Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Circumstances

By Karen Pruett

September 5, 2011, Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito’s appeal trial for the murder conviction of Meredith Kercher reconvenes after summer break and we expect to see the prosecution’s rebuttal continue.  At the end of July we left off with the prosecution foot-dragging for an entire day asking inane questions to the independent experts who had reviewed key pieces of the DNA evidence from the Trial of First Instance in 2009.  To the disappointment of Amanda and Raffaele’s family and friends, the maneuvering left the judges unable to rule on an end to the appeal, so they ordered a continuance leaving the kids in prison for yet another summer. 

The prosecution was also caught trying to submit a falsified document on the last day of court in July, the Negative Control Test.  This is a common test done to assure that equipment is not contaminated with biological material in-between evidentiary runs.  Dr. Patrizia Stefanoni, who collected and processed the original DNA evidence, testified in both the trial of first instance and the appeal that this test was NOT done, yet the prosecution tried to pull a fast one using a poor quality photo copy.  They tried a number of tricks in July and we fully expect to see more in September.  We hope that Judges Claudio Patrillo Hellmann and Massimo Zanetti will continue to exemplify professionalism and not yield to any misbehavior on the part of the prosecution, as demonstrated by the judges in the trial of first instance.

The prosecution’s behavior is transparent; they need more time to perfect their next implausible scheme be it trying to discredit the court’s experts or the creation of ‘new’ evidence or some equally smarmy act of sedition.

By contrast the defense has been professional and patient.  At the beginning of the appeal, last fall, the defense was pleased when the judges ordered the independent review and again when they demanded that Dr. Stefanoni release her original DNA evidentiary report to the court appointed experts, Professors Carla Vecchiotti and Stefano Conti of the University of Rome.  Access to the review and the report has long been denied to the defense, a breach of Italian law.  In July the expert’s conclusions were released and there was a sigh of relief as they agreed with the defense on every point. 

The DNA collection and processing was a shoddy mess and the report highlighted more than 50 departures from international protocol. 

The fickle press is slowly beginning to focus on the truth of this case, that two innocent college students were framed for the murder of a third, while the real killer is swept under the rug and his 30-year sentence halved.  Why are the Perugians so lenient toward the obvious killer and so willingly oblivious to the innocence of Amanda and Raffaele?  And why do people believe their crazy theories?  They have proved themselves to be liars time and again in court; they have proved they don’t care who the real Amanda and Raffaele are, they have proved they are not seeking true justice for Meredith Kercher. 

In 2007 news of Amanda’s arrested swept through my community like a wildfire in dry grass.  As the months wore on we felt a great sadness for her plight and we closed ranks around our friends.  It was not fair, except for trusted members of local media; not a single member of the press bothered to present Amanda or her family as they really are.  All these strangers kept creating sensational personas to sell their stories, every one unduly harsh and horribly wrong.

The real friends will tell you that the Knox and Mellas families are honest and hardworking, that they don’t deserve the cruelty dished on them by these strangers.  We are saddened that the media treated Curt and Edda’s divorce as if it were a diamond the size of a soccer ball, while ignoring the fact that Meredith’s parents were also divorced.  Imagine how difficult must it have been for them to suddenly be thrust in the spotlight together, yet they maintained their dignity despite the cruel things that were being said about their oldest daughter and themselves.  They had to be in shock and you know they were mad as hell; after all, Amanda has essentially been kidnapped; yet all anyone has ever seen is solidarity, concern and love from Curt and Edda and their spouses.  They make a great team.

Amanda is a very lucky girl to have four loving parents at her back and in the great scheme of things, imho, it was meant to be this way. 

Their circumstances have not robbed this family of a sense of humor and you find yourself euphoric while among them; they put you at ease.  I can understand how Amanda has remained serene and centered throughout her ordeal and I’m glad she is coming home to these people; they will help her ease into her New Normal.  I knew of these folks through my community, but didn’t know what to expect when I met them for the first time, I came away with an acute sense of their compassion for the Kercher and Sollecito families and how connected we are through our communities.  Connections we would have never known if Amanda had not been falsely accused.

So it’s with certainty that I say the Knox and Mellas families are some of the nicest people I have ever met.  Whatever behind-the-scenes-family-drama they have, I Just Don’t Care, I think they are entitled to it in light of present circumstances and every time I see them, I admire them more.  This entire family deserves the utmost respect for handling this crisis in such a manner, they are the epitome of teamwork and anyone would be lucky to have them for a support system.  The only ‘issues’ I have ever seen within their family structure are just like thousands of other normal people I know and love.

Amanda Knox in 2007

I invite you to look at Amanda through THIS lens, her family and friends.  Not the prosecution’s POV, which has been crammed down our collective throats for nearly four years. 

The Amanda that we know.  The Amanda who is so boringly normal that the international media took their blood money home because they couldn’t find anyone who wanted the ‘thirty pieces of silver.’  The Amanda that is so mundane that there exists only a couple of online examples of her alcohol use, how many Facebook 20-somethings can say that?   The Amanda that so many love.  Story after story of how ‘she played with my kids’ or ‘babysat my kids’ or ‘helped me.’  Stories of Amanda and her family’s academic, athletic, musical and artistic accomplishments.  She and her Dad have wings on their feet you know and she proved that by lettering in soccer throughout high school.  She is a talented artist with an innate eye for detail and follows in the steps of musical family members by playing the guitar.  She worked several jobs to earn money to study abroad, the smart kid with vision and drive, but still found time to pose for a friend’s photography project.  Stories of her compassion for all living things, buying a cup of coffee for a stranger in distress.  Waiting for her murdered friend’s family so they didn’t have to be alone.  She is the National Honor Society and University of Washington Dean’s List scholar that everyone is proud to know. 

The Perugians made too much out of “quirky.”  As if visitors to a foreign land have never been thought of as quirky by the locals.  Amanda is a child of the Pacific Northwest and we make no apologies.  “Admired” is how her friends know her, her real friends, not strangers with an agenda looking to make a buck.

Strangers have also insulted our home; they have alluded that Amanda lives in the slums, that her neighborhood is nothing more than a gravel pit.  Obviously they have never been here or they would have noticed the spectacular view of Puget Sound from thousands of homes in the neat as a pin neighborhood with a happy and vibrant community.  Obviously they have never sat in the sunshine on our beaches or watched the Pirates land on Alki or climbed our mountains. 

Never a discouraging word, that is one of the amazing things I have seen in four years of intense scrutiny focused on this family; they always look for the positive.  Friends of the Knox and Mellas families are bearing witness to an undeniable fact; these people exemplify normal people who had normal lives and are now being forced to cope with extraordinary circumstances.
They are kind people who have always been concerned for the Kerchers; Edda has reached out through the media many times to Meredith’s grieving family, only to be met with silence.  So they wait politely for the day when the Kerchers are ready to speak to them.  At each fundraiser, if an organizer has a memorial for Meredith, they get a personal thank you from Amanda’s family.  They are acutely aware that Meredith is largely forgotten in the media frenzy.  But not by them, they will remember Meredith long after the world has forgotten about the vibrant young lady whose life was cut short by a Perugian thief.

Photo taken at an Amanda Knox Defense Fund benefit in 2010

Friends from around the planet have donated cash and airline miles to the and  And international friends joined Americans in the effort to alert the White House and State Department about our concerns for Public Minister Mignini’s aggressive behavior toward Americans and the safety of Americans abroad. Thank you for each letter and each prayer but, please, don’t stop yet.

What has been missing in the press is the Defense POV and the online advocacy groups, Friends of Amanda and Injustice in Perugia, are working to bring this information to the forefront and answer anyone’s questions.  I noted that the caliber of the people who came to the aid of the Knox and Mellas families was another reflection of their character.  

The resumes of the folks involved blanket the fields of law enforcement, the judiciary and the sciences with networks that include Congress and NASA.  The vast majority are volunteers from around the planet all willing to help regular people like me.  It’s been a privilege to have access to these people and I found them to be honest, kind and very willing to explain Low Copy Number to the laywoman who only knew about Haplogroups. 

Impressive don’t you think?  All these exceptionally smart professionals speaking out for a girl who some say is the murderous, sexually perverted femme fatal mastermind of an act of Satanism?

In 2007, before she left, Amanda was nothing less that a nice, smart kid preparing for a year abroad, something that thousands of have done and are doing right now.  I’ve known hundreds of kids who went abroad and Amanda is just like many of them, just as Curt and Edda remind me of the parents of such kids.

Raffaele Sollecito
I also think highly of the Sollecito family.  Raffaele is the nice guy that any parent would be glad their daughter brought home.  Especially in light of the fact that this young man, a virtual stranger to Amanda, stayed by her side until her mother could arrive.  Unfortunately the Perugians had other plans and he was also swept up in the travesty, so his family is in court with Amanda’s, six angry parents standing together for their innocent children with Their families at their backs.

And despite this sad situation, I am struck by how much alike Raffaele, Meredith and Amanda are, nice kids from good families whose lives were forever altered by Rudy Guede and a few Perugians. 

Sadly, I see a cadre of writers who have some odd need to smear Amanda and her family.  All I can take away from the rehashing of the Perugian POV or the armchair psychologist’s analysis is that they’re just plain mean.  It’s obvious that they are not ‘investigative journalists.’  When the world catches up, they will know what we have always known, these are decent people and good parents, and when Amanda comes home the public’s Imaginary Amanda will evaporate and be replaced by the Real Amanda, someone Puget Sounders have known all along.  If this weren’t so tragic I'd laugh at the irony, the Perugians thought they had a devil, instead they persecuted an angel and in doing so, they have harmed three innocent families with their ridiculous dramatics.

Poetic justice.  That is what I want for Meredith, Amanda and Raffaele and their families.   Poetic Justice.

Monday, August 22, 2011

What do the West Memphis Three and Amanda Knox Have in Common?


After 18 long years the West Memphis Three are finally free. Damien W. Echols, 36, Jason Baldwin, 34, and Jessie Misskelley Jr., 36, were wrongfully convicted of killing three 8 year old boys, Steven Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore, in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993.

The plea deal agreed to by all parties and confirmed by the district court judge is known as an Alford plea in Arkansas, which allows the men to maintain their innocence but it does not result in full exonerations. The plea that provided freedom may be seen as a disappointment to those expecting full exonerations. Damien Echols released a statement today explaining the decision to accept the plea:
"I have now spent half my life on death row. It is a torturous environment that no human being should have to endure, and it needed to end. I am innocent, as are Jason and Jessie, but I made this decision because I did not want to spend another day of my life behind those bars. I want to live and to continue to fight for our innocence. Sometimes justice is neither pretty nor is it perfect, but it was important to take this opportunity to be free.”
The miscarriage of justice that took place in West Memphis, Arkansas, was due in part to a rush to judgment based on information obtained from a coerced confession. For those following the Amanda Knox case in Perugia, Italy, those words are haunting.

Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito currently stand convicted of murdering Meredith Kercher in late 2007. Both have vehemently denied any involvement in the murder. The case is currently on appeal.

Though the cases are unrelated, similarities in the course taken by authorities to secure convictions are difficult to ignore. In both cases conclusions were made quickly based on perceived behavior rather than actual evidence. Guilt was determined quickly in the Amanda Knox case based on observed behavior. Lead investigator Edgardo Giobbi had this to say regarding Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito:
“We were able to establish guilt by closely observing the suspects’ psychological and behavioral reactions during the interrogations. We don't need to rely on other kinds of investigation as this method has enabled us to get to the guilty parties in a very quick time.”
Keep in mind that Giobbi made these claims long before a single piece of evidence was analyzed and before he had even heard of the real killer, Rudy Guede.

Guilt was decided in a similar fashion in the West Memphis Three case. Damien Echols was brought to the attention of authorities by Crittenden County juvenile officer Jerry Driver. Driver had somehow determined that Echols was a violent person from past interactions with him. Driver also believed that Echols was the leader of a satanic cult. There was never any evidence that the cult existed and Echols strongly proclaimed his innocence. With nothing to go on, the police questioned anyone that had ever come in contact with Echols.

Jessie Misskelley was brought in for questioning based on a tip that he had been seen with Echols. Misskelley was seventeen at the time of his questioning. Arkansas law states that anyone under the age of eighteen must not be questioned without the express written consent of a parent or guardian. However, consent wasn’t given by Jessie Misskelley, Sr. Misskelley is mentally handicapped with an IQ of 72 and a severely diminished reading capacity. He should never have been questioned alone without the knowledge of his caretakers. After twelve hours of intense pressure and coaching, he told police he had seen Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin attack the three boys. Misskelley was no match for the seasoned interrogators and was heavily influenced by their demands for information. His answers clearly showed that he was simply doing what he could to appease the authorities and his answers contradicted the actual evidence. He told police the three victims had skipped school the day of the murders and that the attack occurred at noon. He said that Damien and Jason raped and murdered the victims and tied their bodies with rope.

History shows that coerced confessions do not lead to accurate information. School records proved that all three had attended school that day, so not only did they not skip school, but they were in class at noon. The medical examiner found no evidence of rape, and the boys were not bound with rope but were tied using their own shoestrings. As soon as Jessie realized he wasn't going home he recanted his entire testimony.

Similar interrogation techniques were used by authorities in the Amanda Knox case. Knox was subjected to an all night interrogation putting her in a situation that she had absolutely no control of. Knox was thousands of miles from home, in a country where she had a very limited knowledge of the language, with no legal counsel, confronted by aggressive police officers who were accusing her of a horrible crime that she did not commit. Physical force was used on Knox and she was lied to intentionally to make her believe the police had evidence against her.

Knox was told that they had proof she was at the crime scene at the time of the murder. This was a lie. She was told that she was going to prison for 30 years and she would never see her family again. Knox was told that her boss, Patrick Lumumba was the killer. The interrogators told Knox to imagine she was at the cottage and that Lumumba committed the crime. The interrogators kept telling her over and over again to imagine that she was there. When she could not imagine what they were saying, she was slapped across the back of her head and called a stupid liar.

The abuse went on for hours until Knox was finally broken and desperate to end the questioning. Suffering from extreme exhaustion the twenty year old college student gave in to the interrogator’s demands by describing an imaginary dream or vision. In this vision, she was in the kitchen covering her ears to block out screams while the man she worked for, Patrick Lumumba, was in Kercher's bedroom.  In accordance with Italian law, along with Lumumba, Knox implicated herself by stating her presence at the crime scene.

In both cases, statements obtained during coerced confessions were quickly recanted as soon as the suspects were out of the hostile environment. Information obtained during the interrogation of both Jessie Misskelley and Amanda Knox contradicted the evidence and was found to be unreliable. It cannot be stressed enough that coerced confessions do not provide reliable information. Unfortunately the erroneous information was accepted in both cases.

Both crimes were horrific, leaving many citizens fearing for their own safety, creating an environment that led to a rush to judgment. Authorities have been unwilling to admit mistakes in both cases leading to drastic measures in an attempt to save face including but not limited to; the manipulation of evidence, providing misinformation to the media, and neglecting to investigate other possible suspects. In the Knox case, the real killer, Rudy Guede has already been convicted but authorities refuse to see that all credible evidence points to him as the lone attacker. In the West Memphis Three case there are several possible suspects that have not been properly investigated.

One possible suspect is Christopher Byers' stepfather, John Mark Byers. Christopher's injuries were more violent than the other boys. His body showed signs of previous abuse. It appeared that more aggression was aimed at Christopher during the attack. John Mark Byers admitted at trial to striking Christopher with a belt as a form of punishment in the past. Another possible suspect is Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of Steven Branch. A hair found tied in the knots used to bind one of the victims may belong to Hobbs. Another possible suspect is a black man that was sighted at a restaurant not far from the crime scene covered in blood and mud. The suspect became known as Mr. Bojangles, named after the restaurant. He left the restaurant before authorities arrived. The truth is there were several leads that should have been more thoroughly pursued. Due to inexcusable negligence, this crime may never be solved.

The thought of spending 18 years in a cage for a crime you did not commit is enough to make anyone sick but the long timeframe also played a factor in the West Memphis Three’s freedom. The deal to release the three was made possible by DNA testing that showed definitive proof that they were not present at the crime scene. Testing of this nature was not available in 1993. The newfound DNA evidence prompted the Arkansas Supreme Court to schedule a hearing in November to take another look at the case. Thankfully that hearing will no longer be necessary.

Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito have spent nearly 4 years in prison for a crime they did not commit. On appeal the court has finally heard from independent experts regarding crucial DNA evidence. The defense request for independent testing was refused by Judge Giancarlo Massei in the first trial. If Massei would have allowed an independent review, Knox and Sollecito would have never been convicted in the first place.

The presiding appeals court judge, Claudio Pratillo Hellmann, appointed forensic experts Stefano Conti and Carla Vecchiotti, from Rome's Sapienza University to review the DNA. Conti and Vecchiotti, appeared in court July 25, unleashing a scathing attack on the prosecution, detailing gross negligence on the part of lead forensic scientist, Patrizia Stefanoni, regarding the key DNA evidence used to secure convictions in the first trial. The alleged murder weapon and a DNA laced bra clasp have been fully discredited by Hellmann’s experts leaving absolutely no credible evidence to confirm the convictions of Knox and Sollecito.

When court resumes in early September, Judge Hellmann will be obligated by Italian law to fully exonerate Amanda Knox and Raffaelle Sollecito as he cannot confirm convictions without evidence. For the West Memphis Three the fight to clear their names will continue. Hopefully all three will be able to find happiness and finally begin to live again. The same well wishes go out for Amanda Knox, Raffaele Sollecito and many others who have been wrongfully convicted.

My work with Injustice in Perugia no doubt led me to compare these two cases but the sad reality is that the same comparisons can be made with many wrongful conviction cases throughout the world with many found right here in the United States; Marty Tankleff, The Norfolk Four, Kelly Michaels, and Christopher Ochoa, to name a few.

Please take time to learn more about wrongful convictions. When a person has an injustice done to them, it is the responsibility of the masses to stand up for that person; for one day that person just might be you. Even worse, that person might be your son or daughter.

To learn more about Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito’s fight for freedom please visit

To learn more about wrongful convictions please visit

I have recently taken interest in another case involving an American named Jason Puracal and encourage everyone to do the same. Jason is currently wrongfully imprisoned in Nicaragua. Please visit Jason’s website to learn more about his fight for freedom: