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Monday, October 17, 2011

Amanda Knox Released from Prison -- October 4, 2011

For the past week, I have been paying close attention to the appeal of Amanda Knox. As a person also wrongfully convicted of murder, I was interested in the aspects of her case that compared to my own and the numerous other cases I have become aware of over my years of incarceration. I was also interested in the Italian justice system as compared to that in the U.S., and specifically in Illinois. It was extremely difficult, however, sifting through all the melodrama, spin, and selective television reporting. I was amazed how enormously favorable and sympathetic the American news media was towards Amanda Knox. This is very rare and because of my own personal experience, I was bitter and envious. I nor many other murder defendants receive such preferential treatment. Despite this, I believe the American exchange student studying in Italy was not guilty, and I am glad she and her Italian co-defendant were released from prison yesterday.

I had woken up just before 7 a.m. and in time to watch ABC's morning news program. It was called "Judgement Day," and most of the first hour of reporting was about Amanda Knox. Reporters knew there would be a verdict in the appeal later in the day. The show went over many details of the murder case over the last several years. There was a discussion of the trial and appeal from the studio in New York and from reporters in Italy. There was also Amanda's father, Curt Knox, who has been his daughter's ceaseless P.R. spokesman. I was interested in how the appellate court would rule, but not enough to stay tuned to television all day. I had other things to do and at noon when there still was no verdict, I took a nap. When I awoke it was 4 p.m. and I turned on CNN's Wolf Blitzer's "The Situation Room" to see Amanda Knox being driven out of Campanne Prison in a van with dark tinted windows. Since then, I have continued to watch hours of television news coverage.

Amanda Knox was arrested in 2007 along with Rafaele Sollecito and Rudy Guede who had fled to Germany. The prosecution accused the trio of the brutal rape and murder of Knox's roommate who was also a foreign exchange student studying in Italy. Meredith Kircher, a 21-year-old from Britain, was found naked and stabbed more than 40 times, including a slash across her throat, in the cottage she rented with Amanda. In the small university town of Perugia, Italy. Rudy Guede was the first to be tried and he was found guilty and sentenced to 30 years, however, this was dropped to 16 years when he agreed to testify against his co-defendants. In 2009, Amanda Knox was tried jointly with her boyfriend Sollecito. Both were found guilty and sentenced to 26 and 25 years. The Knox family with the help of a very friendly U.S. media thereafter began a two year campaign to free Amanda that culminated in the appellate jury's acquittal yesterday. Within 8 hours, the jury found Knox not guilty of all charges except defamation of character.

After the verdict, there was a clear distinction in the reaction between the victim's family and supporters of Amanda Knox. Family and friends of Amanda erupted in cheers from the courtroom to Seattle, Washington, her home town in the U.S. At the same time, the Kircher family was shocked by the reversal. They wept and were very upset that two people they had been led to believe killed Meredith were being set free. This is a common occurrence in courtrooms throughout America in murder verdicts. There is almost always one family jubilant and another despondent. What was odd is how the media in the countries were divided.

In the U.S., all people seen was Amanda crumpled over crying and then being led out of the courtroom along with the cheers of supporters. The reaction of the victim's family and the crowds outside were not shown and only briefly mentioned. Americans may not even be aware how most Italians were angry and believed the court buckled under to international media pressure. A scene similar to that when Casey Anthony was acquitted existed outside the courtroom. People brandishing loudspeakers led mobs of Perugians in protest. Few people were happy by the verdict, although many expressed uncertainty and questioned their court system. The prosecutor gave a public address vehemently disagreeing and vowing to appeal, but this also was not shown on American TV. Instead, he was ridiculed as a superstitious zealot madman. Since the verdict, the news coverage of Amanda Knox's acquittal has continued to be one sided in the U.S. and it has only been by a determined effort I have learned of not only the reaction overseas, but what caused Knox and Sollecito to be convicted in the first place.

Certainly the Italian media has been most unfair in their reporting as well, especially in the beginning. Tabloid journalism in both England and Italy was terribly slanted against Amanda Knox. In their countries, she has been portrayed as a very sordid, promiscuous party woman. The labels of "Foxy Knoxy" and the "Devil with an Angel's Face" are weak compared to the thoroughly vicious and defamatory character assassinations. Much credence has been given to the prosecutor's theory of a Satanic sex orgy where Knox was to slay her roommate a night after Halloween, also considered a day when witches convene. There was almost a seething hatred created by the media calling for a witch burning. This type of malicious reporting reminded me of the press the West Memphis 3 received in their Christian town that demanded justice for three boys who were brutally raped and murdered in what was thought to be a Satanic ritual. As a person who has also come under the assault of massive prejudicial media coverage, I can relate to all of these defendants. The media can be a force to try and convict innocent people before a shred of evidence is ever submitted in court.

The Italian media was not completely off base in their portrait of Amanda Knox. She was certainly a promiscuous party woman, although I am not certain if she was as loathsome as Casey Anthony. Knox had only been in Italy for a short time before she met and was having sexual relations with Raffeale Sollecito. In a foreign country, she did not waste any time hooking up and finding drugs. Indeed, she admits to smoking marijuana and having sex with Sollecito on the night of the murder. While the U.S. media portrays Amanda as this very innocent, chaste, and angelic person deserving of her prison nickname "Bambi," I do not get this impression. She was at the very least a slutty, pot smoking hippie or stoner. However, this of course does not make her guilty of stabbing her roommate to death.

The Italian Paparazzi would capture photos of Knox kissing and being held by Sollecito as well as her buying some underwear after the murder. These, along with her going out for pizza were made out to be a big deal by tabloid news media which is, by the way, far more popular there than in the U.S. These sources seemed to suggest Amanda was making out, buying sexy lingerie, and having a good time, not at all concerned about the brutal rape and slaying of her roommate. Once again, I am reminded of perceptions of Casey Anthony. However, in Amanda's case, I do not see how the photos are meaningful in the same way. To me, she seemed to be being consoled by Sollecito, and I cannot say if the underwear she purchased was of Victoria Secret quality or just plain undergarments she needed to buy due to her apartment being a crime scene. Even if she was having lascivious sex and having a good time going out for pizza, I do not make a conclusion that she is a cold blooded killer. For all I know, she did not know or even like her roommate. It would be odd, however, if rumors she was doing cartwheels in the police station were true.

Curt Knox and supporters of Amanda that were televised would like people to believe there was absolutely no evidence, and the conviction was based solely on enormous media slander and an overzealous prosecutor. However, this is false. The most damning evidence came from her own signed statements to the police. In them, she stated she and Sollecito were at the cottage when Meredith Kircher was killed. Amanda even said she heard her roommate's screams in the room next door as she was stabbed to death. When police asked her who killed Kircher, Knox lied and said it was her former employer, Patrick Lumumba. Police immediately arrested the bar owner, but he had a solid alibi. He was at the bar the entire time and seen by numerous people. Many Americans may have missed this, but Amanda Knox was not acquitted of all counts. Her conviction for defamation of character for accusing an innocent man of murder was sustained. The court gave her time served, and unlike in the Casey Anthony case, the judge immediately set her free.

Supporters of Amanda Knox argue that her statements were due to Amanda being a young 20-year-old in a foreign country who was coerced and intimidated by police who were accustomed to interrogating the mafia. She was not given any water or food, and her Italian language skills were poor. She was a scared little girl interrogated for 14 hours. To this I say I was arrested by numerous gun wielding police, and whisked off to a secret location to be grilled for two days in connection with a mass murder where 7 people were shot and stabbed to death. My Miranda rights were ignored and I was not only threatened and intimidated, but struck and kicked by police intent on getting me to confess. I was 18 years old and not permitted to see or talk with an attorney, family, or anyone but them. The mafia? I highly doubt the little college town of Perugia has any mafia or any serious crime. However, those on the Palatine Task Force included FBI, Chicago Police, and many other seasoned law enforcement who dealt with murder cases on a regular basis. John Robertson, my main interrogator, was working for the Cook County States Attorney's Office and one must know he had a mission. Despite all this, I never made an incriminating statement or pointed the finger at an innocent man.

I do not know if true, but supporters of Amanda Knox say her words were manipulated. Police asked her to imagine what happened to her roommate. I do not put it beyond police to manipulate or fabricate statements. After all, John Robertson falsely claimed that I told him my co-defendant said to me he was going to kill the victim and then asked if he could borrow my car. However, unlike Amanda Knox, Robertson's claims were total fabrications and there is no signed statement because I never said this. Even had police asked me to imagine what happened if I did not continue in stoic silence, I would have said, "Imagine?! You are the police. You imagine what happened!"

The other evidence against Amanda Knox came from her co-defendant Rudy Guede. He testified he was present with Knox and Sollecito when Kircher was murdered. In detail, he told a story how Amanda stabbed her roommate during a drug fueled sex orgy. However, Guede's testimony is hardly credible. It was only after he was convicted of murder and sentenced to 30 years that he made a deal with the prosecution to testify against his co-defendants for a reduced 16 year sentence. Rudy Guede, a black immigrant from the Ivory Coast with a considerable criminal record, was clearly only trying to help himself. His semen was found in the victim and a bloody fingerprint of his was also discovered at the crime scene. There was no denying he was present for the murder, and I tend to believe he and he alone was there, much like my co-defendant.

Much of the news media centered upon the DNA evidence used to convict Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito. The prosecutor claimed a bra clasp of Kircher's had Raffaele's skin cells on it, and a knife found in his kitchen was said to have both Amanda and the victim's DNA on it. The problem with this evidence, however, was it was improperly collected, analyzed, and presented to the first jury. The minute amount of DNA found on the bra clasp was so small it could have easily been transferred by CSI technicians who left it on the ground for weeks and handled various evidence with the same gloves. The DNA off the knife said to be Kircher's actually turned out to be yeast from cutting bread. Knox and Sollecito were fortunate to have the state's DNA results retested by another lab.

The last bit of evidence I was able to discover against Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito was probably missed by most American viewers. In fact, I would not have become aware of it if it was not slipped out by one person on a news media program. Apparently, the two both conspicuously turned off their cell phones at the time of the murder, and a homeless Italian man told police and later testified that he saw the couple just outside the apartment on the night of the murder arguing. However, this evidence was also very suspect. I do not think a wino vagabond who claims he saw the two in the dark from a far distance where he was sitting or sleeping on a park bench is very credible. As for the cell phones, I do not know.

There are large differences between the court system in Italy and the U.S. One major distinction is the appellate process. Under Italian law all criminal defendants are entitled to a full review of their trial. Everyone is allowed to have an entire retrial and submit any new evidence. New trials in the U.S., contrarily, are very rare, and the appellate court only reviews errors. For example, in a case such as my own, I could raise as error the prosecutor lying about the law of accountability during closing arguments to my jury, or that my attorneys were at error for failing to provide an adequate defense. However, only if the appellate court agrees with these issues, finds them so egregious, and they were properly preserved and raised on appeal, will the court remand the case back to a lower court for a new trial. In Italy, I could have presented all of my issues and the evidence of my innocence not used by my trial attorneys or even new evidence. I would have had an entire new trial and the only drawback for a defendant is that he or she could be given a more severe sentence. However, because natural life without parole is now the most severe punishment in Illinois, there would be little to lose. Even if there was a death sentence, in my opinion, that would be more lenient, if not a blessing. Any time the state is willing to offer me a new trial with the threat of immediate execution if I lose, I will take it without hesitation.

Repeatedly, the news media spoke about how Amanda Knox faced the prospect of a life sentence by appealing. I suppose this was to add further drama. There is no life without parole in Italy or any European country that I am aware of. The U.S. is the only country in all of Western Civilization to have a prison sentence that is to death and not eligible for parole. Even the 26 years Amanda was sentenced to would not have had to be served in full and she may have been freed after a decade. Contrasted to Illinois law where all murder convicts must serve 100% of their time and are usually sentenced to 40 years or longer.

Another major difference between the two judicial systems is at trial the judge in Italy does not act as merely a referee between the prosecution and defense, but is actively involved. The judge in Italy can ask questions of witnesses and subpoena evidence or people. The Italian court system is considered "inquisitional" while the American system is "adversarial." A U.S. judge is allegedly impartial and rules on matters of law. I write "allegedly" because many judges, like the one at my trial, are not impartial, and are able to affect rulings by their interpretations of law or objections by the defense or prosecution. Many trials in the U.S. are not fairly adjudicated because of how judges become personally involved and are politically elected.

American viewers may have been surprised to learn that Italy has two judges on the panel of 8 jurors. This, again, is not a bad system in my opinion. Often jurors selected randomly from the community do not know the law, or even the Constitution. They are also not trained to sift through evidence and evaluate its probative value. Citizenship in the U.S. is given to any Tom, Dick, or Josey, and regardless of background, education, or intelligence, they can serve on juries and decide matters of life and death. Personally, I would like to see the status of citizenship changed. However, considering this is highly unlikely, I would not mind a couple of judges to serve on juries. I also think the Italian jury system of a majority vote where a split tie goes in favor of the defendant may be a good idea.

The last difference I noticed between American and Italian judicial systems is that evidence is sifted through and ruled upon before trial in the U.S., while in Italy, it is done on appeal. If Amanda Knox had been tried in the U.S., the unsound DNA evidence and, more than likely, the testimony of the homeless man would have been discarded. The defense would have also tried to suppress Amanda's statements, but this would have never occurred. As for the testimony of Rudy Guede, he would have also been allowed to testify, and on appeal it would not have been suppressed either. More than likely, just on her statements and Guede's testimony, Amanda would have been convicted and there would have been no hope on appeal. She would have been sentenced to possibly 60 years, life without parole, or even death. Italians and Americans questioned the due process Amanda received in Italy, but I think the Italians have more to be proud of than ashamed of. At least the system worked there eventually, and in record time. An innocent person in the U.S. can spend decades in prison if he or she is ever exonerated.

After watching Wolf Blitzer's "Situation Room," Anderson Cooper, Jane Valez, Piers Morgan, Dr. Drew, today's morning news as well as the countless guests on their programs, including OJ Simpson's prosecutor Marsha Clark who is touting her new book "Guilty by Association," I became fed up with all of the super nice and sympathetic news coverage that Amanda Knox aka Bambi was getting. I was actually hoping Nancy Grace would be on to give her usual universal condemnation and bitch attitude toward all defendants, guilty and innocent. However, the pig missed her show to be on "Dancing with the Stars." I do not know when she ever became a star or why anyone would want to see her body stuffed in a dress trying to dance nimbly except for a laugh. However, I notice the producers did not really pick any stars and there are a number of unattractive people.

The last couple of weeks I have heard almost nothing but overwhelmingly positive news coverage dripping with sympathy and support for Amanda Knox. Time and again I have heard how there is zero evidence, and how poor Amanda has suffered 4 years in hell for a crime she did not commit. The courtroom she attended is described as medieval and the Italian prison Campanne is made out to be a monstrously scary and cruel place because it only allows visits once a week and has 13 x 13 foot cells. Campanne is also rumored to be a place where Amanda faced unwanted sexual advances or harassment. Over and over again I heard about an overzealous prosecutor who will not admit fault, and relies on a psychic or his intuition to try cases. Then I hear how the poor 24-year-old has been away from family since she was 20, and all she wants to do when she gets out is lie in some grass. As Charlie Brown would say, "Good grief!"

The evidence presented in my case was less than that against Amanda Knox, however, the only publicity I ever received was the type Nancy Grace dishes out. After I was smitten with a protracted death sentence, I was then forgotten by the mass media, even after the Palatine Massacre was solved. I have spent almost two decades as a captive in truly violent and oppressive maximum security institutions where there are no piano lessons or spacious 13 x 13 foot cells with their own private connecting bathrooms and bidets. Sexual advances? That is just life in prison. If there was a man nicknamed "Angel Face" or "Bambi" at Stateville, he would be raped. Medieval courtroom? I rather like the Italian ambiance. It is better than a medieval judicial system or sentence. An overzealous prosecutor? I will swap James "Mad Dog" McKay any time for Guiliano Mignini, even if he shuffles tarot cards to figure out what happened. Being away from family since 20? Try 18. Longing to lie in grass? I guess she got me there. I can flop around on the Big Yard's lawn until my heart is content, at least during the 2 hour time period once or twice a month that I can go there.

As I was finishing this journal entry, prisoners are applauding the television news that showed my former neighbor, Jacques Rivera, being released from Cook County Jail. The man we called Jacob was wrongfully convicted of a 1988 gang murder. He spent over 22 years in captivity and his once 4 month old daughter and two toddler sons are now grown adults. If it was not for the eyewitness finally coming forward to say the prosecutor coerced his testimony and the 10 years that the Northwestern University Innocence Project spent fighting for him, he would still be rotting away in prison in the cell next to mine. Jacob is an old Mexican and no "Angel Face." He, like numerous innocent people in prison in the U.S. almost never get overwhelmingly good press or a new trial to prove their innocence. Although I am envious of Amanda Knox, I am glad she is home today. I hope she enjoys her freedom for the many of us who never will.