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The Tragedy of Meredith Kercher

“We make our fervent pleas for the high road of justice, and then we tread unflinchingly the low road of injustice.  This strange dichotomy, this agonising gulf between the ought and the is, represents that tragic theme of man’s earthly pilgrimage.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

The worst fate that can befall anyone is to be violently and senselessly murdered.  This was what happened to Meredith Kercher, the English student from Croydon who was studying in Perugia, Italy and had the misfortune to return home and disturb burglar Rudy Guede.  Her body was discovered on November 2nd 2007 after fellow student and house mate Amanda Knox had raised the alarm.

If you are the father, mother, sister or brother of a murder victim like Meredith Kercher, you will have suffered what may be the second worst fate that can befall anyone.  Someone you love is dead and you are left behind with the pain, anger and anguish.  All you have is memories.  A devastating tragedy like this is hard to get over.  Some people never recover.  It will haunt the rest of their lives.

What is the minimum requirement for these family members, who are also secondary victims of an awful crime?  They will need the love and support of friends and relations.  They may need counselling.  And they will have a hope and an expectation that the authorities – the police and prosecution services – will operate efficiently, sensitively and successfully.  The murderer should be caught, charged, found guilty in an honest judicial process and punished.  This will not make the pain go away, but it may provide a sense of closure.  A horrible chapter will have ended and there will be an opportunity to plan for the future, sure in the knowledge that justice has been done and has been seen to be done.

A competent investigation never happened

Unfortunately for the Kercher family, the authorities in Perugia failed to deliver on their obligations.  They were successful in part – they caught, prosecuted and imprisoned Meredith’s lone killer, Rudy Guede, but they botched the investigation horribly and have confused and bewildered the victim’s family by arresting and prosecuting innocent people in addition to the guilty Guede.

Within four days of the discovery of Meredith’s body, they had arrested three people and declared ‘case closed’.  The people they arrested were Amanda Knox, Raffaele Sollecito and Patrick Lumumba.  None of these people had anything to do with Meredith’s murder and no credible evidence has ever emerged to implicate them.  Lumumba was released within two weeks when his alibi was confirmed.  The killer, Rudy Guede was identified and caught.

Guede’s guilt was proved by real police work.  His DNA was in Meredith’s room and even in her body.  His palmprint was found in her blood on her pillow.  His shoeprints were in her room also printed in her blood.  A semen stain on her pillow was probably his, though inexplicably was not tested, despite requests from Knox and Sollecito’s lawyers.  Guede admitted being at the crime scene – he could do nothing else.  He tried to use the ‘SODDIT’ defence – “I was there but Some Other Dude Did It”.  There was no evidence of any other dude apart from in Guede’s changing testimony and in the unreliable ramblings of a neighbour who claimed to have heard noises but never saw anyone at all.

So far, so bad

By this time the Kercher family, acting on advice from British consular officials, had hired an Italian lawyer to represent them in what would become a civil action against Knox and Sollecito, arranged to run alongside the criminal prosecution.  The lawyer they hired, Francesco Maresca, made it his job to dovetail his operation with that of the state prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini.  He embraced and enhanced every action by the prosecution against the innocent Knox and Sollecito and became the main conduit of evidence about the case to the Kercher family.  From this point on, they would believe that they had privileged access to reliable and sometimes confidential information.

Nothing could have been further from the truth.  What the Kerchers’ employment of Maresca actually did was insulate them from impartial and conflicting evidence that might have caused them to question their confirmation bias assisted beliefs.  Exculpatory evidence and the critical dismantling of the evidence they had been given, was denied them.

Should they have looked beyond what they were told by the prosecution and their lawyer?  It is hard to argue for this.  They had a legitimate expectation, you could almost say a right, to be told the truth.  Meredith had been murdered.  The least they should have expected was that the Italian authorities would mount a competent and honest investigation.  It cannot be the Kerchers’ fault that this never happened and it cannot be the Kerchers’ fault that they were never told that there was no credible case against Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito.  For whatever reason, the responsibility for this remains in Italy.

Why and how were Amanda Knox, Raffaele Sollecito and Patrick Lumumba arrested?  Books have been written about this.  The most comprehensive overview is probably Candace Dempsey’s ‘Murder in Italy’ and the Injustice in Perugia website also has the details.  The essence was this:  As soon as Meredith’s body was discovered, the authorities derailed the investigation, either accidentally or deliberately.  Rudy Guede’s break-in was called a ‘faked’ break-in and was never ascribed to him.  Knox and Sollecito’s phones were tapped and they were interviewed almost continuously until the evening of November 5th when they were ‘tag team’ interrogated by experts from Rome who succeeded in securing misleading statements that led to their joint arrests.  Lumumba was also arrested because the interrogators, either innocently or maliciously, chose to misinterpret a harmless message on Knox’s phone.  Lumumba’s alibi could have been checked without arresting him.  Little or no attempt was made to search his bar or his home for evidence, probably because the police realised immediately that they had arrested the wrong person.

A judicial process was derailed

Once Knox and Sollecito were incarcerated, the authorities commenced a systematic campaign to prejudice any future jury and judicial process by fabricating and misrepresenting evidence against them and redrawing their personalities to make them appear to be likely murderers.  The media, particularly in Italy and the UK was easily persuaded to assist with this.  As soon as the lie was out, a bewildering array of internet poseurs joined the fray.  Many of them continue to post and repost malicious falsehoods about two innocent people.  A website was set up, ostensibly to honour Meredith, but in reality, to host a vicious defamation campaign against Knox, Sollecito and their families and supporters.

Since then, many independent experts have studied the prosecution case and have demolished every aspect of it.  Top FBI profiler John Douglas stated unequivocally that Knox and Sollecito did not have the background that would have made them likely killers and their appeal trial in 2011, supervised by Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellmann declared them ‘not guilty’, ‘for not having committed the crime’ – in Italian law, a step beyond simply ‘case unproved for lack of evidence’.  Having ordering a review of forensic testing and requiring unconvincing witnesses to be cross examined again, Hellmann had no doubt of Knox and Sollecito’s innocence and has restated this view since.

Sadly, all this has bypassed the Kercher family, who remain convinced that Knox and Sollecito were involved in Meredith’s murder.  In March 2013, the Italian Supreme Court weighed in, setting aside the Hellmann acquittal and ordering another appeal trial.  The Kercher family, represented by their lawyer Maresca are civil parties in this trial, alongside the state, as in earlier trials.  Thus they continue to pursue two innocent people and the lengthy Italian trial process, akin to double jeopardy, extends the agony of three families.  It is becoming hard to see how it can ever come to an end.

Another acquittal will doubtless be appealed by the prosecution again and another trial could be ordered until a verdict is delivered that satisfies the Supreme Court.  A conviction will certainly be appealed by the defence, and if confirmed, will result in the case being further appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, where it will take its place in a queue of mistrials, many from Italy, that require correction.

Three families remain in limbo

Through all these months and years, three families, the Kerchers, the Knoxes and the Sollecitos remain in limbo.  The Kerchers have suffered their biggest blow, Meredith was murdered.  For them, nothing can be worse than that.  Meanwhile, two innocent defendants and their families must continue to suffer as well.  For them perhaps the emotional toll is less, but it is nevertheless very real and it is ceaseless.

The last word should go to Amanda Knox, from her interview with journalist Bob Graham, as reported in the New York Daily News on September 15th 2013.  She, like many of us, wants to know how and why Meredith’s lone killer Rudy Guede was treated leniently and may be out on parole next year, while she and her former boyfriend are still being pursued though the courts when they are innocent and all the so-called evidence against them has been disproved long ago.

“There’s a prison of nonclosure because the way that the investigators and prosecutors conducted themselves was wrong and has never been brought to light or acknowledged.  I want them held accountable for the mistakes they made.  I want it understood what they have done in this case, not just because of how it affected me but because unless they are held accountable, they can do this again and again and again. . . . I think that there might be a connection between him (Guede) and the police or the investigators in Perugia. I think he got a deal with the prosecution for a lesser sentence against him by ‘informing against Raffaele and I.’ I think that he got off too easy.  I think it would be better for everyone if we understood why and how.”

One day the Kercher family may ask these questions as well.  That day cannot come soon enough.  Only then will they be able to begin to walk the long road towards understanding what really happened to Meredith.  Only then will three families have a chance to come together and act against the people who took the tragedy of Meredith Kercher’s murder and compounded it.  Meredith deserves nothing less than true justice.  One day it will come to pass.


Tag: Meredith Kercher; Amanda Knox; Raffaele Sollecito