The acquittal of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito last Friday surprised everyone. The Supreme Court’s decision respected the facts of the case but most observers had become so jaundiced with the workings of Italian justice that few expected such an outcome.
What was in the minds of the judges as they deliberated for ten hours? What do we think they knew and what factors might have influenced them?
Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were innocent of the crime of murdering Meredith Kercher or of have having any involvement in her death. This is clear to anyone who has studied the case. Ten hours is more than enough. We can assume that the judges were not stupid.
The choices they faced were stark. They had been painted into a corner by their colleagues who overturned the Hellmann acquittal. The ruling of the kangaroo court of Florence, overseen by Judge Nencini, was a joke, compounded by his motivation report. He had swallowed the bogus case from Perugia wholesale and had even embellished it by inventing yet another motive and placing on the record the fact he did not understand DNA evidence. He asserted that female traces, separate from those of Meredith, were found on the bra clasp – a claim that even the incompetent Stefanoni never made.
The Rome judges must have known – and news reports last week confirmed – that the State Department was watching the case closely. The Americans might have dropped the ball in Perugia in 2007 but a lot has happened since then – the case has acquired international notoriety. Amanda’s home state senator, Maria Cantwell had spoken out publicly. We know the Rome ambassador was monitoring the situation and we can assume that the Secretary of State was well briefed. The Italian government will have been aware and doubtless this information filtered through to the judges.
The judges would also have been aware that if they signed off on Nencini and confirmed guilt the case would end up at the European Court of Human Rights. It’s true that Italy routinely gives two fingers to the European Court, but this case would have attracted rather more publicity than most. Amanda’s criminal slander case has already been lodged in Europe and the eventual ruling on this alone would have eventually pulled the rug from underneath the whole case.
Italy’s reputation in the world and its popularity with tourists had taken a dive. The Stranieri Dean, Paciullo said at the weekend (after the ruling): “Unfortunately, in recent years there has been a significant reduction in the number of students enrolled at the University for Foreigners in Perugia. And there is no doubt that this is linked to the murder of Meredith Kercher, or rather the media coverage about the city of Perugia after that tragic event”. It may be significant that this statement was not made in public before the acquittal, though there may have been discreet lobbying behind the scenes. People who critcise the judiciary openly, risk a criminal slander suit, so dissent tends to be muted.
There was no way that Amanda Knox was going to be extradited, whatever the outcome. Potentially this could have left Raffaele Sollecito as the only one in prison. This would have angered Italian public opinion that was increasingly aware that this was a badly botched case. If the court went for a compromise and referred Sollecito’s case back for another trial, but confirmed a guilty verdict for Knox, this would merely have angered America, raised the international temperature and impacted on tourism.
A decision to request extradition is a political, not a judicial one. Why put pressure on the state to request extradition when it already knew that this would be rebutted?
Rudy Guede’s guilt had been signed off years ago. The problem was that he was guilty of ‘acting with others’ and the others were named as Knox and Sollecito. His fast track process had allowed no challenge of this and Guede’s trial’s motivation report, which included the ‘judicial truth’ that Knox ‘struck the fatal blow’ had been cut and pasted into Nencini’s report for Knox. Theoretically, this should have been an insurmountable obstacle that prevented exoneration.
It is this last point that persuaded many observers that only intervention at a European level, probably years later, would dig the Italians out of this hole.
In the end, political expediency seems to have won the day. We will find out how the court squared the circle when the motivation report is published after ninety days. Local observer, blogger and campaigner Frank Sfarzo is convinced that the judges were persuaded by the arguments of the defence and the absurdities of the prosecution’s case, but this begs the question of why the court in its 2013 incarnation ruled the other way.
This farce had to end sometime. Let us be thankful that it ended in March 2015. Seven and a half years is quite long enough.