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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Amanda Knox

Amanda Knox - NY Times Photo
Amanda Knox, the young American woman who was found guilty of the murder of her British room mate, Meredith Kercher, in 2009 in Perugia, Italy, has had that verdict overturned. Raffaele Sollecito, her boyfriend at the time, has also had his guilty verdict overturned.

Both young people were set free last night, but the cameras of the world were turned on Amanda Knox, the fresh-faced, All-American girl who had been convicted of the heinous, bloody crime of stabbing Ms. Kercher to death during an alleged evening of what has been described as "a game of rough sex that went horribly wrong".

One might ask how a "game of rough sex" might ever go right, but that's a discussion for another time.

Ms. Knox had been sentenced to 26 years in prison and Mr. Sollecito to 25 for the murder of the 21-year-old Ms. Kercher. Ms. Knox is now 24 years old.

A third defendant, Rudy Guede, 24, was also convicted of Miss Kercher’s murder in a separate trial and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. His conviction was upheld on appeal, but his sentence was shortened to 16 years. Defense lawyers in this trial tried to convince the court that Mr. Guede had been the sole perpetrator of the crime.

Throughout the original trial and the appeal, prosecutors tried to paint Ms. Knox as a calculating femme fatale, a “she-devil” capable of murderous acts despite her sweet courtroom appearance and demeanor.

Ah, the Italians! Always over-reaching. Always with their legendary sexism.

Stephanie Kercher - NY Times photo
That's not what won the overturned verdict, however. Apparently, the prosecution's case was based mostly on circumstantial evidence.

The validity of the main forensic evidence, microscopic amounts of DNA on the murder weapon and on a bra clasp, was thrown into doubt this summer by a report from independent experts that was highly critical of the police’s handling and analysis of the materials.

While the cameras have been focused on Ms. Knox, a harsh light has also been cast on the entire Italian judicial system, which has been described as "antiquated" and "barbaric".

Which is ironic, considering that, in some parts of These United States, Ms. Knox might well be facing the death penalty. Especially if she were from a poor family - or, no family at all - especially one that could not afford to travel to Italy four or five times a year for the past four years. And, uneducated. And, a person of color.

Indeed, people from other countries who are tried in this country for murder are almost always painted with the brush of racism. Many of them sit on death row or have already been murdered by the state on equally flimsy, circumstantial evidence.

Pot, meet kettle.

"Never let a good story get in the way of the truth." Isn't that what the justice system, like all good scholarship, is supposed to be all about? Finding the truth?

The science of forensics is changing the landscape of the criminal justice system.

Indeed, forensic science has also changed the landscape of biblical and historical church scholarship.

We now know more about the context of antiquity in which the historical events and biblical stories were written which shed light on the meaning of the language and the shape of "the old, old stories of Jesus and His love."

According to Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac,
On this date in 1535, the first complete English translation of the Bible was printed. It's known as the Coverdale Bible because it was compiled and printed by Myles Coverdale, an English priest who was living on the Continent at the time; he would later go on to become Bishop of Exeter. He didn't speak Greek or Hebrew, so he used a variety of sources, including William Tyndale's New Testament and several of his Old Testament books, as well as the Latin Vulgate and German translations by Martin Luther.

Coverdale dedicated the translation to England's King Henry VIII — whom he called "a better defender of the faith than the pope himself," and his "dearest just wyfe and most vertuous Pryncesse, Queen Anne [Boleyn].
Anne Boleyn
Well, and we know what happened to that "just wyfe" at the hands of "the better defender of the faith than the pope himself," don't we?

Perhaps Henry should have cracked open that book and read the part about "Thou shalt do no murder". Then again, there was "circumstantial evidence", after three years of marriage and several miscarriages, that she was unable to produce a male heir.

But she was tried and convicted on "circumstantial evidence" of "high treason, adultery and incest," and beheaded. Modern historians view the evidence against her as highly unconvincing.

However, Henry's marriage to Anne was the spark that lit the Reformation of the Church, which ultimately resulted in the establishment of the Church of England. Shortly after the coronation of her daughter, Elizabeth, Anne was venerated as a martyr and heroine of the English Reformation.

Anne has been called "the most influential and important queen consort England has ever had," since she provided the occasion for Henry VIII to divorce Catherine of Aragon, and declare his independence from Rome.

Ah, the power of martyrdom! It is not to be underestimated. (Rick Perry and all the Republicans who applauded his execution record as governor, please take note.)

I don't know enough about the case to say whether or not Amanda Knox is innocent or guilty. Neither do I know whether or not there was enough evidence to convict Anne Boleyn of treason, much less adultery and incest. I'm neither a forensic nor historical scholar.

Here's what I do know - now, more than ever: The justice system is not perfect. Not in any country. Any. Where. In. The. World.

Because of that, I believe that the death penalty is not only immoral, it is obviously not a deterrent to crime - especially crimes of passion.

Perhaps the whole media hoopla over the case of Amanda Knox, especially when placed in juxtaposition with the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham - whose execution for the deaths of his three young children by arson at the family home in Corsicana, Texas has been called into serious question by forensic evidence - or Troy Anthony Davis - who was executed for the murder of a Savannah, Georgia policeman, despite the recanting of seven of the nine original witnesses to the crime - will cause us all to examine our judicial system in general and corporal punishment in particular.

Perhaps the life of Amanda Knox has been spared for a purpose.

Perhaps the senseless execution of people like Cameron Todd Willingham and Troy Anthony Davis will find a 'higher purpose'.

The winds of reformation are in the air.

You can hear it in the applause and shouts of joy from a courtroom in Perugia, Italy as a young American woman found her freedom.

You can read it on the stunned face of Stephanie Kercher, the sister of the deceased, as well as the faces of all of her relatives who still wait for justice for Meredith's death.

And, ironically enough, you can hear it in the applause and shouts of glee from a room full of Republicans during a Presidential Debate at the Ronald Reagan Library over the execution of 234 people in the State of Texas in the past decade.

Whenever sexism or racism or any prejudice is the underlying issue or animating dynamic of the prosecution's case,  it is "circumstantial evidence" that casts serious doubt on the charges and allegations of the crime.

Even so, the power of martyrdom is not to be diminished.


Matthew said...

I am opposed to the death penalty. However, i worry that death cases get all the attention and many of the appeals and much of the money to spend on dna testing. The emphasis is on death cases because of the finality of it. But the criminal justice system is imperfect in lots of other cases too. What I really worry about are the hundreds of thousands of other cases (death cases are not even 1%) of defendants literally rotting in prison for life and there is no attention on those cases or the mistakes in those cases. Nor the time or money to revisit all of them or do dna testing. Basically if you get life, we don't give a shit and so much of the "activism" (pardon my cynicism) is focused on death cases because we are one of the few "civilized" (gasp) countries in the world with the death penalty. This makes me sad. Truth be told, if we got rid of the death penalty tomorrow, we'd still have one of the most backward and anti-rehabilitation systems on the planet.

Turtle Woman said...

Brilliant post, just brilliant!!!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - You know, I have to agree with your points. It is probably naive to assume that only death row inmates got there b/c of the injustice of the system. Will we embark on "prison reform"? I don't see too many people with the energy for it. Until, perhaps, it's one of them or someone they know and love.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, thank you, Turtle Woman. Coming from you, I consider that high praise.

sewa elf said...

Nice article, thanks for the information.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

sewa elf - Thanks for your visit and leaving a comment