October 1, 2013

Blood Stains, a Bra Clasp, and Sperm Spots

TV cameras crowd around Raffaele Sollecito's defense lawyer at Meredith Kercher re-trial in Florence. September 30, 2013. Freeze frame of video shot by Paolo Santalucia

TV cameras crowd around Raffaele Sollecito’s defense lawyer at Meredith Kercher re-trial in Florence. September 30, 2013. Freeze frame of video shot by Paolo Santalucia

Dear Blog Readers– Yesterday I was in Florence listening to detailed discussions of blood stains, a bra clasp and sperm spots during the opening hearing in the re-trial of the Meredith Kercher Murder.  By now, anyone interested in the news has already gotten it, so I will give you just a bit of behind-the-scenes atmosphere.

First, for those of you who have not followed this long and complicated murder case, here is a little background.

On November 2, 2007 British student Meredith Kercher was found dead in a pool of blood, her throat slit, in the home she shared with American Amanda Knox in the Umbrian Hill town Perugia as exchange students. Meredith had been sexually assaulted.

Amanda Knox was accused, along with her then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito and acquaintance Rudy Guede from the Ivory Coast, of sexually assaulting and murdering Meredith. Guede chose a fast-track trial and was sentenced to 30 years in prison, later reduced to 16 in appeal.

Amanda Knox on the cover of Italian gossip magazine OGGI.  The title is "Amanda: I am still afraid."

Amanda Knox on the cover of Italian gossip magazine OGGI. The title is “Amanda: I am still afraid.” Inside is a recent interview with Amanda done by Italian journalist in Seattle.

Knox and Sollecito were convicted in December 2009 of murder, during the trial prosecutors accused Amanda, Raffaele and Rudy of slicing Meredith’s throat and leaving her to bleed to death following a drug-fueled sex game gone awry.

Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison and Sollecito got 25.

The first appeal trial lasted 10 months and overturned the conviction in 2011.  During the first appeal, the defense brought in a team of independent experts to analyze the DNA.  They claimed that traces of Meredith’s DNA on the presumed murder weapon, a kitchen knife, were unreliable. The knife had Amanda’s DNA on the handle and was found in the kitchen of her boyfriend Sollecito.

In a surprise twist, this past March Italy’s highest court overturned the acquittal and sent the case to the appeals court in Florence for another trial.  In the motivations for the retrial, the Supreme Court was scathing in its criticism of the whole procedure used by the court in the appeal criticizing it for  “inconsistencies” and “lack of logical thinking”.

(If you want more background, see my earlier Blog Posts: Amanda Knox: Countdown to the Verdict, Waiting For Amanda, The Amanda Knox Reality Show, The Amanda Knox Drama Continues)

Camerapersons and journalists lined up outside the Palazzo di Giustizia in Florence waiting for lawyers to arrive for the Meredith Kercher murder re-trial. September 30, 2013. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Camerapersons and journalists lined up outside the Palazzo di Giustizia in Florence waiting for lawyers to arrive for the Meredith Kercher murder re-trial. September 30, 2013. Photo by Trisha Thomas

The retrial is in Florence, and although Florence is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, the courthouse is an unattractive monstrosity on the outskirts of the city with, unfortunately, a cheap hotel right down the street that is very convenient for journalists.   It is so cheap that the drain didn’t work in the shower and I had two inches of water on the floor after taking a shower and no towels to clean it up.

This in comparison to the cute little hotels in Perugia and the medieval courthouse situated in the middle of a lovely piazza with quaint shops and little coffee bars,  handy for journalists in need of that mid-morning cappuccino.

Nevertheless there were dozens of us waiting at the back entrance for the arrival of the lawyers hours before start of the trial.  To give you an idea of how totally un-glamorous my work is, a half hour before the start time, I called Amanda’s lawyer Luciano Ghirga who said he was about to arrive and would be happy to give me a comment on camera at the front door.

My colleague Paolo Santalucia told me to take the small camera and run around to the front to catch Ghirga without any of the other journalists noticing.  As I came around the edge of the Palazzo di Giustizia, I could see the fluffy white head of Ghirga bobbing along the sidewalk headed for the entrance.  I took off doing my middle-aged Mamma version of Usain Bolt in the 100-meter dash, and managed to grab him just as he was about to head in.  He stopped and since I was huffing and puffing he told me to take a deep breathe and relax before we did the quick interview.  (another example of my lack of Bella Figura).

Ghirga gave me the first hint of what we should be expecting saying that the defense wanted to have another forensic test on the knife and analysis of DNA on the pillow case found at the scene of the crime.  He also said that the defense was “offended” by criticism that Amanda is giving too many interviews and perhaps trying a public relations tactic to make her case outside the court.

Francesco Maresca, lawyer for the family of Meredith Kercher, speaks to reporters outside the courthouse in Florence.  Freeze frame of video shot by AP video-journalist Paolo Santalucia. September 30, 2013

Francesco Maresca, lawyer for the family of Meredith Kercher, speaks to reporters outside the courthouse in Florence. Freeze frame of video shot by AP video-journalist Paolo Santalucia. September 30, 2013

I finished my interview with Ghirga and turned around to see Dapper Dan, the best-looking lawyer in the Knox trials walking up the sidewalk.  It was Francesco Maresca, the lawyer for the Kercher Family whose wavy brown locks and intense blue eyes send hearts throbbing among the female members of the press corps.  I think he is aware of his star power and always shows up in pin-stripe suits and stares intensely towards the cameras as he delivers his views.

He told me 
”We are still convinced of the presence of all three of the defendants at the scene of the crime,” and expressed the Kercher family’s displeasure at Amanda’s flurry of media appearances prior to the re-trial, “She is talking too much, and this attitude of continuously playing the victim is inappropriate.”

Judge Alessandro Nencini enters courtroom in Florence for Meredith Kercher re-trial. Freeze frame of RAI Pool video. September 30, 2013

Judge Alessandro Nencini enters courtroom in Florence for Meredith Kercher re-trial. Freeze frame of RAI Pool video. September 30, 2013

The courtroom could not have been further from the cozy Perugia tribunal with stone walls with frescoes on them.  The Florence courtroom was a large, modern room with neat lines of tables and chairs and a simple sign above the judge’s bench “La Legge e’ Uguale Per Tutti” — The Law is Equal for All.  Judge Alessandro Nencini gave off an air of seriousness and competence as he ran the show throughout the day.

A couple highlights from the courtroom.  Knox lawyer Carlo Della Vedova made the case that the re-trial was unconstitutional and that Amanda could be tried “ad infinitum” since the case has no statute of limitations.  The new prosecutor on the case, Alessandro Crini, later rebutted that “when you are talking about homocide… the legal process does not deserve to be closed for an artificial reason such as a statute of limitations.”  The Judge later backed the prosecutor’s position.

Amanda Knox defense lawyer Luciano Ghirga uses a pen to demonstrate DNA samples on the knife that could have been the murder weapon during the  opening hearing of the Meredith Kercher Murder re-trial in Florence. September 30, 2013. Freeze frame of RAI Pool video.

Amanda Knox defense lawyer Luciano Ghirga uses a pen to demonstrate DNA samples on the knife that could have been the murder weapon during the opening hearing of the Meredith Kercher Murder re-trial in Florence. September 30, 2013. Freeze frame of RAI Pool video.

Amanda’s other defense Lawyer Luciano Ghirga used a white magic marker with a black cap to illustrate questions about the knife that could be the murder weapon.  The knife supposedly has Meredith’s DNA on the blade and Amanda’s DNA on the handle.  The Judge later ordered a new forensic test on that knife.

Giulia Bongiorno, defense lawyer for Raffaele Sollecito speaking in courtroom in Florence at opening of Meredith Kercher murder re-trial. September 30, 2013. Freeze Frame of RAI Pool video.

Giulia Bongiorno, defense lawyer for Raffaele Sollecito speaking in courtroom in Florence at opening of Meredith Kercher murder re-trial. September 30, 2013. Freeze Frame of RAI Pool video.

One of the highlights of the day was watching Raffaele Sollecito’s lawyer Giulia Bongiorno make a long and dramatic request to the court on various topics.  Bongiorno became famous in Italy for her successful defense of former Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti on charges of Mafia association (see blog post Divine Julius, An Italian Politician.)  Bongiorno introduced the courtroom to a new word electropherograms — which are some kind of peaks on the DNA tests which can be studied to determine identity.  She went into great detail about the sperm spots on Meredith pillow case, insisting that in the case of a murder with sexual violence, it is unheard of that sperm spots on the pillow case would not be tested.  The judge later rejected her request.

The Kercher family lawyer, Maresca, submitted a letter to the court from the family apologizing for not attending the opening and saying:

“We trust that the evidence will be reviewed and any additional testing requested to be granted so that unanswered questions can be clarified…It is a continuous struggle every single day, battling with our own emotions both happy memories and desperately sad, and the only way our pain and suffering can even begin to ease is by gaining a clearer understanding of the tragic events of November 1st, 2007.

At the end of the day, the judge announced that in addition to ordering the new forensic test on the knife, he is calling as witness Luciano Aviello, a mobster currently in prison in Florence, to testify this Friday, October 4th.  Aviello has said in the past that his brother killed Meredith Kercher, but his testimony was dismissed in the earlier trials. The judge also granted a request to Sollecito’s defense lawyer to admit photos of Raffaele Sollecito’s hands in the days following the murder showing his closely bitten finger-nails. His defense argues that with fingernails bitten he couldn’t have left DNA samples on Meredith’s bra clasp.

So sperm spots will not be discussed this Friday, but blood stains, fingernails, the bra clasp and a mobster will be back.

If any readers are interested in all the nitty-gritty details of this case, check out the posts of my colleagues Andrea Vogt at TheFreelanceDesk.com and Barbie Nadeau’s articles in The Daily Beast

Related posts:

Trisha Thomas

Author: Trisha Thomas

Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.

12 Comments

  1. avatar

    . . trial; retrial – wonder if the truth – any truth will ever emerge about this crime. Seems to have been a rather slap-dash investigation.

    • Trisha Thomas

      The police were definitely very sloppy and this all would have been easier if they had done their job properly. The family of Meredith Kercher is desperate for the truth to come out, but I also have some doubts it ever will.

  2. avatar

    I would call it a circus, but one life has already been lost and others irreparably damaged. I saw Amanda Knox on television yesterday, and I was struck by the fact that her fresh faced beauty of several years ago has faded, replaced by what I can only describe as a tired, haggard countenance. It is a tragedy all the way around. I do have a question. What has happened to the original prosecutor Giuliano Mignini? Where is he in all of this?

    • Trisha Thomas

      I don’t know what has happened to Giuliano Mignini. I will ask and find out for you. The trial has both a new pubic prosecutor and a new judge. I found the Judge Alessandro Nencini very impressive. He has clearly done all his homework and was clear and decisive. I was not impressed with the new prosecutor Alessandro Crini who seemed very tense, agitated and shaky when he spoke. Of course that is only a surface impression and doesn’t mean he is not good at his job.

  3. avatar
    american as apple pie 2013/10/01 at 17:36 Reply

    of course Amanda did it.. hazing gone bad.. however you want to describe the actions of a sociopath.

    • Trisha Thomas

      Since I am covering the trial, I am not allowed to express my opinion, but to be perfectly honest, it is all very confusing to me. I think many people involved in the trial, whether the lawyers or the journalists have gotten so caught up in the all the details that we may have lost the forest for the trees.

  4. avatar
    Marie Di Benedetto 2013/10/05 at 04:33 Reply

    Thanks for painting an interesting picture Trish. I hope that you will give us a run down of the action on day 2, including the “truly surreal” meanderings of Luciano Lucia, AKA Luciano Aviello, dressed in women’s clothes and talking about his/her gender reassignment journey. How did Bongiorno ever stoop to calling him as a witness?

    • Trisha Thomas

      Marie — I wish I could have given you a rundown of Day 2 in the Trial, I was dying to see Luciano/Lucia on the witness stand, but I was in Assisi covering the Pope’s visit there and now my office is very busy with all our coverage of the ship sinking off the coast of Lampedusa. But I will surely be back up to the trial again at some point and will do an update. Thanks for your interest.

  5. avatar

    Doesn’t the abject refusal of the Italian courts to test the semen stain strike anyone in the press corps as excessively odd, and perhaps unforgivable? Bongiorno is exactly right in her assessment. Here you have a horrible murder involving sexual violence, and you have a stain that was clearly deposited at the time of that murder, and the police and prosecution move heaven and earth to avoid having it tested. And the courts, using ludicrous justifications, let them get away with it. When I discuss the case with my law enforcement friends in the U.S. this is the point that most baffles and outrages them.

    But I guess it is not so surprising because I have counted perhaps a dozen instances in this case where important evidence was lost, mishandled, withheld, or even destroyed.

    • Trisha Thomas

      It is a bit odd and I am not expert enough on this whole story to say much. I have asked around and others have told me that Meredith had an active sex life and they think that it might just drag in other innocent people that would muddy the waters and waste time. However, given all the time this trial has taken up so far, I can’t see why it would hurt.

      • avatar
        Michelle Moore 2013/12/06 at 10:08 Reply

        What is confusing to me is that the Kercher family wants everything tested and the Prosecution (and Maresca) is shouting just the opposite.They want nothing tested. If you have nothing to fear, and if it could only help you in your conviction, why WOULDN’T they want this tested? I wish they would.
        The facts are all out there, it’s actually quite a simple case. It’s just that it has been turned into “the” most complicated convoluted bizarre thing I’ve seen; With all the different theories and trying to make it work (regardless of the cost).
        Rudy should have been held accountable for his past crimes. Regardless of the actual reasons that he was not held accountable, by the letter of the laws in Italy, he would have been in jail and Meredith would be alive and well today. That is what is most upsetting to me. Rudy will be out possibly in May of 2014. I would not send a student that direction any time soon. I know way too much about this case, I wish I didn’t.
        Though I’ve been told the fix is in several times, I will not give up hope on a fair judge in spite of the fact that the ISC handed the Appeal back to Florence with instructions to convict and even HOW to go about doing it. But, as the judge is finding, these things the ISC wants them to follow were things already disproven in the very first trial! It doesn’t work, it makes no sense, this is corrupt. This was not the job of the ISC. And yet at the same time they are saying to keep the Conti-Vechiotti reports included in all of this. None of these go together, they are hugely different and cannot co exist.
        The newest hyposisis is over Meredith and Amanda getting in a fight over Poop that Rudy didn’t flush. Really?
        And why was Rudy even there this time? And why did Amanda and Raffaele have to leave and go back to Raffaele’s house to get a knife (that definitely did not fit the wound NOR the outline of the knife in blood on the duvet) that has been disproven to be the murder weapon. There are answers to every single “theory” or bit of “circumstantial pieces of evidence that they are trying to make their case with. Mignini is still involved, you just won’t see him but will definitely not help the Prosecution at this point.
        Why I find the very most offensive of all is that the biggest thing you will read about in the media is the big PR Machine. This is total BS. And boy has it been pushed. It’s astounding, really. I look forward to the day when every inch of this case is properly investigated (including authorities) the reality of this huge lie that has been pushed over and over and over again comes to light.
        That is all they can come up with and I find it grossly negligent. It’s not true and if they ever actually investigated such things to be able to back up what they spew they would not find anything because their IS nothing. Can you tell I’m frustrated with these lies…sorry for rant. Thanks for your reporting. Sincerely, :) This is just getting more and more confusing. It would definitely make a creative movie. You can’t make this stuff up.

        • Trisha Thomas

          Michelle — Thank you for your rant. I actually really appreciate it. I had to skip the last hearing when the prosecution was wrapping up because I was tied up with the Berlusconi expulsion from the Senate story. So, it actually sounds like you know much more than I do of the latest. I hope to cover all the upcoming hearings- but again it depends on the other news going on. I agree with you that it has become “complicated, convoluted and bizarre” — as you point out we’ve spent an awful lot of time talking about Rudy’s poop, and now the we whole “argument of his whether he flushed” question has emerged. I am still amazed at the Mafioso Luciano-Lucia who had to be heard as a witness. As you say– you just can’t make this stuff up.

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