had instructed them to get on top of. That is a very suspicious goof.

Judge Hellman may not much favor this review in light of that.



Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tenth Appeal Court Session: Might Today’s Testimony Give Sollecito More Of An Advantage Than Knox?

Posted by Peter Quennell





As expected the Italian reporting is a lot cooler and more dispassionate than that in English. The prevailing attitude is one of let us wait and see.

There are at least three good reasons for this.

Italians sat through the trial and the talk shows on television in a way that other nationalities didn’t and saw it as a fair and open process where the prosecution did an excellent job and the defenses were often pretty bumbling. And several times in the past two weeks the nationally respected DNA expert Luciano Garofano has cautioned the nation that juries should not over-weight forensic evidence in comparison with all the rest.

Also Mr Maresca was shown on national TV after today’s hearing saying this:

In my opinion, they have not worked in a completely non-partisan way. Next Saturday we will explain to the judges who have not followed the whole discussion [in the 2009 trial] all that was presented in the first trial of experts’ findings.

In their review they have responded to only the requests of the defence and not of the prosecution, and I don’t know if an [impartial] expert should do this. In the expert’s report they have not even referred to a single request from the prosecution.

Still, after her dismal misfires over the testimony of Alessi and Aviello and Rudy Guede, Sollecito lawyer Giulia Bongiorno might tonight have some reason to be a bit pleased. At least until the end of next Saturday when she will have sat through a fierce rebuttal.

Today’s testimony clearly showed that the handling of the bra clasp has its problems - though the prosecution will point out that there is still no scenario for precisely how Sollecito’s DNA was present and pressed so hard into the clasp if he did not do it himself.

Knox’s position seems much more problematic.

She was the only one to have a reason to rearrange the crime scene, she was the one to finger Patrick Lumumba for no obvious reason if she was not guilty, she placed herself at the scene in her several so-called confessions, and her pattern of phone calls remains very incriminating. Those mixed-blood traces in the bathroom and corridor and Filomena’s room are of Knox’s blood mixed with Meredith’s, not Sollecito’s,  and those appear to be her footprints revealed with luminol on the floor.

If the bra clasp evidence is discounted after next saturday, what physical evidence would then tie Sollecito to the house at the time of Meredith’s death?

Pretty well only the footprint on the bathmat which (for reasons we have never understood) the Knox camp has spent years discrediting. And Sollecito cut Knox adrift on 5 November 2007 when he presented an alibi in which he was at the house all night whereas she wasnt. He said at the time Knox had lied.

She was the one seen at the Conad supermarket at a time when she said she was asleep. And her phone was shown at the trial to have been elsewhere on the night Meredith died.

Stefanoni probably has her best shot in rebuttal in maintaining the knife evidence as credible, because at least one defense witness observed her one-time-only testing and saw Meredith’s DNA profile appear in front of his eyes. Her methods were not out of line with low-count DNA practices elsewhere in Europe, and the American comparisons seem suspect and irrelevant.

We still agree with the Supreme Court of Cassation’s finding at Guede’s final appeal that the forensic evidence in Meredith’s room and on her body points overwhelmingly to three assailants having been present.

But the appeal court might just buy the notion that there were actually only two.

Giulia Bongiorno has often gone her own way in defense of Sollecito (for example in calling Alessi and Aviello) and she is nationally respected for presiding over the justice committee in parliament. And the Sollecitos are said to not like the Knoxes and Mellases very much.

So in light of today’s bra clasp evidence she might now be tempted to bet the bank and put Sollecito on the stand. To claim he was not present when Meredith died.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Tenth Appeal Court Session: Italian Reporting So Far Good, First English-Language Reports Misleading

Posted by Peter Quennell





Italian media are reporting flatly and evenly that the court session has begun. Some have asked to use quotes from our posts on the suspect report.

First English language reports are less impressive. Peter Popham of the UK Independent which has been a major propagator of false facts in the past has already posted this:

There has never been any forensic evidence placing Amanda Knox at the scene of Ms Kercher’s murder.

Actually there has been. Plenty. Various mixed-blood traces in the bathroom, corridor and Filomena’s bedroom, and several footprints in blood. All these the defenses generally keep well away from, as there simply seems no innocent way to explain them.. 

More misreporting can be presumed and we will add any additional examples here or in comments below.

Francesco Maresca, the lawyer for the victim and her family, made a strong statement before the start of the court session. Here it is from TGCom in part:

The family of Meredith Kercher, the British student murdered in Perugia, is feeling “a lot of concern” about the latest developments in the appeal process. This was conveyed by their lawyer Francesco Maresca.

The new findings are considered “slight, but perhaps still too much, given the wild atmosphere in which they have been advanced, in contrast to the evidence that was seriously and carefully developed and presented by prosecution forensic scientists.”

“As to the objections of the new experts, they are familiar. We know them by heart and they have already been presented… The Kercher family is surprised at the categorical nature of Conti and Vecchiotti’s assessment.”

He added that “there is much other proof that shows the guilt of the two accused parties.”


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Is the Conti-Vecchiotti DNA Review Defamatory? Stefanoni Believes So and May Sue

Posted by Peter Quennell


This looks like really bad news for Amanda Knox and Raffaelle Sollecito. The last straw.

TJMK main poster Fly By Night already described in great detail how suspect and heavily biased is the Conti-Vecchiotti report.

He predicted fireworks by the Scientific Police and prosecution expert witnesses who were seriously and without proper bases impugned. He predicted the fireworks would start tomorrow in court. 

But already the fireworks have begun. The Guardian’s Tom Kington (who himself has often seemed to show a pro-Knox bias) reports quoting the UK’s Sunday paper The Observer: 

A prominent forensic scientist, whose DNA evidence helped to convict the US student and her former boyfriend, has vowed to overturn the findings of an independent report that says much of her work in the case was unreliable.

Written by two independent experts from Rome’s Sapienza University, the 145-page DNA review rubbishes the work of Patrizia Stefanoni, the police forensic scientist who found Knox’s and Kercher’s DNA on a kitchen knife at Sollecito’s house and identified DNA belonging to Sollecito on a torn bra clasp found beside Kercher’s semi-naked body.

The report claims Stefanoni ignored international DNA protocols, made basic errors and gave evidence in court that was not backed up by her laboratory work, rendering the knife and bra strap worthless as evidence. But Stefanoni has vowed to fight back during three hearings devoted to the DNA reviews.

“I am angry about the false statements in this report and ready to come to court to highlight the past record of these experts,” she told the Observer. “I am also looking into taking legal action against them. What international DNA protocols are they talking about? The Italian police is a member of the European Network of Forensic Science Institutes (ENFSI), while they are not.”...

After discovering there was no DNA left to check on the knife or the bra clasp, the experts retraced the steps taken by Stefanoni, concluding that the DNA trace of Kercher on the blade was so weak it could not be reliably matched ““ or was at best the result of contamination ““ and quoted Stefanoni admitting in court she should have double-tested her result to be more convincing.

Stefanoni claimed she had no need to repeat tests since the experts for the defence were on hand to witness her work. “And it was good enough to show it was Kercher’s DNA,” she said. “A small amount, but good quality.”...

The experts quote numerous US police and FBI experts on the risk of low DNA results and poor evidence handling, prompting one Italian police source to claim they were being fed information by Knox’s defence team. (Emphasis added.)

More attempted manipulation behind the scenes that now turns out to be heavy-handed overreach? Good luck to Judge Hellman tomorrow. He appointed the two “independent experts.” And he already almost lost control of his court once.

He will already be getting anxious to protect his good name before the Supreme Court. Unlikely now to buck any trends.



Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Analysis Suggests The Conti-Vecchiotti DNA Review Is Weak, Tendentious, Cites Non-Existent Standards

Posted by Fly By Night


Background

In light of the huge fanfare two weeks ago over the release of the court-ordered independent expert review by Carla Vecchioti and Stefano Conti (image above, more in post below) on the forensic science methods and findings of Dr. Patrizia Stefanoni as part of the Knox/Sollecito appeal, we start this analysis of that report by summarizing a few hard facts:

  • The DNA samples currently under review by the court are NOT the only DNA samples used to convict Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito.  In fact, the five mixed samples (not just DNA ““ there was the fresh blood of both women in four of them) of Amanda Knox and Meredith Kercher constitute the strongest, most damning physical evidence of the case. This is why they have not been subjected to independent review during the appeal, along with the great majority of the evidence Judge Massei and the jury considered in convicting Knox and Sollecito of the murder of Meredith Kercher.

  • In reviewing the findings of Dr. Stefanoni, Technical Director/Principal Biologist with the Polizia Scientifica in Rome (image below), the expert report is also critiquing the findings and opinions of an entire well-regarded forensics agency along with the personal views of many prominent forensics experts. They include Dr. Renato Biondo, Professor Francesca Torricelli, and the nationally prominent General Luciano Garofano who in support of Dr. Stefanoni’s own open descriptions have provided lengthy statements describing in great detail their reasons for agreeing with Stefanoni’s methods and findings.

  • The use and acceptance of LCN DNA analysis techniques in the USA lags behind that of other countries in the world, as documented in the numerous publications on the topic now seen in US professional journals.  Enhanced typing methods for LCN DNA are routinely relied upon in forensic DNA laboratories across Europe to provide sound evidence for courtroom arguments.  So the expert report’s overbearing reliance upon AMERICAN sources including the controversial opinions of Bruce Budowle (image below) of the University of North Texas, in questioning Stefanoni’s LCN DNA testing techniques, is highly questionable. Budowle has been strongly criticized by a number of distinguished researchers including Theresa Caragine and John Buckleton for his non-scientific opinions and for allegedly engaging in unethical practices and maintaining serious conflicts of interest.

  • Claudio Pratillo Hellman, the judge presiding over the Knox and Sollecito appeal trial, appointed Vecchioti and Conti to provide an independent assessment for the court regarding the handling and analysis of several pieces of evidence that played a role in the conviction of Knox and Sollecito.  Using the expert report as a focus, on Monday July 25th these independent experts will appear in court along with various expert witnesses for the prosecution, the defense teams, and the Kercher family to discuss the only pieces of DNA-related evidence that have been subjected to review in the appeal trial. They are (1) the DNA on the kitchen knife accepted by the Massei court to be the murder weapon, and (2) the DNA on a bra clasp torn from Meredith’s body.

The findings of the expert report itself in all their 145 pages of depth appear to boil down to two primary debates: (1) Issues surrounding the Low Copy Number (LCN) DNA analysis techniques employed by Dr. Stefanoni, and (2) Issues surrounding the probability of excluding all possible sources of contamination from the evidence.

The Expert Report

When the supposed findings of the independent expert report were first leaked, international media ballyhooed them as a sure sign that Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito would soon be cleared of murder charges, claiming that the prosecution’s DNA arguments had now been shown to be based upon substandard DNA testing practices, and that the evidence might have been contaminated.  Knox herself was said to have sung and danced with joy upon hearing the news.

But a closer look at actual contents of the report, and its supporting documents, suggests that such celebrations are premature and ill-advised.  The expert report exists to serve only as the focal point for upcoming courtroom arguments, including arguments over the validity of Dr. Stefanoni’s claim to have identified Meredith Kercher’s DNA on the blade of the kitchen knife.  The report explains why a complete repeat of the testing Stefanoni performed on both the knife and bra clasp was not possible and how DNA on the bra clasp had deteriorated beyond testability. 

The expert’s attempts to perform repeat tests on the knife were unsuccessful in identifying cellular material on the blade. This was not a surprise, considering that Stefanoni had previously reported that additional testing would be impossible due to the minimal amount of DNA originally found there.  The expert’s testing did, however, firmly conclude that Amanda Knox’s DNA was located on the handle of the knife.

The expert report will steer upcoming courtroom debates towards a complete review of Stefanoni’s crime scene management practices, the DNA analysis methods she employed, and the reasoning and protocols she used to reach her conclusions.  The expert report provides one of several frames of reference for these debates and in part focuses upon criticisms not only of Stefanoni’s use of LCN DNA testing techniques to identify Kercher’s DNA on the knife blade but the entire LCN DNA analysis methodology itself.  As noted above, Vecchioti and Conti confirmed the presence of Amanda Knox’s DNA on the handle of the knife but suggest that the very small sample of Meredith’s DNA located on the blade, identified by LCN DNA testing, is the result of contamination.

The Potential For Contamination

Contamination of evidence might occur in the evidence collection phase of an investigation, or it might occur as the result of improper laboratory testing procedures once a sample has arrived securely at the forensic laboratory.  Before digging deeper into laboratory contamination potential, including associated LCN DNA analysis issues, we first take a look at the expert report’s evaluation of evidence collection protocols and the potential for contamination in that phase of the criminal investigation.

The expert report attempts to establish that international standards for crime scene management practices exist. However, their approach raises the same question raised by the assignment of Bruce Budowle, a controversial and opinionated LCN DNA commenter, as the foundation for their DNA analysis critiques.  Namely, why does the expert report find it necessary to over-rely upon inappropriate and highly questionable American resources to support its most critical arguments?

As strange as it may seem, the Italian expert report references quite a few relatively obscure, and often outdated, editions of American resources. They include the State of Wisconsin Crime Laboratory Manual, the Missouri State Highway Patrol Handbook, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation Evidence Guide, the Louisiana State Police Crime Laboratory Manual, the New Jersey State Police Evidence Manual, and even introductory college textbooks covering criminal investigations at the level of “please wash your hands.”

If the intent of the expert report was to establish that a standard set of international protocols exists, and then to compare that set of protocols to protocols used in the Meredith Kercher murder case, then why not cite the international body that establishes and upholds such standards, if that body actually exists?

Instead, the approach taken by the expert report only serves to underscore the notion that there may, in fact, be no such thing as international standards for evidence collection and handling.  What the report actually establishes is that they are citing from a selected list of extremely diverse regional “best practices” manuals in support of theoretical and abstract concepts or points.  In doing so the expert report authors its own set of ad hoc “international standards” as it moves along. 

It would have been far more effective to put the focus on creating an objective and fair analysis of the real-world crime scene management procedures employed in this case, and then comparing and contrasting those findings with the successful, or unsuccessful, management practices of other similar case-study investigations providing appropriate citations from relevant literature along the way.

As a result of the independent experts’ approach, the contamination risk concerns cited in the expert report during the evidence collection phase appear to be largely a rehash of arguments over protocol that were thoroughly vetted during the course of the trial itself, such as how often investigators changed their gloves.

What we are left with is a report that only theoretically suggests that contamination cannot be ruled out, while completely failing to provide concrete examples of precisely when and how contamination could have entered into the evidence management chain.  For the appeal, this will result in a repeat of the same attacks upon investigative methods and processes, and all of the related arguments, that the court entertained during the trial, albeit this time with a new judge and jury.

The expert report apparently confirms that Raffaele Sollecito’s DNA was found on the bra clasp in an amount that would be difficult to attribute to contamination.  Dr. Stefanoni found about 4 nanograms of Sollecito’s DNA on the bra clasp, which is a substantial amount of DNA considering that research suggests that contaminated samples usually contain sub-picogram amounts of DNA, or around 1000 to 10,000 times less DNA than attributed to Sollecito on the bra clasp.

That fact that Raffaele’s DNA on the clasp appears to be mixed with additional DNA should NOT lead to conclusions that his profile cannot be effectively isolated and identified, or must be the result of contamination.  In fact, Italy’s premiere forensic science expert Luciano Garofano testified that Stefanoni’s analysis of the bra clasp was “perfect.”  It is also not plausible to suggest that contamination is the source for Sollecito’s abundant DNA on the bra clasp in the absence of significant environmental traces for Sollecito anywhere else in or around Meredith’s home, or in the Rome laboratory for that matter.


LCN DNA Testing

LCN is a DNA profiling technique employed when available DNA is limited to very small quantities.  A DNA sample might be as small as a millionth the size of a grain of salt, amounting to only a few cells of skin or sweat left in a fingerprint.

Using LCN testing techniques the small sample can be successfully evaluated and attributed to an individual.  LCN DNA testing has been in use since 1999 and is rapidly gaining worldwide acceptance in both legal and forensic science communities.  For example it has now been used in more than 21,000 cases in the UK since being approved for use in criminal cases in 2008, following a period of stringent testing and evaluation.

The increased sensitivity of LCN testing techniques does increase the potential of contamination to impact analyses of small DNA samples in the laboratory.  Since LCN techniques can accurately amplify DNA samples having as little as just a few cells it has been suggested that even breathing on such a small sample has the potential to render the resulting profile useless.  Contamination is particularly problematic for LCN samples because both sample and contaminant DNA are amplified, resulting in a complex mixed profile with related stochastic effect impacts. 

But, as evidenced in the expert report itself, Dr. Stefanoni is well-versed in the appropriate methods for dealing with these concerns, since she is quoted as already having admonished the court experts Vecchioti and Conti for not making use of a fume hood to ensure the absence of contamination as they conducted their retests on the evidence.

In recent years numerous professional publications have addressed the scientific, technical, and legal issues surrounding LCN DNA sample testing, outlining the stochastic effects and artifacts such as peak imbalances between alleles and loci, as well as allele and locus drop-out, or allele drop-in, along with making a variety of suggestions for both avoiding contamination and making error-free evaluations of stochastic effects. 

On the basis of these publications, including the proceedings of the biannual world congresses of the International Society of Forensic Genetics, it is clear that enhanced typing methods for LCN DNA are now routinely in use in forensic DNA laboratories across Europe.  This is strong evidence that the scientific community is now actively engaged in an effort to document all LCN DNA methods in use and is working towards developing standard biostatistical tools for evaluating LCN DNA typing results. 

It also appears as though the USA is lagging behind other regions in research, practice, and acceptance in this discipline.

In this relatively new field of study it is not surprising that researchers have yet to establish anything approaching standards for LCN DNA testing and analysis.  Even so, this has not prevented the results of LCN DNA testing from being successfully and routinely introduced as viable evidence in courtroom arguments. 

For example, on February 8, 2010, Judge Robert Hanophy of the Supreme Court of Queens County, New York ruled that results of LCN DNA testing, as performed by the Office of Chief Medical Examiner in New York City, is now generally accepted as reliable in the forensic scientific community, it consistently yields reliable results, it is not a novel scientific procedure, and it is therefore admissible at trial (People v. Megnath, Supreme Court of New York, Queens County, 2010 NY).

Although the current Wikipedia article on the topic maintains that LCN DNA has only been adopted for evidential purposes in the UK, the Netherlands, and New Zealand, this unreferenced claim stands in ignorance of the fact that inquisitorial court systems in numerous European countries do not typically require formal publication and peer review of analytical methods in scientific journals as a justification for their methods. 

And as we have seen in the current Knox/Sollecito trial, in Europe it has become customary to have independent experts attempt to convince the court of the validity, or invalidity, of the LCN typing results that have been presented in a trial.  To be successful, it is essential that an independent expert provide the court with evidence of expertly-conducted retests of available evidence, relevant citations of appropriate research, and meaningful evaluations of protocols employed in outlining their objective and balanced set of opinions for the court. 

In this regard, it appears that the independent expert report for the Knox/Sollecito appeal has completely missed the mark.

Their report gives the strong impression that Carla Vecchioti and Stefano Conti were overtly attempting to invalidate the findings of Dr. Patrizia Stefanoni, the Polizia Scientifica in Rome, and the wealth of supportive testimony provided in court during the trial.  The tone of their report strongly indicates that they have lined up with Sollecito defense experts Adriano Tagliabracci and Valerio Onofri of the Institute for Forensic Medicine in Ancona, and Knox defense experts Sara Gino, Walter Patumi and Carlo Torre from the University of Turin.

We will see in court on the 25th if they are really across the figurative aisle from the prosecution witnesses Dr. Stefanoni and Dr. Giuseppe Novelli, a highly esteemed professor of biomedicine at Tor Vergata in Rome who is considered to be the “father of police forensics” in Italy, along with the expert witnesses for the Kercher family Professor Torricelli, and Dr. Emiliano Giardina, who is a colleague of Professor Novelli at Tor Vergata University.

This appears to establish grounds for a formidable courtroom battle if all experts can provide solid grounds for their opinions. However, the Kercher’s lawyer Francesco Maresca was already quick to point out that those on the prosecution’s side of the aisle have substantially more practical experience and years of work in the forensic science field.

An in depth reading of the expert report uncovers allegations that Dr. Stefanoni has not followed internationally established forensic science management standards and that in doing so she has committed analytical errors, such as the misattribution of peaks in her bra clasp DNA analysis.  What the report fails to mention, however, is that no such standards exist and that there are currently multiple perspectives from which a scientist might argue their case regarding the proper interpretation of DNA data, as evidenced in any sampling of current forensic science journal articles. 

For example, the expert report cites a 2006 International Society for Forensic Genetics (ISFG) publication as an example of a standard for determining which stutters should be considered as alleles in the assessment of mixed DNA samples.  But this alleged “standard” stands in contrast to direct testimony from Dr. Stefanoni while defending her lab protocols in comparison to the ISFG “recommendations” which she claims in no way qualify as authoritative standards.  The difference between recommendations and standards is a critical distinction in scientific fields.

A closer look at this discrepancy reveals that in 2007 Dr. Stefanoni and her immediate supervisor, Dr. Renato Biondo, hosted a meeting in Rome of the European DNA Profiling Group (EDNAP) in which these same 2006 ISFG recommendations were discussed.  At that meeting papers were presented from the UK and Germany that contested a number of the ISFG recommendations that the expert report now attempts to establish as mandatory standards. 

In the midst of this ongoing debate over ISFG recommendations, it is quite remarkable that the expert report, citing that 2006 ISFG document, chooses to assert that Stefanoni made erroneous interpretations of chart peaks simply because her interpretation of the data did not respect the controversial ISFG recommendations. 

The experts report consequently admits that they confirmed Stefanoni’s awareness of the ISFG recommendations, and that she expressed a personal view that they should simply be viewed as “guidelines.”  Yet they STILL insist on continuing to label her conclusions as erroneous since she did not “correctly” and “explicitly” adhere to the ISFG “recommendations.”

In light of all this, it is highly unlikely that Judge Hellman will dismiss Dr. Stefanoni’s knowledge and expertise on this matter as readily as Vecchioti and Conti have in their expert report.

An in depth analysis of the expert report also indicates that the citations from scientific journals are incomplete and often “cherry-picked” to directly support specific criticisms brought against Dr. Stefanoni’s methods. 


For example, the expert report appears to base its entire argument against Stefanoni’s reliance upon LCN DNA analysis techniques upon one paper, authored by Bruce Budowle et al entitled “Low Copy Number Typing Has Yet to Achieve General Acceptance.”  The expert report then goes on to cite a paper by Gill and Buckleton where these authors appear to support a few claims made by Budowle (image above) in his article, but the report completely ignores the fact that Gill and Buckleton then go on to air strong criticisms of many other claims made by Budowle.

In fact, in 2010 John Buckleton and Peter Gill authored a scathing criticism of Bruce Budowle’s entire “Low Copy Number Typing Has Yet to Achieve General Acceptance” article; the very article that the expert report relies exclusively upon in bringing Dr. Stefanoni’s methods into question.  In their article, published in Forensic Science, Buckleton and Gill state:

[Budowle’s] article is not peer reviewed. The proceedings of the ISFG Congress are prefaced by the message: “the manuscripts were neither reviewed nor edited in detail.  The articles reflect the opinions of the authors.”

It contains neither new data nor any novel scientific findings. Rather it represents public advocacy and is an expression of alternative opinion by the three authors concerning observations that are largely common ground. There is a place in the scientific literature for advocacy but it must be soundly based on proven facts.

We have some considerable difficulty in actually determining just exactly what the authors are indeed advocating. This is because of their inconsistent use of terminology and inconsistent recommendations. In our opinion, the views presented are inadequately precise, demonstrate a lack of appreciation of underlying principles and are not aligned with broader scientific opinion.

The title of the paper appeared to have one eye on future Frye or Daubert hearings and again we question whether such a title has a place in the learned literature. It takes upon itself, inappropriately, the role of gatekeeper of what constitutes “general acceptance” (The Frye test).

The article itself appears to be a rather inappropriate continuation of a debate arising from a court case in New York (People v. Megnath). Again we would question whether this journal is the correct forum to air this debate.

In other words, Buckleton and Gill are suggesting that Bruce Budowle acted unethically by publishing his non-peer reviewed opinions in a professional journal for the purpose of using the article to support his work as a paid consultant, and as an expert witness in court cases such as People v. Megnath in New York. 

Incidentally, Budowle was unsuccessful in advocating his opinions as an expert witness for the defense in People v. Megnath in his battle with Theresa Caragine of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York over her submission in court of data obtained using LCN DNA testing techniques.

Theresa Caragine herself authored a powerful rebuttal of Budowle’s article claiming that when Budowle’s “opinions” were published he failed to disclose that he had, in fact, been retained by the defense counsel for Mr. Megnath, and that he had already testified as a paid expert witness regarding the opinions he expresses in the journal article that the expert report relies heavily upon in attempting to substantiate its points.  And even though Bruce Budowle’s opinions had previously been delivered as a paid expert witness in a judicial setting, he made the claim of “˜No Conflict of Interest’ when applying to publish this non-peer reviewed article.

Caragine’s remarks go even further in criticizing the Budowle et al LCN DNA article by pointing out that it is not even a research article, but a non-peer reviewed submission that had purportedly been presented in the context of the 23rd Biennial Worldwide Conference of the International Society of Forensic Genetics, 2009 in Buenos Aires. 

Caragine claims that, while Budowle had in fact submitted a similar paper at that meeting, it was not under its current title, nor did it have the same the list of authors, and the abstract submitted to the conference organizers for their selection process does not align with the content of the paper now cited in the Italian experts’ report submitted to the court in the Knox/Sollecito appeal.  In her rebuttal, Caragine strongly questions whether or not such a circumvention of all standard principles of scientific publishing is in any way acceptable or appropriate.

Conclusions

In light of all of the above, the upcoming July 25th court hearing in the Knox/Sollecito trial should be considered as anything but a foregone conclusion.  The rationale behind the exuberant remarks noted in recent press releases regarding content allegedly favorable to defense efforts and anticipated impacts appears to be baseless. 

For an Italian report, it gives the appearance of being remarkably Amero-centric, and we find it ugly and unprofessional that the expert report chooses to attack Dr. Stefanoni and her colleagues by citing nonexistent international standards and by relying upon extraordinarily questionable resources in doing so. 

The report’s final conclusion that contamination cannot be completely ruled out is remarkably weak considering that there are relatively few real-world cases in which contamination of evidence might be completely ruled out.

It becomes clear, then, that well informed prosecution interrogators will have no problem in identifying and attacking the report’s multiple weaknesses.  We should expect Dr. Stefanoni and the prosecution’s team of experts to present precise counter arguments for the challenges expressed in the expert report, strongly defending the forensic science capabilities of Stefanoni and her team.


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