Sunday, January 10, 2010

Ominous Parallels: Comparing the Duke lacrosse case to the Knox/Sollecito case


Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were convicted of murdering Meredith Kercher, Amanda’s flatmate in Perugia, Italy, in 2009. Both Ms. Kercher and Ms. Knox were studying abroad. Ms. Kercher was from Great Britain, Ms. Knox is from Seattle, Washington; Mr. Sollecito is an Italian student. A third suspect, Rudy Guede, was convicted in 2008. To some students of the Duke lacrosse (DL) case, the Amanda Knox/Raffaelo Sollecito (KS) case is playing like a sequel they did not wish to see.
DNA evidence
In the Duke lacrosse case the only DNA that even might have been from one of the three indicted players was on a fake fingernail found in a trashcan in one of the bathrooms. The DNA was a weak match to David Evans; however, the most likely explanation was that it arose from transfer from items of his in the trashcan, such as dental floss or facial tissue. In the Perugia murder case there are two pieces of evidence, the kitchen knife discussed in part I of this series, and the bra clasp, which will be treated in a future post. The kitchen knife is alleged to have DNA from Ms. Knox on the handle and a trace of DNA from Ms. Kercher on the blade (http://viewfromwilmington.blogspot.com/2010/01/amanda-knox-and-raffaele-sollecito-and.html). The bra clasp is said to have DNA from Ms. Kercher, Mr. Sollecito and possibly three other individuals. Its value as evidence is disputed.
The Prosecutor
DA Michael Nifong not only withheld exculpatory DNA information, but also made inflammatory statements to the press. His conduct was so egregious that a new verb, to Nifong, has entered the English language. Giuliano Mignini has the distinction of having had a book written about his conduct during a murder investigation, The Monster of Florence, by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/10/an-innocent-abroad/?ref=opinion). Mr. Mignini was indicted in 2006 based upon his actions in the Monster of Florence murder case (http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2009/12/07/crimesider/entry5928444.shtml). Mr. Mignini denied any wrongdoing (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7883286.stm).
Changing Storyline
After Reade Seligmann’s attorneys released evidence of the younger Mr. Seligmann’s whereabouts at the time of the alleged rape, Mr. Nifong implied that he had a different timeline, a transparent attempt to get around an unimpeachable alibi. In December of 2006, the alleged victim said that she was no longer sure that she had been penetrated by a penis. Many students of the DL case saw this as an attempt to explain away the lack of players’ DNA even in the presence of DNA from other individuals in the AV’s body.
The KS case has been through more changes in storyline than a movie script handled by a dozen writers. Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Timothy Egan wrote in the summer of 2009, “‘Case closed,’ the Italian authorities said in those first days of November, 2007, even though they had yet to arrest the only man [Rudy Guede] who has ever been found guilty of the murder.” At one point the possibility that the murder was related to a Halloween ritual was floated; at the close of the trial this was not mentioned. In both the DL and RS cases the only constant was that the defendants must be guilty.
Presumption of Innocence
A prominent southern writer, Alan Gurganous, wrote an article for the New York Times titled, “Blue Devils Made Them Do It.” Mr. Gurganous said (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/09/opinion/09gurganus.html?ex=1302235200&en=97bf0167bd611343&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), “From north of here, this story must seem like yet another involving Southern frat boys run wild.” Mr. Gurganous does no more than to pay lip service to the principle that a defendant is innocent unless proven guilty. If anyone doubts that many leading figures in Durham and elsewhere trod the presumption of innocence into the ground in this case (in other words, if one doubts that Mr. Gurganous’ view was representative), Taylor and Johnson’s book Until Proven Innocent will disabuse him or her of this notion.
With respect to the KS case “Judge Paolo Michelli, during the pretrial, took the conspiracy for granted. He boasted that he began his reasoning with all three suspects in the murder room. So much for innocent until proven guilty (http://blog.seattlepi.com/dempsey/archives/179047.asp).”
Character assault
Nifong gave about seventy interviews in the first weeks of the DL case. Among his many false assertions was that the players were stonewalling the investigation. The Durham police aided and abetted him.
One of the criticisms leveled against Ms. Knox is that she failed to act appropriately after the murder. Attorney Scott Greenfield posted an essay on the judicial weakness of such an argument (http://blog.simplejustice.us/2009/06/11/how-is-she-supposed-to-act.aspx). Greenfield also wrote (http://blog.simplejustice.us/2009/12/05/a-trial-without-evidence.aspx), “During the summation, the prosecutor told the jury about the things Amanda Knox might have said to Meredith Kercher before the alleged drug-induced orgy that ended with her throat being slashed. ‘You are always behaving like a little saint. Now we will show you. Now we will make you have sex.’ This would be a horrible thing to say, except that it never happened. No one says that such a statement was ever made. But summations in Perugia aren't limited to evidence, as they are here. Rather, this is a permissible indulgence into fantasy, a made up dramatization of what the prosecutors contend might have happened.” Indeed, many of the incidents that have been used to paint Ms. Knox in an unfavorable light are either untrue or misleadingly portrayed, and may be the subject of separate posts.
Irrelevant or false leaked information
Unindicted sophomore Ryan McFayden made an ill-judged allusion to the book and movie “American Psycho” in a private email. Virtually everything written about the hard-to-stomach contents of this email had to do with the character and mental health of its author (I have firsthand knowledge, however, that Ryan McFayden is a polite, thoughtful, and intelligent young man). Too few people have pointed out that the email had nothing to do with the case and that the authorities were wrong to release it.
Amanda Knox’s journal, which was written during her pretrial incarceration, was leaked to the press. Apparently, it had been translated into Italian then back-translated into English. Along the way the meaning changed in ways that were unfavorable to her (http://www.sciencespheres.com/2009/11/crucible-of-perugia.html). Moreover, upon being informed that she was HIV-positive (which was not true), she wrote about her sexual partners in her journal. This information has contributed to her public image as a person of low sexual morals. However, the ethics of leaking her journal have received scant attention. Some of the leaks in the K/S case, such as the claim of receipts for bleach (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article2894139.ece), were not presented at the trial and are probably false (http://www.friendsofamanda.org/cleanup.html).
Wendy Murphy
Among the pundits who got the Duke lacrosse case wrong, Wendy Murphy ranks close to the top (http://durhamwonderland.blogspot.com/2006/12/wendy-murphy-file.html). She made numerous factual errors, and speculated wildly and with an unchecked anti-player bias. Her defense of DA Michael Nifong was bizarre (http://liestoppers.blogspot.com/2006/12/wendy-murphy-strikes-again.html).
Students of the DL case might expect similar behaviors with respect to the Knox/Sollecito (KS), and Ms. Murphy does not disappoint (http://www.patriotledger.com/opinions/x1682953943/WENDY-J-MURPHY-Is-Foxy-Knoxy-an-innocent-coed-or-manipulative-murderer). She wrote,” DNA on the handle of the knife that killed the victim matched Knox - and blood on blade matched the victim…Pro-Amanda forces also forget to note that the knife was found hidden in a shoebox, far back inside a closet at Sollecito's apartment - and that the knife had been scrubbed clean with bleach and an abrasive substance - like a Brillo Pad. The defense claimed the sample of Knox's DNA was too small to matter, but ANY DNA is damning evidence - especially on a knife that's been intentionally cleaned and hidden away deceptively in a shoe box, tucked deep inside the closet of a suspect's home.”
Let us focus only on her factual errors about the knife, the subject of Part I of this series (http://viewfromwilmington.blogspot.com/2010/01/amanda-knox-and-raffaele-sollecito-and.html). There was no blood on the blade, and this is one of the main reasons to doubt that DNA signals arising from when the knife was swabbed did not really originate with the blade at all (http://www.sciencespheres.com/2009/10/lcn-dna-profiling-part-ii-watch-where.html). The knife was found in a kitchen drawer with other knives. The police stored it in a shoebox. Ms. Murphy does not explain how she divined that Ms. Knox and Mr. Sollecito used bleach to clean the knife, nor does she bother to tell us that bleach is so effective at destroying DNA that it is routinely used in DNA labs for that very reason. If bleach and a brillo pad were used to clean the knife, it is very difficult to see how any DNA could remain. Finally, the amount of DNA observed was so small that to say it matched Ms. Kercher’s profile is a stretch; calling it a partial match is a better description, and it is quite possible that it originated from Ms. Kercher’s DNA in the laboratory itself.
Courtroom Demeanor
In Until Proven Innocent Taylor and Johnson wrote (p. 180) about Collin Finnerty facing a wall of photographers while awaiting his first appearance before a judge: “He tried to remain expressionless. In that atmosphere, if he had smiled the media would have called it a smirk; if he had frowned they would have called it an angry glare.” Nevertheless one sportswriter wasn’t sure if the younger Mr. Finnerty’s expression was one of shock and fear or or smugness (http://www.usatoday.com/sports/columnist/saraceno/2006-04-18-duke_x.htm).
Frank Sfarzo wrote (http://perugia-shock.blogspot.com/2009/11/migninis-rage-against-knox-and.html) wrote of Amanda Knox, “If she smiles it's wrong, if she cries it's wrong, if she moves it's wrong, if she's still it's wrong, if she watches it's wrong, if she doesn't watch it's wrong."
The role of the blogosphere
In the Duke lacrosse case the blogosphere was able to go into issues in greater depth than the mainstream media and correct a number of important errors. Here is a partial honor roll: Bill Anderson, CrystalMess, Durham in Wonderland, John In Carolina, LaShawn Barber, Liestoppers, and TalkLeft. In the Amanda Knox case, Dr. Mark Waterbury (http://www.sciencespheres.com/2009/10/seven-deadly-sins-of-knoxsollecito.html) and Candace Dempsey (http://blog.seattlepi.com/dempsey/archives/129925.asp) have been covering forensics and general aspects of the case, respectively. Ms. Dempsey may have been the first to point out the similarities between the DL and RS cases.
Final Thoughts
This post is intended as an overview of some of the problems in the Knox/Sollecito case. Any one of these points could easily be expanded into its own post. We will try to explore some of them in the coming months, especially those involving forensics.
Part II in a series.

Update (22 January 2010)
Seattle, WA (USA), near where Amanda Knox's family lives, and Perugia, Italy are sister cities. Maybe Durham, NC should be Perugia's sister city, instead.

52 comments:

RoseMontague said...

I had hoped to see a discussion of this case without drawing comparisons to that pesky Lacrosse incident.
Two judges and six "civilians" on the 8 member jury panel. That is an interesting way of doing things.

A Duke Dad said...

Rosie ....

"Pesky" Lacrosse "INCIDENT".

???

A more accurate description might be:

... Perversion of Justice

... Fraud and Deceit

... Malfeasance in Office

... Frame Up
Imprisoning Innocent Men, Knowingly

... Destroying respect in the law

... Stealing the life of 3 men to get a better pension

"Pesky" is spilling your coffee.

Words do not alter realities. Sorry if that offends your metanarrative.

One Spook said...

Duke Dad:

I believe that Rose Montague's "pesky" comment was clearly tongue in cheek.

Rose is the female adaptation of a poster aka "Red Mountain" and "Mark Rougemount" who has commented on many forums devoted to the lax case. I prefer to call him “Red Rover.” In reading his comments overtime, I believe his views on the salient issues in the lax case do not differ materially from your own, Dad.

Over time, I've noticed that a number of folks, like "Mark Rougemount" who used to post at Liestoppers, grew very weary of the massive group think that characterized that blog as it progressed --- if a poster was not in absolute lock-step with hating Obama and other liberals; loving Christ; the canonization of the lacrosse players; the belief that all prosecutors in America were crooked and out to put every white man in American in jail for life; etc. etc. etc. then they were banned from that blog and somehow became "anti-player," against the injustices suffered by the Duke lacrosse team and were therefore "pro-Nifong," Pro-prosecutorial abuse, etc. etc. etc.

As a result, some of those commentators take great delight in posting some throw-away line like "pesky Lacrosse incident" just to rattle the cages of others.

I think if you asked some of them, you'd find that their views of the wrongs committed in the lacrosse incident --- "Perversion of justice; Fraud and Deceit; Malfeasance in Office; Frame Up" etc. would be consistent with your own views.

I can understand their reaction to the group think at Liestoppers. That board is not a "forum" at all and hasn't been for a long time, if ever. Those who dare disagree with the moderators' full "world view" are banned and accused of all sorts of evils.

Liestoppers has become a mutual admiration society of like-thinking drones who subscribe to a world view on a multitude of issues totally unrelated to the lax case that go far beyond the salient issues in that case.

Why these folks like "Red Rover" spend time and energy to get a charge out of rattling cages is a fair question, but I can understand their motivation for doing it.

Chris has done an excellent job describing the parallels between these cases.

I believe we all ought to focus on those points.

One Spook

RoseMontague said...

I believe One Spook's description of LieStoppers is an accurate one. My intention was to rattle the cage of Chris a bit and not of Duke Dad. It seems that every time a big case rolls around the Lacrosse team supporters will make comparisons to generate interest or to prop up the relative importance of the Lacrosse case.

I think this case is very interesting on it's own merits. I will be fine with continuing the Lacrosse discussion if that is what everyone wants to do.

One Spook said...

Rose:

Do you think there are parallels between these cases?

One Spook

RoseMontague said...

Yes,
The prosecutor is a turd but appears to be a much more competent turd than Mr. Nifong.

One Spook said...

Well, there you go, Rose. That's certainly an insightful comment.

I guess I can see why you didn't make that comment initially.

One Spook

RoseMontague said...

No problem, One Spook. You left off ScarletHill and CloakofAnon, btw. Looking forward to our discussion on the Knox case.

halides1 said...

Hello Everyone,

I am hoping that people use the lacrosse case as a springboard to jump into the Knox/Sollecito case. For example, I have not had a chance to examine the hows and whys of Mignini's indictment. I also think that how and why Ms. Knox's diary was released and translated so poorly is a fruitful topic. There is plenty of misinformation to sort through, however.

Chris

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris,
I didn't follow the Lacrosse case that closely. As an outsider I, too, thought the young men were guilty until it was proven that Nifong was at fault.


As you know, the Amanda/Raffaele trial is very much like the Lacrosse trial, except this time it's two innocent young people being railroaded. I understand what the Duke Dad said in the Jan. 11, 11:18 AM post because it so reflects what's happening in Perugia.

Anonymous said...

Hey to Duke Dad, One Spook, and MarkRougemont aka RoseMontague, and thank you, Chris, for posting this!

I think the parallels between the Knox/Sollecito case and Duke LAX are well worth exploring.

I ignored the Knox/Sollecito case almost completely until the conviction. Even after closely following the Duke LAX case, I assumed the best of the prosecutor and justice system in Perugia and did not feel inclined to keep up with the process, even though the outrageous claims about Ms. Knox should have rung a little bell. After the conviction, though, I read everything I could find about it the case and concluded this was possibly an even greater injustice than what we saw in Durham and even more difficult for anyone to put right.

Re: Liestoppers...It was a wonderful place for discussing the Duke case and for following the Eve Carson murder. After someone hacked the site, though, commenters had to re-register and most did not (aol and gmail accounts were banned for security purposes, I guess). Everything changed after that.

Look forward to talking through this Knox/Sollecito case with all of you.

Observer

A Duke Dad said...

Well, see what happens when you are the first commenter on a thread, and your subtle humor is not apparent to the next commenter.

Somehow, "amusing lynching" just did not strike me as being funny.

From what others have said here, it appears that I've been preaching to the choir.

Via con dios.
.

RoseMontague said...

Don't get your Lacrosse stick all bent out of shape, Duke Dad. From what Chris said it does appear he was trying to drum up some interest in this case with his comparisons. This case is very interesting and I believe the media had a big part in it. Here is how Candace Dempsey describes the one-sided nature of the trial:

"Please, we had seven months of listening to Giuliano Mignini's sex-obsessed, satanic ritual, Manga-hating, theory of the crime. It was the cross-examination, the bulk of the defense case that reporters ignored. Sometimes the court was near empty of reporters when the defense was putting on its witnesses, especially in the summer months. Jurors slept and were not removed in favor of alternates; prosecutor Giuliano Mignini dozed off. Manuela Comodi, the other prosecutor, played solitaire on her computer and left the room frequently to smoke filtered cigarettes."

This is in stark contrast to the defense team playing the media like a banjo in the Lacrosse case.

RING said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Does the public have access to the evidence presented during the Knox trial?

Also, is there an alternate site defending the prosecution's theory/evidence of the case which is comparable to the "Friends of Amanda Knox" site?

An important contribution of the lacrosse case, other than its outcome of innocence for the three falsely accused, was the compilation and dissemination of material/evidence associated with the case to the public at large.

The public relations aspect of the lacrosse case played a valuable part in helping to sway public sentiment towards the belief that the three accused were innocent of the charges levied against them. It also highlighted the flaws and problems within law enforcement and the judiciary.

Anonymous said...

*****
Also, is there an alternate site defending the prosecution's theory/evidence of the case which is comparable to the "Friends of Amanda Knox" site?
******

There are a few sites out there that profess to wanting to fin justice for Meredith but once I started reading them I found them, well, weird. I found them less interested in Meredith and much more interested in generating dislike of Amanda.

There is no public access to the trial transcripts, yet. But the best site out there by far is written by an Italian who attended the trial everyday and knows most of the major players both on the prosecution side and the defense side. He started writing about the murder from the very beginning and still writes about it.

The site is the Perugia Shock site.

http://perugia-shock.blogspot.com/

halides1 said...

Anon. at 4:13 PM,

There is also a site called Perugia Murder File. They have a good deal of information, but it is mixed in with anti-Sollecito rumors and other stuff. The electropherogram from the knife is public, as discussed in the previous post.

Chris

A Duke Dad said...

Rosie :

I am not familiar with "the defense team playing the media like a banjo in the Lacrosse case".

Clearly that was not the DUKE Lacrosse Hoax. Merely google "Wendy Murphy" or "Duff Wilson" on that topic.

Facts, logic, honesty ("I've reviewed all 1800 pages of evidence"), any semblance of investigative reporting ... all were lacking from the NY Times, Murphy's broadcast.

Lots of other examples of the MSM brainlessly hewing Mr. Nifong's line. Once again proving, "If it Bleeds, It Leads".

Yellow Journalism at its Zenith.

.

.... humming "I come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee .... "

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @ 4:32 p.m. and halides1 @ 5:34 p.m.:

Thanks. I will look over both those websites.

I have viewed some youtube videos concerning the evidence. I believe they were from the side believing in Amanda's innocence.

Do you have a link for the electropherogram? I might have missed over it in the discussion on the main page.

halides1 said...

Anon. at 8:30 PM,

http://www.friendsofamanda.org/articles.html

Scroll down and look for the word "petition." It is a pdf file.

Chris

halides1 said...

To all,

Here is a portion of a comment from Duke Dad on the previous post, that I think fits in with this post, "What is the prosecutor's motive?
Publicity for higher office?
Getting the heat off himself from some other malfeasance ?
Mere self-aggrandizement ?

... .... A Duke Dad"

Maybe someone should look into Patrizia Stefanoni's background. I don't have a CV but would like to know more.

Chris

Debrah said...

Ha!

This one from Ann Coulter in the summer of 2009 enters the Lacrosse Hoax into the mix.

As well as detailing Stefanoni.

Debrah said...

More on Stefanoni:

"Patrizia Stefanoni, a police forensics expert who testified in the pretrial hearing in May, suggested that it was Kercher's DNA on the tip of the knife — and that the way the genetic material was positioned indicated the knife had probably been used to puncture the skin. "

halides1 said...

Debrah,

Just doing a quick read, I see at least three problems with the Ann Coulter piece. First, the bra clasp was not bloody, it was dusty (and dust has DNA). Second, the crime scene could not have been that secure, or the bra clasp would have been in the same place. Third and most importantly, is the statement that she attributed to Knox in quotes: "I think it is possible Raffaele went to Meredith's house, raped her, then killed her and then when he got home, while I was sleeping, he pressed my fingerprints on the knife."

This is bogus. What she actually wrote 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 back into bed, and then pretended really well the next couple of days, well, I just highly doubt all of that."

Ann Coulter’s quote is a truncated version of an English translation of an Italian translation of what Ms. Knox originally said (http://www.sciencespheres.com/2009/11/crucible-of-perugia.html). I do not believe that this is the only mistranslation of what Knox said, either, and the errors seem to put the defendants in a more unfavorable light (how the heck did that happen?. That is another underexplored question that we can work on collaboratively.

Chris

Anonymous said...

While Googling the Knox/Sollecito trial and reading various sites I stumbled upon "True Justice For Meridith Kercher."

I haven't been able to peruse the site for any length of time, however, the right column of the page contains links concerning evidence presented during trial, etc.

I am unable to link the site but you can copy the address in your browser.

http://truejustice.org/ee/index.php

Anonymous said...

I have been reading some of the "True Justice for Meredith" site (there is quite a bit of information to look over).

There is information concerning the knife evidence (among other information) which pertains more to the first post you did on the knife. Also included are comments from Dr. Stefanoni.

I am exerpting part of the information here for discussion since this is your most recent post on the case and I am afraid it will be overlooked if posted elsewhere. If you would prefer to only link to the information you may edit my post.

http://www.truejustice.org/ee/index.php?/tjmk/C343/

(Scroll down to Monday, February 23, 2009 post.)

************************************

Specifically the DNA belonging to Meredith, Knox, Sollecito, and Guede which was found at the scene of the crime, and on the suspected murder weapon found, apparently hidden, in Raffaele Sollecito’s house.

Traces of Meredith’s DNA have been found on a knife compatible with the wounds that caused her death. Amanda Knox ‘s genetic material was identified on the knife handle. DNA belonging to Sollecito has been found on the clasp of the victim’s bra. And more DNA showing Rudy Guede’s genetic profile was found on the victim’s body and elsewhere in the house.

In summary, the biological sources and locations where DNA belonging to the three defendants was found are these:

* Guede’s DNA (from epithelial cells) was found inside Meredith, on toilet paper, on the right side of Meredith’s bra, mixed with Meredith’s DNA on the her purse zip, and on the left cuff of Meredith’s light blue sweater

* Sollecito’s DNA (from epithelial cells) was found on Meredith’s bra clasp, mixed with Meredith’s DNA, and on one cigarette butt found in the kitchen

* Knox’s DNA (from epithelial cells) was found on the knife sheath, and close to the blade junction. It was not possible to ascertain both the haematic and epithelial source of Meredith’s DNA on the knife blade, due to the scarcity of the sample. But Judge Micheli noted that reasonable doubt persist that blood could have been present also.

* Other significant biological traces belonging to Meredith - for example, DNA originating from the blood-trace footprints revealed by luminol found in Filomena’s bedroom, as already reported at trial.

Claims of contamination and “poor matches” of the DNA samples were raised by the Sollecito and Knox defenses, although not by Guede’s. The DNA expert Dr. Stefanoni’s arguments in reply to the defenses’ claims are summarized in Judge Micheli‘s report.

Dr Stefanoni reported that the locus ascribable to Meredith and identified on the knife blade shows readings of 41 and 28 RFU. Conventionally, RFU values lower than 50 can be defined as low. But she maintained that the profile matched Meredith’s by explaining that there is no immediate correlation between the height of the peaks obtained by electropherogram and expressed in RFU, and the reliability of the biological investigation.

In fact “even if statistically - in most cases - the RFU data is directly proportional to the possibility of a certain interpretation of the analysis result, on the other side many cases of high peaks of difficult interpretation exist (because of background noises), as well as low peaks that are objectively unquestionable, hence the need to proceed to the examination of data that is apparently scarce, but that mustn’t be considered unreliable per se.”


************************************

The entire Micheli report is on the Ministry of Justice's website, however, it is in Italian.

Anonymous said...

The following is a link to a site hosted by Mark Waterbury who has a Ph.D in science and 20 years experience. (He posts his profile on the site.) He has taken the time to explain the science behind this trial in layman's terms.

www.sciencespheres.com/

halides1 said...

Anon. at 10:02 AM,

There are at least two problems with the TJfM piece from which you quote. The first is that the knife was not hidden; it was in a drawer. The second concerns the intensity of the peaks in the electropherogram originating from the knife. If prior to doing the experiment, one has adopted the rule that peaks below 50 RFU will not be scored, then only one locus, CSF1PO, would even be considered as being real. Butler (Forensic DNA analysis, 2005) wrote on page 526, “Given that it is often not possible to know which alleles should have been present had the sample not been degraded, the standard practice is to interpret only the detected alleles.” It seems as if Stefanoni is either changing the detection threshold after the fact, or she is adopting a threshold for accepting peaks as real that is lower than everyone else’s. The textbook An Introduction to Forensic DNA analysis, 2nd ed. (Rudin, N. and Inman, K., CRC Press 2002, p. 121) states (emphasis added), “It is important to have some predetermined limit to distinguish what is signal and what is noise.”

When one attempts to amplify DNA from such tiny starting amounts, one has to take a number of special precautions. This is called low copy number (LCN) work. Butler (Forensic DNA Typing, 2005) wrote on page 169, “Thus, the routine application of LCN involves at least two amplifications from the same DNA extract with a rule that an allele cannot be scored unless it is present at least twice in replicate samples.” Some additional precautions are the need to work in a sterile environment and to work in a separate laboratory dedicated to LCN work. Butler wrote on page 168, “application of LCN results should be approached with caution due to the possibilities of allele dropout, allele drop-in, and increased risks of collection-based and laboratory-based contamination.” Stefanoni tried to amplify in the LCN regime, but she did not take these precautions (http://www.sciencespheres.com/2009/10/lcn-dna-profiling-part-ii-watch-where.html).

Chris

Anonymous said...

On a romp through peer reviewed journals addressing the usefulness of LDC DNA, I did not find any scholarly publication advocating its use for purposes of proving a crime against a defendant. If anyone comes across a scholarly piece supporting this use of LDC DNA, I would be interested to read it.

Also, I read that Ms Stefanoni indicated there was absolutely NO POSSIBILITY WHATSOEVER of any contamination in her lab, and there had not been ANY contamination in her lab in some seven or more years since she'd been there (or something to that effect). Other DNA experts, however, indicate that with a piece of DNA so small it is consumed in a single testing, the liklihood of it being a case of contamination is significantly enhanced. I find it rather remarkable that other scientists readily acknowledge that the problem of contamination occurs and even occurs within their own labs! But not for Ms. Stefanoni. Her lab is "perfect." This is not reassuring to me and neither is this piece of LDC DNA.

I recall pretty clearly that in the Duke LAX case there was a contamination issue in the DNA testing. Mr. Meehan's DNA (and perhaps some of his employees' DNA) mixed with some of the samples. I would be most interested to know a typical rate of contamination within a lab.

Further, procedures for evidence collection seem rather lax in Perugia based on the video of the bra clasp collection. Are we really to believe that despite the sloppiness in this area, the lab is pristine in every regard? Is it possible for any lab to be pristine?

Re: Ann Coulter...I believe she (or her researchers) did not do enough background work on this case before her interview.

The same applies to Jeanine Pirro, who is extremely pro-prosecution, of course, anyway.

Ultimately, I believe solid independent evidence needs to support whatever "confessions" defendants make to police. Without solid evidence, I think the confessions must be treated with great skepticism. Also, for convictin solid independent evidence must support the prosecutor's story. Otherwise, the prosecutor's story has to be treated with great skepticism, as well. For me "solid evidence" does not include 10, 20 or 30 pieces of refutable, flawed evidence stitched together and called a "totality of the circumstances" argument; that just does not fly for a murder conviction.

Observer

Anonymous said...

Actually, the stringing together of problematic pieces of evidence really should not be adequate for any criminal conviction.

Somewhere along the way we all may want to think through the implications of Mr. Mignini's role as the chief investigator and what that might mean for a case. I am sure we all recall clearly that Mr. Nifong took over the role of directing the Duke LAX case, hence his loss of immunity and his vulnerability to the lawsuit currently moving ahead against him.

But in Italy it seems the prosecutor as lead investigator is the norm...which of course makes shaping the investigation and the collection of evidence in diabolical to support a theory for presentation in court extremely tempting. Why ruin a case by collecting evidence that contradicts the theory? And how much easier to know what evidence to collect and what tests to run if you develop the theory quickly before the investigation really gets off the ground?

Observer

Anonymous said...

halides1

The information for the February 23, 2009 post on TJFM was gleaned, I believe, from the Micheli Report, which dealt mainly with the Guede trial/conviction. I don't know if the knife's location had been revealed in the report or came out later in the Knox/Sollecito trial. I think the author of the post was speculating on its whereabouts.

I don't know enough about the science to make a determination either way as far as the reliabily of the testing done on the knife.

There's a video on the main page of TJFM dated January 13, 2010 detailing some of the testing and collection of evidence done on the knife. Have you viewed it and if so, what do you make of it?

Anonymous said...

********
There's a video on the main page of TJFM dated January 13, 2010 detailing some of the testing and collection of evidence done on the knife. Have you viewed it and if so, what do you make of it?
********

Illogical.

Anonymous said...

Chris @ 5:09 p.m.

Would the peaks being lower than 50 RFUs from the electropherogram become more credible/reliable (not sure what word I am looking for here) when compared to a profile already known (in this case Meredith's) rather than trying to match it to an unknown profile from a database?

halides1 said...

Anon, at 12:46 PM,

I viewed the video, and there are problems with it. First, plastic bags are not as good as cloth bags for DNA evidence. Second, I don’t see a reason why the knife needed to have been taken out of the bag at all. Evidence should be handled as little as possible. And even if it were necessary to do so, the person doing it should have used disposable plastic implements. Nor does its location (in a shoebox on a desk) strike me as particularly secure from idle handling. But the most serious misunderstanding is about the need for the retest. The presence or absence of the defense team is not the issue. The DNA profile from the knife is clearly in the low copy number (LCN) region. For example, two of the loci have pairs of peaks that are very unequal in signal-to-noise (S/N) ratio. That demands certain kinds of retests by its very nature. One does not call something a match unless both tests are in agreement, and this is impossible to do for this knife.

There are a couple of other things that caught my eye. What Raffaele said or did not say about the knife is strictly irrelevant. His words cannot bring DNA into existence that is not there, any more than other words could remove DNA that were there. With respect to cleaning, bleach is so effective at destroying DNA that it is often used at 10% and sometimes as low as 2% of full, commercial strength in laboratories that must remove unwanted DNA. It is doubtful that one could remove all blood and not remove all DNA. If the knife were also scrubbed (with a brillo pad in some tales), then the chances of not removing all DNA are even less, probably infinitesimal.

Finally, I went to the PMF site (http://www.perugiamurderfile.org/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=203) that the video suggested, and I found additional errors. The moderator, Michael, claimed that “It also needs pointing out, that what is important is 'not' how low or high the rfu is, but the noise to peak ratio. Note, this knife sample has very low noise on it, where in contrast the peaks are clear and pronounced. Neither are there any stray peaks, as one would expect in a noisy sample.” If one looks at a number of electropherograms, most have S/N ratios in the hundreds or thousands; this one is quite noisy by comparison. Moreover, locus D3S1358 (leftmost in the second line) has two peaks that are unmarked, yet are roughly 20 RFU, nearly as large as other peaks that are marked. Another commenter, Fiona, misunderstood the nature of contamination (the subject of a future post). The claim on this thread that the signers of the open letter have not seen all of the evidence is a canard; they show the electropherogram on page 5.

Chris

halides1 said...

Anon. at 4:35 PM,

That should not make any difference.

Chris

halides1 said...

Observer at 10:30 AM,

You raise a number of points worth pursuing. I know that this is not a very complete answer to your question about low copy number (LCN) DNA forensics, but this link is a useful place to get started:

http://www.sciencespheres.com/2009/10/canary-in-lcn-dna-mine-part-i.html

Chris

A Duke Dad said...

We talking some very technical points in the laboratory technique of DNA analysis.

The blog folk here should be aware of Chris Halkides' credentials:

Chris is Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at University of North Carolina - Wilmington.

RoseMontague said...

Chris knows what he is talking about here. I don't see it as likely that it is the murder weapon. It helps the case against Knox/Sollecito if it was. It does not make sense to me that they would take the bloody knife back to Sollecito's apartment, clean it and stick it in the kitchen drawer.
The whole theory of the crime makes little sense to me. Here is a good summation from a UK reporter (another one that wrote a book on this case) that is likely pro-prosecution in his beliefs:
Timeline/Theory
A lot of holes and pure fantasy in this theory in my opinion.

halides1 said...

RoseMontague,

I think you are right. The prosecution apparently thinks that two knives were used. Why dispose of one knife and not the other? It makes no sense.

Chris

RoseMontague said...

There are other theories that could explain the "real evidence" better (including the bloody footprints), especially if you are willing to concede that Knox/Sollecito are not completely innocent in all of this.
For example: Knox, Sollecito, and Guede go to Kercher's flat and at some point Knox and Sollecito leave (maybe to smoke a joint and get some munchies). While they are gone Guede rapes and kills Kercher. When they get back they discover the murder scene and Guede is gone (fleeing the country). They must have moved the body trying to see if she was still alive and Knox covers the body with a quilt. Fearing that they will be placed at the scene of the crime they stage a fake burglary at a nearby flat and dispose of their cell phones in a neighbors yard.
Now if they admit the cover up they are almost certain to do some time, yet if they go to trial for a murder they did not participate in they may have felt they had a good chance of getting off. It is obvious that they were not thinking very clearly after discovering the body.

halides1 said...

To all,

Here is another summary of the case:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1234298/Amanda-Knox-The-troubling-doubts-Foxy-Knoxys-role-Meredith-Kerchers-murder.html

Chris

halides1 said...

RoseMontague,

The story surrounding the footprints is complex, but it is worth noting for starters that luminol reacts with more than just blood. It also reacts with bleach and fruit juice, among many other items. In other words, a positive test for luminol ought to be followed up with a test that is more specific for blood (http://www.friendsofamanda.org/luminol.html). This site references a paper by Barni et al., “Forensic application of the luminol reaction
as a presumptive test for latent blood detection,” Talanta 72 (2007) 896–913. Also, the lack of Meredith’s DNA in the footprints inclines one against the conclusion that bloo. From the site above:
[Quote]
• Meredith's DNA was not detected in a single one of the bare footprints revealed with luminol.
• No test was ever performed to establish that any of these prints were made with blood rather than one of the many other substances that react with luminol.
• No comparable footprints were found inside the room where Meredith was killed.
[Endquote]

I found the following quote at the FOA site: “The prosecution's key forensic witness told the court she can tell by looking at a luminol reaction whether it involves blood or something else, but she did not perform any scientific tests to validate this claim.” If the forensics witness refers to Patrizia Stefanoni, it is one more in a series of dubious claims from her, and we should keep track of them and list them. Her credibility is an important issue in this case.

Mark Waterbury has also weighed in on this issue (http://www.sciencespheres.com/2009/10/methods-of-polizia-pseudoscientificaa.html):
[Quote]
Luminol glowing footprints were found in a hallway, and some may have been Amanda's, it is hard to know for sure because they were only compared with her feet, and found to be “compatible.” Again, no controls. Meredith, Laura, Filomena, none of the other resident's feet were compared to these footprints. The footprints were tested for blood, and it came out negative. No blood. So, why are they important? Amanda lived there, after all.

Amanda's DNA was said to be found in one of these footprints. Did they also test a meter away from the footprints, to see if her DNA was all over the apartment where she lived? No. That would have been another control experiment. Was the DNA actually associated with the footprint, or did it just happen to be there, because the resident's DNA was all over their apartment, as people's DNA usually is? We will never know. They skipped the control experiments, and presented results without any reference.
[Endquote]

I note a slight apparent discrepancy between Dr. Waterbury’s description and the FOA description. The former indicates that Amanda’s DNA was found in the one of the footprints (in the hallway?), but the latter implies no DNA from Amanda. Finding Amanda’s DNA in a footprint, even a bloody one (which these footprints do not deserve to be called) would not be any big deal. Amanda’s DNA was found mixed with Meredith’s blood in the bathroom, but Amanda’s DNA should be in many of the rooms of her own house. So whether or not Amanda’s DNA was found in a luminol-visualized footprint is not very important, IMO. I am not sure whether the luminol tests say much of anything, except about those who seem to have an axe to grind in Knox/Sollecito case.

Chris

halides1 said...

Rose,

I see a typo in the second to the last sentence in my first paragraph in the previous message. It should read,

"Also, the lack of Meredith’s DNA in the footprints inclines one against the conclusion that her blood was involved."

Chris

RoseMontague said...

If it was not blood involved then the other 2 choices you listed are fruit juice and bleach. I don't think she was walking around with fruit juice on her feet/shoes. If bleach, how long would the luminol still show it?

halides1 said...

RoseMontague,

From the article by Barni et al., I found this comment with respect to chemicals leading to a false positive result, “Due to the possible presence of these substances at the crime scene, the luminol
test must not be considered sufficiently specific to permit an unequivocal identification of blood.”

The way that the luminol reaction works is that a metal ion is often used to catalyze the breakdown of this compound in a way that produces light. The process is called chemiluminescence, the emission of light from a chemical reaction. Many proteins have metal ions bound to them. They include hemoglobin, catalase, and peroxidase-like enzymes. Peroxidase-like enzymes are found in plants, and that is why the presence of fruit juice or vegetable residue may react with luminol. But soil may contain metal ions as well.

With respect to bleach, it sounds as if the active ingredient, sodium hypochlorite, breaks down within a few days. With respect to the effect of luminol on recovering DNA for forensic typing, there is a small loss in the amount of useful DNA, but it does not appear to be a major hurdle. I also note the use of the word “compatible” with respect to whether Amanda Knox’s footprints were in the hallway. Saying that footprints are consistent with hers is not nearly as persuasive as saying that they must be hers.

Frank Sfarzo also reported on the issues surrounding luminol (http://perugia-shock.blogspot.com/2009/05/for-bunch-of-genes.html).

Chris

James in England said...

I just finished the Paul Russel book "Darkness Descending" that just came out in the UK. He interviews one Italy's top forensic experts. He pretty much said the same thing about the knife (how bleach would destroy any DNA) that you said Chris.

Another item I found interesting in the book is that Rudy's left footprints are all over the murder room, and incidentally the right footprint, attributed to Sollecito by the prosecution, was in blood on the bathmat. The forensic expert says that it can't be conclusively shown whose footprint is on the bathmat anyways because it is only half a print.

It seems to me, if Rudy was the murderer, he probably got his foot drenched in blood and hopped to the bathroom on his left foot, not wanting to leave a bare footprint. Ironically, it's much easier to identify a shoe than it is a foot.

halides1 said...

To all,

Shedding some light on luminol and false positives:

http://www.redwop.com/technotes.asp?ID=118

Chris

halides1 said...

To all,

Candace Dempsey interviewed "Monster of Florence" author Douglas Preston. He made the connection to the Duke case and also said, "One other detail that American readers might like to know: in Italy, prosecutors are firmly in charge. They tell the police what to look for, where to go, what evidence to analyze, what evidence not to analyze."

This is reminiscent of how DA Michael Nifong took over the investigation of the rape allegation. Also, Mignini has now been convicted, making the parallel closer.

Chris

Anonymous said...

I like that very much: Durham and Perugia as sister cities. If Durham has a sister city, perhaps that city could be persuaded to give up the Nest of Nifong for another locale. Seattle, say.

Observer

Paul said...

Keep up the good work. What is hard to make people understand is the magnitude of deception in the Knox/Sollecito trial. The "scientific" police were not independent actors. They were part of a team that had an agenda with one item on it: to convict Amanda and Raffaele. They didn't try to solve the crime. Instead they began with the a priori assumption that Amanda and Raffaele were guilty and then distorted their finding to benefit the prosecution.

But when you look closely at what ought to be the guts of the case--the "confession", the witnesses, and the physical evidence--you find that there is not a single place where the prosecution theory has not met a powerful and convincing rebuttal.

Wrongful convictions do happen and this case has all the red flags:

--An coerced confession.
--An overreaching, overzealous (and in this case convicted) prosecutor.
--A witch-hunt atmosphere purposefully fomented to distract attention from the lack of real evidence.
--The emergence of a group of professionals from various disciplines (including you Chris) who have no connection to Knox or Sollecito but who know rank injustice when they see it.

Regarding this last point, consider John Q. Kelly who represented Nicole Brown Simpson's family in a civil suit against OJ. He is the farthest thing in the world from being a friend of knife murderers, yet he called the conviction of Amanda Knox a "railroad job" and a "lynching."

brett said...

This is a great post. I just had one of the ‘Doh!’ moments and ran back to correct my own site before publishing my comment. You see my own comment form did not match what I’m about to advice. I get less comment than you, so never noticed any problem. I’ve changed it now anyway so here goes.


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Anonymous said...

Great blog. When C.E. and I met you in the CBS Park on Sunday, I erroneously stated"BONE FARM".It is the "BODY FARM" in the great state of Tenn. The forensic Anthropolgist is Kathy Reichs. A great read and great info. I'm a geologist, what do I know!
Cheers, Dr. Rocks