Archive for the ‘Amanda Knox’ Category

Amanda Knox Latest News: Harassment of Frank Sfarzo, and Witness Antonio Curatolo Changes Story

The harassment of journalists covering the Amanda Knox case has continued in Italy leading the Committee to Protect Journalists to write to the Italian President.  On April 19th, the group complained in particular about the treatment of independent blogger / journalist Frank Sfarzo at the hands of the Squadra Mobile led by Italian prosecutor Guiliano Mignini.

Italian prosecutor Giuliano Mignini continues to try to silence those who question the fairness of the trial of Amanda Knox, an American college student convicted of murder in Italy.

Frank Sfarzo, who writes the blog Perugia Shock, complained of being routinely assaulted and threatened by the police in Perugia.  The police tried to prevent him from entering the court during the trial of Amanda Knox, seized his cell phone, and rummaged through his notes.  The Squadra Mobile raided his house last September and arrested him, bringing him to the police station where they presented him to an Italian psychiatrist, insisting she declare him insane. To help make their case for insanity, the police cited excerpts from Sfarzo’s reporter’s notebook on the Kercher murder case.  Sfarzo reported:  “They told the doctor that I was pathologically obsessed with the case, that I was so fixated on it I must be insane.”

This kind of reminds me of the human rights violations of Soviet-era Russia. One of the tactics used by Soviet authorities to was to confine their critics in mental hospitals.  By declaring dissidents “insane”, the Soviets could hold them indefinitely, and since no criminal charges were filed, there was no need for a potentially embarrassing public trial.   Russian psychiatrists were bullied into being complicit in this practice.  Luckily, the Italian psychiatrist who examined Sfarzo was not intimidated, and told the Italian police to take a hike.

I won’t recount all the well-documents efforts by Italian prosecutor Guiliano Mignini to silence his critics, but have blogged about them here, here, and here.

The other latest news on the case of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito pertains to the appeal they have proceeding.  Antonio Curatolo, a witness from the first trial, was back on the witness chair again recently. Curatolo testified in the first trial that he saw Knox and Sollecito in town on the night of the murder of Meredith Kercher.  This contradicted the defendants’ story that they were at home.  But recently, while testifying at the appeal, Antonio Curatolo didn’t seem so sure he had the night right and indicated that he may have been thinking about the day after.  See the blog post by Candace Dempsey.  At the appeal it was also brought forth that Curatolo was a transient who is addicted to heroin.  At the time of his testimony, Curatolo was incarcerated for dealing heroin, thus casting doubt on his veracity.  I am not sure how it works in Italy, but in the U.S., courts are often wary of testimonies from witnesses like Curatolo.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that it is sometimes appropriate to instruct a jury as follows: “If a witness is a narcotics addict, there are additional reasons why his or her testimony should be considered with great care.  An addict has a constant need for a supply of drugs and for money to support his or her habit, and may also have an abnormal fear of imprisonment in which his or her supply of drugs might be cut off.  There are special circumstances which you may consider in weighing testimony of this kind.  You of course may give the testimony such weight as you think proper, after considering all relevant circumstances.”  See United States v. Burrows, 36 F.3d 875 (9th Cir. 1994).  Maybe such an instruction in the case of Amanda Knox would have prevented the Italian jury from giving too much weight to Curatolo’s statement.

What do you think about these issues?

Curt Knox and Edda Mellas Charged with Slander in Italy? Are You Kidding?

Americans are really starting to wonder about Italy.  This seemingly mild-mannered NATO ally is the birthplace of the renaissance, and the Roman Republic is a cultural antecedent to all Western democracies.

"About every two minutes a new wave of planes would be over. The motors seemed to grind rather than roar, and to have an angry pulsation like a bee buzzing in blind fury." -- Ernie Pyle

Italian soldiers have fought along side the U.S. in Afghanistan, and the country remains a popular tourist destination for Americans.   The U.S. public just hasn’t had any negative views toward Italy  since well, you know, that whole World War II Mussolini thing.  But now, the American public is just quietly watching with bewilderment as the Italian legal system spins out of control in this whole Amanda Knox fiasco.

I was just dumbfounded last November when Italian prosecutor Giuliano Mignini charged Amanda Knox with slander.  But today the newspapers were filled with the story that Amanda Knox’s parents have been charged with slander.  The news today was that Curt Knox and Edda Mellas have both been charged with the crime of slander in an Italian court for repeating their daughter’s complaints of police mistreatment to a British newspaper.  In November, I addressed Amanda Knox’s slander charge and wrote: “As a lawyer, and a former American prosecutor, I have seen some pretty petty moves pulled by prosecutors.  However, this “slander” charge I think would top them all.”  Little did I know as to what was to come.   The biggest problem I see with this prosecution, is how in the world can you charge someone with slander when they did not profess to have any independent knowledge of the occurrence?  All that Curt Knox and Edda Mellas did was relay complaints that their daughter made about being cuffed in the head by the Italian police during an all-night interrogation.  If the parents are being charged with slander, then why isn’t every newspaper in Europe being charged with slander for reporting the same information?  The reason is because the Italian prosecutors are completely out of control, they do whatever they want, and the Italian justice system is so dysfunctional that it doesn’t seem to have even the most elemental checks and balances that you would expect in any free country.

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?

Amanda Knox Charged with Slander? Are You Kidding?

Well if you weren’t yet convinced how dysfunctional Italy’s criminal justice system is, you have to be convinced now after reading the morning papers today.  Despite the fact that Amanda Knox has been sentenced to 26 years for murder, prosecutors are seeking additional prison time and additional charges for “slander”.  See story. The lawyers allege that Knox besmirched the good reputation of the Italian police when she explained that police slapped her on the back of the head during their 14-hour, all-night interrogation.  

As a lawyer, and a former American prosecutor, I have seen some pretty petty moves pulled by prosecutors.  However, this “slander” charge I think would top them all.  In this country, I don’t ever recall anyone being charged with criminal slander. Sure, it is something you can sue for.  But to be charged with a crime? Almost unheard of.

I have to admit, part of me is glad these charges have been filed.  Why?  Because the frivolousness of these charges is really something that everyone will agree on.  Even those people who believe Knox is guilty of murder have to admit that this charge is really silly.  If the Italian prosecutors really believed their murder conviction would be upheld, then why would they worry about getting more time for slander charges?  The truth is the prosecutors are probably nervous about the conviction being overturned. Additionally, are the Italian police such a sensitive bunch that their “feelings were hurt” by allegations that they slapped an arrestee?  Are the Italian police so much different from all other police of the world that they never ever manhandle suspects?  It is laughable that the Italian prosecutors are really trying to get the world to believe that.  The Italian police admit that they interrogated Knox for 14 hours without food or sleep, and that they did this by working in teams against this one girl.  That in itself is abusive and coercive.  Does any more “slander” really damage the reputation of the Italian police?  The so-called “confession” that Amanda Knox made to the police was the result of the police repeatedly insisting that she committed the crimes. Using an universal interrogation trick, the police insisted that Amanda “imagine” what happened if she had committed the murder, and Amanda complied.

Aren’t people allowed to public criticize the government in Italy?  (I guess not – remember how Giuliano Mignini tried to bring defamation charges against the West Seattle Herald?) The image of the Italian criminal justice is going from bad to worse with this new “slander” charge.  Let’s see if Amanda’s defense lawyer Carlo Dalla Vedova can try to get these charges dismissed.   You really have to wonder about the wisdom of Judge Claudia Matteini in bringing these charges.

Am I the only one who thinks these charges are ridiculous?

See my past posts about the Amanda Knox case beginning the summer of 2009.

Retired FBI Agent Steve Moore Joins Those Defending Amanda Knox

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.

New Book on Amanda Knox Addresses Sensationalistic Media Coverage

I just finished reading Murder in Italy by Candace Dempsey, a book about the murder trial in Italy of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito.  The book is disturbing in its coverage of the media in this case, particularly of the British and Italian press.  Candace Dempsey is an award winning writer and blogs for the Seattle PI.   In her book, Dempsey documents several efforts by British tabloid Daily Mail to pay UW classmates of Amanda Knox for stories about her.    The British tabloid alleged that after Amanda Knox found out her roommate had been murdered, she went out on a shopping spree for lingerie.   In fact, she had to buy new underwear because the police cordoned off her apartment.   Nevertheless, the Telegraph quoted an Italian shopkeep as offering the opinion that she did not show remorse in the right way.  This seems like one of those stories that was paid for.  In other instances, the Italian authorities improperly took the diary of Amanda Knox and leaked it to the press.

The British and Italian tabloids that wrote these sensationalistic stories seem to ignore a classic rule of journalism, i.e. the two source rule.  Under the two source rule, a journalist would seek corroboration from a different source for scandalous allegations like the above.   The journalistic codes of several American tabloids in the U.S. operate the same way.  I remember being contacted a while ago by the National Enquirer about a murder case I was prosecuting.  They interviewed me for about ten minutes, and declined my offer to send down court documents to back up what I claimed.  “That won’t be necessary” I was told.   The paper than ran a story based on what I said alone.   I do remember that the reporter often would try to get me to say sensationalistic things.  The reporter, who had a British accent incidentally, would say, “I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but that sounds outrageous!”.  When I just answered “uh-Huh”, he just repeated the same “question”, but I never took the hint and said “outrageous” for him, which was what he apparently wanted.

Much of the bad press coverage mentioned in Candace Dempsey’s book didn’t even seem intentional, rather it was just sloppy.  For example, the tabloids printed a supposed excerpt from Amanda’s diary, that read as follows:

That night I smoked a lot of marijuana and I fell asleep at my boyfriend’s house.  I don’t remember anything.  But I think it is possible that Raffaele went to Meredith’s house, raped her and then killed her.  And then when he got home while I was sleeping, he put my fingerprints on the knife.  But I don’t understand why Raffaele would do that.

In reality, Candace Dempsey explains that this excerpt was a bad translation of English to Italian, and back to English.  The actual text of the diary was:

Raffaele and I have used this knife to cook, and it’s impossible that Meredith’s DNA is on the knife because she’s never been to Raffaele’s apartment before.   So unless Raffaele decided to get up after I fell asleep, grabbed said knife, went over to my house, used it to kill Meredith, came home, cleaned the blood off, rubbed my fingerprints all over it, put it away, then tucked himself into bed, and then pretended really well the next couple of days, well, I just highly doubt all of that.

In another instance of bad translation, Amanda Knox’s childhood soccer-field nickname “Foxy Knoxy” was translated by the Italian press as “Volpe Cattiva”.  Volpe meaning fox, and Cattiva meaning bad, wicked or naughty.

In the U.S., we learn in school that irresponsible journalism is just the price we pay for having a strong first amendment, and a free press.  But in Italy, you have to wonder, because the freedom of the press is much more limited.  The Italian courts are still full of criminal liable charges which would be unconstitutional in the U.S. under the Supreme Court decision of New York Times v. Sullivan in 1964. In fact Amanda Knox is now facing criminal libel charges in Italy for maintaining that she was hit in the head by Italian investigators when they pressured her to confess during an all-night interrogation. We should also recall how much harassment Italian journalist Mario Spezi has faced from the police.  See here.

In light of the Italian government’s strict control of the press, why were the false stories about Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito allowed to continue?

Judge Michael Heavey Answers Complaint He Abused Office By Speaking Out On Amanda Knox Case

Last summer, I wrote a post about the Amanda Knox case, and mentioned how King County Superior Court Judge Mike Heavey was among the local people trying to help Amanda.

Judge Michael Heavey

I wrote that Judge Heavey wrote to the to the Italian council that regulates judges to protest the leaks from the prosecutor, police and prison officials to the tabloid press.  Well, I read last month in Mary Whisner blog last month that the judge was accused by the Judicial Conduct Commission of violating judicial ethics rules by writing that letter.  The complaint alleges that Heavey misused the prestige of his office by advocating for Knox and criticizing the Italian authorities prosecuting the case.  The complaint alleges that Heavey may have violated the state rule that judges “should not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others.”  Apparently, what real irked the commission is that Heavey wrote the letter on official court stationary.  In Heavey’s response that he filed with the commission, he seems to concede that he should not have used official stationary.  Judge Heavey’s daughters attended the same school as Amanda Knox.

My question is this:  Since when can’t judges (at least in their private capacity) write letters to speak out on civil rights abuses overseas?  If the judge had spoken out in defense of Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, I don’t think the judicial conduct commission would have cared.  Maybe when the country is a fellow NATO country things are a little different.  Also it should be pointed out that Judge Michael Heavey made it very clear that he was writing the letters not as a judge but as a father.  Doesn’t that make a difference?  Let’s buy Judge Heavey some of his own stationary at Office Depot, and then maybe the CJC will dismiss the charges. 

For prior posts on the Amanda Knox case see here, here, here, here, and here.

Candace Dempsey Releases Book on Amanda Knox

If you are in Spokane Thursday night, you may want to swing by Auntie’s Book Store at 7 p.m. to hear Candace Dempsey read from her new book Murder in Italy The book is about the case of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito who were convicted in December of the murder of Meredith Kercher.  Amanda Knox was an American student from the University of Washington at the time, and Meredith Kercher was visiting from England.  The story made international headlines, and the conviction was controversial particularly among U.S. legal experts.

Candace Dempsey certainly knows her way around Spokane, having formerly worked at the Spokesman-Review.    Lately Dempsey has been blogging about the case for the Seattle PI.  I have not read the book yet, but I have it ordered from Amazon.  I won’t be able to make it on Thursday, but someone let me know how it goes.

Speaking of good books.  I just finished reading the book The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold.  (O.k. I admit it, I didn’t actually “read” the book, I listened to it on Itunes).  I also rented the movie too, again on Itunes.  Both were good, and you may want to check them out.

I will let you know about Murder in Italy after I read it.  Right now, I am waiting with all the other Amanda supporters to wait for the Italian appeals court to review her case.  I am still optimistic.

The Latest Criminal Justice News from Italy – Franscesco Di Stefano and Bella Swan

I read in Italia! recently a story about reputed mafia boss Francesco Di Stefano, who fooled the Italian authorities into releasing him from prison due to health problems.   Francesco Di Stefano, who was serving a 30-year sentence, pretended to be suffering from anorexia and “post-traumatic paraplegia”.  He apparently faked the paraplegia and went on a crash diet until he was down to 84 pounds.  The Italian prison released him to serve the remainder of his sentence under house arrest at the residence of his wife in Bologna, in northern Italy.  The mafia boss then fled and was missing for sometime.  He was later found by police driving around down in  Sicily in a sports car.  When asked why he was not in a wheelchair, he is claimed to have replied: “It’s a Miracle!”  You have to at least admire the force of will that the man would have to have in order to bring his weight down to 84 pounds.  The man was only 36 years old.   This sort of thing would never happen in the U.S.   The system here is real hard-nosed about releasing even the very sick from prison.  I just don’t recall it ever happening.  I know when many states enacted mandatory life sentences and abolished the parole system, many people wondered if someday the prisons would start looking like nursing homes.  I anticipate this will be a budget issue some day.  I have blogged in the past about such budget issues, see here.  Usually in American prisons, the staff has significance experience in handling inmates with serious medical problems.  however, local jails are a different story.  Usually the staff of local jails are in a hurry for sick inmates to be released or sent off to prison.

Speaking of Italy, am I the only one who thought of Amanda Knox during the  Volturi scene in the movie Twilight: New MoonAn American girl pleads for her life, minus the blue berets The movie’s heroine,  Bella Swan, travels to Italy and is greeted by the Volturi, the governors of the vampire world.  It just seemed a little too familiar to see this charismatic American girl struggle to understand a foreign process and plead her case on why she should be set free.  And Bella Swan and Amanda Knox are both from Western Washington!  I haven’t seen any other blogger make this comparison, so let me know if I am crazy on this one.

Amanda Knox, Giuliano Mignini, Rudy Guede Revisited

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.

For earlier posts I wrote about Amanda’s case, see here, here and here.

Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking:
Law Office of Steve Graham
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