The double tragedy of the Kercher family

This has been a tough article to write. There was a murder that need not have happened. The police may have been at fault. They had the chance to keep the culprit in custody for other crimes, before he killed. They failed. Then two innocent people were accused. The media supported a witch hunt. The victim’s family was cruelly misled. So it goes.

The family of Meredith Kercher has suffered a double tragedy. First they lost Meredith, who was murdered by burglar Rudy Guede on November 1st 2007. Then they lost seven and a half years of their lives, shackled to a failed justice system that pursued two innocent people in and out of prison, in addition to successfully prosecuting and convicting Guede.

Meredith was twenty years old when she was killed in Perugia, Italy. She grew up near Croydon, England, was a promising Erasmus student and she was living her dream. She was talented, vivacious, friendly and kind.

First, get a lawyer

Her mother, father and sister travelled to Italy to meet with officials and formally identify her body. They arrived in Florence on November 5th 2007 and were told to hire a lawyer. According to journalist John Follain, the advice came from UK deputy consul Jane Ireland. This might seem strange as in England it is normally the state that prosecutes and there is no requirement for the families of victims to appoint legal advisers.

The Kerchers were told that in Italy it is common for the victim’s family to simultaneously sue the accused for damages, alongside the criminal trial. This gives the family access to the files of the case and through their lawyer the right to be briefed by the state prosecutor. It also allows the family’s lawyer to take an active role and to question witnesses in court. They hired Francesco Maresca. Ironically, the Kerchers lawyered up before Amanda Knox did.

This strategy assumes that the accused is the perpetrator – applying a presumption of guilt before the trial begins. The Kerchers were entering a Faustian pact. It would tie them to the prosecution’s theories and strategies whether they were right or wrong and whether or not there was credible evidence to back them up. From now on, the prosecution’s suspects would be their suspects.

The first question marks about the prosecution

The Kerchers were not told that the man in charge of the prosecution, Giuliano Mignini, was a controversial figure who was himself being investigated for abuse of office and illegal wire tapping in his role as investigator/prosecutor of the Monster of Florence serial killer case.

Mignini’s role in the Kercher case was to prove even more controversial than in the Monster of Florence one. The decisions he took at the start were to derail the quest for justice for Meredith for over seven years until the Italian Supreme Court finally and definitively acquitted Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito in March 2015.

The Kerchers hired Maresca before any arrests had been made, though they did not have to wait long. They had barely been in Italy a day when they were told that three people were in custody and that the police had cast iron evidence against them.

The people who had been arrested were Amanda Knox, Raffaele Sollecito and Patrick Lumumba, though it soon became clear that the police were wrong. Lumumba had an alibi and had to be released. Knox and Sollecito were not so lucky, their alibi was each other. Their computers provided evidence of activity at Sollecito’s apartment at critical times on the evening of November 1st but they were ‘accidentally’ destroyed by the police, leaving the two students unable to corroborate their claims.

The real killer is identified

Meanwhile, DNA and fingerprint evidence, when processed, pointed to a fourth suspect, Ivorian born Rudy Guede, who had fled to Germany. He was Meredith’s killer. No evidence was found that placed anyone apart from Guede and Meredith in her room. At the start of the investigation, none of this mattered. The prosecution maintained that Knox and Sollecito were guilty and they convinced the Kerchers that they were right. Journalists in Perugia were briefed by police and officials with a mixture of facts, innuendo and flat out misinformation and much of it stuck.

Maresca fought the case vigorously on the Kerchers behalf. He has acted for them continuously throughout.

The Kercher Family has been in a bubble – a kind of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’

Try to put yourself in the position of the Kercher family on November 5th 2007, impossible though this is. You have flown to Italy because your daughter or sister has just been brutally murdered. You are in a state of shock and disbelief. Sympathetic people greet you; consular officials, an investigating magistrate and police officers. They are your friends. They are the people who will help you make sense of this tragedy. They are on your side. They stress to you that they are just as keen as you are to find justice for Meredith.

Almost immediately they tell you that they have solved the crime and arrested her killers. The case is closed. The rest is only a matter of time.

Now you still have to struggle to overcome your grief and hold your family together, but there is one thing you can count on, justice will be done. You trust the prosecutor and your new lawyer. Your future – the only one you can see now – is inextricably bound up with these people. It is not an exaggeration to say you have entered a kind of Stockholm syndrome. From now on, everything you hear or read about the case will be filtered through these people. Anything else is too painful to contemplate.

The family of a murder victim should be able to expect that the police and prosecuting authorities will carry out an honest, rigorous and efficient investigation and will identify and arrest the murderer, or murderers and no one else. For the family of Meredith Kercher, this did not happen. Innocent people were trapped as well.

The prosecution is obsessed with the innocent, not the guilty

But the injustice that transpired was not simple. The culprit was identified, arrested, charged and convicted. All reliable evidence points to Rudy Guede alone. That should have been the real ‘case closed’. But prosecutor Mignini and his team were also determined to convict Knox and Sollecito although there was no legitimate reasonable suspicion (aka probable cause) and there was never any credible evidence against them. There was an immediate presumption of guilt, fabrication of evidence and a stubborn denial of discovery to the defence.

From the moment on November 2nd that the burglary was declared ‘faked’ (an untested assumption), the police decided that one of the keyholders, other than Meredith, must have opened the door and admitted the murderer. The two Italian residents were out of town (and had lawyers) so Knox became the de facto suspect from the start. A few days later a twelve man interrogation team from Rome arrived to force an incriminating statement from her. This was not hard to do. The police team was used to breaking Mafia suspects. The rest is history and ‘evidence’ (since discredited) was conveniently manufactured to back up the prosecution case.

What was the reality of the case?

Author Douglas Preston, another victim of Mignini, summarises it thus: ‘Knox was framed by powerful Italian authorities intent on covering up their own mistakes’. Another commentator remarked that the arrests and trials should never have taken place because there was no legitimate reasonable suspicion (aka probable cause) and there was never any credible evidence. Numerous experts in law, science and criminal investigation have shredded the bogus case, but the Kercher family remained wedded to it and continued to trust their advisers.

In 2011 at Knox and Sollecito’s appeal, Judge Hellmann acquitted them in the strongest possible terms. This might have been a good time for those close to the Kercher family to take a step back, change their advice and admit to them that they had been misled. They could then have reached out to the wronged but acquitted defendants. Sadly this was not to be. The acquittal was appealed and sixteen months later, the Italian Supreme Court, in a capricious ruling, set it aside and ordered a new trial. In doing so it added a further two avoidable years to the proceedings.

‘Dignified silence’

The media reports that the Kerchers have maintained a ‘dignified silence’ while Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito have been in prison or facing further trials. This implies that they watched from afar and played no part. This is not exactly what happened. Encouraged by their supporters, members of the family have written letters and issued statements at critical times. These opportunistic interventions were designed to bring extra pressure to bear on the judges and lay jurors. Meredith’s father John Kercher wrote newspaper articles and a book, ‘Meredith’, a tribute to his daughter that repeated the prosecution case, including its disproved and misleading elements.

The Kercher family was and remains in a state of shock. That is understandable and they should not be criticised. Few people have ever been in their situation. Those of us who are more fortunate cannot know how we would act if we were in their shoes.

The trolls

The Kerchers have a reason to be frozen in their mistaken beliefs but the same cannot be said for the journalists who feasted on the case. They are not personally invested in it and they should have allowed Knox and Sollecito a presumption of innocence and subjected the prosecution case to critical scrutiny. If they had, they might have exercised a positive influence on public opinion and could have affected some of the boneheads in the Italian judiciary who prioritised their broken judicial system ahead of truth and justice for too long.

In turn, they encouraged the army of trolls who have plagued the case with their websites and chat rooms, ‘all for Meredith’ while conspicuously failing to contribute to any of the projects launched in her memory. These monstrous ghouls inveigled their way in to the Kerchers’ world at an early stage, persuaded by the tabloid press and confirmation bias that Knox and Sollecito were guilty. They bolstered the Kerchers’ beliefs and launched a website, “True Justice for Meredith Kercher” that became the go-to place for disinformation about the case. It is still around.

Now the Kercher family had a lawyer who was pursuing two innocent defendants on their behalf in Italy while being supported by an unlikely menagerie of misfits who distributed their erroneous beliefs online. Is it any wonder that they have been unable to accept the truth and move on?

The level of deception over seven years has been breathtaking. The Wikipedia page on the murder was controlled by editors who refused to acknowledge the holes in the prosecution case. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales was unable to completely correct this. Not content, the trolls launched a ‘fake wiki’ that was even worse. Even the BBC was not immune. It consistently turned to pro guilt commentators, commissioned a highly partial documentary and funded a feature film based on a pro guilt book. The obstacles to justice that Knox and Sollecito faced were considerable.

No one else is in the Kerchers’ shoes

Just as it is impossible for any of us to know how we would have fended off twelve Italian cops, interrogating us all night in a foreign language until they got what they wanted, there is no way that we can predict how we would behave if someone close to us was murdered and we were systematically misled and betrayed by that same police force – and then the media took the side of the crooked cops. This has been the highest profile case of the internet age. There has been nothing like it before. Everything about it that could have gone wrong has gone wrong. The fallout will continue for years and some people will never admit that they got it wrong.

The future

Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito are unusual people. They have been put through a horrendous experience and have survived, not unscathed, but with humanity and grace. They are not vindictive, but they have suffered enough and should be allowed privacy and space. They never asked for any of this. There is a phrase, ‘reluctant celebrity’. That is what they are. They have defended themselves in public because they had no choice.

Meredith

Meredith Kercher is the real victim. Her family demanded answers. Now they have them. The truth is there for all to see. Rudy Guede killed Meredith, yet Amanda Knox became the prime focus for them and for the world. She is innocent and despite all that has happened, I believe she would embrace them in an instant.

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