Mysteries Unraveled and Reviewed by P Segal

Dempsey, Candace (2010) Murder in Italy: The Shocking Slaying of a British Student, the Accused American Girl, and an International Scandal

MurderInItalyThe case of Amanda Knox, and the murder of her English roommate, Meredith Kercher, in the Italian town of Perugia, is a real-life mystery as compelling and terrifying as any work of fiction. In fact, Knox and her Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, seem to have been convicted of this crime based on a work of fiction spun by a powerful prosecutor, a remarkable dearth of hard evidence, and assumptions with no basis in fact. Writers who dream up tales of terror could not have invented anything more chilling than Amanda’s nightmare in Italy.

Amanda Knox is an exceptionally good student, early riser, peace-and-lovenik fan of the Beatles, who leaves Seattle to go to Perugia and study Italian. She becomes a roommate in a house in a somewhat sketchy part of town, sharing it with the English girl and two young Italian women. She meets Raffaele, son of a well-to-do family, who is studying computer science at the university. A week into their romance, Amanda and Raffaele return to her house, finding evidence of a break-in, and call the police. As the police search the house for Italian-style “evidence” of theft, they find Meredith in her room, behind a locked door, foully murdered.

Amanda might have left Italy immediately, but she felt the need to stay in Perugia and help the police with their investigations. The case is assigned to the well-known prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, who decides that this free-spirited American girl looks like a perfect suspect. She and Raffaele are subjected to all-night questioning and verbal as well as physical battery at the station; she is confused, can’t get her story straight, but of course it might be hard for anyone to remember exactly what it was they did, at what time, a few days earlier. Unfortunately, she tried to pin the blame on someone else, changed her story, and made a mess of things. Under pressure, Amanda did not fare well at the initial questioning, and was arrested along with the mild-mannered Raffaele.

Mignini concocts a tale: this profligate American and her Italian boyfriend decided to have some fun with Meredith, and try to force her into a sexual game. When she refuses, they kill her. Mignini describes them as “drug-crazed,” but their drug intake consisted of a joint, which would have made them less inclined to get off the sofa, and not more likely to commit murder.

The real horror in this tale is the Italian justice system Mignini is facing charges of evidence tampering in another case, when he is put in charge of this investigation. He later loses that case and is convicted, and given an 18-month jail term for it, which is suspended. The six jurors who are assigned to hear the case are not kept from reading the lurid international press accounts, or watching the news. In court, jurors were bored, “such as the silver-haired man who had continued his habit of sleeping through the defense testimony.”

Throughout Dempsey’s book are terrifying details, such as the prosecutor arriving on the scene and shaking the hand of the investigator wearing a sterile latex glove (so Mignini’s DNA should have been everywhere at the murder scene). A knife taken from Raffaele’s kitchen drawer was assumed to have been the murder weapon, and the uncertified lab in Rome, which handled many samples of Meredith’s DNA, found a speck of it on the knife, selected at random by an investigator because it was big and shiny (and the wrong size to have inflicted the wounds). Even though the test equipment warned that the reading on the knife was too low for accuracy, it was submitted as evidence anyway, and Italians claimed that their conviction of Amanda and Raffaele’s guilt was based on the incontrovertible DNA evidence.

Outside the courtroom in the Hall of Frescos, where the case would be decided, a carnival atmosphere prevailed. A merry-go-round had been installed, among the holiday decorations, and people thronged to be there at the finale of the “trial of the century” – like a scene dreamed up by Fellini.

One wonders what goes on in the subconscious of the prosecutor, which would dream up so sexual a fantasy with no evidence. For that matter, it is equally bizarre that the jury could convict two people for whom there was not a single shred of actual evidence at the murder scene. Plenty of evidence was found to convict another man, Rudy Guede, as his DNA was all over the room. Nonetheless, Rudy ended up getting 15 years, while Amanda and Raffaele got 26 and 25 years.

This is a Byzantine tale that leads one to suspect that Americans are not particularly safe in the bel paese. Amanda’s behavior, eccentric by Italian standards, her choice of clothing, her habit of showering “too often” or leaving the bathroom messy, convinced people in the country she loved that she was capable of murder. Amanda and Raffaele have now been in jail for two years; an appeal is pending. One can only hope that reason, and a truly fair assessment of the evidence, will finally release them from this nightmare.

19 Comments

  • TCat
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 3:29 am | Permalink

    The case is a nightmare by anyone’s standards.
    Apparently the general belief in Italy is that their “DNA” was found at the crime scene; that’s the main reason people think they’re guilty; the problem is that just isn’t true. There’s a retired FBI agent named Steve Moore all over this thing now. If you’re interested you can find his essays linked below. They’re enlightening, to say the least. Tks for writing this review:

    http://www.injusticeinperugia.org/

  • Paul
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 5:33 am | Permalink

    Very good article. On the theory that no good deed goes unpunished, you might find yourself attacked by a bunch of cretins whose special destiny it is to spread lies about the case. The plain truth is that the prosecution case against Amanda and Raffaele, which superficially seems unassailable, is in reality a house of cards that falls apart utterly when scrutinized. It is hard for uninvolved people to believe that a prosecutor could have everything wrong. But they do. That’s what happens when people are actually innocent.

  • anonymous
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Amanda and Raffaele are not guilty.
    Hopefully they will be freed soon.

  • Gina
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    A well-written summary of Candace Dempsey’s book. Hopefully Paul will be proven wrong, but I suspect that “Harry Rag” is just a few clicks away.

  • Jake
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    This isn’t Italy’s failure.. or the Italian people’s failure.. A handful of powerful Perugians jumped the gun and arrested Amanda before the crime scene evidence was properly analyzed.. They went on the international stage and proclaimed they’d solved the crime of the century using their superior reasoning skills.. that they didnt need evidence.. Unfortunately, when the DNA and prints came back they were all from a local ne’er-do-well Rudy Guede.. The authorities, rather than simply saying “We’re sorry, Ms.Knox, we were wrong..” decided saving face was more important than a young woman’s life.. and poor Raffe was just sent along for the ride..

    All the scarier because it’s true. All the scarier because it could be your daughter next.

    Read the truth at injusticeinperugia.org

  • Rick
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    Nice article. Captures in a few paragraphs this crazy nightmare of a case. And quite surprising that the PR/Propaganda department of the prosecutor’s office – Harryrag – has not polluted this site also with his systematic misrepresentations.

  • anon
    Posted September 10, 2010 at 12:31 am | Permalink

    This is good.
    Is the book available in Italian? Seems a translation would be very helpful.

  • Posted September 10, 2010 at 2:01 am | Permalink

    thanks so much… and of course, I agree.

  • Posted September 10, 2010 at 2:03 am | Permalink

    It wasn’t easy to get it all in a few paragraphs, and thanks for the compliment. There was so much else to say about this book! I hope a lot of people buy it.

  • Posted September 10, 2010 at 2:06 am | Permalink

    Thanks– I just looked through the book to see if there was any mention of a translation, and I couldn’t find one. Sentiment in Italy seems to be anti-Amanda, and perhaps publishers are worried about not selling enough copies. Sadly, publishing is not about a belief in the quality of a book.

  • Patrick King
    Posted September 10, 2010 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Excellent review of a book that kept me awake for several nights and compelled me to try to do something to correct this injustice. Thank you for your intelligence and insight.

  • MarkJ
    Posted September 10, 2010 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    This story is disturbing. Good review and I’ll pick up the book but if you love Italy you might think twice about going back. They seem so matter of fact about this…they were just willing to lock her away and forget about her when there’s so many questions and so much is wrong. It was really surprising to find out some of this stuff because it just doesn’t seem possible it could happen there. Well – guess it’s true. It can happen anywhere to anyone but really I thought this kind of thing mostly happened in America where everyone is assumed guilty if someone says so.

  • ShannaS
    Posted September 10, 2010 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    Usually I’m reading your non-fiction reviews here. This is kind of out of your usual alley but it seems important enough. I’m surprised this is happening in Italy. I wouldn’t have expected this from them but then there’s the Christians and Lions so who knows…
    Still – they’re such wonderful people. I can’t believe they’re going to let this continue to happen. Guess I’ll have to start paying more attention to what’s going on with this case. There’s way too much confusion with the evidence…

  • Posted September 10, 2010 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    Everybody who wants be properly informed about the Perugia Witch Trial should read http://freeamanda.livejournal.com

    And join our action Twittering for Amanda:
    http://twitter.com/FreeAmandaKnox

  • TZFan
    Posted September 11, 2010 at 1:34 am | Permalink

    This case belongs filed in the Twilight Zone.
    That prosecutor is genuinely scary and he’s been convicted of abusing his office.
    These poor kids –
    Seems strange someone wouldn’t have stepped into this by now. The courts and the cops there must feel like they have to stick her with something after all this; maybe she gets acquitted of murder but found guilty of slander?
    Wonder why they didn’t let her have house arrest? Happens all the time in Italy – even with serious crimes like this.
    It’s all too sad. All back to the poor murder victim – that’s what caused this mess. Somebody killed a beautiful young girl with everything to live for and so people went crazy. Makes sense if you look at it that way.
    Problem is – Amanda and Raffaele aren’t the ones who did it.
    That makes no sense at all.

  • Posted September 18, 2010 at 1:22 am | Permalink

    I just heard from the author that the book is being sold in Italy, although not in translation. Penguin does have an Italian subsidiary.

  • marko
    Posted September 21, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    there will be a freedom for Amanda and Raffaele –
    It will be soon and God bless them.

  • Posted November 16, 2010 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    It’s really a nice and helpful piece of information. I’m glad that you shared this helpful info with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

  • Tim Coin
    Posted November 18, 2010 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    As a retired police lieutenant in a major city ,I am disgusted by the poor police work and the evil prosecutor ! I have investigated many murders in the big city! And I would not admit evidence in court by these rookie evidence collection team or clowns !it is fruits from a bad tree!the prosecutor is an ass and is hurting young kids in the prime of there life’s new trial is needed or let them free !I do love Italy …it is beautiful area. I was in Florence ,Rome,And Naples ! Nice area .People need change.oh,like FBI Moore I always think the police are 100 percent correct .this time they are way off base and very wrong ! I feel bad for Amanda Raffaella and Meredith family. Meredith family should put aside there angry,blame, and hurt and realize this is a frame job nothing less. I know murders and these two do not fit the mold of a murder !
    Good luck Amanda and Raffaella!

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