Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Why I believe that Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito are innocent

Part 25 in the Knox/Sollecito case

The molehill of evidence
It is the evidence that is not there that is the prosecution’s weakest point, as former FBI agent Steve Moore pointed out. Consider blood spatter, for instance: “t is inconceivable that the person stabbing Meredith was not contaminated by blood spatter. Guede was. Anybody holding Meredith (such as was alleged by the prosecution) would be within the spatter zone. Again; blood on clothes and skin.”

There is no evidence that Amanda or Raffaele had any contact with Rudi Guede on the night of the murder. There is no evidence that they took any drugs other than cannabis. There is no DNA of Amanda’s in the murder room, and the only evidence of Raffaele’s is the highly contested bra clasp. Forensic Engineer Ron Hendry refuted the arguments of the prosecution that the break-in was staged. The difference in the amount of evidence against Guede versus Knox and Sollecito can be likened to a strong versus a weak signal, and only by pretending that the strong evidence is no better than the weak evidence can one come to the conclusion that all three are culpable.

The interrogation on the night of the 5th of November
The police seemed to have prior knowledge of Amanda’s text message to Patrick on the night of the murder, and the police may have known that the two of them met on the afternoon of the 5th. We also know from both Amanda’s contemporaneous statements and those of others that she was tired and scared in the days leading up to this interrogation (Candace Dempsey, Murder in Italy, Chapters 5-8).

There are many instances of people making a combined false accusation and confession, and this is one of them. The interrogation started around 11 PM and produced two statements, one around 1:45 AM and the other around 5:45 AM. She asked whether she needed a lawyer and was told that would only make things worse. Her statement the next morning shows considerable confusion. Also, if she had been completely rational during the interrogation, she would never have accused Patrick, whether she were innocent or guilty. She believed that he was at the bar that night, which should give him a rock-solid alibi. Again, Steve Moore’s comments are extremely useful and thought-provoking: “Why would detectives schedule an interrogation overnight? ...the reason they interrogated Amanda all night was to break her. Not get the truth, not get answers, not make Perugia safer; but to break her so that she would say what they wanted her to say.”

An ordinary kitchen knife, not the murder weapon
The large knife from Raffaele's flat did not match at least one and probably not two of the three major wounds. It did not match the bloody outline of a knife in Meredith’s bedroom. The DNA on the handle from Amanda was probably deposited when she used it for cooking at Raffaele’s flat. Although the arguments are sometimes detailed, Meredith’s DNA on the knife is probably due to contamination in the laboratory itself, but it may have been contaminated during its transport.

Shoeprint and footprint evidence
The police tried to insinuate some of the luminol-positive footprints were due to Knox and Sollecito and that all were set in blood. This attempt was intellectually dishonest. All of the shoeprints matched Guede’s sneakers. The luminol-positive footprints in the hall do not appear to be Meredith’s blood, inasmuch as they did not have Meredith’s DNA. The one bloody footprint in the bathroom looks a little bit more like Guede’s foot than Sollecito’s foot, but attributing it to either person unequivocally is questionable at best.

Cognitive bias and tunnel vision
If they are innocent, then how did they get convicted? Amanda and Raffaele were detained and held without charge before the forensic evidence came back implicating Rudy Guede. The day of their arrest the police paraded them through the old town with lights on and horns blaring. This had only happened one time previously in Perugia, according to the memory of one citizen, when a mafia figure was arrested. By the time Guede was becoming a suspect, a major figure in the Rome police department had put Ms. Knox’s picture in the hallway, right next to the arrest of Bernardo Provenzano.

This was not a conspiracy in the sense of a bunch of people sitting around a big table. I think it is a case where the police and public minister (PM) Mignini had made a bold claim about Knox and Sollecito’s involvement and could not back down. It may have been a situation where the forensic police (especially) felt, “To get along, go along.” In addition, the forensic scientists might have really believed that Knox and Sollecito were guilty and subconsciously tilted their results in that direction. Koppl and Balko wrote, “To the extent that it's possible, evidence should be stripped of all context before being sent to the lab.” Given that Knox and Sollecito were already in custody in a high-profile case before some of the evidence was even collected, it is difficult to see how all cognitive bias could have been avoided.

Poor forensics and lack of discovery
The prosecution’s misrepresenting which tests were or were not done and their withholding of electronic data files underlying the DNA forensics suggests that they know how weak their case really is. But it is remarkable how much they did wrong or did not do at all, for no reason that I can understand. There is a possible semen stain on Meredith’s bed that was never followed up with a confirmatory test. There were three computer hard drives that the police so badly mishandled that recovery of the data has been difficult or not even attempted. The collection of the DNA evidence with dirty gloves that were seldom changed is just plain sloppy. There is evidence of Meredith’s blood mixed with Amanda’s DNA in certain places in the flat, but the prosecution misleadingly implied that the samples were from Knox’s blood. Since Amanda lived at the flat, finding her DNA there is not inculpatory at all.

Exculpatory evidence
Meredith is known to have returned home around 9 PM. Many small pieces of evidence point to an earlier time of death, before 10 PM, than the prosecution indicated, about 11:40 PM. Meredith had left a load of laundry in the washing machine, presumably when she left to visit her friends for dinner. Yet the laundry had not been removed. Meredith was probably still wearing her zippered sweatshirt when she was attacked, the garment she wore when she was walking home on a brisk evening. Meredith unsuccessfully tried to call her ailing mother around 8:56 PM but did not attempt to reach her again. Atypically, Meredith did not send any text messages that evening. There were two calls around 10 PM that the Massei motivation report ascribes dubiously to Meredith playing with her cell phone. These activities may be evidence of her attacker trying to turn the phones off. A different cell tower sent a MMS to her phone at 10:13 PM; this falls short of proof that the cell phone had left her flat by this time, but it is consistent with the phone’s being transported at this time.

Meredith’s stomach content and the lack of any material in the duodenum are difficult to reconcile with the time of her last meal (of pizza, then apple crumble), which started around 6:30 PM or earlier. Her friends watched a movie after eating pizza, and they stopped to eat apple crumble. Raffaele’s appeal argues that Meredith’s stomach contents indicate a much earlier time of death, by roughly two hours, to about 9:30 or so. Some argue that TOD cannot be accurately determined by stomach contents alone, but that argument can be taken too far: it is known that Meredith was alive until at least 9 PM. In lieu of a lengthy discussion of physiology, let us take a simple path. Patients are advised not to eat for six to eight hours prior to surgery involving intravenous anesthesia. This avoids the possibility that the patient will vomit and aspirate stomach contents into the lungs. Why would anesthesiology guidelines suggest six hours for a small meal if the stomach remained full after 5 to 5.5 hours?

If her death occurred before 10 PM, then it is somewhere between unlikely and impossible that Amanda and Raffaele are guilty. They were known to be acting normally as of about 8:45 PM, when Ms. Popovic came over. Raffaele’s appeal argues that there was some computer activity long after this time, and the police who examined his computer may have not been experienced with MacIntosh products enough to know where to look. Even if the undisputed computer activity ended around 9:10 PM, it is extremely difficult to see how the two of them had time to get so messed up that they lost control enough to murder someone before 10 PM.

Final thoughts
The appeals process has begun with an examination of the DNA forensics of the kitchen knife and the bra clasp. If the computer evidence is reexamined and the stomach contents are reevaluated, Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito have a reasonable chance of exoneration as a result of their appeal.