UW Student Charged with Murder in Italy

Amanda Knox, a University of Washington student, is currently standing trial for Murder in Perugia, a city in central Italy.  Amanda Knox, like many college students, opted to spend her junior year overseas.  She shared an apartment with four young women, including Meredith Kercher, a British student.

Amanda with her family.  (Used with permission of friendsofamanda.org)

Amanda with her family. (Used with permission of friendsofamanda.org)

Amanda Knox, was dating an Italian man, and when she returned from his home on November 2nd, 2007, she found no sign of her roommate Meredith.  Amanda tried to call Meridith’s cell phone but did not receive an answer.  Amanda noticed a few droplets of blood in the shower.  Getting concerned, Amanda called her boyfriend (Raffaele Sollecito) over.  Amanda, and her boyfriend noticed a broken window, and noticed that the door to Meredith’s room was locked.  They called the police.  The police arrived, forced open the door, and found Meredith Kercher dead with cuts to her throat under a duvet.  The police questioned Amanda and Raffaele, and the two gave consistent accounts of their whereabouts for the days prior.  Later, under pressure from police, Raffaele told the police that Amanda left his apartment for several hours.   Under pressure, Amanda described a dream to the police about overhearing Meredith’s screams while she tried to cover her ears with a pillow.   Amanda’s supporters take the position that the statements were made under duress and she told the police what they wanted to hear even though it was not true.  Amanda Knox was kept up all night, claims to have been hit, and was denied an attorney and professional translator.

Amanda in her home in Seattle prior to leaving for Italy

Amanda in her home in Seattle prior to leaving for Italy. (Used with permission of friendsofamanda.org)

The police linked a man named Rudy Guede to the murder because his DNA was found in Meredith’s body and his bloody hand print was found on a pillow underneath the body.  The police eavesdropped on Rudy Guede’s phone calls and heard him say that Amanda had nothing to do with the killing.  Later, under pressure from police, he indicated that Amanda was present at the time, but denied that the two killed Meredith.  Rudy Guede admitted that he had relations with Meredith that stopped short of intercourse.  Based on the evidence, Rudy Guede was convicted of sexual assault and murder.  Rudy Guede changed his story to implicate Amanda and Raffaele in the killing in some sex game gone wrong.  Amanda Knox and her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito are currently pending trial. The Italian police detectives have testified that they found DNA evidence of Amanda’s footprint in Meredith’s blood in the apartment, and traces of Amanda’s and Meredith’s intermingled blood in several locations there.  No murder weapon has been found, but the police said an eight-inch kitchen knife at Raffaele’s house bore traces of Meredith’s DNA near the tip and Amanda’s the handle. It should be no surprise that the knife would have Amanda’s DNA on the handle considering how much time she spent at her boyfriend’s house.  The DNA of Meredith, according to several outside experts, was of such small amounts, and was available only after numerous enhancements in the testing, that it could have belonged to numerous individuals.  Additionally, the knife did not match the bloody outline of a knife at the crime scene.  Experts have already testified that the knife in question could not have made at least two of the three cuts found on Meredith’s throat.

Ambiguous DNA evidence, and statements made to police under pressure,are often how wrongful convictions occur here in the U.S.  According to the Innocence Project, a variety of factors can contribute to a false confession during an  interrogation.  Many cases have included a combination of several of these causes. They include:

  • duress
  • coercion
  • intoxication
  • diminished capacity
  • mental impairment
  • ignorance of the law
  • fear of violence
  • the actual infliction of harm
  • the threat of a harsh sentence
  • misunderstanding the situation

Do you ever hear stories on the news where an inmate is determined to be innocent of a crime that occurred years ago due to the use of a DNA test?  When we look back on those cases, in 25% of those cases a person ended up confessing to a crime that they did not commit.

Many experts in the U.S. have questioned the fairness of the trial.  Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times columnist Timothy Egan wrote “The case against Knox has so many holes in it, and is so tied to the career of a powerful Italian prosecutor who is under indictment for professional misconduct, that any fair-minded jury would have thrown it out months ago.”  (See this opinion piece about Amanda Knox)

King County Superior Court Judge Mike Heavey is among the local people trying to help Amanda.   Heavey took the unusual step of writing to the Italian council that regulates judges to protest the leaks from the prosecutor, police and prison officials to the tabloid press.  According to a Seattle Times article he wrote “Amanda Knox is in grave danger of being convicted of the murder because of illegal and improper poisoning of public opinion and judicial opinion.”   He continued: “I respectfully submit that the prosecutor’s office, police and prison employees have made illegal and false statements … These false reports have wrongfully poisoned the well of public opinion against Amanda.”

Amanda Knox’s parents have spent all their retirement funds and their equity in their home paying for a team of defense lawyers, forensic experts, and investigators to help defend their daughter.  Amanda Knox testified in her own defense on June 13th, and a verdict should not be too far off.   The jury consists of two judges and six local citizens.  Unlike juries here in Washington, a conviction need not be unanimous.  Rather a simple majority may convict.

For more information, See www.friendsofamanda.org.

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Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking: www.grahamdefense.com
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