Amanda Knox Can Present New Evidence, Says Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellman

Well it is nice to hear some good news on the Amanda Knox case for once.  Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellman ruled that Amanda Knox can present new evidence of DNA testing deficiencies on her pending appeal.  See story. The judge appointed two Italian college professors to do an independent review of the DNA evidence. The appeals case of Amanda Knox and Rafael Sollecito is providing an interesting glimpse into the appellate courts in the Italian legal system.  If you are like me, you probably haven’t been terribly impressed with the Italian trial court so far, but the appellate court is making some interesting decisions. The trial court in the Knox case made no effort to sequester the jury, admitted questionable evidence, dragged the case out for ever, and permitted the prosecutor Guiliano Mignini to grandstand to the media despite his own recent criminal conviction. But then comes the appellate court, providing a glimmer of hope to Knox and Sollecito.

Maybe it is time to give credit where credit is due, and explain how the Italian appellate courts actually appear to be capable of giving Amanda Knox more rights on appeal than she would have in her home State of Washington.  As a criminal defense lawyer in Washington, I can tell you that the appeals courts are extremely reluctant to second guess the decision of a judge or jury that convicted a defendant.  The courts of appeal in Washington overturn convictions in less than 5 percent of cases.  I have read that in Italy about 33 to 50 percent of convictions are reversed.  In U.S. courts the appellate judges often find that the trial court committed error, but they usually decide that it was “harmless error” and often won’t overrule a lower judge unless he or she showed a “manifest abuse of discretion.”   Additionally, U.S. appellate courts would never allow the testimony of new witnesses to appear before them.  Rather, if the appellate court deemed the new testimony that important, the appellate court would send or “remand” the issue back to the trial court to be resolved.  Having the lower court attempt to “correct” a problem when the lower court messed things up to start with usually doesn’t work.  The back and forth takes time, and a lawyer sometimes faces hostility from the original judge for having to re-open the case.  Additionally, the appeals in the U.S. are heard strictly by judges, whereas in Italy, the presiding judge is apparently still joined by jurors.  As pointed out by Candace Dempsey in her blog, Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellman is thought to be inclined to take an independent view insofar as he is from Northern Italy.  I am not exactly a scholar of Italian culture, but I know enough to say that the Northern Italians are not always reluctant to make criticisms about how things are run further south.

Anyway, here is a video about this case.
In other news about the Amanda Knox case, I read that Candace Dempsey’s book Murder in Italy was nominated for best true crime book of the year.  Please vote for her book here before 12/31/10.

What do you think about the appeal?  Do you think that she will be treated more fairly in this process?

10 Responses to “Amanda Knox Can Present New Evidence, Says Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellman”

  • andrew lowery:

    Good take on the appeal Steve. Another good post on the case.
    An interesting recent development: John Douglas, one of the founders of the FBI Behavioral Sciences Program and the model for the John Glen character in Silence of the Lambs, has said: “Amanda is innocent—I’m convinced of it…The Italian police completely contaminated the crime scene. Besides, behavior reflects personality, and there is nothing in Knox’s past behavior to indicate she is a murderer. In both cases—West Memphis and Knox—the police allowed theory rather than evidence to direct their investigations, and that is always a fatal error.”
    Here’s a link to the whole story. You’ll be hearing more from him no doubt. Again, great post.

    • Steve Graham:

      Andrew, thanks for sharing that link. Yeah, from a behavioral science perspective, Amanda as the killer makes no sense in any way, shape or form. So applying that discipline to Amanda’s case really blows Mignini’s case out of the water. A knife slaying just isn’t an entry level crime, there is just no way to say it other than Mignini’s theory is ridiculous. I wonder what the Italian behavioral scientists are saying.
      Patrick, I really can’t vouch that nothing like Amanda’s case would never happen in Washington, but I would concede that my comparison of Italian and Washington (U.S.) appellate processes is a little like apples and oranges. Because, yes, Washington does have way more procedural safeguards at the trial stage that would significantly reduce the likelihood of such a travesty. So with these safeguards in place, it only stands to reason that our appellate courts would be slow to overturn convictions. But with Italian anything-goes style trial courts, stronger appellate review is called for. One of my motives with this post was to point out to Washingtonians that there is more reason for optimism in an Italian appeal than one of our local Washington appeals, at least looking at it from a numerical percentage point of view. Another reason i wrote the post was that is was nice to finally have some small measure of good news, and finally one nice thing to say about the Italian system. I have been so down on Italy lately, and I haven’t wanted to even go see my sister over who has live there for 20 years, because I am so sour on Italy over what they did to Amanda.
      Thanks for coming to visit my blog guys! 🙂

      • Michelle Moore:

        Absolutely, this is wonderful stuff.
        I look very forward to being able to once more want to go to Italy more than ever. It was the next place we were going, but right now, my husband can’t even eat Italian food without feeling soured.
        Mignini recently was reported as saying (it hasn’t come out yet, but will in the Spring) that there was no way that Rudy could have fit through that window. Many people who hate Amanda use this same lame excuse.
        There’s a picture of a man in a suit from the defense team climbing right through this window. I’ve been told that Mignini can act quite charming, but I realize now that this man has absolutely no problem whatsoever lying, even at the expense of two young people now getting to spend a 4th Christmas in prison. What kind of person does this? Plus, RUDY WAS A BASKETBALL PLAYER!! This came out in court, there’s a picture of it. To know that he is out and out lying, well, this opens up light to a lot of other things that didn’t make sense unless someone was lying, planting evidence, or both. And we were all afraid to say anything as to not upset the “authorities”. Doug Preston just told it like it is, and now this article… and also John Douglas has an absolutely FANTASTIC article in Maxim. Let’s go to Italy and get a few of these men on a talk show and talk! People WANT to know the truth now.
        Thanks again for the article, Michelle Moore

    • acerbus80:

      Minor correction: John Douglas was actually the model for Jack Crawford in the Silence of the Lambs.

      Regardless, I’ve been reading his book Mindhunters for a few weeks now, and considering his professional history and track record, I’ve got to say that if he says Knox is innocent, then she probably is.

      But then nobody is always right all the time.

  • Patrick King:

    Your point about the State of Washington’s appeal process seems moot as neither Knox nor Sollecito would have been detained much less convicted in Washington State on the evidence presented in this case. Don’t you agree?

    There’s no nuclear DNA in the entire case except the possible sperm stain on the victim’s pillow that both the trial court and the appellate court have declined to test. How strange is that? A sexually based homicide and they don’t test sperm on the victim’s bed?

    With the exception of Guede’s hand print, it’s the only good evidence they possibly have and they refuse to test it? Who are they covering for?

    These people, Knox and Sollecito, have actually been convicted using mitochondrial DNA which can not absolutely identify anybody. Even the forensic scientist who tested the DNA only said the DNA on the knife blade was “comparable to Meredith Kercher’s.” Yet journalists proclaim that the DNA on the blade WAS Kercher’s as though it was spit instead of household dust too low to measure with any authority.

    I certainly hope they catch a break this time. So many people are sighing with relief just because Judge Hellman says they can re-examine the DNA. It’s important to remember what happened only a year ago. If this court was on the up-and-up, this DNA evidence would have been rejected before it ever got into court the first time. CBS’s investigator, Paul Ciolino, is right. This is a railroad job from hell.

  • komponisto:

    I’d just like to note that it’s probably inappropriate to analogize the Italian system to the U.S. system by referring to the first stage as the “trial court” and this stage as the “appellate court”. The reality of the Italian system is that the entire three-stage process (Court of Assizes, Appellate Court of Assizes, and Court of Cassation) is really what corresponds to the American notion of “trial”. The verdict last year was the result of the first stage, and the current proceedings are part of the second stage. A defendant in Italy is not technically considered “convicted” until all three stages are concluded.

    Rarely, a case may be reopened after the final Cassation-level ruling in extraordinary circumstances, e.g. if new evidence emerges; this situation would be a closer counterpart to the American notion of “appeal”.

  • Pippov:

    For the record, I think Amanda probably is guilty of the murder, but I am open-minded and am looking for information.

    I would like to know more about Steve Moore’s work on the case if possible and the information on which he bases his conclusions. I know all about his qualifications and experience, but I’m unclear about his methods. Michelle (or Steve Graham if you can help), could you shed light on the following 2 points.

    1. Steve said he became suspicious when he started hearing things in the press that contradicted “known facts”. To which “known facts” was he referring and how did he get to gain knowledge of these facts? I.e. He presumably started hearing what he considered to be lies, but I don’t understand how he knew they were lies unless he had a knowledge of the case in the first place.

    2. Steve says he carried out an investigation into all the evidence in the case. Could you explain what that entailed exactly? Did he visit the crime scene for example? Did the prosecution send him their case files? I preume not in both cases, but what exactly does he mean by “all the evidence” mean?

  • jc court:

    Mr Graham.

    The whole world will be watching the Italian’s appeals court at work.

    As per Anne Bremner blog: “Sources in Italy say that the judiciary would like to find a way to convict Amanda on lesser charges, proclaim time served, and get her out of the country. That would save face” …

    In other words “Scheming” their way out of this case, this is beyond belief, how do you make 1 right with 2 wrongs, Is this kind of behavior practiced in the state of Washington?

    Italy should do the right thing, and investigate team Mignini for what they did to Amanda Knox and Rafaelle Sollecito.

    In doing so, they would not only save face, but the whole world would cheer on.

    Show us how it’s done Italy!

    Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellman made a step in the right direction when he said, after reading a summary of the Massei report:

    “The only thing we know for certain in this complex case is that Meredith was murdered.”

    Happy new year!

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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:
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