Understanding the Amanda Knox Verdict

Steve Moore outside the court building in Perugia, Italy.

Today’s guest post is by Steve Moore, retired FBI agent and Melibee’s safety and emergency consultant. Steve has spent the past year working with the Knox family to support Amanda Knox’s release from an Italian prison. (Amanda Knox was a study abroad student convicted and the found not guilty of the murder of her British roommate, Meredith Kercher, who was also studying abroad.) Steve was in the courtroom as part of the Knox support team.  He explains the verdict and reflects on why, in his opinion, this case was so unjust. (Steve is available to consult/present to organizations; Click here for more information.)

I met Amanda Knox for the first time a few weeks ago, following her release from an Italian prison after serving four years for a crime she did not commit.  I am grateful that I had not met Amanda before I got involved in the case.

Not meeting Amanda prior to my involvement in the case probably saved me from prison time myself.  Had I known her personally, I do not know if I could have waited for the agonizingly slow wheels of Italian justice to free her. Amanda, you see, turns out to be a truly spectacular person; even more intelligent than I had expected, even more empathetic than she had been described, and even more gentle than I had anticipated. More and more, the fact that she, of all people, was targeted by a malicious, psychologically-challenged rogue prosecutor raises the level of irony to almost absurd levels.  So at a time when I should have been feeling only relief and gratitude, I had to fight a seething vicarious anger at four years taken from a good person. Amanda herself seems to bear no malice, and wonders only how anybody could believe she did what prosecutor Giuliano Mignini charged her with.

The events of the month have washed over me like a tidal wave, and I have not caught up with the emotion, the reality or the impact of what took place. I do not feel that I am ready to write at length about the events in Perugia yet, but I wanted to communicate a few thoughts in the meantime.

The most beautiful part of the “Not Guilty” verdict for Amanda and Raffaele came in the way Italian law demands that a verdict be couched. In Italy, a person can be found not guilty for two reasons (and I paraphrase the language):

1.       Not guilty due to insufficient evidence. (Not guilty)
2.       Not guilty due to the fact that the person did not commit the crime. (Innocent)

The first option is a passive statement, but the second is a positive declaration of innocence, not simply lack of guilt. It says not that the prosecutors failed to meet their burden, but that the evidence proves that person charged did not commit the crime. It is not simply release, it is full exoneration. That is the verdict Amanda and Raffaele received: Not guilty because the evidence proved that they did not commit the crime.

In a recent piece in the International Herald Tribune,  New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Timothy Egan wrote, “There was no way, based on forensic evidence that was a joke by international standards and a nonexistent motive that played into medieval superstitions, to find Knox and Sollecito guilty….” The claim of the prosecutors that there was a trace of the victim’s DNA on the blade of a knife used by Amanda to cut bread was, “….nearly laughed out of court by an independent panel of [DNA] experts.” The independent experts did find something on the blade, though: Bread Starch. (Rye).  Out of nowhere.

It must be pointed out that Amanda’s exoneration did not come from an American court. The U.S. State Department (God knows) didn’t do anything to help her. The U.S. government abandoned her in a despicable, cowardly way, frankly. No, the exoneration of Amanda and Raffaele occurred in an Italian court. A court in the same Italian city in which they were first convicted by a judge who, if he is not corrupt, has not even a basic understanding of evidence and the rule of law. The kids were exonerated in the same courtroom in which the first trial was held. By a jury of Italians, not Americans. Jurors who wore sashes in the colors of the Italian flag. They were once again prosecuted by the same prosecutor (who is still appealing his own prison sentence for corruption). Only the judge was different.  And this judge demanded evidence. And this judge demanded justice. Judge Pratillo Hellmann made Italy justifiably proud.  I have been in more Federal Courtrooms in the United States than I can count. The controlled, careful and fair manner in which Judge Hellmann conducted this trial was, if anything, superior to what I have come to expect even in a U.S. federal court.

In Italian law, after a not guilty verdict, a defendant already incarcerated in prison obtains their release several hours later at the prison. Only very rarely will a judge order that a defendant be “released immediately.” On those rare occasions that this occurs, according to Italian attorneys I spoke to, it is considered a ‘slap’ at the prosecutor(s).  Judge Hellmann ordered that Amanda and Raffaele be “released immediately.” The immediate release was an obvious signal of the judge’s extreme dissatisfaction the prosecution.

Following the verdict, a crowd of over 1,000 Italians formed around the courthouse, and a cheer went up when Amanda’s sister Deanna spoke of her release. Many times in Perugia, I experienced an indication of the overwhelming Italian sentiment of Amanda’s innocence. Italians would learn that I was involved in the case, and I would find that my drinks had been paid for, unrequested desserts came to the table, and strangers came to encourage or to hug me. The Italian public had figured this one out. At the end, the Italian (legitimate) press was vociferously in Amanda’s corner. Immediately following the verdict, I looked over at two of my new found friends in the Italian television media, and tears were rolling down their smiling cheeks. The prosecutor Mignini tried to couch this trial as racism (the actual murderer was black), and then as nationalism (big, bad America trying to step on poor little Italy). But in doing so, he only managed to prove the truth of Dr. Samuel Johnson’s immortal 1775 quote: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” With insight, the judge, the jury and the Italian public chose to disregard his attempts at jury nullification and decided this case on fact rather than jingoism and prejudice.

Sadly, the vindictiveness of a corrupt local system is not easily escaped.  About half an hour after the initially popular verdict, a “spontaneous” anti-Knox demonstration began outside the court. In a striking bit of serendipity, the “spontaneous demonstrators” just happened to have megaphone with them that night, and all knew what they would chant. Though in jeans and polo shirts, the demonstrators (all men between their middle-20s and late 40s) bore startling, almost eerie individual resemblances to the dozens of policemen who had originally signed the warrants against Amanda and Raffaele, and who had been in court that night in a “show of solidarity.” Many of those officers are the same ones suing Amanda for claiming that she had been slapped in her interrogation. (The required tape of the interrogation of prisoners in Italy is inexplicably absent. Go figure.)

After the ‘impromptu’ demonstration, the men began individual fist-fights with Italian Amanda supporters, (I counted at least five such fights) and generally shamed the town of Perugia at a moment when the city deserved to be basking in the glory of the world spotlight. I want to point out here that the people of Perugia are good, honorable people, by and large. The Carabinieri (military) police in the town are honorable and professional. But the local police and the local prosecutor ruthlessly run the town. As an example, while we were in Perugia, five people were arrested—in the courtroom—by the local police. All for criticizing the prosecutor in some way or another. My wife was one of those arrested, and awaits a decision as to whether she will be charged with “contempt” which carries with it a possible three-year prison sentence.

The relief I feel at Amanda and Raffaele’s release is indescribable. I also feel additional relief that on-line Amanda-haters are by and large a thing of my past. We had dealt with them until now only to counter their hateful propaganda in front of an uninformed public.  Now, it’s not even important to answer them because truly, nobody cares about what they say anymore.

They and others who refuse to accept this Italian court verdict (while arbitrarily accepting the first court’s verdict) are already receding into insignificance, and even the echoes of their hateful diatribes and death threats are fading into the ether. I do not think that they will ever be convinced of Amanda’s obvious innocence, nor do I think they are done spewing propaganda. Frustration produces anger, and like an infant who throws a tantrum when put down for a nap, I assume they will make a lot of indiscriminate noise that does nothing but irritate those around them. But they can now be grouped by society with those who claim to have been kidnapped by UFO’s, doubters in the moon landings and 9/11 conspiracy theorists. As one of my favorite philosophers, Stan Marsh of “South Park,” once said to Eric Cartman about such conspiracy mongers: “25% of society is crazy.”  This is truth, and it is truth that the anti-Amanda crazies will continue to validate. But now they have been refuted by the same justice system they touted for years, and eventually, like the child put down for a nap, will become distracted and move on to other things. They will soon be looking for new things and people to hate. (Though those of them who crossed the lines of civil and criminal behavior will soon find that they have not been forgotten and that legal redress waited only for Amanda’s repatriation.)

What remains is to ensure that this does not happen again. As Egan said, “Perhaps the tide from Perugia will lift other boats.” For this to happen, though, pompous prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, forensic perjurer Patrizia Stefanoni, and mind-reading detective Edgardo Giobbi (and others), must be prosecuted for their corruption. The judge who rubber-stamped the lies in the first trial, Massei, must also be called to the bar of justice—or back to law school. That is what will occupy some of my time for the next few years, I’m sure. But for right now, I am in the mood to bathe in the warmth of the freedom of Amanda Knox. The sunshine of the justice she obtained should warm the entire world.

At this moment, I find that the word “elation” is woefully inadequate to describe my emotions.  Euphoria might be a closer word, but euphoria eventually fades. As long as I live, I will remember that late night in the courtroom when two innocents were rescued from a cabal of evil men.

  • Tom Rochelle

    Well done, Steve, well done. Once again, we are forced to confront the reality of human evil. Using a legal process to wage war on an American family was a disturbing spectacle to say the least. We see how sinful pride can be the chief deadly sin. Amanda is finally safe and free. Her supporters are relieved and happy for her and her wonderful family.

  • Grace More

    Excellent article. "Just the facts, ma'am" 🙂

  • jaap heijboer (NL)

    Very insightful and balanced post. Thank you very much, Mr. Moore, for sharing your observations and feelings. This helps me and I am sure many others to put recent events, including the strange protests in the streets of Perugia, in the right context. This is a particularly haunting case – actually, I am even grateful that I became aware of it just one week before the appeal judgment. I am thinking about the incredible emotional burden this must have been, four long years, for probably everyone within "Team Knox", especially the parents and sisters of Amanda (and of course herself). I do hope that your elation/euphoria will last very, very long, and I wish you every success in your efforts to represent the interests of the Knox/Mellas families as they try to get their lives back on track after this tragedy.

  • Jim

    Thank you, Steve, for another fascinating essay.

    It seemed obvious to me that Amanda and Raffaele were innocent and that the case against them was paper-thin. But the media had homed in on the "Foxy Knoxy" red herring and Mignini's malignant fantasy and was ignoring the facts of the case. Your voice gave their defense gravitas. When you began speaking out, I think people began to listen, and slowly the media followed. Eventually, public opinion changed. Winning the appeal was a group effort, but I'm not sure we would have won if you had not stuck your neck out.

    In a case in which there were many villains, you are truly one of the heroes.

  • JLS1950

    In leaving the slander charge conviction (and maximizing its sentence) the court demonstrated that it is still operating in a corrupt mode, still "justifying" its own and police excesses and the unjust imprisonment of two innocents for nearly four years. The extra-camaral comments of President Hellmann that Knox may have "known more" of the murder also reinforce this sense.

    I think Moore is likely incorrect that the U.S. State Department wholly abandoned and failed Amanda Knox. I believe that the State Department under Condoleezza Rice and the Bush Administration wholly ignored her and what the Italians were doing to her. However, I perceive that since the late-2009 convictions, there has probably been some rather heavy back-channel chatter on the matter, and I strongly suspect that Italy was given a "diplomatic" ultimatum: correct this injustice within your own legal system by either showing some REAL evidence or else by exonerating both parties – or face a very unpleasant international incident.

    How? Well, I have long held that there is more to this murder than merely a burglar caught in the act. Ron Hendry's reconstruction is just way too clear that this was murder for murder's sake, staged after the fact but while the victim yet lived (barely) to appear as a rape. Coupled with the history of "kid glove" police treatment of Rudy Guede and the instantaneous police focus on Amanda Knox on the day of discovery, I think it is safe to infer that Rudy was acting as an agent of someone – either of police or of someone having authority over police – and that he confused British Meredith Kercher for American Amanda Knox, his intended target. Motive could be related to Nicola Calipari.

    I think it is inconceivable at this point that U.S. Intelligence and the DHS do not by now know very well that the death of Meredith Kercher was a "state"- or police-sponsored murder of an innocent foreign national. The threat of revealing such a thing to the world may have played a significant role in ensuring that the appeal process was conducted in a manner more fair to Amanda and Raffaele.

    • Merle Rideout

      Interesting comment, JSL1950. Early in the investigation I wondered if Knox, Kercher & Sollecito were spies for their individual governments. Since 9/11/2001, the US CIA has been recruiting agents out of high school and bound for college. At this date, 85% of the CIA's employees are under 30 years old. Amanda Knox' language skills, it seemed to me, made her a perfect candidate. Kercher, too, with her own language skills, would have been an excellent choice for England's MI5, and Sollecito's computer skills filled out a covert contact. Add to that that Guede was removed from his "accomplices," given a "fast track" trial, held in secret, in which he faced no cross examination.

      As I saw the Knox family involvement, though, I realized I was writing a novel. That is not the way a covert operation would have been handled. I agree with you though that there is something very fishy about Rudy Guede and the way he has been treated by both the courts and the media. He obviously murdered this woman and he is absolutely being played down.

      • babychick

        Maybe Rudy Guede knew something about Mr. Mignini and he was never arrested before because of that. Maybe he was a snitch for police in other matters. We don't know. Anything is possible. I hope that investigation will occur about who and why had let him go several times, when he should have been charged and jailed after burglaries. Maybe then someone will tell the truth.

      • JLS1950

        My feeling about Rudy for quite a long time has been that he may have been operating as a spy for either Italian intelligence, for police (not much difference – both are national military) or for Mignini (who has a penchant for keeping tabs on his "enemies".) Rudy's reported burglaries seemed to be places where dissidents might hang out or be assisted: bars, law offices, alternative school. There were some reports earlier that Rudy was acting as in informant and spy on African dissident groups. The burglaries seem to have involved things like computers and documents that could contain sensitive and revealing information – as well as items of opportunity such as jewelery, phones and money.

        However, although Rudy had brandished a knife before, there was no prior report I have heard that he was actually violent and especially that he was sexually violent. Moreover – reading Ron Hendry's excellent reconstruction of the murder – I was struck that the murder of Meredith was so much like a botched version of a standard military assassination by throat cutting and so NOT about sexual gratification. The real version of this attack is what took down Nicole Brown Simpson and perhaps also Ronald Goldman: an attack from behind, left hand over mouth and chin, pull head back, then slice both carotid arteries, windpipe and jugular vein in one continuous stroke. Causes immediate loss of consciousness and rapid death.

        But Rudy stabbed instead of slashed / sliced. Since Rudy had no military training, this suggests to me that someone tried to teach Rudy how to assassinate in this manner, but he did not learn well. Moreover, Rudy left Meredith to bleed out for perhaps as long as 10 minutes (based on blood pool size) before disrobing and staging what was actually an unsuccessful "rape". Does not seem like it was all that much a pressing "need" for him.

        Why would someone wish to kill Amanda (or Meredith)?

        1) Your spy scenario has some possible merit, except that as you say, the family responses do not match: neither Knox / Mellas, Sollecito nor Kercher.

        2) Italian intelligence (then SISME, now AISE) was just totally ticked off with America over the death of Nicola Calipari in Baghdad in 2005. Calipari – a career police officer and probably a close colleague of Giobbi – is accorded National Hero status in Italy. They were especially outraged when the Italian court ruled that the American soldier who shot Calipari could not be tried in Italy for murder: that was just 7 days before Meredith died. Two days after that, Rudy was caught red-handed in a burglary in Milan and inexplicably sent back to Perugia by train, fare prepaid.

        3) Mignini was in serious legal trouble and about to be imprisoned and disbarred for life. He really needed that the Monster of Florence make a reappearance so that he could "redeem" himself and his satanic fantasy "theory" of the Monster murders. A bloody "sex crime" right in Perugia would be just the ticket.

        I think the key to all this is that Perugia would have little to lose over the unsolved brutal killing of an American co-ed: there is not all that much American travel / tourism / study in Perugia. But an unsolved and brutal killing of a British student would be a VERY different matter, because British tourism and study IS a major contributor to the local economy. So it seems unlikely that ANYONE would try to assassinate a Brit, but killing an American might have made any number of people feel a sense of twisted "justice". The only problem, then, is whether Rudy could actually tell the difference…

  • Anna

    I saw this article on a few other sites and tried to comment. i am so glad I get the chance now. Thank you, Mr. Moore for your tireless efforts to free these two innocent young people. I have followed this case since the very beginning and, although I live on the opposite side of the country, I feel like I know these people. I often thought of Amanda and Raffaelle there in that prison and wondered how they were doing. I knew when every court date was scheduled and checked endlessly for updates. I was so tense on the day of the appeal verdict, I thought I was going to be sick. So, thank you again, Mr. Moore.

    I must agree with the other poster that I do believe that Secretary Clinton and the state department have been working behing the scenes on this case. It's one of those things that can't be made public. But thank goodness it was done.

    I don't know about a state sponsored murder. That's the first time I've heard that theory. But, believe me, I'm going to read up on it.

    God bless Amanda and Raffaelle. i hope they can go on with their lives without too much trauma. And I hope that they do wonderful things with their lives.

  • Barry_T

    Steve, thank you for all that you did in behalf of Amanda and Raffaele as well as your words in support of this presiding judge. With regard to the conviction for falsely implicating Patrik Lumumba, Amanda gave that statement under duress. “Memories of flashbacks” even sounds manipulative. Convicting her of giving that false statement is like the Arabs whipping a woman because she had been raped. Those who did the questioning should be held liable. I feel that much of the motivation to go after Amanda wasn't because she was trying to muddy the waters, but because those involved in taking that false statement were scurrying to cover their guilty posteriors.

  • Paul_Delaware

    The possibility of three young psychopaths, from three different countries in three different continents, accidently meeting up in a town in Italy and murdering a young English girl is in itself beyond belief.
    However, coincidence to one side. The farcical evidence used by the prosecuter,Giuliano Mignini, had it not convicted them at the first trial, was laughable.
    To paraphrase your quote by Samuel Johnson “Patriotism is the last refuge of the uncouth”, whatever your nationality.
    Two young people have lost almost four years of what should have been part of the best years of their lives. Nothing can compensate them for that.

  • Tom Mininger

    Thank you for the article by Steve Moore. I believe in the enlightenment of study abroad, but am horrified by the witch-hunt of international exchange student Amanda Knox.

    The prosecution and plaintiff closing arguments were hate speech worthy of Joseph Goebbels.

    Amanda was tortured through the night of Nov. 5-6, 2007 with tag-team interrogation by twelve detectives in a language still foreign to her. Convicting her of naming her boss is like beating a woman as punishment for being raped.

    The international community must deal with this barbaric treatment of an innocent openly and honestly. Young people who want to immerse themselves in another culture must be protected from corrupt local officials.

    An excellent interview with renowned criminal profiler John Douglas: http://womanonawire.blogspot.com/2011/09/unarrest

  • Kent Myers

    Fantastic article. Answers a question about the crowd reaction. Amanda's lawyer said they didn't hear any such protest (nor on the video of Deanna's statement) yet later there was obviously a negative protest. Hearing a timeline that matches with the events puts both a positive and negative response in context.

  • LarryL

    Thank you for a superb article, Mr. Moore. When you say your wife 'awaits a decision as to whether she will be charged with “contempt” which carries with it a possible three-year prison sentence', I sure hope she is not waiting in a Perugia jail.

    • Missy Gluckmann

      Greetings LarryL. Steve will be replying to all of these comments at some point, but I want to assure you that his wife is not in prison in Perugia or anywhere else! 🙂

  • SueG

    Hi Steve: Thank you for all you have done for these two innocent kids. I hope that one of those free drinks came from my son Andreas, the Italian-American bartender and owner of Dempsey's! He told me he met you one night. It is because of him that I was so interested in this case from the beginning. He went to Perugia almost at the same time as Amanda and Mez and lived at #10 Via Della Pergola, therefore I followed it from the moment the story broke. My son's friend Zach was in that courtroom every day for the first trial and he told me the press was not reporting the real story and that there was no way in hell she and Raffale were guilty. My son was outside the courtroom when the acquittal came down and he was there with many Italians to celebrate.

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  • Betty Ellenburgef

    I do believe that amanda was the intended target…Mr. guede always inquired about her through the men in the
    basement apartment….They encouraged him by saying she would probably have sex with him…Isn't it strange
    that amanda escaped by being with Sollecitelli…And yet has still paid an ungodly high price.

  • Effective. I agree.