Monday, May 5, 2014

The Rule of Law in Italy: The Amanda Knox Case

When I was in college, I spent my junior year studying music and German in Vienna, Austria, under the auspices of a program, the Institute for European Studies.  Instructions from the program before I left included warnings about doing anything illegal in Austria or any other European country and the consequences.  Basically, if we broke the host country's law, the American Embassy would not be able to do too much for us.  They informed us of the severe penalties for using or possession of illegal drugs primarily.  I'm certain it wouldn't have occurred to them to warn us about how the Austrian justice system deals with alleged murderers.

Nevertheless, I can still relate to Amanda Knox and the horror she finds herself in once again.  Last week, we learned that the Italian court was throwing out the ruling that had freed her and planned a new trial for her and Raffaele Sollecito.  My first thought was "What the F---?"  My second thought was "Wow, the Italian judicial system really has it in for Amanda Knox.  This is vindictive."  My third thought, finally, was, "Doesn't Italy have double jeopardy?"

Amanda Knox now (from

Let's review: As a college student studying in Italy, American Amanda Knox was living with a British college student, Meredith Kercher, in Perugia.  Knox met and began dating Sollecito with whom she had spent the evening and night when someone murdered Meredith Kercher.  Knox and Sollecito returned to Knox's place to discover the crime scene and subsequently called the police.  Neither Sollecito's nor Knox's DNA or any other trace evidence from them was found in the crime scene, i.e. Kercher's room. 

But another person's DNA and trace evidence were found: Rudy Guede.  He was tried and found guilty of Kercher's murder, and is serving his time in prison.  Guede has also told the police, the lawyers, the prosecutors and judges -- everyone -- that he alone killed Kercher, and neither Knox nor Sollecito were involved, nor anyone else. 

Rudy Guede
The Italian police and prosecutors, however, were highly suspicious of both college students, and charged them anyway with the crime despite the lack of hard evidence.  They were then convicted and were imprisoned until another court ruled on their appeal and set them free.  Knox returned to Seattle, having gained far more experience and education in Italy than she'd originally hoped for, and finally graduated from college. 

But the Italians weren't finished with her.  Italian law does not have double jeopardy, apparently, and the Italians can re-charge and re-try Knox for the same crime.  This falls under "un. be. lieve. able."

The Prosecutor: Giuliano Mignini
It also makes the Italians look really stupid, in my opinion.  I mean, unbelievably stupid.  Are they bowing to pressure from Meredith Kercher's family, who cannot let go of the notion that the roommate must have done it despite evidence to the contrary?  Hasn't the prosecutor explained to the family that Rudy Guede committed the crime and there's evidence to back it up, whereas there's no evidence for Knox or Sollecito?  Nothing will bring back Meredith for them or anyone else.  What happened to her was a true tragedy, and her story needs to be told to every college student who plans to study in another country -- including foreign students planning to study in the U.S.

My first weekend in Austria, those running the program in Vienna treated us to an orientation which included going over local customs and warnings about people who prey on foreigners, especially young American students who tend to be extremely gullible, ignorant and naive.  Harsh words, yes, but true.  At the time, we were also warned about the possibility of abduction, especially blonde women who would be sold into servitude or forced into marriage.  And finally, we were warned about keeping our passports safe and secure because they were worth a lot on the Black Market.

I was the most distrustful of men between the ages of 20 and 40, strangers who approached me on the street.  Despite being as careful as I could be, I still had some very close calls, and the majority of them occurred in Italy where we learned that if we spoke English and were marked as American, the men considered us to be "low hanging fruit" ripe for the plucking.  My co-traveler and I decided early in our time in Italy to speak German in public and this effectively protected us.  The Italian men were not interested in German female students.  Every time we spoke English, we had problems that included attempted rape (three times), assault (twice), and harassment.  Nothing positive or flattering about that kind of attention from men, believe me.  I left Italy with the worst possible opinion of Italian men as complete pigs and criminals.

Amanda Knox's experience has done nothing to change that opinion, really.  I'm impressed with Sollecito's loyalty to her, however.  I'm not at all impressed with the Italian rule of law and the judicial system.  It seems to mirror the male behavior that I witnessed as a student.  What is really astounding to me, however, is just how incredibly stupid that court is to even consider a new trial when there is no evidence and the man who murdered Meredith Kercher is already in prison.


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