A New DNA Analysis Strongly Implicating Sollecito Seems to Have The Defense Forces Rattled
Posted by The Machine
[Above: DNA professional Professor David Balding; at bottom, DNA amateurs Barras and Halkides]
The Supreme Court has already shown strong disdain for the myriad dirty tricks of the defense forces, and legal action is building against them (see our post next week).
That the defense forces in this context attempt to put out even more misleading information seems a sure sign that their backs are to the wall, and that they will risk anything to again tilt the playing field.
“Software says Amanda Knox’s DNA wasn’t at crime scene” This highly misleading header appeared above an article by Colin Barras on the New Scientist website last month.
It should be pointed out that Colin Barras isn’t a DNA expert. He has never been involved in a forensic investigation. He has never provided expert testimony in a court case. He is simply a freelance British science writer with degrees in geology, palaeobiology and palaentology - the palaentology of Jurassic sea urchins.
Barras explains in his article that Professor David Balding, a Professor of Statistical Genetics at University College London, has developed new software for interpreting Low Template DNA evidence.
This is true. However, Barras then goes on to make the following claim:
Using the software on data from Knox’s trial suggests that it was very unlikely that her DNA was at the crime scene.
In fact Professor Balding and his software suggested nothing of the sort. Professor Balding was referring specifically to an incomplete DNA profile on Meredith Kercher’s bra clasp which has never been at much issue.
He did not refer to all the other DNA evidence that was collected at the crime scene and presented as evidence in court.
It’s important to clarify what this crime scene actually is, because the defense forces of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito constantly move the goalposts in relation to this case depending on who they are talking about.
When they talk about the evidence against Knox and Sollecito, their version of the crime scene is strictly limited to Meredith’s room. When they discuss the evidence against Guede, their version of the crime scene includes other rooms in the cottage i.e. the other bathroom and the hallway. And when they discuss the collection of the DNA evidence, their version of the crime scene suddenly includes the flat downstairs, even though no crime was committed there.
According to Wikipedia “A crime scene is a location where a crime took place (or another location where evidence of the crime may be found), and comprises the area from which most of the physical evidence is retrieved by law enforcement personnel, crime scene investigators (CSIs) or in rare circumstances, forensic scientists.”
The Scientific Police from Rome and the Forensic Police from Perugia clearly regarded most of the cottage as a crime scene. The Forensic Police from Perugia catalogued potential evidence by placing letters and numbers in different rooms in the cottage. (The Massei report, p200).
The Scientific Police then collected DNA and forensic evidence from Meredith’s room, Amanda Knox’s room, the hallway, the kitchen, the blood-spattered bathroom, the other bathroom which was used by Filomena and Laura and Filomena’s room where the break-in was allegedly staged. That’s a total of seven rooms.
And the Scientific Police didn’t actually claim at the trial that the incomplete profile on the bra clasp belonged to Amanda Knox. It was Sollecito’s forensic expert Professor Vinci who claimed that Knox’s DNA was on Meredith’s bra. His findings were presented in court at Rudy Guede’s fast-track trial in 2008.
So Colin Barras has used a straw-man argument. He has completely ignored the six pieces of DNA evidence that place Amanda Knox at the crime scene on the night of the murder.
According to the prosecution’s experts, Amanda Knox’s blood was found mingled with Meredith’s blood in three places in the bathroom: on the ledge of the basin, on the bidet, and on a box of Q Tips cotton swabs.
Knox’s DNA and Meredith’s DNA was also found mixed together in a bare bloody footprint which was revealed by Luminol in the hallway and a mixture of Knox’s DNA and Meredith’s blood was also found on the floor in Filomena’s room.
Amanda Knox’s DNA was found on the handle of Sollecito’s kitchen knife and a number of forensic experts - Dr. Patrizia Stefanoni, Dr. Renato Biondo, Professor Giuesppe Novelli, Professor Francesca Torricelli, Luciano Garofano, Greg Hampikian and Elizabeth Johnson - have all confirmed that Meredith’s DNA was on the blade.
Dr Stefanoni analysed the traces on the knife six days after last handling Meredith’s DNA. This means that contamination couldn’t have occurred in the laboratory. Meredith had never been to Sollecito’s apartment, so contamination away from the laboratory was impossible.
The knife is still in evidence and remains compelling evidence against Knox and Sollecito.
Ominously for Knox and Sollecito, the Supreme Court explained how DNA evidence should be assessed in court i.e. contamination must be proven with certainty not supposition.
The burden of proof is on the person who asserts contamination, not the person who denies it.
In other words, if the defence lawyers claim the DNA evidence was contaminated, they must describe the specific place and time where it could have plausibly occurred.
Nobody has ever proved that the bra clasp and knife evidence were contaminated and it’s difficult to see how the defence lawyers’s experts are going to do this at the new appeal.
Chris Halkides is one of Amanda Knox’s most effusive supporters. He has pontificated extensively about the case on his blog View from Wilimington and on other Internet websites.
On 30 July, he was finally prompted to post an interview with Professor Balding done some months previously. I suspect Halkides had been very keen to interview Professor Balding after reading Colin Barras’ article on the New Scientist website; but was holding back on posting it because it went against his own claims.
Indeed, his interview has turned out to be quite a slap in the face for the Friends of Amanda and Colin Barras, because Professor Balding categorically described the DNA evidence against Sollecito to Halkidis as “strong”.
It’s worth summarising Professor Balding’s impressive academic record which for this case is topnotch, perhaps the best .
He is currently the Chair of Statistical Genetics at University College in London. He has a first-class honours degree and a PhD in Mathematics. And he has written many journal articles and co-authored a number of books on a range of topics.
This is apparently the whole of Chris Halkides’ interview with Professor Balding:
TUESDAY, JULY 30, 2013
An interview with David Balding
Part 36 in the Knox/Sollecito case
Professor David Balding recently published an analysis of the bra clasp DNA. It may be helpful to explain some terms found in this article. John Butler (Fundamentals of Forensic DNA Typing) defines the likelihood ratio (LR) as “The ratio of the probabilities of the same event under different hypotheses, and he explains that the prosecution’s hypothesis is usually the numerator, and the defense’s hypothesis is usually the denominator. A ban is a unit of expressing the weight of evidence (WoE). This scale is logarithmic; a likelihood ratio of three bans is equal to one thousand. Some months ago Dr. Balding was kind enough to answer some of my questions about this work.
Does Raffaele Sollecito¹s DNA fall into the category of low template DNA, and if so, should two separate amplifications have been run?
There’s no strict definition of “low-template” but broadly yes the peaks associated with Sollecito are low (but not those associated with Kercher, they are high). Conti-Vecchiotti discuss a threshold of 50 rfu below which a peak should not be relied on; in the UK, that threshold was used in the past but nowadays as techniques have improved the threshold is often lower, 25 or 30.
However that doesn’t matter here as all the peaks associated with Sollecito are well above 50: there is a 65, a 70 and a 98, all the 26 other peaks are above 100. So it is not extremely low template - many low-template cases are successfully prosecuted in the UK even when some peaks fall below the threshold and so are discounted. In this case all the peaks associated with Sollecito seem clear and distinct so I think there can be no concern about the quality of the result as far as it concerns him or Kercher.
Replication is generally a good thing and is nowadays done in most cases in my experience, but not all - one problem is that replication splits the sample and so can increase the chance of not getting a usable result. But although replication is desirable it is not essential. (In a sense there already is replication, because each of the 15 loci is an independent test.)
This is all a matter of weight of evidence, which Conti-Vecchiotti paid no attention to: if you measure the weight of evidence properly, that accounts for the extra assurance that comes from replication and gives a stronger result (or conversely gives a weaker result if there is not replication). But because Sollecito is fully represented in the stain at 15 loci (we still only use 10 in the UK, so 15 is a lot), the evidence against him is strong even allowing for the additional uncertainty due to non-replication.
Are there contributors other than Raffaele Sollecito and Meredith Kercher to the autosomal profiles? If so, how does the presence of this additional DNA affect the bra clasp as evidence?
Yes, Conti-Vecchiotti identified a further 12 above-threshold peaks at alleles that could not have come from Sollecito or Kercher. They correctly criticised the scientific police for ignoring these: many do appear to be stutter peaks which are usually ignored, but 4 are not and definitely indicate DNA from another individual. The extra peaks are all low, so the extra individuals contributed very little DNA. That kind of extraneous DNA is routine in low-template work: our environment is covered with DNA from breath and touch, including a lot of fragmentary DNA from degraded cells that can show up in low-template analyses.
There is virtually no crime sample that doesn’t have some environmental DNA on it, from individuals not directly involved in the crime. This does create additional uncertainty in the analysis because of the extra ambiguity about the true profile of the contributor of interest, but as long as it is correctly allowed for in the analysis there is no problem - it is completely routine.
Are there contributors to the Y-STR profile other than Raffaele Sollecito? If so, how does the presence of this DNA affect our interpretation of the bra clasp as evidence?
I haven’t looked closely at the Y evidence - there seems no need for it because the autosomal evidence is overwhelming for the presence of DNA from Sollecito. But from a look at Conti-Vecchiotti, it seems to back up the conclusion from the autosomal profiles: Sollecito’s alleles are all represented and these generate the highest peaks, but there are some low peaks not attributable to him; so at least one of the additional contributors of low-level DNA to the sample was male.
The bra clasp was collected about 47 days after the murder, and it was found in a different location from where it was initially observed. In the interim many people entered the cottage and items from her room were removed. Are these concerns sufficient for the clasp to be excluded as evidence?
The only worry would be if somehow DNA from Sollecito was brought into the room and deposited on item 165B. I don’t know enough about what happened to say if that was likely but I’d guess that people walking in and out of the room etc would be unlikely to do that.
The clasp was collected with gloves that were not clean, not with disposable tweezers (videos here and here). The glove was handled by more than one person. Are these concerns sufficient for the clasp to be excluded as evidence? If not, should the clasp be given less weight as evidence because of them?
Same comment - the only concern is if any of this could have transferred DNA from Sollecito onto item 165B.
Would you care to comment on the storage of the clasp after the forensic police tested it?
I know nothing about it.
Did you analyze the electronic data files? Did you examine the laboratory¹s own protocols and machine logs?
I have only seen the epgs for the autosomal DNA profiles of 165B. There is an unclear version of them in the Conti-Vecchiotti report, but Prof Vecchiotti kindly provided me with a clean set.
Did you examine the negative controls?
Fellow main poster Stilicho highlighted the most important conclusions from this interview on the PMF Forum where the quality of the DNA discussion is very informed.
The interview contains a few things that have been vigorously denied by the FOA:
The 50 RFU level is not sacred or inviolable.
It is improbable that Sollecito’s DNA got there by secondary transfer or by contamination.
The likelihood that the DNA on the bra clasp is Sollecito’s DNA is “overwhelming”.
...the interview doesn’t contain anything not already known to both sides but it contains several key elements that are not accepted by both sides.
Chris Halkides asked two-part leading questions and didn’t get the answers that would be needed to continue to falsely assert that Sollecito’s DNA is not abundant on the clasp or that, if it was there, it likely got there by some other route.
All the other inferences about environmental contamination are irrelevant to Balding’s main point: it is Sollecito’s DNA on that clasp and it didn’t get there by accident.
Some credit must go to Chris Halkides for finally posting the interview with Professor Balding even though it categorically said the DNA evidence against Sollecito is strong. I’m not sure he’ll be invited to any FOA events in the future.
Shame though on Colin Barras, for writing such a misleading article, and for using a straw man argument to highly misrepresent the DNA evidence against Amanda Knox which was then deliberately fed to the Italian media.
He completely ignored the six pieces of evidence that place her at the crime scene on the night of the murder. He also completely ignored the most important of Professor Balding’s findings. ie that the DNA evidence against Sollecito is strong.
This finding implicates Knox and places her at the crime scene when Meredith was killed, and makes a mockery of Barras’s headline that suggested otherwise.
[Below: the wannabe crime-scene DNA experts Colin Barras, left, and Chris Halkides, right]
Colin Barras is on Twitter:
Great post, - thank you
Thank you TM. Yes some credit must go to Chris for publishing this interview. He is even honest enough to admit that his questions were put to Professor Balding some months ago. How many months ago I wonder? Now I assume that this was an internet communication and perhaps Professor Balding took a while to reply, but I also think that Chris has used some of the time to wrestle with his conscience but in the end decided that he had to publish and be damned if he was not to lose respect in the scientific community.
Balding’s comment that “this is all a matter of weight of evidence, which Conti-Vecchiotti paid no attention to” pretty much sums up the Conti-Veccchiotti Report. But then we knew that.
The strangeness of Halkides’ blog interview with Balding becomes even more opaque in his comments section. He appears to agree with C&V that environmental contamination must account for Sollecito’s strong DNA profile while Balding specifies this is not the case and cannot be the case.
I don’t even know what this sentence is supposed to mean or what value it holds as analysis:
“I am not sure what you mean by a clear path, but there are several routes by which Sollecito’s putative DNA could have arrived on the clasp.”
What is “putative DNA”? The accepted and most probable way for someone to have deposited such abundant DNA on an item is to have rubbed it with considerable effort. What are these alternate “several routes” and how do they compare with the most commonly accepted route?
Balding’s interview was a breath of fresh air for me as I no longer have to be defensive in employing the term “Sollecito’s abundant DNA” with respect to Exhibit 165b.
One thing is certain: Halkides is one of those who knows very well that there is considerable forensic evidence linking Knox and Sollecito to the crime. His standard evasive technique magnifies this admission rather than to diminish it.
Sad to say that since I started reading it many years ago, the quality of New Scientist seems to have gone downhill. Either I have got smarter, or the writing has got dumber, probably a mixture of both.
Quite often I get half way through an article and realise the author is talking nonsense. The facts are presented in a misleading way in order to create drama. They fall into the common journalistic trap of trying to tell an entertaining story, rather than relay the facts.
Unlike Scientific American, the NS journalists may have some science background, but write outside their field. You have to take NS with a strong pinch of salt, it’s reporting on science is often little better than the broadsheet newspapers, which is pretty terrible.
I think this is a case in point, the author literally doesn’t know what he is writing about, and tries to turn the truth on its head.
Great post TM.
Shame on Colin Barras for writing such a misleading article, he has misrepresent the DNA evidence and in doing so has repeated the same folly as many uninformed, biased, so-called experts have before him.
I am sure there will be a lot more of this misrepresenting of the DNA evidence etc in the next month or so as we approach the start of the new appeal, it is all they have left really, clutching at straws. Unless the defence can come up with concrete proof of contamination, its curtains for AK & RS.
It is a FOA weapon of choice to attempt to totally dismiss and rubbish any logical and expert analysis/opinion by a leading academic such as Professor Balding.
“It’s important to clarify what this crime scene actually is, because the defense forces of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito constantly move the goalposts in relation to this case depending on who they are talking about.”
@ The Machine,
Yes, they constantly “move the goalposts” ... when I read the quoted paragraph above, and the paragraph that follows the one quoted, it really “clicked”—you summed it up nicely !
Thank You for this excellent post!
Amanda’s incomplete DNA profile has always fascinated me. This would appear to be a reference to the bra clasp although sometimes the bra is mentioned.
In Darkness Descending Colonel Garofano (talking about the bra clasp) also confuses me a bit.
“The bra clasp is tested in two places…...and look, in nine out of sixteen places we have peaks that correspond to Amanda…..Look at the electropherogram….look, ten out of sixteen loci have peaks that correspond to Amanda’s DNA profile. The hypothesis is that Amanda also touched the bra clasp.”
Nine or ten? Run this against Balding’s comment -
” But because Sollecito is fully represented in the stain at 15 loci (we still only use 10 in the UK, so 15 is a lot), the evidence against him is strong even allowing for the additional uncertainty due to non-replication.
Thank you for this overview of David Balding’s work.
RS would seem to be deeply in the mire and, as he and AK are joined at the hip as far as the case goes, so is AK.
Presumably knife-boy no longer maintains that the evidence against AK is stronger than against him. Though I wouldn’t bet on it.
“In Darkness Descending Colonel Garofano (talking about the bra clasp) also confuses me a bit…”
I agree it is confusing if your point is why did Garofano assert that the hypothesis is that Amanda also touched the bra clasp, if the evidence is relatively low by Italian standards? I can only guess he was unconsciously and almost unavoidably taking into account all the other strong evidence that place AK at the crime scene. Rightly so in my view!
People think that software can extract truth out of nothing. And they call themselves scientists!
Balding has said what he is expected to say. The unvarnished results. And he has no axe to grind either way.
Halkides too has done what he is expected to do. You need to understand it needs great strength to stand up like this when you are in the FoA club. It is not a small feat.
But the greatest joke is “the software says that…” GIGO- garbage in, garbage out.
I however admit that today the software has become so powerful and complex and has god-like character. Truely awe-inspiring. But then…
What an excellent article!
I try to stand on the middle ground regarding this issue.
I have disagreed with other posters on this site and stated as much.
Conversely, on debating sites, I have been described as a ‘troll’, received abuse from Halkides, Fisher, Moore etc. for reasonably suggesting that AK & RS had an involvement in the murder of MK.
No-one wants to see an innocent person suffer and it does cause me pain that these two are involved. however, the evidence is stacked against them.
What a tragedy! So many people suffering the consequences!
Let justice be served!
Given the timing, has Halkides published this as a warning shot to RS or as part of a cutting adrift?
That is one of the best outlines I’ve seen to date. I wanted to quote from it but how can one? All of it is compelling. When it is clear that that’s also how the court is going to view it, I’d not like to be AK or RS or their teams.
Good post TM.
I had read the Balding interview previously.
I guess the likes of MM will simply hand wave it away and regard it as part of their perceived grand conspiracy against their poster girl.
The interview is almost like an attempt by the AK side to throw RS under the bus - rather than the reverse.
If anybody wants to complain to New Scientist about Colin Barras’ misleading article, here are the contact details:
Contact details for post or phone
It only takes a few moments to send a tweet or an e-mail. Every single person on PMF and TJMK can make a difference.
Done [e-mailed as “Letters to the Editor (for publication”)].
I have been following this site for a long time but never commented. But know I feel I want to.
The tradegy is the loss of Meridith, such a high price for the pain amanda knox suffers. Bear with me.
It is through the reading of views, comments and observations on this sight that I recognise similarities with the chaotic life I have lead (yes, accept for the moment it is all me,me,me) and the behaviour of amanda knox. The turning point was the suggestion of NPD. It fits. All the characteristics she has displayed I recognise in myself, no where near to the extent that she has displayed but never-the-less, there.
The behaviour she is displaying now might well be a shutting down, not because of her FoA handlers, but because she is beginning to realise that the only way she can survive is to remove herself from environments that feed her NPD. I understand that. I too have closed down with the purpose of trying to be “normal”. Socially human.
Based on all I have read I have no “reasonable doubt” about her guilt in this awful act. The extent of it requires that she be removed from day-to-day society for the safety of all at large. I feel an empathy with how she might be struggling with the pain of knowing what she has done. But, she did it, and the extent of her NPD is so severe that it might take years of confinement, reflection and self actualisation for her to understand why she did it. It cannot be until then that she be released back into society.
Meridith’s family do not have that luxury.
..... by the turning point I do not mean a change of mind, I have agreed since the first trial that all three are guilty of complicity in Meredith’s murder. The turning point was unconscious motive.
Hello Miles, and thank you for your comment, which I found brave.
It is good for someone who is closely acquainted with NPD to recognize just how much this fits AK’s behaviour.
And you are quite right - there is part of the behaviour phenonomen sometimes called ‘narcissistic supply’, which ‘feeds’ and helps to perpetuate the unhealthy ( and ultimately self- harming) pattern of behaviour.
I have always found it interesting how Amanda reacted upon her release from prison. Her almost choking on her sobs was very real. I’ve often wondered whether the burden of her ‘freedom’ was worse - because she would now be trapped (or ‘imprisoned’) by the narcissistic role she was then required to play…as,in fact, we have indeed seen played out since.
And, don’t be concerned, we are all about ‘me’, in a way. It’s the honesty and awareness that matters…
“Her almost choking on her sobs was very real”....
As I remember, as soon as she landed back in the US she gave a somewhat dreadful acting performance, crying with no tears, made me feel sick to the stomach.
Yes, there was that, all very posed and exaggerated…but I think that was later…don’t remember exactly now, but I do remember real tears at the time.
Not necessarily very long - but truthful moments can reveal themselves in a second or two.
Hello Miles and SeekingUnderstanding. Urbanist as well…Yes all very true. Knox is painted into a corner of not only of her own making but others as well. Point being she can’t admit guilt not only to herself but to her supporters. Being torn in this way between the release of the truth and losing her base it is obvious that she really has nothing at all. Sometimes just to keep up I check on Ground Report which I did earlier today. Michel Moore is there with her acolytes spouting the company line. It really is pathetic but this is all Knox has and forever more these enablers will white wash anything in order to consolidate their version of relevancy which includes the usual bashing of Italian Law plus Mignini et al of course plus all the sundry others they can blame for poor little Knox and poor little Sollecito. They try to blame everything on Guede of course but that’s coming to an end since Guede will be getting out of jail rather sooner than later so look to the future in the short term It should be good.
In many cases there are multiple crime scenes. If a person is killed in a home, put in the trunk of a car, and driven to a field nearby and dumped, the home, the car, and the field are all crime scenes for the same crime. The crime scene is not regulated to Meredith’s room; it is where she was found dead. The crime scene, in this case, consists of the entire cottage, period. That is the simple fact, regardless of what the defense says. This is the most basic fact in crime scene investigating. Great article, Machine. I like the reference to “moving the goal posts.” Lol I’ll have to remember that one…so true!! I have never heard of such rubbish in any other case.
“she can’t admit guilt not only to herself….....” -
Unless she was so out of her head at the time or is in severe shock she knows what she did but, like many, suffers from the “it wasn’t me, Miss” when challenged.
But if she has NPD and understands so, this will change. The worst possible barrier to this happening is the FoA.
OK I was not clear. Of course she knows she did it and is as guilty as hell. But living in the world of denial she inhabits she sees her memory as some kind of nightmare that really did not happen.
Even the trial she views as being some sort of stage production. This is her only means of escape. But the best thing is of course she can’t deny it to herself although she tries.
Hmmmm - a freelance science writer in Ann Arbor, Michigan who wrote a dissertation on sea urchins and an undergraduate chemistry professor who has studied enzymes, proteins, and biodiesel fuel go on record as self-proclaimed experts in forensic DNA analysis. What could possibly be wrong with that?
Poor Foxy Knoxy?
‘Waiting To Be Heard is is a cautionary — and true — tale about Amanda Knox….’
It is not an account, it is a ‘tale’...now that is true!
Poor Foxy Knoxy?
‘Waiting To Be Heard is is a cautionary — and true — tale about Amanda Knox….’
It is not an account, it is a ‘tale’...now that is true!
@starsdad: The reviewer argues that Knox’s book is a memoir. It is not. She does not acknowledge that she provided Patrick’s name to the police without prompting. She has no verifiable accounting of her whereabouts the night of the murder. She invents dialogue, including that of the victim and who will never be able to speak for herself, that did not happen. She creates a cartoon foil of Meredith that just happens to speak with the same careless Americanisms in her speech as Knox does. She accepts no responsibility for anything she did while in Perugia.
It is not a memoir but instead an arrogant manifesto of defiance in the face of overwhelming evidence that she is a murderer and a liar.
Yes..and there are so many omissions. Not trivial omissions of minor details, but more like taking the bones out of a person and expecting them to still stand up.
Vital omissions - of facts that have been verified elsewhere. If there is such a thing as lying-by-omission, then it is here, in the ‘story’.
Simply sublime, these two power-packed posts by The Machine. What a wealth of vital information, important and enduring. These are like condensing several books on the case.
David Balding is as sound as Hampikian is foxed. Balding’s credentials are impressive and his conclusions are independent of Knox PR pressure. He’s angel Gabriel bringing the message that Raffaele’s DNA on the bra is no fluke.
Hampikian in the Balding interview does uncover the truth, however unwittingly or unwillingly. In the end it’s the truth that counts. That’s what TJMK has been upholding. Nobody wanting Meredith’s justice in good conscience wants to see any person convicted unless they are truly guilty, and never have. Balding’s opinion is that Raffaele left proof of his presence at the murder, which means his alibi for Knox is a pack of lies and he is phony as a glass eye. Ditto for Knox. They have suppressed the truth and somehow their allure has caused Hampikian to stumble into their net.
The search for the truth no matter whose “side” it supports is the raison d’etre of scientists. Not good to be blinded by personalities like the hapless McNaughton with the killer Hall and Hampikian with Miss Knox.
It was a feast of reasoning in both these posts by The Machine, extra welcome as I return from a beach holiday with sunburnt back.
Correction: I meant to say “Halkides” in the Balding interview, not “Hampikian”. I’m justly embarrassed.
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