I’ve sat through some big headline-making court cases in my time. Brutal murders. Harrowing rapes. Witnessing justice. In most cases, a solid prosecution stated its case and the brilliance of precise DNA evidence indisputably nailed the defendant.
Yet in the edgy abeyance of jury deliberations – when one person’s liberty is balanced by 12 men and women with the argued evidence – I often wondered about the juror’s burden; imagining how sure I would need to be, how my conscience couldn’t find room to convict if there was one single remnant of doubt.
So I’m curious to know how the six jurors in Perugia, Italy, will sleep at night after their guilty verdict on the flimsiest of evidence in the case of American student Amanda Knox – now cast as a murderer. ‘Cast’ being the operative word. For here is a girl portrayed in pre-trial media coverage as the evil American – the “Seattle She Devil” with a depraved thirst for drug-fuelled sex orgies that, one night, ended with the ritual slaying of British student Meredith Kercher.
Mythology, stereotypes or maybe American prejudices played their part in this case more than evidence did. Dramatic reconstructions based on theory and filling in the blanks then became the circumstantial evidence.
For the storyboard mapped out by Italian prosecutors depicted two male accomplices, Raffaelle Sollecito and Rudy Guede, holding Meredith by the arms whilst the ‘She Devil’ stood before her victim and plunged a knife into her throat. Blood would have spurted everywhere in this struggle. Yet there was none of Amanda’s DNA found in the bedroom; not a scintilla of forensic evidence – not a fibre, a hair, blood spot or scale of skin – that linked her to the crime scene.
Then, midway through the trial, the prosecution changed its argument for motive by dismissing the drug-fuelled sex orgy, suggesting instead that Amanda killed Meredith because she was angry with her because of comments made about personal hygiene. It was a crime committed in the blur of red mist not a sexual haze. Sorry for misleading you, ladies and gentleman of the deaf and dumb jury.
The only forensic evidence was pinned on a knife found at the home of Sollecito: one speck of Amanda’s DNA on the handle, one speck of Meredith’s on the blade. It was found 45 days after the crime, in which time Amanda had used it to cook meals. Nor was there any evidence that THIS was the blade that matched the fatal wounds.
That’s because in Italy, the legal system expects the defendant to prove their innocence. It is not for the prosecution to prove the case beyond all reasonable doubt. Guilt, then, is assumed – an assumption that was aided and abetted by hugely prejudicial Press articles. “We think your guilty. Prove that not you’re not”. It has all the fairness of a Mafia trial.
Throw in some dubious post-death behaviour and a footprint that proved nothing, and there is your cast-iron proof. Based on this evidence within the courtroom, there was only one verdict the jury could return – not guilty. Based on the trial by media, there was only one verdict that injustice could return – guilty. With 26 years in jail.
People will point to Amanda’s odd behaviour after the murder: buying lingerie the following day, being theatrically romantic with co-accused Raffaelle, and doing cart-wheels in the police station post-arrest. (Amanda says she told police she was a gymnast. The cart-wheels were a demonstration to prove it). But neither eccentricity or bizarre behaviour maketh the murderer. Let us not forget also that known drifter and drug dealer Rudy Guede had already been convicted for this same murder, together with sexual assault. And he’d told a friend, when on the run, that Amanda “was not in the house at the time of the murder”…then changed his story when arrested.
On prima facie evidence, Amanda Knox may well have had a case to answer. But it wasn’t proven. Not by a long chalk. Now, the prima facie impression suggests that a young girl is at the centre of an incredible travesty of justice that involves unsafe evidence, spurious motive and jurors contaminated by prejudicial media coverage.
The global symbol of justice – Lady Justice or Justitia – is a Roman Goddess depicted as wearing a blindfold with a sword in one hand and a set of scales in the other. She stands to mete out justice objectively, blind to anything but the evidence in court. Which is why, in Italy this weekend, Lady Justice must be hanging her head in shame.