October 5, 2011

elayed justice isn’t justice at all, not when a four-year bite of someone’s life has been taken.

Amanda Knox is a free 24-year-old today, but we wonder what might have been if not for Knox’s angelic looks that captured media attention — and a family flushed with resources that allowed them to work endlessly to demonstrate that she and her former boyfriend were not murderers.

You know the story: Knox, an American who lives in Washington state, was studying in Italy when she and that ex-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were convicted of sexually assaulting and murdering roommate Meredith Kercher, and sentenced to 26 and 25 years respectively in prison. Incredibly, a third person, the person who actually admitted to having sex with and killing Kercher, a drifter name Rudy Guede, was sentenced to just 16 years in prison.

There were problems with the prosecution’s case from the start — most notably, a lack of reliable DNA evidence that connected Knox and Sollecito to Kercher’s ravaged body, which was stabbed more than 30 times. Any criminal investigator will tell you that a sexual assault followed by such a murder would produce significant findings of DNA, but that didn’t deter a rogue Italian prosecutor.

There were inconsistencies with Knox’s story, and her and Sollecito’s behavior following the murder raised eyebrows. But what is an appropriate script to follow when one is told that an upstairs roommate has been raped and slaughtered? It’s true that Knox pointed a finger at a bartender acquaintance who produced an alibi, but that happened only after 53 hours of questioning over four days during which Knox, then 20 years old and in a foreign country struggling with the language, said she was abused and deprived of food and water. A court ultimately threw out Knox’s confession, one that she had already recanted.

The prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, who faces ethics problems in Italy in an unrelated case, had his own version of what happened on Nov. 1, 2007. He argued that there had been a drug-fueled sex party with Knox, Sollecito, Kercher and Guede that had gone horribly wrong. Although there was no evidence in support of any of Mignini’s delusions, the initial jury bought in, and convicted Knox and Sollecito.

If Knox’s family has not been determined, if the media had not grabbed the baton, and, we’re convinced, if Knox was a plain Jane, we fear a second jury would not have heard an appeal, during which much of the evidence from the first trial was not admitted. By the time Knox pleaded her innocence in court on Monday, no one doubted a verdict that would set her free.

We understand no judicial system is infallible, not Italy’s, and certain not ours. But what should be expected at a minimum is that a prosecutor pursues the truth, and not an agenda. That didn’t happen in this case.

For the crime of another, Knox and Sollecito paid with four years of their lives. What is the fair price for Mignini?