The Massei Sentencing Report For Knox And Sollecito: Part 3 Of A Summary In 4 Parts

Posted by Skeptical Bystander





The full Massei Report can be found here. Continuing on with our summary:

7. Double DNA knife and bra strap

Exhibit 36: The double DNA Knife

Exhibit 36 is a 31 cm long knife with a 17 cm blade and a dark handle.  It was seized from the kitchen cutlery drawer at Raffaele Sollecito’s home, located at 110 Corso Garibaldi in Perugia, on 6 November, 2007 when Chief Inspector Armando Finzi was ordered to perform a search of Sollecito’s residence.  This exhibit is important because “Sample 36b” taken from a scratch on the knife blade yielded Meredith Kercher’s biological profile.

After putting on gloves and shoe coverings, Finzi and his team entered the home.  They noted a strong smell of bleach.  Opening the cutlery drawer, they saw a big, “extremely clean” knife.  In Sollecito’s bedroom they found a second knife.  The knives were bagged and sealed.[106]

Exhibit 36 was carried back to the police station, where it was placed in a box for shipping to the Polizia Scientifica in Rome.  Dr. Stefanoni was the recipient of the box containing the knife in Rome.  All parties testified that standard procedures were followed to avoid the risk of contamination.

On 4 November, 2007, Meredith’s roommates Filomena Romanelli, Laura Mezzetti, and Amanda Knox had been taken by the police to look at the knives in their kitchen at the apartment in Via della Pergola.  Personnel from the Questura reported Amanda’s “severe and intense emotional crisis, unlike [the reaction of] the other two girls”.[292]  This behavior was contrasted to Amanda’s behavior at Police headquarters two days earlier:

“This circumstance appears significant both in its own right and also when one considers that Amanda had never previously shown signs of any particular distress and emotional involvement (in the Police headquarters, on the afternoon of November 2, Meredith’s English girlfriends, Robyn Carmel and Amy Frost in particular, according to their declarations, had been surprised by the behaviour of Amanda, who did not show emotions).”[292]

Investigators’ attention was alerted to the Exhibit 36 knife because of Amanda’s inconsistent behavior.  Later, police overheard a jail conversation between Knox and her parents on 17 November, when Knox said, “I am very, I am very worried about this thing with the knife ... because there is a knife of Raffaele’s ...”.[292]

Exhibit 36 thus became a central piece of trial evidence.  The debate would subsequently be focused on two issues: The compatibility of the knife with the large stab wound in Meredith’s neck; and the reliability of the DNA analysis.

Considering the first of these points, although the knife blade is 17 cm long, the depth of the larger wound is just 8 cm .  This “discrepancy” was the basis of defense efforts to discredit the knife as a murder weapon. The compatibility of the Exhibit 36 knife and the larger of Kercher’s wounds is addressed by Professor Bacci (see p. 121 of the Massei report).    Professor Norelli maintains that “it is not said that a blade is always embedded (plunged into) the target right up to the handle; the blade may also go (in) only to a certain portion of its length, and not right up to its end”.[126] 

It is noted that the movements of the victim may have played a part in determining the depth of the cuts.  “If I insert a centimeter of the blade into the victim and the victim suddenly moves towards me, how much of the blade will be driven inside the body surface area is absolutely unpredictable and depends on the action of both”.[129]  Alternatively, the blade of the knife might have met an obstacle. The cutting action is described on p. 146 and again starting on p. 152.

Defense witness Dr. Patumi disputed the compatibility of the wounds with said knife, arguing that a blade of 17 cm length could not have caused a cut 8 cm deep; see p. 156-157.  However, the Court rejected “the thesis of the incompatibility of the most serious wound and the knife Exhibit 36”, holding this thesis to be “unacceptable” .[172]

Regarding the second point – that of the DNA analysis – Dr. Stefanoni was the responsible expert at the crime lab in Rome. Although no biological traces were visible to the naked eye on the face of knife blade, Dr. Stefanoni perceived scratches - “anomalies in the metal’ - on the blade when rotating the blade under strong lighting.  The streaks were:

“… visible under good lighting by changing the angle at which the light hit the blade, since obviously the blade reflects light and thus creates shadows, making imperfections visible.”[196]

Sample 36b was taken from one of these points on the blade.  The genetic profile of Meredith Kercher was identified from this sample. Stefanoni presented charts to the court, showing the DNA profile: she noted “that the peaks were a bit low, but that without doubt were still within the range that is considered useful for testing a specimen (page 108). Although of a much lower quantity of DNA, the profiles were nonetheless very present and, by making a comparison with Meredith’s profile, Dr. Torricelli reported that ‚we find all the alleles, and we find them to be equal to those obtained from the swab taken, from the sample taken from the wound. Therefore in this case too, without doubt‛ -she continued- ‚although we are confronted with a sample that contains very little DNA, it nonetheless contains the DNA of only one person and is therefore comparable to Meredith’s; with regard to this knife, I would say I have no doubt in interpreting it: specimen A with Amanda’s profile and specimen B with the profile, compatible with that of Meredith.”[231-32] However, the amount of DNA was small and it was all used up in order to run a single test.

The defense objected that it was impossible to evaluate whether the actual nature of Sample 36b specimen: 

“.. when we have a small amount of DNA we talk about low copy number DNA, and that when this type of DNA is present, we are indeed able to carry out our amplification and obtain a profile, but we must remember that we may have lost one of the alleles, we may have an allelic imbalance ... it becomes very difficult to distinguish from a real allele, so that when working on ...  small quantities of genetic material, it is necessary to be very cautious in interpreting the results.”[237]

 

To this point, Dr. Stefanoni argued that it is preferable “to know to whom a biological specimen is attributable, rather than ascertaining the nature of that specimen, without attributing it to anyone.”[288]

Furthermore, it was argued by the defense that the quantity of DNA was too low to be able to perform the tests and consider the results reliable.  Given a low amount of DNA, the risk of contamination is high - particularly given the very numerous number of samples being analyzed.
 
The court rejected the possibility of contamination because no anomalies were ever identified in the Polizia Scientifica’s analytical process. The Prosecutor pointed out that all tests had been carried out in the presence of a lawyer/consultant for the defense - who had raised no objections during the testing.  The possibility of contamination during the collection of evidence was rejected based on a detailed consideration of the collection process.

Thus, the DNA from Meredith which was found on that knife cannot be traced back to any contamination occurring in the house in which it was found, or to the method of acquisition of the knife on the part of Finzi, or even to the collection and dispatch methods used by Gubbiotti. In addition, as has been said, that such contamination could have been carried out by the laboratory is also ruled out.[266]

In addition, Dr. Stefanoni testified that she did have the biological profile of the defendants, but did not employ them while interpreting the electrophoresis diagrams. Nevertheless, the Massei report judges that:

“... the main criticisms advanced by the defense concerned precisely this very small DNA quantity, and it raised the question of the reliability of the result obtained.”[288]

To this central point, Dr. Stefanoni:

“Regarding the too low quantity of DNA, Dr. Stefanoni declared, as has been seen, that even in the case of a particularly scanty amount of material, the analysis and evaluation should be performed, and she added that, if the data that emerges is absolutely readable and interpretable and the correct laboratory practice was followed, the result is reliable and there is no reason to repeat the test.

“It does not follow ... that the data is unusable and unreliable as a consequence of a lack of repetition due to a lack of further quantities of DNA. It is necessary, instead, to take account of the data that emerges from such a specimen and to check for the – possible – presence of other elements, both circumstantial and inherent to the data itself that, despite the lack of repetition of the analysis, could allow an evaluation of the reliability of the analysis and of its outcome.”[289]

The court concluded that the biological profile that resulted from the 36B DNA analysis ...

“… gave a biological profile attributable to the person who was mortally wounded with that very knife: a result, therefore, that was entirely reasonable and consistent with the event; [it was] certainly not explainable as a mere coincidence, and it must be ruled out –according to what has already been observed in this regard - that it could have originated from contamination or from the use of a suspect-centric method.”,[290] and that

“…. it should therefore be affirmed that the analysis of trace 36B, which detected the presence DNA attributable to Meredith, appears to be completely reliable.”[293]






Exhibit 165 (Bra clasp)

Exhibit 165 is a small piece of material with hooks from Meredith Kercher’s bra.  The Polizia Scientifica discovered Raffaele Sollecito’s DNA on this so-called “bra clasp”.

Dr. Stefanoni and her team began evidence collection at via della Pergola 7 on November 2, 2007.  Additional searches were conducted of Sollecito’s Audi A3, Sollecito’s flat at Corso Garibaldi 110 (November 13), Patrick Diya’s pub “Le Chic” (November 14),  and Rudy Guede’s studio (November 20).  There was a further search at via della Pergola 7 on December 18. 

Meredith’s bra (missing its clasp) was collected on November 2, 2007, in the first search, along with other items (towels, sheets, toilet paper, underwear, etc.).  The bra was found at the foot of the victim in poor condition: torn off of Meredith’s body with cuts at the back.  The bra is Exhibit 59.

The missing bra clasp was one object of the December 18 search.  The search process - including measures taken to ensure against contamination - is described in detail on pp. 204-06 of the Massei report.  However, it is noted that the bra clasp was picked up about 1.5 meters away from its original position as seen in photographs taken on November 2-3.

Small blood drops were clearly visible on the bra clasp material.  The bra clasp revealed a mixture of DNA belonging to the victim and to Sollecito.  According to Dr. Stefanoni the quantity of DNA was not low. 

On trace B, from the clasp, a mixed genetic profile was found: the victim plus Sollecito and that result was further confirmed by the Y profile of Raffaele Sollecito, also found on the hooks.[197]

The Polizia Scientifica’s mixed trace DNA analysis is described in detail in Massei on pp. 206-11. 

The defense raised the issue of the Polizia Scientifica using a “suspect-centric”methodology that might bias the DNA analysis and its interpretation.  Dr. Stefanoni’s remarks are summarized in Massei:

“With reference then to the DNA of Raffaele Sollecito and the fact that his profile was already present and available to her when she interpreted the collected samples, including the one relating to the hooks, she stated that the data was present as historical fact, but that she did not have it, have it available before her at the moment in which she was interpreting the technical data, nor was she otherwise consulting this biological profile.”[226]

Given the delay in collecting the bra clasp and the fact that the bra clasp had been moved on the floor of Meredith’s room, the essential question before the court is presented as follows:

“Was ... the DNA of Raffaele Sollecito, which, according to Dr. Stefanoni, was found on the bra clasp, a consequence of an act of Raffaele Sollecito carried out directly on the bra which Meredith was wearing on the night that she was killed, or on the contrary, could it have had a different origin, so that this DNA could have ended up on the bra clasp without Raffaele Sollecito having ever touched the bra directly, and its clasp in particular?”[266]

The court observes that Meredith’s door was closed and locked on the morning of November 2; that’s how Sollecito and Amanda testify to have found it and that’s how the Postal Police saw it when they arrived.  When the door was finally broken down and opened:

Raffaele Sollecito remained at a distance, far enough—as has been said—that he could not even have been able to look into the room; furthermore, it does not appear that he entered the room at any later time; in fact, as has been seen, the contrary has been shown: once the door was broken down, everyone was ordered to leave the house and Raffaele Sollecito did not enter into the cottage again, much less into Meredith’s room.[268]

Therefore the court rejects this hypothesis for the “placing” of Sollecito’s DNA in Meredith’s room.  Furthermore, there is no reasonable suggestion that Sollecito could have placed his DNA on Meredith’s bra clasp in the prior week after meeting Amanda for the first time.  Sollecito’s DNA was only found in one other location in the house: on a cigarette stub, mixed with that of Amanda Knox. 

8. The staged break-in

The Massei Report examined the evidence surrounding the broken window and disarray in Filomena Romanelli’s bedroom in order to determine whether a real break-in had occurred or the appearance of one had been staged.

When she first returned to the apartment,  Romanelli had made a quick check of her room and ascertained that, even though it was in a complete mess with the left-side [as seen from inside the room] windowpane broken and a big rock on the floor, nothing was in fact missing.[31] The court noted that when Romanelli had left the house, on November 1, she said she had pulled the external shutters towards the interior of her room, although she did not think that she had actually closed them completely. Because they were old and the wood had swelled a bit, they rubbed on the windowsill so, to pull them towards the room, it was necessary to use some force. But, once they had been pulled in, they remained well closed by the pressure of the swelled wood against the windowsill.[48]

Based on Romanelli’s testimony, the court rejected the assumption made by a defense expert witness that the external shutters were left completely open. In fact they were not even completely open on the day following the murder, according to witnesses on November 2.[50]
The initial assumption was that the window had been broken with a rock thrown from the outside (and such a rock was indeed found in the room). However, to have broken the glass of the window without shattering the external shutters, it would have been first necessary for a burglar to open these shutters. The court considered whether some sort of instrument could have been used to open them from the outside, but noted the failure to find any suitable instrument and doubted what type of instrument could be used to this end. This led them to assume that the wall would have to be scaled a first time in order to open the external shutters, so that the burglar could then aim a rock at the window. [48-49]

He would then have had to return underneath the window for a second climb, and balance on his knees or feet on the outside part of the windowsill, while reaching through the broken glass to unlatch the window. The court noted that the window must necessarily have been latched since, otherwise, there would have been no need to throw a rock at all, but just to open the external shutters and climb inside. [49] The burglar would also need to rely on the fact that the external shutters themselves were not actually latched, and also that the internal wooden shutters had not been fastened (otherwise it would have been impossible to open them from the outside).[49]

The court decided that this scenario appears totally unlikely, given the effort involved: going twice underneath the window, going back to throw the stone and scaling the wall twice. Especially so, taking into account the uncertainty of success (having to count on the two favourable circumstances indicated above), with a repetition of movements and behaviours, all of which could easily be seen by anyone who happened to be passing by on the street or actually coming into the house.

Next, the court noted that the double climb necessary to reach the height of three and a half metres would surely have left some kind of trace or imprint on the wall, particularly at the points on the wall that the burglar would have used to support his feet, especially as the earth below the window, on that early November evening, was very wet.[50] In fact, investigators had examined both the wall and all of the vegetation underneath the window, and noted that there were no traces on the wall of earth, or grass, or any streaks at all, and none of the vegetation underneath the window appeared to have been trampled.[142] Furthermore, it was observed that a nail that was part-way up the wall, remained intact. The court deemed it very unlikely, given the position of that nail and its characteristics, that a climber would not cause it to fall or bend.[50]

The next fact to consider was that the pieces of glass from the broken pane were distributed in a homogeneous manner on the inside and outside parts of the windowsill, without any displacement being noted or any piece of glass being found on the ground underneath the window. A prosecution expert witness stated that this tends to exclude the possibility that the rock was thrown from outside the house. Also, a climber, in leaning his hands and then his feet or knees on the windowsill, would have caused at least some piece of glass to fall, and he would have been obliged to shift some pieces of glass in order to avoid being wounded by them. Instead, no piece of glass was found under the window, and no sign of any wound was seen on the pieces of glass found in the room. It can moreover be observed that the presence of many pieces of glass on the outside part of the windowsill increases the probability of finding some small pieces of glass on the ground underneath, since there seems to be no reason that so many pieces of glass would all stop just at the edge of the windowsill without any of them flying beyond the edge and falling down to the garden below.[51,52]

These inconsistencies in the break-in theory can, however, be explained if one supposes that the rock was thrown from the inside of the room, with the two external shutters pulled inwards so that they blocked the pieces of glass from falling to the ground below. Once the glass had been broken from inside, the rock was set down at some place in the room, and the external shutters were pushed towards the outside, being thus opened from within the room.[51]

A further indication that the ‘break-in’ was staged was deduced from photos of the scene, taken by investigators. The appearance is that the goal was to create obvious disorder in Romanelli’s room, but does not appear to be the result of true searching for the kind of valuable objects that might tempt a burglar. The drawers of the little dresser next to the bed were not even opened; the objects on the shelves appear not to have been touched at all; piles of clothes seem to have been thrown down from the closet but it does not seem that there was any serious search inside the closet, in which some clothes and some boxes remained in place without showing any signs of an actual search for valuable items that might have been there. It does not appear that the boxes on the table were opened in a search for valuable items. Indeed, no valuable item was taken, or even set aside to be taken, by the ‘burglar’.

Based on all this evidence, the court concluded that the disorder in Romanelli’s room and the breaking of the window pane constituted an artificial representation created in order to misdirect the investigations towards a person who, not having the key to the front door, was supposed to have entered through the previously broken window and then effected the violent acts on Meredith which caused her death.

Part Four is here.


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