This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.
It took way too long getting there, but the Italian court system finally arrived at justice Monday in the Amanda Knox case.
Knox – a young University of Washington student before this all started – has finally escaped her wrongful murder conviction and the 26-year sentence she received in 2009 after a scandalously corrupt prosecution.
The legal travesty that left her in prison for four years wasn’t an indictment of the Italian criminal justice system as a whole; it was an indictment of a particular court and prosecution team.
The United States also has ruthless prosecutors and obliging juries – not many, let’s hope – and it normally balances those with a presumption of innocence, abundant due process and opportunities for appeals.
Italy lacks the presumption of innocence, but it guarantees an appeal that can expand into a virtual second trial in which the original evidence is thoroughly re-examined.
That proceeding gave Knox’s attorneys a chance to demolish the work and reputation of her prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, and the detectives that helped assemble the case against her.
The Italian judiciary had already found that Knox, when arrested, wasn’t told of her rights, wasn’t provided an attorney or official interpreter, and was subjected to a long and exhausting interrogation. The result was a “confession” she later described as a speculative scenario the police solicited from her.
The appeals proceeding amounted to a hard kick against a rotten log; the case fell apart upon impact.
The prosecution had never established a credible motive for her. Nothing placed her in the bedroom where her British housemate, Meredith Kercher, had been found stabbed, strangled and raped. Eyewitnesses who’d thrown some of her testimony into doubt had contradicted themselves or been contradicted by other witnesses.
The only truly solid-looking evidence were forensic DNA tests. One found a trace of Knox’s boyfriend’s DNA on Kercher’s bra clasp. Another supposedly found Kercher’s DNA on the blade of a knife found in the boyfriend’s kitchen, with Knox’s DNA on the handle. But an independent DNA analysis earlier this year thoroughly discredited those findings, concluding that slipshod detective work could easily have cross-contaminated the objects.
The elephant standing in the courtroom was the undisputed guilt of Rudy Guede, a drifter barely known to Knox, whose DNA and palm print were found at the scene. Guede had been tried and convicted; Mignini had shoe-horned Knox into the crime, bending facts as necessary to fit his theory of a drug-addled, demonic Knox helping Guede murder Kercher in a sex game that went bad.
Justice ultimately prevailed Monday in an ancient legal system that appears quite capable of admitting and correcting its mistakes.