The Republic of Italy continues its lengthy quest to resolve the case of the tragic death of Meredith Kercher. Since the discovery of the victim’s body almost six years ago, the Italian legal system has proceeded through a complex series of motions, hearings and trials intended to assign blame and impose punishment for the crime.
After an initial conviction in 2009, Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were acquitted of the murder in a 2011 appeal. In March of this year, the Supreme Court of Italy annulled that decision and called for another trial. The senior judges have ordered the Court of Assise in Florence to conduct a comprehensive review and resolution of the evidence in a new appeal beginning this September.
It was a welcome relief to learn the next trial will get off the ground only two months from now. With a backlog of twenty years and nine million cases in their legal system, Italian judges apparently are giving this case top priority, and understandably so. It has been a major international media event for over five years, drawing the scrutiny of millions of observers. A professional reexamination of the evidence may result in some semblance of closure for all concerned.
The new trial will not be the final resolution, however; it will be only the next step in an ongoing process. If the defendants are found guilty, they will appeal the decision, again to the Supreme Court. If they are acquitted, the prosecution will appeal, as is allowed in the Italian system. If the Supreme Court upholds the opinion of the appeals court, that will end it. If their decisions differ, another trial will ensue. Thus, the actions may continue for many more years, until a future Supreme Court and a future Court of Assise see eye to eye.
The judges who make the final decision will be the ones who will be noted by history, for better or for worse. The choice presented to them will be whether they want to accept reality or stand in opposition to it, as two courts have done already.
The factual questions of this case have been settled. Knox and Sollecito had nothing to do with the crime. There were no signs of them at the crime scene; they had alibis; they were brutally interrogated without lawyers. The so-called evidence against them is laughable — contrived after the arrests, possibly planted, and not able to stand up to legal or scientific examinations, of which there have been many.
The once-raging online debates have quieted from argument to commentary. Tabloid news reports of the case have given way to thoughtful journalistic analysis. Book reviewers and TV talk show hosts compete for access to Sollecito and Knox following the publishing of their memoirs. Worldwide majority opinion supports the case for innocence. Very few media commentators have the nerve to claim guilt anymore.
Obviously, courts are required to base their decisions on laws, not on what the public thinks. However, this case may be unique in its ties to international media and media consumers. Early on, the police and the prosecution acknowledged the potential role of the press by allowing reporters almost unlimited access to crime scene photographs and information about the case, and then leaking Knox’s private prison diary to a journalist who subsequently published it. In Italy, jury members and judges are not discouraged from absorbing media views of an open legal case.
The defendants’ families and supporters appealed to the news media as well, for the sake of publicity and advocacy. As a result, financial donors, independent scientists and outside legal experts who learned about the case through the media contacted the families and provided assistance to the defense.
The chief prosecutor himself eventually realized the media could be an enemy as well as an ally. When he was losing ground at the end of the first appeal, he told the jurors, “The trial must be held here, in this courtroom. This lobbying, this media and political circus, this heavy interference, forget all of it.” Both sides, then, agree: the outcome of the case is informed by popular opinion.
So. How will this all turn out?
In an ideal world, Florence’s Court of Assise will find the defendants not guilty, and then the Supreme Court will affirm that decision. If they are efficient, they may be able to wrap this up by 2017, or after a total of ten years since the murder. That will beat the French, who took twelve years to resolve the Dreyfus Affair, a case that bears many similarities to this one.
In the real world, not even an ideal one, it is inevitable that the defendants, Knox and Sollecito, in the long run will be known as innocent, regardless of the court’s final ruling. If the judges of the Italian Supreme Court insist on pursuing claims of guilt, they will be proven wrong, whether it takes another ten years, twelve or twenty. That is an inescapable fact.
Another fact is that if Amanda Knox is found guilty again, the United States will not extradite her to Italy. Forget about it; give it up — it’s not going to happen. Likewise for Raffaele Sollecito. He has friends, support and options. Nobody is going back to prison. They just aren’t.
Some police officers, lawyers and judges made some mistakes. It happens. Don’t drag this out by pretending otherwise. Cut your losses. Take the high road.
The Italian courts’ numerous legal actions and show trials in this case have long since outlived their allotted fifteen minutes of fame. Everyone has been looking at the twin towns of Tedious and Tiresome in the rear-view mirror for quite some time now. We are rapidly approaching the backwater truck stop of Crashing Bore.
The people of Italy may be enjoying the temporary media coverage, but in the current economy they should not tolerate footing the tax bills for these ego-fed performances. It is well past time to tie up the loose ends of this scandal and move on to the next.
Avanti, Italia. Git ‘er done.