Home » Wrongful Convictions » Amanda Knox, Mignini, witchcraft and tunnel vision – a postscript

Amanda Knox, Mignini, witchcraft and tunnel vision – a postscript

This is what happens when police get tunnel vision. They shoot the arrow, then they draw the target. They lose their objectivity and that’s why we have juries.

– Raymond Kelly
I would like to return to the subject of Mignini’s behaviour and thought processes. Many religious fundamentalists, both Roman Catholic and Protestant still believe in the reality of evil and witchcraft. This means that someone like Mignini has no problem seeing the work of the Devil in a crime scene and will easily conjure up an unlikely scenario, untroubled by inconveniences like evidence and criminal profiling. It also means that, with God on his side, it may be easy for him to believe that the ends justify the means. After all, someone who rises to the top, perhaps because of a ‘superior’ ability to sniff out criminals, will not expect anyone to doubt his judgement. Thus have magistrates, judges and civic leaders behaved though the ages.
Witches are often outsiders
Witches are often outsiders, not known to the local community and unable to easily call on character references. On the other hand, local criminals and ne’er do wells are part of the townscape. Their parents and teachers will be known. Their descent into criminality will have been followed with a furrowed brow and a ‘tut, tut’, but they are locals, a little bit out of line, but part of the scene and “surely not evil”?
Will Mignini have seen the protagonists this way? Rudy Guede was a local boy, known to the police, but helped by a businessman who had tried to offer him opportunities. Knox and Sollecito were outsiders – Knox was not even Italian – that would immediately cause questions to be asked.
Little has been published about Mignini’s personality and motivation so who can we turn to for illumination? Some journalists made it their mission to be close to the prosecution in order to be first with the latest tit-bit about the murder. This suited Mignini well because he knew that anything he said would be all over Italy within hours, to say nothing of Britain and the United States. Among the closest were Barbie Nadeau and John Follain, both of whom went on to write books on the case, though in truth, Nadeau’s was little more than a pamphlet. In addition, Luciano Garafano, an Italian forensics expert collaborated on, “Darkness Descending” with Paul Russell and Graham Johnson. Garafano had an inside track to the prosecution and made the most of it.
To start with the Russell/Johnson book:
“Prosecutor Giuliano Mignini knew more about occult festivals than perhaps any other Magistrate in Italy. More than was probably healthy, he thought, smiling. On his desk, files from the Monster of Florence case lay next to his pipe. The unspeakable horrors within their pages – an unholy alliance of Freemasonry, black magic and sacrificial serial murder – hidden in their mundane manila bindings.” (To date, no link between black magic and the Monster of Florence case has been proved.)
Rudy Guede was a local boy
Sunday Times journalist John Follain, followed the case for four years and wrote the most comprehensive account from a guilt perspective. He was close to Mignini throughout and could almost be considered unofficial scribe for the prosecution.
Follain wrote in the Sunday Times on 9 October 2008:
“At a committal hearing in the Umbrian town of Perugia, prosecutors Giuliano Mignini and Manuela Comodi gave their most detailed reconstruction of the sexual attack on and murder of Kercher, 21, on the night of November 1 last year. . .
The prosecutors “laid out a scenario like from some crime novel”, Sollecito’s lawyer Luca Maori said. He added that they “alleged it was some kind of satanic rite, with Amanda allegedly first touching Meredith with the point of a knife, then slitting her throat, while Sollecito held her by the shoulders, from behind, Guede held her by an arm” and tried to sexually assault her.”
This confirms Mignini’s satanic obsession, but what did he think about local boy Rudy? Was he also possessed, or was he just a sad unfortunate being led astray, in the wrong place at the wrong time? Follain again:
“And yet Mignini felt sorry for Rudy, whom he saw as the most helpless of the three accused. Amanda and Raffaele had their families behind them. Rudy had no one. He’d been abandoned by his family and had a wretched life. The prosecutor hoped that Rudy would one day come clean and tell the whole truth, but so far he’d done nothing to help himself by continually changing his story.”
Although the case against Rudy was a slam-dunk and his slippery evasions were unable to persuade anyone that his presence at the murder scene had been an innocent accident, nevertheless Follain records:
“But the prosecutor did have something positive to say about Rudy: ‘He at least showed a flicker of pity. He stayed on, he tried to stop the blood from Mez’s wounds and he didn’t slander anyone,’ Mignini said.”
Tunnel vision derails the investigation
It seems that Mignini’s certainty that Amanda and Raffaele were agents of Satan blinded him to the true role of Rudy Guede right to the end. Most independent observers find this bias shocking.
His obsession with witchcraft led to tunnel vision, a phenomenon tackled in an excellent report from the Department of Justice, Canada. Its introduction states:
Tunnel vision has been defined as “the single minded and overly narrow focus on an investigation or prosecutorial theory so as to unreasonably colour the evaluation of information received and one’s conduct in response to the information.”  It has been identified as a leading cause of wrongful convictions in Canada and elsewhere. In the words of University of Wisconsin Law School professor Keith A. Findley, “Tunnel vision is the product of a variety of cognitive distortions, such as confirmation bias, hindsight bias, and outcome bias, which can impede accuracy in what we perceive and in how we interpret what we perceive”.
Perhaps the Canadian report could be translated into Italian and offered to the Perugian Authorities as they begin to clean up the law enforcement operation of their town.
Nigel Scott – August 2012
The Department of Justice, Canada, Report of the Working Group on the Prevention of Miscarriages of Justice” can be found here: