Monday, April 01, 2013

Alarm Bells Ignored: Overconfident PR And Lawyers May Have Led To That Shock At Cassation Outcome

Posted by Our Main Posters

Amanda Knox has seemed to us more stunned than confident since she got out of Capanne. Her father mentioned that she was not given the whole picture there.

But we have been surprised in recent weeks at how the defense lawyers and spokesmen and especially Raffaele Sollecito and Giulia Bongoirno and Carlo Dalla Vedova and the PR flunkies were seemingly seeing the Supreme Court appeal as a forgone conclusion in their favor, a blip requiring no change in the end game.

Here are 20 warning bells that we think they might have missed or heard wrongly which contributed to a shocked and ill-prepared reaction to the Cassation ruling, and each of which a team of hard-nosed lawyers not befuddled by PR might have heard and responded to quite differently. 

    1. The Italian media in 2007-2008 in fact did not blow the case and Knox herself out of all proportion. Most of the lurid headlines appeared in the UK press where they had zero effect on the 2009 jury. There really was a hard case to answer.

    2. The British and American media mostly came to be manipulated on the lines Barbie Nadeau’s book described, which meant a big contrast opened up between hard Italian reporting and fantastical UK and US reporting.

    3. The Knox and Sollecito teams shrugged off a short-form trial in October 2008 at which point they might have pleaded that Meredith’s murder was not intended and drugs and mental quirks had resulted in a terrible but unintended outcome, perhaps providing relief both for themselves and Meredith’s family. 

    4. The prosecution part of the trial in 2009 was in fact, contrary to frequent illusory claims, fast and comprehensive and decisive, and it may have been at the end of that phase that the jury was already ready to vote guilty. 

    5. The defense part of the trial was far less successful with Amanda Knox on the stand suggesting to Italians that she was cold-blooded and uncaring, and from then on the defenses were desultory and dispirited with no strong points ever landed. Several days one or other of them failed to show.

    6. The prosecution summation at end of trial was extremely powerful and included in it was a very convincing 15-minute crime-scene recreation video (never released to the public) which accounted for all the marks and stains in Meredith’s room and on her body by an attack group of three.

    7. The Massei report, again contrary to frequent illusory claims later, was considered by those familiar with such reports a model of good logic and reasonable assumptions. It laid out and connected hundreds of evidence points which in a normal appeal process would have been unassailable.

    8. The 2011 appeal did not happen because Massei was riddled with legal errors and wrong assumptions, which would have been the criteria for any British or American judge to agree to such an appeal. It happened solely because, unique to Italy, such appeals are automatic if demanded, resulting in a huge number of appeals on weak grounds. 

    9. Italy does not have a terrible record of trial reversals as some claim. It has a record of fine-tuning and adjustments of thousands of appeals by appeal juries seemingly wishing to prove that they are being diligent. Cassation is aware of this quirky systemic effect, and it often bounces back appeal outcomes to dead center. 

    10. It had appeared that the PR effort was joined by a lot of influential “heavies” including MP Girlanda, Judge Heavey, Senator Cantwell, Joel Simon of CPJ, and the billionaire Donald Trump. Most had limited positive effect in the US and less in Italy, and have been quiet since the Cassation ruling.

    11. Judge Hellmann was a surprise replacement for Judge Chiari, then the able and experienced head of the criminal division. (He resigned over this.) Judge Hellmann, a good civil judge, had very limited criminal-case experience. Chief Judge De Nunzio has not explained why he replaced Chiari .

    12. The scope of appeals is carefully laid out in the Italian judicial code, and they are not to be repeat trials with overall reconsideration of all evidence and al witnesses only absent the careful presentation process and cross-examination at trial. In the US or UK the defense grounds for appeal might simply have been rejected. 

    13. Prosecutor Mignini was provisionally convicted in March 2011 of abuse of office, but careful examination would have revealed that the grounds were spurious and he had no need of a conviction in this case. Cassation in the past month has killed his own case terminally and chastized those who brought it. 

    14. Incriminating DNA was found in Meredith’s room and also outside it in many locations, and also on a knife in Sollecito’s apartment. DNA consultants were “illegally” appointed who muddied the waters but decisively disproved none of it. 

    15. The Supreme Court is on record as deciding that three perpetrators attacked Meredith. The defenses never set out to prove Guede was a lone wolf attacker, for a long list of reasons, and they failed to prove that jailhouse witnesses Alessi and Aviello had pointed out credible alternatives.

    16. The Hellmann-Zanetti report surprised a majority of Italian lawyers who read it for its passion and broad scope and tendentious logic, and for misunderstanding certain key legal concepts. Some instantly saw it as having feet of clay, and a pretty sure candidate for reversal.

    17. The significance of Chief Prosecutor Dr Galati in the process seemed seriously discounted.  UK and US media mostly ignored his appointment and where he came from, which was in fact Cassation in Rome where he was a highly effective Deputy Chief Prosecutor.

    18. The Galati appeal itself was extremely competent and hard line and targeted the Hellmann appeal outcome in several levels or layers in a total of ten points. It is one of the toughest and most sweeping appeals ever filed in Italy, and in the US or UK alarm bells really would have gone off at this one. 

    19.  Sollecito’s book was seemingly okayed by his lawyers, although it causes them major complications in three respects: it introduces new “facts” which contradict his own defense; it derides Italian officials and accuses them of crimes; and it looks like a seedy attempt to make money out of a crime for which the writer is still on trial.

    20. While Sollecito had been acting happily oblivious and super-confident in recent months, he has added to Amanda Knox’s own problems by semi selling her out in his book, and by waking the new 800 pound gorilla of contempt of court prosecutions for not respecting the judicial process.

It may not surprise you to learn that Giulia Bongiorno has not had a very winning record at Cassation, and as far as we know the other lawyers have no experience of winning there at all.


It’s interesting that Sollecito ONLY published his book in English for release ONLY in the US. Could it have been an attempt to garner sympathy in the United States, where Knox’s team has been hard at work spreading their PR lies? Maybe Sollecito knew that his path to freedom (even if it’s short lived) would be to get behind the misinformation effort of Knox’s team in an effort to win the sympathy of the American public.

Did Sollecito know that his book, and it’s clear mistruths, would make him even more unpopular back at home with Italians who followed the trial quite closely (and therefore have an understanding of the large amount of evidence indicating his guilt, along with Knox and Guede)? Could that be why he never released it in his native country?

Posted by devorah on 04/02/13 at 03:28 AM | #

@devorah, you know I never thought about it but you are so right. Why was his book aimed at the US population where hardly anyone knows or cares about him, and the very few who do are FOAkers who wouldn’t care a damn for the truth anyway. Surely the logical thing, had he been innocent, would have been to try and explain his side of the story to people in Italy who have “misunderstood” him. This entire book writing thing stinks to the sky as a cheap attempt to make money from a tragedy.

Speaking of his book, I had been very surprised when I came across a sentence in it saying something like “our legal troubles were largely over”. That sounded extremely over-confident to me considering that the decision was only provisional. Although I can make some not-so-nice guesses for his confidence, I am so glad it was misplaced.

Posted by Sara on 04/02/13 at 06:54 AM | #

(@devorah: I also wondered if he was hoping to jump on Amanda’s bandwagon.)

Good post and very clear points.  It is surely very surprising that the professionals working on behalf of Knox and, to a lesser extent, Sollecito, failed so badly to understand or at least take all these into account.

Re Judge Hellmann: I wondered whether there were a mechanism whereby his court could have been monitored and intervention applied?  Obviously that did not happen.

“Chief Judge De Nunzio has not explained why he replaced Chiari .”

Can he not be held to account?  I find it very puzzling that probing questions have not (or at least seem not to have) been asked. 

Hellmann forced into retirement?  So what about Judge De Nunzio?

Posted by thundering on 04/02/13 at 07:02 AM | #

It was basically a gamble when RS decided to write HIS version of the story. Of course it would not sell in his country and he needed to tag AK so that his book may sell in the US. The strategy used by AK is somewhat better but the results are still uncertain. yet to be seen. She may sell her charm and face…

Before the appeal by Galati, I would have given them a chance of 50:50 but when I saw the points raised by Galati, it went down to 40:60- the appeal was very professional and dispassionate.

I am sure both AK and RS saw it coming, but they had too much faith on PR. PR can do only so much but…

Both need a new and radical strategy. Old tricks will not work anymore.

Posted by chami on 04/02/13 at 10:07 AM | #

Twenty effective points by the main posters although a few quite compressed. Those of us who haven’t read Sollecito might wonder how he somewhat sold her out in his book.  (I was turned off after sampling his book by its artificiality: it lacked “voice.”)

As for bandwagon: how could he forget Amanda’s absurd guess about his putting her fingerprints on the handle while she slept?  Speak of selling someone out & that quite early.

Main posters have chosen an excellent photo (appears to be two photos skillfully merged.) I respond to faces & expressions.  Amanda’s facial talents are varied (a) blank expressionless, very common (b) smiles & responses, including self-consciousness of being photographed.  But (c) above is one of a handful that is not posed or self-conscious & far from blank: it’s the very face of apprehension, looks to me like fear of being found guilty.

Twenty good points but if the second appeal does somehow succeed in winning for the two culprits, I can’t believe it wouldn’t end there.

Posted by Ernest Werner on 04/02/13 at 12:14 PM | #

Hi Ernest.

Good example there of how Ak sold RS out. They were indeed both hard at that after they were arrested and separated.

In the RS book (as at trial) there are various points where RS’s support of AK is much less than 100% and after he finds out that she is still an item with her boyfriend back in Seattle who she was considering flying to China to meet, he seems to realise that he’s toast.

We didnt especially sort out those passages in our analysis, but this below is one of them, which is repeated in different ways to suggest no evidence pointed to him and even the cops thought he was innocent but he stood by AK anyway.

In various places he suggested that the prosecution sought a deal where he would roll over on Amanda (his father repudiated that on TV) and he doesnt say he cant because she has no guilt, he says he wont because he was bound by honor.

Even the title of the book is a subtle sellout of AK.

Example from

Raffaele states in his book that once in prison, he was confused as to why he should be there: “why not focus the investigation on her (Amanda)? I didn’t believe for an instant she was capable of murder, but I did have doubts about the crowd she ran in.”

Posted by Peter Quennell on 04/02/13 at 01:05 PM | #

Hi Devorah

On the thinking behind Sollecito’s book I agree with Sara who with James Raper especially did some terrific analysis of the book.

Its only intent seems to be to bias an American audience away from Italy and the Italian system and players although at the same time it subtly sells AK out (see just above).

But the book was being taken apart on national Italian TV (Porta a Porta) almost as soon as it was out, with an Italian reporter reading passages from New York that Francesco Sollecito was very uncomfortably trying to answer.

he had to simply repudiate on the show and in days following the main claim, that the prosecution offered RS a deal.

That also outraged the prosecution and those in the police headquarters who then initiated this contempt of court investigation in Florence by the same chief prosecutor who will handle the rerun of the appeal.

Looks like a perfect storm he created to me. So far his lawyers have not said one word about the book, perhaps because he also placed them in the legal line of fire too.

Yummi has pointed out that there is no way AK’s book can fail to fall into the exact same traps. The case and Italian law are simply too complicated. Perfect storm #2.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 04/02/13 at 01:44 PM | #

Hi Thundering

On Hellmann and Chiari and de Nunzio you provide an excellent idea for a main post.

First the Italian system as it was created post WWII and has since evolved has had some strong systemic problems. Some of these have been resolved by recent reforms and some have been worsened as parliamentarians got into the act.

One systemic problem is this immense number of automatic appeals. It lowers the incentive for really good work at the first stage, and creates overkill at the second stage where many appeals involve two judges and another full team of lay judges (what we usually call the jury here).

They really are a solution looking for a bunch of problems and so of course it is usually a bunch of problems that they find. Now and then they try to run a complete new trial, and invariably Cassation whacks them back.

Emerging from all this make-work is an awful lot of judges who at one point or another have been at one another’s throats. It seems impossible for alliances and close friendships between judges to survive.

Here is one example of what happens.

In Guede’s trial and RSs and AKs arraignment hearing in October 2008 Judge Micheli sided with Mignini on all but the motive (Micheli thought the motives were worse, premeditated intent to kill).  But it was the same Judge Micheli who canceled all of Mignini’s prosecutions against those 20-plus obstructing the Monster of Florence case.

Now guess what? Cassation has just overturned Micheli! So now Mignini’s investigations are all reinstated and begun again and Micheli is made to look a fool.

Judge Chiari was a very bright judge and as a prosecutor he pulled off one of the most famous convictions in Italy of recent years.

Guess what? Giulia Bongiorno was one of ex PM Andreotti’s lawyers, and thus she lost very badly to Chiari. She actually collapsed in court. So no love lost there.

She would presumably not wish to share a court again with Chari. She was the powerful head of the parliamentary justice committee in 2010 so perhaps a nod and a wink to de Nunzio and her nemesis Chiari would be gone. 

And we have been given reason to suspect de Nunzio always felt overshadowed by Chiari who really should have been top judge. A pecking order thing.

Hellmann is known to have had a huge grudge against Comodi who oversaw the arrest and prosecution of one of his close friends. Zanetti didnt like her too.

Why was there no oversight over Zanetti and Hellmann?

Well although they broke the law with their statements almost from Day One it was hard to read where they were headed. For example when they refused a retest of the knife, many thought “Okay they’ve bought the notion that Meredith’s DNA IS on the knife”.

Comodi especially did make some public complaints about the way the appeal was being handled by the judges. The prosecution team could at any time have halted the trial and taken their beefs to the Supreme Court.

But for better or worse they gambled on a “right” outcome and let it ride.

Now Judge Hellmann is out and Judge de Nunzio isnt looking so smart. You are in fact seeing the corrective action you want kick in.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 04/02/13 at 02:40 PM | #

Hi Peter,

Great reference to Sollecito’s book (quotations & analysis)—I’ve added it to my bookmarks page & shall go through it carefully.  Thanks for your response.

Subtle point about the title.  And speaking of “honor bound” I’d point out that Guede, now spending those years in prison as a willing rapist, might be described as “honor crippled.”  Because he was thinking only of his own honor in portraying himself a lover instead of a participant.

He did actually, eventually, name the pair as the killers.  Had he done so as a confessed participant it would have carried great weight.  Instead, this continuing mess…

Posted by Ernest Werner on 04/02/13 at 05:00 PM | #

Another important and overlooked point is that AK’s original claim against Italian journalist Sarzanini (in the €40K range) was reversed.  At the moment, everything is going Meredith’s way and nothing is going the way of Knox and Sollecito.

Bongiorno and the Sollecitos had much more to do with the “go-for-broke” approach than is generally accorded them.

Posted by Stilicho on 04/02/13 at 11:47 PM | #

On the Sollecitos going for broke, I’d strongly agree. The RS book sure was a daft Hail Mary pass that is already costing them dear.

Yummi will be posting next, on the details of what happened at Cassation and what directions the court has come out with so far.

Giulia Bongiorno seemed floundering for a good counter-argument after Luigi Riello roasted Hellmann’s result. She also is not having a good year.

Why did she not absorb the appeal of Dr Galati? If we could do it here then she sure could do it there, for sure. Very odd.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 04/03/13 at 01:42 AM | #

I would guess that Bongiorno will cut and run at the first opportunity. Of course Sollecito only produced his so called book in the US because he had painted himself into the corner. He can’t produce the book in Italy for fear of retribution so he has to produce it in the USA where nobody gives a damn about his whining anyway. Personally I love it when these two murderers twist in the wind.

Posted by Grahame Rhodes on 04/03/13 at 05:05 AM | #

Sollecito’s father claimed that no Italian publisher was interested in “Honor Bound”. He said (seemingly defensively) that was the reason it was only published in the US, not to lampoon Italy from a distance.

But it’s available on Amazon UK and anyone in Italy can buy the Kindle version.

Right up front Sollecito derides the Italian justice system which he says is the least popular in Italy, whereas the precise opposite is the truth. He derides police and prosecution who Italians respect.

And he wiggles hard on the evidence, explaining many items the way the FOA do and repeatedly saying that it all points to Guede aone and that to the police that should have been obvious.

Italian reactions tend to be instantly negative. With maybe 200 mistakes and upward of 50 false claims of crimes it was a trainwreck waiting to happen.

Not only is the Florence investigation now going on, the book is likely to be surfaced in the new appeal because he contradicts some of the points his own team made at trial and the anulled appeal.

Also it looks terrible to any court that someone tries to make money out of a crime they still stand accused of. Amanda Knox will be in the same boat if her own book due end April is not yanked.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 04/03/13 at 02:12 PM | #

Sollecito doesn’t just wiggle on evidence.  He invents entirely new claims inconsistent with anything he’d said before (q.v. emails to his professors).  The very thesis of his book is not that Knox was innocent but that he just didn’t want her to serve her time alone in prison.

What are the chances she will return the favour once the arrest warrants are issued?

Posted by Stilicho on 04/03/13 at 09:19 PM | #

I don’t know if you already posted the link to this other article in The Telegraph - in which they discuss what happened at the Supreme Court level a little more, also that RS will not likely be recalled to jail to await the next appeal.  Bongiorno said she thinks there will be a short retrial on just ‘one point’ and then it will be returned to Cassation for the final acquittal.

Posted by believing on 04/04/13 at 03:36 AM | #

Hi Believing

Yummi’s much longer description and far deeper analysis of Csssation is going up tonight.

I personally found that reoport a tad silly, especially what Bongiotno said. She cant fool the entire English speaking world forever - has she never heard of translation?

Posted by Peter Quennell on 04/04/13 at 04:18 AM | #

“Sollecito’s father claimed that no Italian publisher was interested in Honor Bound” - Can’t think why. It is one of the best fictions I have ever read.

Posted by Sara on 04/04/13 at 08:47 AM | #

Forgive the irrelevancy but if this click works I’ve got to put it down (never heard of this before.)

Psychopathy Checklist-Revised: Factors, Facets, and Items[3] Factor 1   Factor 2   Other items

Facet 1: Interpersonal

  Glibness/superficial charm
  Grandiose sense of self-worth
  Pathological lying

Facet 2: Affective

  Lack of remorse or guilt
  Emotionally shallow
  Callous/lack of empathy
  Failure to accept responsibility for own actions

Facet 3: Lifestyle

  Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
  Parasitic lifestyle
  Lack of realistic, long-term goals

Facet 4: Antisocial

  Poor behavioral controls
  Early behavioral problems
  Juvenile delinquency
  Revocation of conditional release
  Criminal versatility.

  Many short-term marital relationships
  Promiscuous sexual behavior

The Hare Psychopathy Checklist

Posted by Ernest Werner on 04/05/13 at 08:03 PM | #
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