Posts Tagged ‘Giuliano Mignini’
If you work in the field of criminal justice, it is hard to look at the prosecution of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito as anything but an injustice. As a former prosecutor, that was my experience blogging about the subject last year. (See earlier posts here, here, here, here, and here.) But now, other criminal justice professionals are joining the chorus of Americans concerned about the fairness of the trial of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito. Case in point Steve Moore, retired F.B.I. agent. Moore has 25 years investigating some of the most serious crimes imaginable for the F.B.I. Steve Moore was not connected at all with the Knox supporters, but he found it hard to be silent after he took a look at Amanda’s case. Steve Moore’s statement about the case is online at the blog Injustice in Perugia. Check out the below media interview in which he is interviewed on MSNBC.
I like his point that this crime does not fit Amanda Knox’s character.
MSNBC: You also made the point that this crime does not fit Amanda Knox’s personality profile.
Steve Moore: Amanda Knox is not a violent person. The problem with this is if a person is violent enough…. What they are alleging is that she [Amanda Knox] came in on her roommate who was being sexually assaulted and sided with the assaulter, and not only helped him assault her roommate, but stabbed her in the throat. That kind of deviant violent behavior does not go unnoticed for 18, 19, 20 years. Some things leak out. You see some episodes. You see some indications that the person has some issues. Amanda Knox never had an issue.
As a former prosecutor, that is one of the problems I have never understood, what motive would Amanda Knox have to stab her roommate to death? A violent stabbing is just not an “entry-level” crime. A person works their way up to such an offense with a long history of other crimes such as assaults and threats to kill. The prosecutor Giuliano Mignini just was never able to establish a credible motive for why an average American college student would rape and murder her roommate.
I haven’t blogged about the Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito murder charges since my November 30th post. At that time, the trial was still pending and I was pretty optimistic about an acquittal. We know, of course, that the two were convicted shortly thereafter of murder. In the days following the conviction, the supporters of Amanda Knox explained what the average person can do to help. Besides making a financial contribution (see site), one supporter explained that an average person can help keep public attention focused on the case by continuing to visit news sites that cover the case. The logic is that if the media sees that the public is still reading about Amanda Knox’s case, then the media will still cover it. The fear that Amanda Knox supporters had was that the media would soon lose interest in the case. Maybe this fear was partially unfounded. As we know the Amanda Knox case is still big news. Here is a run down of the latest:
- * Italian Prosecutor Giuliano Mignini is convicted of abuse of his office for an apparent illegal wiretapping he did on an unrelated murder case. He is sentenced to a 16 month suspended sentence. This can only help Amanda’s chances on appeal. For a prosecutor to be convicted of a crime related the performance of his job duties is extremely rare. For example, Mike Nifong was only disbarred for railroading the Duke lacrosse players – he was not charged with a crime.
- * Donald Trump publicly criticizes the prosecutor and questions Amanda Knox’s conviction. (See video). (Yeah, not everyone likes Trump, but you can’t beat him in terms of drumming up publicity.) Trump also wrote how he felt on his blog. Did you know he blogged? I had no idea. Other than his posts about Knox, the blog is a real snoozer. It mostly consists of a bunch of information on real estate.
- * Amanda Knox’s family goes on Oprah. Somehow I missed this. It was probably the only time in my life that I would want to watch Oprah. You can see part of the video here. (You have to watch the 30 second commercial first).
- * Mario Alessi, the cellmate of Rudy Guede gives a statement that Rudy Guede admitted he acted alone. Rudy Guede was earlier convicted of killing Meredith Kercher.
So, right now, we just wait for the Italian appeals courts to do their thing on Amanda Knox’s case. I read somewhere after the conviction that in Italy the Italian appellate courts reverse about 1/3 of Italian convictions. I would guess that Amanda Knox’s chances are even better than that. I honestly feel that, as a former prosecutor, Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were unjustly convicted. I often hear Italian officials criticize the American bloggers as speaking out of turn because they did sit through the trial. I think that the trial should have been broadcast so that it could have been observed by outsiders. It would be nice to have seen the whole trial, but the unfairness of the trial is clear from just watching from the outside. You don’t have to watch the whole trial to see that the prosecutor’s claimed motive was preposterous. You don’t have to observe the trial to see that the media coverage was sensationalistic and that the jurors were not sequestered. You can tell from the scene photographs that a shoddy job was done on evidence collection. You can see from reading Amanda Knox’s “confession” that the statement was really no confession at all, and would not have passed muster in any American court.
In Albert Camus’ novel The Stranger, the narrator, Meursault, is being tried for the murder of a man he encounters at the beach. At his trial, the prosecutor makes much of Meursault’s demeanor, and the prosecutor focuses on irrelevant information like Meursault’s failure to properly show grief at his own mother’s recent funeral. I read this book back in college and did not understand what Camus was driving at. However, as a practicing criminal defense attorney, I think of this often whenever the authorities or the news media comment that the accused does not show proper remorse. I always thought it was basically understood that people grieve in individual and often unpredictable ways. When I worked as a coroner, I sometimes had the unpleasant task of having to inform people that their family members were dead. You just never knew what reaction you would get.
A prime example of unfair media coverage on grieving might be the American college student Amanda Knox on trial for murder in Italy.
The British tabloid Telegraph.co.uk alleged that after Amanda Knox found out her roommate had been murdered, she went out on a shopping spree for lingerie. See link. In fact, she had to buy new underwear because the police cordoned off her apartment, and she was not able to get in to retrieve even her personal effects. Nevertheless, the Telegraph quoted an Italian shopkeep as offering the opinion that she did not show remorse in the right way. During her trial, an Italian reporter wrote: “Amanda Knox faces life in prison if convicted of killing Meredith Kercher, a British exchange student who was her roommate in picturesque Perugia in central Italy. However, her breezy behavior in hearings over the last three months has set tongues wagging in Italy and abroad.” Well, the story was picked up by the AP and reprinted in the U.S. – see site and photo. As you can see from visiting the story Knox is indeed smiling in some of the pictures. Do people really believe that a defendant will not smile at all during a trial that lasts ten months? In the photo it is clear that court is not even in session. I do not view the photographs as inconsistent with what we know about Amanda Knox. First let’s look at the photographs everyone is talking about:
Now that we have seen the photographs, let’s talk about what we know about Amanda Knox. Amanda is young and probably like a lot of young people she is capable of being overly optimistic. Amanda Knox very likely believes that being innocent alone will suffice, and that she should just be herself. I have found that in my practice, the demographic of young/white/suburban/middle-class sometimes brings a naivete to the process. Poorer people, and sometimes ethnic minorities, will more often recall a negative experience that they or a family member have had with the justice system, i.e. they are aware of the system’s flaws. It could be that in Amanda Knox’s mind, no amount of prosecutorial misconduct, no amount of sensational news coverage, and no amount of tainted DNA evidence will lead to a break down in the truth finding process.
A second thing to remember is that in most of the pictures Amanda is smiling at the guards. Although most guards tone it down in court, guards are usually quite talkative with inmates. This surprises a lot of people, and surprised me when I was a young prosecutor. This is partly human nature when you spend over a year in close contact with a person. But additionally, a guard that gets to know the inmate is practicing good safety. A guard’s job is dangerous – developing a good read on an inmate and learning his or her baseline or normal behavior, and constantly watching for signs of shifts in mood or mental instability is simply something that is taught in corrections academy. Look again at the photographs above. I see in those six pictures what I often see in my practice as a criminal defense attorney. That is, guards skillfully watching and interacting with a woman in their charge. And oh yeah, you might notice the guards stifling their smiles a bit more when the cameras come out. They do that in the U.S. too.
I believe that there are significant cultural differences between the way Americans and Italians view their governments. Amanda Knox testified at her trial: “I am innocent and I have faith in the Italian legal system.” To many Italians, this statement (combined with a nonchalant smile in court) is iron clad proof that Amanda Knox is crazy. Italians, as a whole, are just not enough naive to say what Amanda said. But Americans often are – and sometimes we are that way about our own court system too. In this country, a view of government that is too skeptical is somehow unpatriotic.
Amanda Knox and her family both seem to have a lot faith in the jury. The best case scenario for Amanda Knox acquits her of all charges and returns her to the U.S. this month. However, will the same daughter come home that the Knox family sent off over a year ago? Amanda Knox’s demeanor is probably a comforting sign to her parents Curt Knox and Edda Mellas.
As a former prosecutor I was deeply troubled by Giuliano Mignini’s failure to produce any motive in this case. Consider the closing argument of the Italian prosecutor. He surmises that Knox wanted to get back at Kercher (the victim) for saying she was not clean and for calling her promiscuous. He argued: “Amanda had the chance to retaliate against a girl who was serious and quiet… She had harbored hatred for Meredith, and that was the time when it could explode. The time had come to take revenge on that smug girl.” See story. I really have a hard time with that. What college kid gets along with their roommate perfectly anyway? Does he really expect a jury to believe that Amanda Knox (who has no criminal history) stabbed to death her roommate because she was “smug”? While there are times in our life that we might feel tempted to slap a smug person, Amanda Knox’s record shows no propensity for violence. Stabbing someone to death is not an “entry level job”; the people who perpetrate such crimes have worked their way up to such deeds by committing school yard fights, animal cruelty, brandishing weapons, unlawful threats, etc. Giuliano Mignini described what he called “an unstoppable crescendo of frenzied violence,” “…which began with Knox and Sollecito trying to take off Kercher’s clothes and threatening her.” See story. Female on female murder is extremely rare and makes up only 2% of the homicides in this country. See source. Giuliano Mignini’s explanation as to motive is pure conjecture, and just does not have the ring of truth.
What do you think about this case? Do we have prosecutors of this caliber in the U.S.? Think of the college kids that you may know, would you expect them to act much the same way?
Italy has a modern criminal justice system with a long history. The general area of Italy in which Amanda Knox is being tried is near the birth place of Renaissance Humanism, the movement that gave new force to notions of rationality and the importance of maintaining human dignity. And in the classical period of Ancient Rome, Cicero argued before juries in a manner emulated by the legal advocates of today. For Americans, a trial in Italy does not cause the same fears that would be caused by a trial in Iran or Syria, for example. Nevertheless, Americans should have grave concerns for Amanda Knox and the fairness of her trial in Perugia. My uneasiness with the trial is not that it is being conducted in an aberrant or unusual foreign manner. Rather my concern is that the case is too much like American trials that have been chaotic or have yielded unfair results.
Back in 1892, when Italy was still finishing its unification, the United States was suffering through its first media circus surrounding the murder trial of Lizzie Borden. The landmark press coverage of that murder trial was so fraught with prejudgment of the facts, that people still today assume Borden’s guilt. Borden was found not guilty. Whether it is trial of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, or of O.J. Simpson, the public is aware that the criminal justice system can be twisted or contorted under the weight of media attention.
Paul Ciolino, an investigator with the Innocent Project explains the trial of Amanda Knox: “This is their O.J. Simpson trial — it’s that big.” In fact, it may be worse. There has been information leaked out to the tabloids in this case in ways that I have never seen or heard of. Amanda Knox kept a diary that was improperly copied and circulated to the tabloids. The subject of the sensational tabloid press coverage has been covered in articles by the UW Daily. Washington Senator Maria Cantwell wrote to the Italian ambassador in the U.S. expressing concern over Amanda Knox’s trial. Cantwell expressed concern that “confidential information about her case was leaked, resulting in false and misleading media reports.” King County Superior Court Judge Mike Heavey took the unusual step of writing to the Italian authorities on the subject of Amanda’s trial. Judge Heavey complained to the council that regulates judges in Italy and asked for a change of venue. He also complained about the leaks from the prosecutor, police and prison officials to the tabloid press.
A lot of the unspoken concern comes from the particular Italian prosecutor in this case, Giuliano Mignini. Many Americans have been slow to criticize him. In an August interview with the Seattle-Times, Amanda’s parents indicated that they did not wish to criticize the investigation for fear of angering the Italian prosecutors.
Earlier this year, Giuliano Mignini announced that he was bringing a defamation lawsuit against a West Seattle community newspaper repeating critical comments made by Knox’s supporters. The article, by the West Seattle Herald used to be available here, but has apparently been taken down. Giuliano Mignini told the BBC he started the legal action because the newspaper quoted some of Knox’s supporters that said Mignini is “mentally unstable.” The same article quoted Knox’s supporters as accusing Mignini of using Amanda’s trial to “improve his own dicey reputation and further his career.”
Italian prosecutor Giuliano Mignini reminds me too much of North Carolina prosecutor Mike Nifong, who was disbarred over his misconduct during his prosecution of members of the Duke lacrosse team. In that case the bar association said that Nifong manipulated the investigation to increase his chances of winning election. According to the bar investigation, he committed “a clear case of intentional prosecutorial misconduct” that involved “dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation.”
With Italian prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, people have questioned his judgment and good sense long before Amanda Knox was charged with murder. American author Douglas Preston went to Italy to write a book about a serial killer in Florence several years ago, and found out firsthand how Mignini operated. Preston wrote about his firsthand account in his book entitled Monster of Florence. Douglas Preston became the target of a police investigation himself, along with his Italian journalist friend Mario Spezi. Writing about Mignini, Preston describes how the prosecutor would selectively leak information to the media, while seeking to bar reporters from publishing different accounts of the facts. Preston describes how he and his colleague, Mario Spezi, pursued a version of events that differed from official accounts, and that Giuliano Mignini had Spezi jailed for 23 days for obstruction of justice. The Italian court of appeals (or Tribunal of Reexamination) later stopped this and ordered Spezi’s release. Douglas Preston describes how more than one person was convicted of murder in the underlying case, and later had their convictions overturned. Preston describes how under prosecutor Mignini’s leadership the investigation “…would become a monster in its own right, consuming all in its path, engorged and distended with the many innocent lives it had ruined.” This is what is happening in the Amanda Knox case according to a recent Newsweek article. The magazine concluded: “Regardless of the verdict, the trial of Amanda Knox has ruined the lives of almost everybody involved in it.”
Italian prosecutor Giuliano Mignini is really a criminal defendant by his own right. Mignini has been charged with obstruction of justice and illegal wiretapping in prosecuting the “Monster of Florence” case. At Mignini’s first pretrial hearing on January 16th, 2008, the Italian public minister of Florence, Luca Turco, declared that Mignini was “on a crusade in thrall to sort of delirium” and “ready to go to any extreme defending himself against anyone who criticized his investigation.”
There is not a lot the American legal community can do except wait for Italy’s complex legal system to sort this out. A verdict is not too many weeks off, and the world is bracing itself for a decision that will be an international bombshell either way. American lawyers grimace at the chaos in Perugia, and can’t help but see a reflection of our own system in the mess.