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Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito: Back to the Beginning

Much has happened in the case of the murder of Meredith Kercher since her body was discovered on November 2, 2007, in Perugia, Italy. The latest development comes from the Italian Supreme Court, which recently annulled the not-guilty decision of the previous appellate court, and ordered a reexamination of the evidence and a new appeal trial for defendants, Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito.

A comprehensive evaluation of the case is welcome, particularly if the new judges allow themselves to study the case’s origins. Almost six years along in the process, there have been advances and retreats by both the defense and the prosecution teams. Over time, some evidence has been discarded, while some has been acquired. Without in-depth knowledge, it can be difficult to differentiate what has been added from what actually existed in the first place.

Hopefully, the new court will agree that looking only at what the case has become, without recognizing how it started, will be like trying to describe a pearl without opening the oyster.

Prosecutor Giovanni Galati, who wrote the Supreme Court appeal against the previous acquittals, complained that the appeal court (the Court of Second Instance) ignored the findings of the first trial (the Court of First Instance). The Supreme Court seems to agree with Galati. However, in 2007, more than a year before the first trial even began, there was the Matteini Report.

The Italian system requires that sitting judges affirm initial legal decisions made by magistrates such as Giuliano Mignini, who was both the lead investigator and the prosecuting attorney for the case at the very beginning. Judge Claudia Matteini was the judge in Perugia who signed off on Mignini’s arrests of Knox, Sollecito, and Knox’s employer, Patrick Lumumba.

On November 9th, 2007, three days after the suspects were first jailed, Judge Matteini released an eighteen-page written report explaining what had motivated her to approve the arrests. Parts of the report were published worldwide and gave most media consumers their first impressions of the case and the suspects. To this day the details conveyed by the report continue to define for many people the essence of the case.

Matteini’s report is primarily a narrative of what might have happened the night of the crime – as such, it is the story the world has come to know very well. It was written with great confidence, the author asserting “there are no doubts,” and speaking of “objective facts.”

The judge wrote, “It is possible to reconstruct what happened on the evening of November 1.” She went on to describe how the suspects met the victim at her home and tried to force her into sex. When the victim resisted, they cut her throat, spread blood around the crime scene and then tried to clean it up, then staged a burglary in another roommate’s bedroom to cast suspicion elsewhere.

It remains a mystery how Judge Matteini came to the conclusion that it was possible to reconstruct what happened the night of the crime. When the three suspects were taken into custody three days before she wrote the report, there existed against them only four pieces of physical evidence, none of which was from the crime scene.

Two of these pieces of evidence had come into existence only hours before the arrests, during an all-night interrogation in which the Perugia police and the prosecutor wrote two witness statements in Italian and had Knox sign them. The two statements implicated Knox and Lumumba in the crime. Other than those two statements, there was no evidence against either of those two suspects.

Authorities determined that the two statements implicating Lumumba were false when a different suspect, Rudy Guede, was apprehended for the crime two weeks later. Following the interrogations, Knox herself had repeatedly informed the police the statements against Lumumba were false, but her denials fell on deaf ears until Guede was in custody.

Lumumba figures prominently in the Matteini report, as he originally was considered the primary perpetrator of the crime. He is mentioned by name twenty-four times, not including sections that were redacted and can’t be read. Looking at the Matteini report from today’s perspective, all of the references to Lumumba’s participation in the crime must be completely disregarded. He had an alibi and was not involved.

Eventually, the two statements from Knox’s interrogation were disallowed by the Supreme Court for use in the murder trial, because Knox had signed them without the advice of counsel. They were allowed as evidence only in a “separate” trial for her alleged slander against Lumumba, one that was held concurrently with the murder trial.

The other two pieces of physical evidence supporting the arrests were Raffaele Sollecito’s pocketknife, also known as a flick knife, and his Nike shoes. In reference to those, Dr. Matteini wrote:

And it should be noted that on November 6 a pair of Nike size 42 ½ gymnastic shoes and a black flick knife 8.5cm long and 2cm wide were seized from the ownership of Sollecito Raffaele.
[…] The presence of Sollecito in Meredith’s room can be confirmed by the footprint found underneath the duvet which her body was covered with.
[…] This objective fact cannot but represent a grave indication of guilt on the part of Sollecito Raffaele which is deepened further if combined with the removal from his person of a flick knife with an 8.5cm blade, defined by the pathologist as compatible with the possible murder weapon.

Sollecito’s flick knife was, indeed, compatible with the wounds of the victim. However, when it was tested by the crime lab, it was found to have no evidence of blood or DNA, and was eliminated as a possible murder weapon. His shoes fell into the same category. As it turned out, the shoeprints at the scene matched Guede’s Nike shoes, not Sollecito’s, which had a different sole pattern.

Today we know that the judge’s report that once justified the arrests of Knox and Sollecito actually contains no evidence justifying their arrests. Patrick Lumumba was ruled out as a suspect, the interrogation statements were not allowed in the murder trial, and Sollecito’s knife and his shoes both turned out to be false leads. Most of this was known within weeks of the arrests, yet Knox and Sollecito continued to be held in preventive custody for nine months before they were formally charged with crimes, and for six months more before their first trial began in January of 2009.

Once a suspect is in jail, it is easy to build a case against him. Confirmation bias allows most people to believe that if someone has been arrested, there must be a good reason for it. Any criminal claims against the suspect feel more credible.

That is exactly what happened in this case.  All of the forensic evidence that has been claimed to exist in the case against Knox and Sollecito — the blood and DNA, the kitchen knife, the bra clasp — was tested and/or collected well after they were already in prison.

Knox and Sollecito, then, were arrested for……….what? The answer cannot be found in Judge Claudia Matteini’s motivation report — its contents have long since evaporated into thin air. We can only trust the judges of the new appellate court will seriously consider the meaning of that.