Justice taking second place to a system saving face

The truth of the Meredith Kercher case is being lost in the endless process of trying to save face, initially by prosecutor Mignini, but now of the Italian judicial system

Amanda Knox: innocent yet desperately painted as guilty?
Jonathan Bracey Gibbon
On 27 March 2013 15:46

The decision of the Italian top court, the Supreme Court of Cassation, to retry the Meredith Kercher murder case might have come as a surprise to Amanda Knox's defence lawyer. But to those who have followed this case and witnessed the Italian judicial system prosecuting it, the decision was sadly predictable.

In deciding to re-hear the appeal, rather than retry the case, what is on trial here is as much the Italian justice system as Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito.

Furthermore, as in the original trial itself, the role of a media unrestrained by the courts ensures proceedings will have little to do with justice more the pursuit of agendas, and the saving of face in particular.

The recent bail hearings of the Oscar Pistorius case revealed a judicial system totally at odds with our own, with the idiosyncrasies of the South African Police and the investigation under the spotlight every bit as much as Pistorius.

The moment the Italian Supreme Court decision was announced, the case once again polarised the court of public opinion far and wide.

US public opinion is steadfastly behind Knox, who is coincidentally about to publish her memoirs, Waiting to be Heard. But while Knox is safely ensconced in Seattle, in Italy, Solecitto will have his studies into robotic engineering wrecked by a rebooted media meltdown.

In the UK, public opinion, while united in sympathy for the Kerchers, is divided along the lines of those who want to believe the prosecution's case, fuelled by a blind belief in the reporting of the Daily Mail, a degree of anti-Americanism, and the measured wisdom that Knox 'looks like she done it', and those who despair at the farce of a trial, the role of the media and the paucity of evidence against the accused.

Numerous books have been written on the case. Waiting to be Heard is the latest, which it is claimed will enable Knox to pay her substantial legal fees, but Knox is late to the publishing fest with books already published by Sollecito and Meredith Kercher's father, John.

Added to these are various reporters' tomes of somewhat mixed quality given so much of the source material is mired in tabloid dubiousness, the quality of their sources, and Italian politics both local and national. But this doesn't stop those experts doing the rounds, adding little to a story that gets more bewildering as time passes.

Arguably the most illuminating reporting on the Kercher case can be found in the afterword of Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi's book, The Monster of Florence. Published in a revised edition in 2008, as the case was coming to court, The Monster of Florence is a real life crime thriller combining the skills of thriller writer, Preston, and renowned Italian crime reporter, Spezi. It documents the grim serial killings of as many as 16 victims around Florence between 1968 and 1985, the botched investigations into the killings, and the record of the more recent prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini.

Under Mignini's direction, investigations focused on his own conspiracy theories which were largely informed by his credence of a bizarre conspiracy blog run by an eccentric Roman housewife. As fiction, it would be a truly terrible plot device. As non-fiction it is jaw-dropping.

Mignini's belief in Satanic ritual linking the killings led to a number of spurious convictions, repeated erroneous investigations, even the interrogation of Preston, who was threatened with deportation, and Spezi, who Mignini actually jailed on charges of impeding an investigation – overturned on appeal.

As many as four 'Monsters' were charged and convicted at various times, but Mignini never got his man. Preston and Spezi made a compelling case as to the identity of the Monster in The Monster of Florence, which, as well as a cracking read, remains a damning indictment of an archaic judicial system perverted by a flawed prosecutor, operating without restraint, inevitably abusing that very system to save face.

Crucially, the afterword of The Monster of Florence detailed how Mignini, now investigating the Kercher case, pursued similar Satanic fit-ups to those documented in The Monster of Florence. Furthermore, given Mignini had interrogated Preston and Spezi – whose sources all along seem to have been impeccable – the afterword used their experience at Mignini's hands to illuminate the Knox interrogation.

So, having illegally extracted confessions from Knox and trumpeted to the press the subsequent arrests of Knox, Sollecito and a third man – whose name had, according to Preston and Spezi, been suggested to Knox under duress by interrogators – not to mention leaking details of the interrogation to the press, Mignini's, initially 'satanic', sex-game-gone-wrong scenario became 'fact'.

But with the arrest of Rudy Guede, a drug-dealing drifter with a history of burglary and harassing women, and whose DNA was all over the crime scene, Mignini came under real pressure.

With all the evidence now pointing to Guede, rather than Knox and Sollecito, and with the Monster investigation fiasco looming, Mignini, desperate to keep his sex-game-gone wrong scenario alive, released the Knox-named suspect and simply substituted him with Guede, even though Guede had never met or known Knox or Sollecito.

In his subsequent defence Guede did not play ball. He never mentioned Knox or Sollecito, sticking to his story that he and Meredith had had consensual sex, that he had left and some other third party had committed the crime. In the US, detectives call this the SODDI defence, as commonly employed by rapist-murderers: 'We had sex. I split. Some Other Dude Did It.'

Preston and Spazi document Mignini's subsequent campaign to stand the sex-game story up – investigators rounding up helpful witnesses, repeated examination of the crime scene, and then, after five months in prison, Guede changing his story completely to fit the Mignini plot line, the 'other Dude' being Raffaele Sollecito, and so on. DNA was eventually found, months later, linking the couple to the scene and the rest is history. Mignini got his conviction and his face was saved.

Mignini was eventually convicted and sentenced for abuse of office, and that conviction was overturned on appeal. All the while he remained in his post.

It seems the truth of the case is being lost in the endless process of trying to save face, initially by Mignini, but now of the Italian judicial system. From 2007, Preston and Spezi's reporting underlines the fact that it is hard to believe this is the justice system of an EU country.

Whilst much of what has been written on the case has come from hacks who lived through it, Preston and Spezi were there before the event, and, as this 2009 clip shows (3:20), it looks like they got it bang on.

Jonathan Bracey-Gibbon is a freelance journalist who over the past 15 years has written for The Times, the Financial Times, The Sunday Times and Sunday Express. Follow him on Twitter@Jon_BG

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