“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.” – John F. Kennedy
In October 2012 Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito had been at liberty for one year after four years of incarceration. Their exoneration was clear but had failed to convince the army of trolls who stalk the case. They were trapped by confirmation bias and remain so. The public perception of guilt was fostered by the creation of myths, which still circulate today. I published three articles on Ground Report, listing and explaining forty myths. There are more, but I captured most of the common ones. This is the introduction. I will edit and post the myths here later.
Part one – Introduction
In other articles about the Kercher case I have explained the circumstances in which this miscarriage of justice was created and how it was sustained. There was a rush to judgement, guilt was assumed and evidence was assembled or manufactured in an attempt to implicate the innocent. Witchcraft was invoked to ‘sell’ a group sex theory; myths were created to suggest guilt and confirmation bias and schadenfreude confirmed this in the public mind. The media accepted and repeated prosecution spin, without question, until after the first guilty verdict.
The nightmare begins
The tragic murder of Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy in 2007 immediately placed the police and prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, under intense pressure. A foreign student had been killed in her own home in a city full of foreign students. Was this a single incident or the first act of a serial killer? What would the inevitable media frenzy do to the reputation of the city as a safe place for students and visitors? Catching the killer fast was an economic imperative as well as a matter of justice for Meredith and her family.
Mignini’s fears were confirmed when most of Meredith’s friends fled back to England as soon as they could. Only the American, Amanda Knox, the dead girl’s flat mate, was determined to stay to help the police find the killer and be there to comfort Meredith’s parents when they arrived to formally identify the body. Amanda was young, she was naïve and she trusted the authorities. Her humanity and decency and that of her friend Raffaele Sollecito, was to rob them of four years of their lives.
The fake, fake break-in
There were few leads. The police immediately decided that the break-in that preceded the murder had been faked and was an inside job. This error derailed the investigation and led inexorably to the framing of the two innocent students. By focusing on those nearby and arresting someone quickly, the police hoped to reassure the public and restore calm. Almost anyone would do. There would be time to uncover or fabricate the necessary incriminating evidence later. Luckily for them, the real killer – Rudy Guede – fled to Germany, so there would be no additional murders in Perugia by his hand.
It is possible; even likely, that the police knew almost immediately that Guede was the culprit. He was a local petty criminal who had already been caught and released several times in the weeks leading up to the murder. He had established a pattern of scaling walls and breaking into homes and offices through upper windows, which was exactly what had happened at Meredith’s home. Calling the break-in ‘fake’ could even have been a strategy deliberately deployed by the police to draw suspicion away from him. He was also known to carry knives – in one case a carving knife – and he stole high value items that were easy to carry and fence – money, jewellery, laptops and mobile phones. The crime had Guede’s signature all over it. It is inconceivable that the Perugia police did not suspect him immediately.
He had already been arrested and released without charge several times. Why this was allowed to happen is unclear. Was he an informer or was he stealing to order for the police? Was he being protected? Question marks remain over the relationship between Guede and the Perugian authorities, both before and after his eventual arrest.
If Guede was to be protected from arrest or from the full force of the law, the police would need an alternative perpetrator (or perpetrators) who could fit their theory that the crime was an inside job. Who was there? Two of Meredith’s flatmates were Italian trainee lawyers, who were away from the cottage at the time. They arranged their own legal representation immediately. They knew how Italian justice works and they made sure that they couldn’t be railroaded. That left Amanda Knox. She was foreign. She was young and naïve. She did not have a lawyer. She barely spoke Italian. She had been in the flat before the murder was discovered. She might have interfered with the crime scene before she knew there had been a crime. She could be manipulated. She was ideal.
Within a day of the murder, the concept of a satanic group orgy was being promoted to the media. FBI profiler John Douglas explained the approach:
“The prosecution had a theory from the beginning and continued with it – despite the facts. They discounted evidence that didn’t support their theory. Their theory was a threesome murder and they let this theory guide them. The prosecution allowed theory to rule over evidence.”
The flatmate who stayed
Amanda Knox was the flatmate who stayed. She was conveniently foreign and had no links to Perugia. If she could be charged and convicted this would draw attention away from the area, away from local police incompetence and away from any questions that might be raised about their failure to deal with Guede when they had the chance. With luck he would keep his head down and the truth about the ineptitude of the Perugian police would never surface.
By Sunday, November 4th, less than 48 hours after Meredith’s body was discovered, John Follain of the London Sunday Times was able to report:
“Police investigating the murder of Meredith Kercher, the British exchange student who had her throat cut in Italy, believe that she knew her killer and were focusing their inquiries on a “narrow” field of suspects. . . Police . . . have not ruled out the possibility that her killer was a woman.”
Mignini had briefed him. The scene was being set. The net was closing.
Knox and Sollecito were closely monitored and their phones calls were intercepted. They were called in for questioning every day to tire them out and confuse them. They were required to repeat endlessly what they were doing on the night of the murder so that minor inconsistencies in recall could be exploited. Knox barely spoke Italian so her attempts to clarify her statements would later be interpreted as changing her story. This would become significant. When phone intercepts revealed that her mother Edda Mellas was due in town, Mignini decided to strike. He arranged to have Knox and Sollecito interrogated overnight by a specialist team from Rome, tough cops whose normal job was to break Mafia suspects. They were booked for the night before Edda’s arrival.
What happened next is well known. The overnight interrogation secured a confused statement from Knox that was used as a pretext to arrest Patrick Lumumba, a bar owner for whom Knox worked part time, as well as Sollecito and Knox herself. The police claim that no recordings exist and there was no independent interpreter – just a ‘mediator’ whose job was to persuade Knox that she was suffering from amnesia. Both suspects were refused lawyers despite requesting them. This eventually led to the Italian Supreme Court ruling that Knox’s statement could not be used in the murder trial, but not before the damage was done – she remained under arrest.
Lumumba was later to sue Knox for slander even though the interrogation during which he was named had been ruled inadmissible because it was illegally obtained. It was used by Lumumba’s lawyers in his civil case which ran alongside the criminal trial so the jury heard it anyway.
A man of honour
Police attempts to persuade boyfriend Sollecito to abandon Knox failed. He was told that if he was prepared to drop his assertion that she had been with him at his flat all night, he would be released and charges against him would be dropped. He refused. He knew that they had been together through the night and he was not prepared to save his own skin by betraying his friend.
He explains in his book, ‘Honor Bound’:
“I don’t think the prosecution or police ever seriously thought of me as a murderer. They had one overriding reason to arrest me, throw me into solitary confinement, and threaten me with life imprisonment, and that was to pressure me into rolling over and testifying against Amanda. The police made that pretty clear on the night of my arrest. Stop protecting that cow, that whore, they said, or we will make your life a living hell. On this they proved true to their word”.
The price he paid for his honesty and decency was four years in prison.
At this point, Mignini and the police had almost nothing – a confused ‘vision’ from Knox – not an admission of guilt – that had been bullied out of her and was soon to be ruled inadmissible. There was no physical evidence to tie any of the suspects to the crime and there was no murder weapon. There was no evidence that any of the suspects had even been in Meredith’s room. When police asserted that a footprint in her room matched Raffaele’s shoe, his family were eventually able to prove that the print was not his – it was Guede’s.
The ‘evidence’ collecting begins
This triggered the famous expedition, some 46 days after the murder, when the police returned to the flat to retrieve the ‘incriminating’ bra clasp. Until then it had been kicked around the floor gathering dust. The press was told that Sollecito’s pocket knife was the murder weapon, but this was another example of police duplicity and was quietly forgotten. Meanwhile, a random kitchen knife had been removed from Raffaele’s apartment but it was too big to have caused Meredith’s wounds and did not fit the outline of a blade that had been left on her bedsheet. The low copy ‘DNA’ found on the blade – claimed to be Meredith’s – was eventually proved by independent experts to have been lab contamination and bread starch. In spite of this, the prosecution continues to claim that it is the murder weapon.
Guede reappeared, after being arrested in Germany. His DNA was all around Meredith’s bedroom and on her body. His role in the murder could no longer be ignored. It was obvious that he was the sole perpetrator.
The prosecution refused to accept this. It had presented a group attack scenario to the world’s media and wasn’t going to let it go. This is when the myth machine moved into top gear. For the sex game scenario to remain in play, Knox’s persona had to be modified to fit the crime. The girl next door needed to be recast as a sick, amoral, murdering pervert. Knox and Sollecito would be portrayed as heavy drug users when their only sin was occasional marijuana use. No evidence of the use of any other drug was presented in court because there was no other drug use – and they had been tested when arrested.
The project succeeded – at least for two years until conviction at the first trial – then, as more people began to recognise the monstrous conceit, it gradually disintegrated.
A lie is halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on
The myth machine began. Every opportunity was employed to misrepresent Knox to the media. Journalists from the UK and USA, as well as the Italian domestic press, were swarming all over Perugia by this time. There is no ban on pre-trial publicity in Italy so they were briefed on a regular basis, often with manufactured stories that had no basis in truth. Most of these fictions would not be used in court but they took on a life of their own on the internet and are still being repeated.
Notorious internet troll Harry Rag, also known as The Machine, compiled a list of the most obvious lies and pasted them on every available discussion board where the case was mentioned. No Kercher story lacked a Rag comment. He deserves his share of the ‘credit’ for the wrongful conviction of 2009.
There can be little doubt that the character assassination process contributed to the first guilty verdict. Knox’s character had been trashed while she was in prison and unable to defend herself.
Within days of the murder, Knox and Sollecito’s MySpace pictures were in every newspaper. The satanic group sex orgy theory was presented as fact. The Italian interior minister Giuliano Amato, weighed in at news conference:
“It’s an ugly story in which people which this girl had in her home, friends, tried to force her into relations which she didn’t want”.
The presumption of innocence was destroyed – an action that may be of interest to the European Court of Human Rights eventually.
A miscarriage of justice is predicted, two years out
London Times writer Magnus Linklater presciently commented on November 14th 2007, barely two weeks after the murder:
“How any of the three suspects so far arrested in Perugia can expect a fair trial, should a case against them ever be brought, is almost impossible to imagine. Furthermore, the clear-headed analysis of evidence has already been polluted. As each new discovery is publicised and every new theory widely aired, the public pressure for action grows, and the hand of the investigating authorities is forced. Although the judge is meant to be wholly independent, with the task of weighing the police evidence against the claims of defence counsel, even he cannot expect to remain immune to the overwrought atmosphere in which his inquiries are held. Trial by press conference is not the best means of ensuring that justice is done – but that is what we are witnessing.”
The highest profile miscarriage of justice of the twenty-first century
Linklater was righter than he could have imagined and his observation was made before Harry Rag was out of first gear. An average girl from suburban Seattle became world famous simply for being the flat mate who stayed.
Lawyers and judges and, one hopes, juries employ reason and logic to sift away smear and innuendo, leaving behind evidence and proof. These provide the rationale for the verdict. Journalists, commentators and trolls have no need of such niceties. Irrelevant gossip and manufactured rumour is precisely what drives them forward.
Justice did not prevail
It is easy to disprove that every myth that was used to poison public opinion against Knox and Sollecito. The absence of evidence made prosecution propaganda vital to securing the outcome. The stakes were high. Even ‘evidence’ presented in court turned out, on examination to be myth, either accidentally created by the authorities or wilfully misrepresented.
FBI profiler John Douglas:
“These two individuals – Amanda and Raffaele, for them to commit this horrific crime and leave the crime scene that way – it was a massacre – and then hours later, be back at the crime scene, just doesn’t fit. These were two young people who couldn’t fathom what had taken place. (It was so surreal) they thought they were going to stroll in and out of there and justice would prevail. But, it didn’t happen that way. Justice did not prevail.”
Every accused suspect has to suffer smear and innuendo. Rumours and myths are spread by the media and the internet. It may be possible to counter them in the eventual trial. One or two myths may not pose too great a problem, but forty? Who can counter that many? With the world’s press going full steam ahead from day one – Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were doomed.