Monday, November 16, 2009

The Actual State Of Play: The Status Now And What Is Coming Up

Posted by Michael

[above: Meredith’s family gets briefed on the proceedings and prospects last June]

The excellent pro-Meredith LA7 documentary that Nicky reported on below would have moved many Italians.

But, apart from some of the claims from Seattle, it is unlikely to have given them many surprises.

Those in Italy have often been able to watch the court proceedings directly, Amanda Knox’s seemingly misconceived stint on the stand included, and the Italian newspapers and networks have done a pretty exemplary job of the reporting. Those there who follow the case will have a highly informed and very accurate understanding of what the evidence points to - that it pretty well overwhelmingly points to the notion that the right defendants have been tried and the case against them is strong.

For non-Italians, though, arriving at a good take on the case has been very much tougher. UK and US followers have had to rely on far fewer media sources, and the biased ones have often drowned out the few good. Be it due to inherent prejudice within certain national media, jingoism, financial opportunism, a simple desire to sensationalize or turn what should be hard news into entertainment, language and cultural barriers, or sheer laziness, the reporting on this case has fallen very far short of the “duty” of the media to inform.

To make matters worse, the media have been affected by third-party influences. Most notably, the ostensibly pro-Amanda-Knox campaign has tended to muddy the waters with aggressive anti-Italy, anti-prosecutor and anti-investigator propaganda, and some highly peculiar takes on the real facts. The US media in particular has gone out of its way to provide them with a willing platform, and it has too often relied on the campaign for main information on the case.

It seems a sad day for the media and for truth in general when the public is left to rely largely on the families and representatives of the accused for their information. As Commissario Montalbano points out below, the PR campaign and the slanted reporting will actually have zero influence on the court. And we hear from the inside that it is likely to have zero influence on the US government, and in particular the State Department (the foreign office). But it certainly has left in its wake a pool of angry and confused people who think Italy is up to something nefarious. 

So, what is realistically the state of play for the accused, Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito? How strong is the case against them, what is the verdict in early December likely to be, and what are the prospects for appeal?

Bear in mind first that the elements of the case of the prosecution had jumped a large number of judicial hurdles on the way to trial for which there is no equivalent in the US and UK systems. Judge after judge after judge reviewed the emerging case, and Judge Micheli showed how formidable it was when he committed Knox and Sollecito to trial in October 2008

And the prosecution seems to have presented at trial a very robust case against the accused, within a very compelling overall framework, comprised of behavioral, witness, forensic, and circumstantial testimony, and self-incriminating testimony of the accused. The real strength of the case lies in the whole damning picture when all the elements are drawn together.

A defense explanation can be attempted for any one piece of evidence taken in isolation, and sometimes such pieces do seem weak. But when they are all brought together, the whole seems too much, too large a wall for any defense team to break down. A regular poster on the case summed it up with this metaphor. Imagine the case against the accused being a swimming pool. Now in that pool there are no sharks - but there are many dozens of piranha fish. They will strip you to the bone far faster and more effectively then any shark. This seems in essence what the response of the defenses now faces.

Convictions and sentences for both defendants early in December do seem to be more or less assured. 

So what does a well-informed and fair-minded native Italian who really understands the Italian legal system think of the chances of acquittal for the accused? Our frequent commenter Yummi, who writes from Italy, was asked about the prospects for a guilty verdict, and the likelihood of a prosecution appeal in the case of an acquittal. Yummi had this to say:

A trial in the Italian justice is an event in which the most important part is played by the written sentence (so called “sentence report”). The prosecution would give up the appeal only if the written motivations appear to them obviously unassailable, so to make it easy to predict a second failure. But in all other cases appeals by the prosecution are frequent, sometimes even on guilty verdicts. In this case an appeal by the prosecution would be real and almost certain in case of acquittal.

But it is extremely unlikely that AK and RS are found innocent in the first instance. Not because there is any proof 100% good, any single piece of evidence alone won’t be able to produce a guilty verdict, but even if the pieces of circumstantial evidence are not a decisive proof taken one by one, they are too many, and too systematic. There is practically no way to come out from such a web of physical indicators, the defendants are implicated.

Yummi is not alone in this view. Most tellingly, Amanda Knox and her family are said to have been warned by her Italian lawyers, Luciano Ghirga and Carlo Della Vedova,  to expect a guilty verdict. And Knox’s family are now more than ever talking about an eventual appeal in the US media. These are remarks by the mother of Amanda Knox. 

There’s been many people that have told us that’s not how it works. Just because you’re innocent, you’re not found innocent, at least…  at this first level, and that normally true justice doesn’t happen until the appeals process.

By ‘“first level” Edda Mellas means the current trial. In effect, she seems to believe that, in the Italian process, almost everyone is found guilty in the main trial, and the real business and the acquitting is done in the appeal. This happy talk about the appeal has been quite common from the Knox camp of late. This suggests that the supporters of Knox and Sollecito are expecting a guilty verdict and are now hanging all their hopes on that appeal.

Is it in fact correct that the appeals court is where the real business is done? In effect that it is almost automatic that Knox and Sollecito would be found guilty in the trial, and that then it’s almost a done deal that they will be freed on appeal?

First, it must be noted that we’ve heard similar happy talk before. Leading up to and during the early stages of the trial, the line was that Amanda will prove her innocence in the trial itself, most especially by getting up on the stand. That clearly hasn’t worked out that way, and as the trial is almost at an end, the supporters are turning their attention instead to characterizing the appeal process.

What is the reality of the appeal process? This is how our Italian watcher Yummi describes it:

Appeals are usually very similar to first degree trials in their overall figure. Basically it depends on what are the aims and strategies of parties in the appeal. If the outcome in the first degree is obvious, most likely it will be obvious in the appeal. Many appeals in Italy don’t take place just to overturn the first degree - i.e. the fact that a defendant is guilty often is not questioned - often they are made just to introduce minor corrections to the first sentence.

So what do the actual appeals statistics say? The statics on the success rates of appeals in Italy are in fact not good news for those convicted. 

  • 70% of appeal cases end with the confirmation of the original verdict: 25% of these with a confirmation of the sentence at the original trial, and 45% with a reduction in the penalty.
  • The other 30% of appeals cases end with 10% of them lapsing due to expiration, 8% for NDP procedural reasons and only 12% overturning the verdict.

So the reality is that only a mere 12% of all appeals result in the overturning of a guilty verdict. This seems very out of step with what Edda Mellas has been claiming. The facts of the matter in this case seem to be that (1) the returning of a guilty verdict at the end of the trial is very high, and that (2) there is a negligible chance of that guilty verdict being overturned on appeal.

The reality therefore is that things are not looking at all good for the defendants, Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito.

And even worse, because there are three appeals, one each, they may really tear apart from one another now and on appeal go their different ways - as, seemingly, will Rudy Guede.

We are now coming to the end of what has been a very long sad tough process indeed, most of all for the family and friends of Meredith Kercher. I can only hope, that whatever the outcome, they are given the truth and repentance they seek. And that they finally are able to find some closure and truly lay their daughter to rest in peace.

The Kercher family on the second sad anniversary of Meredith’s death a few days ago expressed their heartfelt desire that eventually, finally, soon, they and the world can stop remembering Meredith as a victim and news item, and instead as a whole person - the truly wonderful person that she was.

It is my reading here that we will reach that point early in December of this year, in that Perugia courtroom.


It seems to me that once the appeal is filed, the case will receive much more media attention in the United States; not that that will sway the final decision in Italy, but attention will be drawn to the dramatic events of the case.  Hopefully, there will be a groundswell of opinion that A and R are indeed guilty.

Posted by gramjan on 11/16/09 at 09:30 PM | #

Hi Gramjan.  The really big deal - the real debate-closer - as Yummi mentions in one of Michael’s quotes is the judges’ huge and ultra-detailed report on their findings which is due in the case of this trial early next march.

There is no equivalent of this in UK or US law and it is one reason whi convictions are so high and successful appeals so low in Italy. Amazingly US media appear almost entirely ignorant of the fact of this report remorselessly headed down the pike.

In the case of the Micheli report we got it in Italian from Rome within minutes of its release, and within days we had it mostly translated, and then it was written up by Brian in various powerful posts.

The Micheli report explains in great detail (1) why Guede was found guilty, and (2) why Knox and Sollecito were sent off to trial. Not one US media outlet - not one! - translated the Micheli report or quoted it or perhaps even knew of its existence.

If they had done their homework here, the debates of the past 10 months might have been VERY different.  CNN and CBS in particular - by far the most legally inaccurate and xenophobic of the US networks on this case - could never have propagated the wildly wrong claims they keep snowing their audiences with.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 11/16/09 at 10:01 PM | #

There are many news releases today in the Italian press about the impending appearances of all three accused: Guede will be before the Appeal Court on Wednesday and Sollecito and Knox will be in court for the final days leading up to sentencing, beginning on Friday.

Here are two translated reports, the first from trg media and the second from the big daily, La Repubblica.


The Appeal Court of the Assizes of Perugia has fixed November 18th for the trial of Rudy Hermann Guede, the young Ivorian condemned to 30 years prison by fast-track trial for the murder of the English student Meredith Kercher.

One of his lawyers, Walter Biscotti, talked about this to journalists this morning. Lawyer Biscotti explained, “We are working together with Rudy on all the details of our appeal. There will probably be more of our memorials lodged which will be the subject of the discussion by the Court of the Assizes Appeal.”

“Rudy will make his declarations, but he will not have to add to or detract anything from the truth that he has already told,” the lawyer said further. “That uncomfortable truth in which he finds himself and which he will correctly repeat before the judges.”

MURDER OF MEREDITH: Guede’s appeal starts Wednesday, then Knox and Sollecito.

The three young people accused of the murder of MK, which took place in Perugia on the night between the 1st and 2nd of November, 2007, are going back into court this week. The second stage of the trial of Rudy Guede will begin before the Appeal Court of the Assizes of Perugia on Wednesday.

The Ivorian was condemned to 30 years in prison in a fast-track trial by the GUP of the capital of Umbria. This sentence has been appealed against by his defence lawyers, Walter Biscotti and Nicodemo Gentile.

On the other hand, on Friday the first stage trial of Raffaele Sollecito and Amanda Knox will continue. The two ex-lovers will appear before the Court of the Assizes in Perugia. On the agenda is the summing up of PM Mignini and PM Manuela Comodi. The magistrates may plead their requests for a guilty verdict on Saturday.

Then next week the lawyers for the civil parties will take the stand and after that the defence parties. The verdict is expected in the first days of December. Guede, Sollecito and Knox have always claimed to be uninvolved in the murder of Meredith Kercher.

Posted by Tiziano on 11/16/09 at 11:46 PM | #

Let’s not forget that Amanda (and Amanda only) risks an additional number of years for falsely accusing Patrick Diya Lumumba of the crime.

Unlike other countries, such false accusation which is called “Calumny” in the Italian Penal Code (art 368) is a crime which carries a prison sentence, and not just a civil matter which will result just in the payment of damages.

At a minimum it will be 4 to 12 years (if not 6 to 20) to be added to Amanda’s sentence. She’s not getting out of that one, even in the unlikely event she’s found not guilty of the murder. Here is a quick translation of Art. 368 of the Italian Penal Code:

Art. 368 Calumny.

Whoever, […] falsely accuses […] to the Law Enforcement Authority […] anybody that he/she knows innocent, or, stages against another person traces of a crime, is punished with imprisonment from a minimum of two to a maximum of six years. The punishment is increased if one falsely accuses anybody of a crime for which the law establishes a prison term of, in the maximum, ten years or a harsher punishment.

The imprisonment is between four to twelve years, if from such crime (for which the innocent is accused) derives a prison term above five years; and it is between six and twenty years if, from such crime, derives a prison term of life in prison. […]

Posted by Commissario Montalbano on 11/16/09 at 11:46 PM | #

excuse my ignorance, but i’m just realizing that if found guilty, amanda will be imprisoned in italy, correct?

Posted by gramjan on 11/17/09 at 07:44 AM | #

Gramjan, she will indeed, because she is being tried by an Italian court, which will sentence her if she is found guilty.

If there is a prisoner exchange agreement between Italy and the USA, it is usual under such agreements that a specific part of the term of imprisonment be served before the prisoner is able to apply under the exchange agreement.

I would be very surprised if she would even want to apply for such an exchange, as she is most likely to enjoy more privileges in Italy.

Posted by Tiziano on 11/17/09 at 10:54 AM | #

Thank you for another clear and detailed post! This sets out the situation very clearly.

I imagine Amanda will face a completely separate trial for the charges against her of falsely accusing Mr Lumumba?

Posted by lilly on 11/17/09 at 11:33 AM | #

Hi Lilly. No, this is the trial for that too.

There was testimony from Amanda (in fact that is why she got on the stand) and from Patrick and all of the interrogators that were present, including a very senior officer from Rome who was observing from behind a one-way mirror.

Her problem seems to be she didn’t just claim it only the once and then recant - she stuck with it through to where all credibility was gone and Patrick was being released.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 11/17/09 at 03:20 PM | #

Translated from La Nazione (Umbria section)


Rudy writes to the judges “Open door trial”

Rudy Guede, who will appear before the Appeal Court of the Assizes of Perugia after being condemned to thirty years in prison in a fast track trial, has written to the judges in his own hand asking for his appeal to take place in open court.

Perugia November 17th, 2009

“I would like everyone to hear how things went,” the Ivorian affirmed, addressing himself to the judges.  The fast track trial rules are that the trial takes place in closed court, that is only in the presence of the parties involved. Guede has however requested that the media should be present at the hearings and for this reason he has sent a letter to the president of the court who will consider it at the opening of the hearing.

The Ivorian, who has always claimed to have had nothing to do with the murder, intends among other things to make a voluntary statement during the appeal hearing.  Guede, born in Agou on the Ivory Coast on December 26th, 1986, as a child came to Perugia, where he was put in the care of a local family for a period of time.  After the murder of Meredith Kercher he was arrested on November 20th, 2007 in Germany, where he had fled.

The young man admitted to the investigators that that he had been at the house where the crime took place on the evening of November 1st two years ago when the student was killed, but not to having taken part in the crime.  In fact he claimed to have been in the bathroom when Meredith Kercher was fatally knifed and to have tried to help her.  On the basis of the evidence gathered by the Perugia Flying Squad, co-ordinated by the Public Prosecutions Office of the Umbrian capital, the GUP Paolo Micheli sentenced him to thirty years in prison at a fast track trial, which allows a reduction of one third of the penalty. At the moment Guede is imprisoned at Viterbo.

The venue tomorrow in Perugia for the second stage of Rudy Guede’s trial will be the Hall of Murals, not the one normally used by the Appeals Court.  This is the same place where the hearings re Raffaele Sollecito and Amanda Knox took place, for whom the summing up of the prosecutors is on the agenda for Friday.

Posted by Tiziano on 11/18/09 at 01:33 AM | #

Peter, thanks for your response.

I had read some of Amanda’s testimony on another site regarding her accusations of Mr Lumumba, and found her story very confused and odd, but what surprised me most was that she did not apologize and express to the court any understanding of what she had done to damage an innocent man. I thought that rather damaged her “police brutality” line as if she had made the accusation under that sort of pressure, surely her chance had come in court, to say how truly sorry she felt for Mr Lumumba’s experience.

So I wondered whether there would be another trial to address her accusations and whether that was when she would take the chance to express her remorse. But now I think she just doesn’t have any.

Posted by lilly on 11/18/09 at 07:59 AM | #

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