The friends, family and other supporters of accused 21-year-old murderer Amanda Knox of Seattle, Washington, will to need wait until at least January 16 of the New Year to find out the fate of the so-called "angel-faced killer." For many, Knox is the believed brutal executioner of her British roommate, 21-year-old language major Meredith Kercher. The murder took place after an alleged, drug-fueled confrontation that involved Knox, her 24-year-old "Harry Potter look-alike" Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, and their believed 21-year old Ivory Coast drug dealer Rudy Guede, in November 2007. Guede has already confessed to his role in this horrific crime. NBC's Dennis Murphy and a diligent NBC Dateline team has followed this case since Kercher's half-naked body was found in her apartment in beautiful Perugia, Italy. When police found her, she lay in a pool of blood, her throat cut with most of her clothes ripped from her body. On Friday, December 5, Dateline presented their updated analysis of the Kercher murder (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28057560/) and reviewed the evidence that Italian prosecutor and investigators believe will link both Knox and Sollecito to the crime scene and the murder of Kercher.
For more on the background on this story, see my article "Murder in ancient Perugia" at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22188940/ and "Brutal murderer or just too sexy for the Cops" at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25371590. As indicated in these articles, Knox was studying abroad and upon arriving in Perugia, found an ad indicating other international students were looking for a roommate. Knox joined Kercher and two other women in a wonderful rental home overlooking the ancient countryside. Perugia was an ideal location for both fun and study, and according to many, Knox was there, like other students, for the fun.
Amanda got a part-time job in a local bar and in a few weeks ran through several new boyfriends before teaming up with Sollecito. Both acknowledge they shared many things together, to include cooking, movies, drugs and sex, again not uncommon for the many young internationals that attended the local college, or just hung around the town piazza, waiting to meet up with other like-minded individuals. Knox's fun and freedom would all change, though, when Kercher's brutalized body was found on the morning of November 2, 2007, this after recovering from a night of bar hopping and nonstop Halloween parties attended by most of the local college community. Kercher had dressed as a female vampire to include fake blood on her body, what some suggest would become an omen of her own terrible fate in less than 24 hours.
Along with Dennis Murphy and the NBC Dateline crew, I was in Perugia shortly after the murder and spent many hours at the crime scene and talking with investigators, to include reviewing the available physical evidence and many of the photos taken by police in their investigation. We also spoke to the local prosecutor and began to understand his case against the three suspects and his belief of the motive for the senseless murder of Kercher.
The Evidence, the Murder
Let's review some of that evidence and its implication to the young American's (and young Italian's) potential guilt or innocence:
There is no doubt that Kercher died a tragic death after she had been physically and sexually assaulted, her throat cut in a manner that resulted in her choking on her own blood, this as she struggled in vain to escape her assailant(s). What is in question, and what the fate of the two remaining suspects rests on is who killed Kercher and why. The Italian prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, will offer his theory or theories suggesting, perhaps, that Knox and Sollecito needed money to pay Guede for drugs. The three believed conspirators then met at the residence shared by Knox and Kercher where they stole $350 Kercher had just obtained from a local ATM to pay for her share of the new month's rent. They were somehow caught or otherwise confronted by Kercher with her death the direct result of this fatal confrontation.
This initial suggestion for the motive for murder, however, has now been refined to suggest that Sollecito was a fan of violent Japanese manga comics. One such comic entitled "The Last Vampire" was found in his residence. It featured pictures of a naked female vampire whose body had been slashed by a sword (remember how Meredith was dressed the night before for Halloween.) As the theory continues, the three suspects all came to Knox's residence and lay in wait for Kercher to return from a friend's apartment.
Prosecutor Mignini's latest theory continues that upon Meredith's arrival at her apartment, she was forced to participate in a bizarre sex game based upon the manga comic in which Kercher was made to have sex with Guede while she was held down by Sollecito and threatened by Knox, who held a long kitchen knife from Sollecito's apartment to the victim's throat to intimidate her. Although there was no forensic evidence to suggest that Kercher was under the influence, and, thereby, somehow, perhaps, a willing participate in this terrible game that lead to her death, investigators found that she sustained at least 47 different cuts and bruises from the assault on her, to include a number of major and minor cuts on her throat that may be evidence of her assailant's attempts to force her to comply.
Kercher's death was insured by a final killing slice across her throat, one that may have further injured her already fractured hyoid bone, a cut that severed her superior right thyroid artery and the upper air passages in her pharynx, a concluding brutal slash that would silence her desperate cry for help forever. The Italian prosecutor believes that after Kercher's assault and murder, the three suspects all fled the crime scene, with Guede leaving the country and Knox and Sollecito fleeing to his apartment, only to return to the crime scene the next day to complete their attempts to cover up their involvement in the terrible crime.
Upon review, the prosecutor's current theory concerning Kercher's murder appears to be almost too bizarre, too dark and too crazy to be true. Usually murder is not a complicated crime and the motive for murder is equally simple. The comic book inspired one-way sex game and subsequent murder theory offered by the prosecutor seems just too tabloid'istic, more of a bad made-for-TV movie script than one that could creditably account for the death of Kercher. The judges and jury will need to embrace this theory in order to believe that the two young lovers somehow conspired with Guede to kill Kercher.
One Plea to date
Rudy, identified by some as a local drug dealer and knife carrying burglar, requested a speedy trial and has been convicted and sentenced to 30 years for his role in Kercher's death. His story that two other people actually committed the murder and he tried to help Kercher, this after sex, will probably be retold in some form in the upcoming trial, one in which he may be the star witness. Who but he, after all, outside of other witnesses that can state the three suspects knew each other before the murder, can perhaps put Amanda and Raffaele at the crime scene and, at this point, who but Rudy can put the knife in the hand of the killer? But can his statements be trusted? His DNA was found inside of the victim, he confessed to having sex with her (quick and forced though vs. his claim of consensual), his bloody hand print found under the victim's body, and his feces were found in her toilet. There appears little doubt that Rudy was there and had a role in Meredith's murder – why else would he confess? But what deal might he have made with prosecutors to reduce his sentence; a deal that could possibly help to convict two innocent, or two guilty people? He may have made his deal with prosecutors believing that the other two suspects would likely offer him up as the lone killer, deciding that he would not go down alone for this brutal crime.
Linking Physical Evidence
Physical evidence in possession of the prosecution seems to implicate Amanda Knox in the following manner:
Blood found in the bathroom contained the mixed DNA of both Kercher and Knox, perhaps suggesting to investigators that Knox had attempted to wash the victim's blood from her hands after she had been cut while using the knife to kill Kercher. But, as suggested by others, there could be some innocent reason for this blood that has yet to see the light of day in court.
The suspect murder weapon, a knife belonging to Sollecito, was found at his residence. DNA identifiable to Knox was found on its handle and DNA said to be identical to that of Kercher was allegedly found on the tip of the knife's blade. Identical or a close match? - it obviously make a difference and the experts will argue both sides.
Footprints were found in blood at the crime scene that authorities believe were made by Knox.
And then there are the various stories told by Knox to authorities, one in which she indicated that she was at the crime scene at the time of Kercher's murder, suggesting she covered her ears to keep the victim's screams from entering her head. Knox then implicated her employer, 40-year-old Patrick Lumumba, owner of the Le Chic bar, as Kercher's killer. Police would later prove that Lumumba was at his bar at the time of the victim's death, and a subsequent statement by Knox withdrew her allegations against him.
Other stories Knox told concerning the night of the murder and her night with Sollecito are suspicious, with Knox stating they stayed the night at Sollecito's apartment, returning to Knox's apartment the next morning. Inconsistencies were also found in her story concerning their contact with police and their actions after the victim's body was found, contradictions that have caused many, to include investigators, to question Knox's and Sollecito's role in Kercher's death.
And then, of course, is evidence of potential staging of the crime scene (the large rock through the window to, perhaps, make it appear as a burglary) and the attempts at cleaning up the crime scene. Who would attempt to clean up the crime scene? Usually not a burglar who was coming and going as fast as he could vs. someone with access to the scene and reason to clean up their involvement in the crime.
Next there is Knox's rambling, multi-page diary that she kept in jail that may have given police insight into the mind of a murderer, or may simply represent the musings of a young girl whose head was simply filled with romantic ideas, or it may be a journal created with the expressed intent of supporting her declaration of innocence. She initially claimed she was beaten by police, but later backed off of this assertion; she is flippant one minute, depressed another, this while she writes about her life in prison, including attempts by both male interrogators and female cell mates to hit on her. Although very self-centered and self-serving, with little concern indicated for her dead roommate, she is, after all, someone facing a dramatic change that forces her to consider her life and the future implications of her upcoming trial. No matter whether you believe her guilty or innocent, reading her diary could convince you she is an immature, naïve romantic, again totally consistent with her age and life style. Even the many lovers she speaks of and the love letters she indicates she received from admirers may be nothing but the plaintive thoughts of a young woman hoping to cling to the life she knew vs. the current life she was living and the future she feared.
Time of Death
Although the police believe they know the time that Kercher was murdered, this based upon reports from neighbors of what they heard (an "agonizing scream" at 11:30 PM) and what they saw and the body temperature readings taken from the victim's dead body, (such readings were taken 11 hours after her body was found, therefore complicating the examiner's ability to suggest the exact time of her death), when compared with evidence of rigor mortis and the contents of her stomach and evidence of digestion of her last known meal, in this case pizza and vegetables, the establishment of an exact time of death is difficult. All evidence, though, suggests that Kercher died sometime between 8:00 PM that night and 1 AM the following morning.
As far as evidence implicating Raffaele Sollecito, the suspected murder weapon, that terrible knife with Knox's and Kercher's suspected DNA on it, was found in his apartment. Police theorize that Sollecito, a knife collector, would not have disposed of the murder weapon because it would have held some special meaning for him. Fragments of his hand and fingerprints were found at the murder scene and his DNA was allegedly found on the victim's bra clasp, one that had been ripped from her bra at the time of her murder. But wait; the clasp had been somehow left for weeks at the murder scene by Italian CSI police, eventually retrieved by them and held as evidence. If this item had been moved and kicked around the room, couldn't DNA from Sollecito, someone who had legitimate access to the apartment due to his relationship with Knox, along with that of Knox and Guede, have somehow found its way onto the clasp? And what of other unidentified DNA, does this play any actual role in the investigaton? All actual physical evidence; true, but evidence that may have nothing to do with the victim's assault and murder.
Then there were other footprints in blood that some investigators believe matched the shoes he wore the night of the murder, but were these really Sollecito's or were they Rudy's? His many versions of his activities the night Kercher was murdered have, like those of Knox, been found lacking by investigators. And while he once provided an alibi for Knox for the night of the murder, he later indicated he could not account for her whereabouts for the entire night, especially for the critical period surrounding Meredith's believed time of death.
Lovers separated by a Murder
Rafaelle and Amanda initially supported each other, but as their relationship was so new at the time of the murder, and they have been housed in separate prison facilities since their arrest shortly after the crime, they have grown emotionally estranged and have gradually offered each other up as possibly having been involved in the crime. The short and steamy love affair, it appeared, was over. Knox, for example, has suggested that Sollecito could have arisen from the bed they shared, obtained the murder weapon from his kitchen and crept off in the night to kill Kercher, reason/motive unknown. She further suggested he could have later returned to his apartment, placed the murder weapon in her sleeping hand to get the DNA transfer, then put the knife with its incriminating physical evidence that would link his girlfriend to the crime back in the kitchen, and then crawled back in bed with her to complete both his crime and his implication of Knox. Meanwhile Sollecito's statements that he was with Amanda, or talking to his father on the telephone, or working alone on the computer in his apartment at the time of Meredith's death have not been supported by investigation and his claim that he had never met Rudy has been disputed by eye witnesses who suggest the contrary.
The Crime Scene Investigation
Videos shot by the Italian CSI show evidence being handled in what some suggest to be a haphazard manner, with, for example, multiple pieces of evidence apparently being handled by an investigator who failed to change gloves when he handled a new piece of evidence, thereby providing the possibility of cross contamination of evidence. Other investigators are seen without head covers, perhaps contributing to unidentified hair, fiber and DNA evidence found at the crime scene, or wiping up bloody footprints discovered at the scene of the murder. Meanwhile another video shows a police investigator kicking in a glass door at a residence located on the first floor of the residence located under the crime scene. This was not the actual murder scene, but obviously there should have been other less intrusive and less damaging ways to gain entry into that location, with police indicating exergent circumstances that required this action. Police also seized the hard drives from computers belonging to the victim, Amanda and Raffaele and in their attempt to examine the contents of the hard drives. Unfortunately computer forensic experts hooked them up in the wrong manner, therefore frying the circuit boards and rendering the drives unreadable.
The prosecutor, in his attempt to validate his bizarre theory concerning the motive that would have allowed all three suspects to participate in the torture and murder of Kercher, continues to suggest Meredith was the victim of a ritual crime, perhaps one celebrated in conjunction with the night of Halloween. Other theories have surfaced that have embraced other forms of ritualistic behavior, to include suggestions that Meredith's murder had been ordered by an esoteric Masonic sect, the Order of the Red Rose, one that some may believe both Amanda and Meredith belonged to.
Prosecutor Mignini (see his background in "The Monster of Florence" serial killer case) bases his case on linking physical evidence and the many different and conflicting stories told by the three suspects. He also will include evidence of their strange behavior immediately after the murder. The defense will find the prosecution's indicated motive for murder to be absurd, and they have their own experts who will try to shoot holes in the believed damning physical evidence that appears to link the two suspects left standing with the crime scene and with Meredith's murder. Who do you believe and, more importantly, who will the judges and jury believe next month?
This is a confused and contradictory case that becomes even more baffling when you consider the suspects, the crime scene and the multiple motives that have been offered up for Kercher's murder. The simplest way to explain Meredith's death would be that an unknown burglar (and her eventually assailant and killer), in this case Rudy Guede, illegally entered her apartment in an attempt to steal, and was confronted by the victim. He then, like other burglar/rapists before him in similar situations, took advantage of the opportunity to assault his victim, using a knife he was known to carry to force her compliance with his physical demands and then used the same knife to silence the only living witness against him. But were this true, why the presence of physical evidence that appears to link the two young lovers, Knox and Sollecito, to the crime scene and to the murder victim? The investigators, for their part, find evidence of three different assailants at the crime scene and do not believe that all of the injuries sustained by the victim could have been the result of only one assailant.
And why, we ask, did the two remaining suspects tell so many varying and conflicting stories about their activities the night of and day after the murder? Wouldn't the truth have set them free? Both freely admit using drugs to excess that fateful night. Could they have been in such a drug-fueled fog that they lost the ability to tell the difference between reality and fantasy, and could police have planted information in their minds, like their allegedly mishandling of crime scene evidence, in a manner that made the two suspects unable to tell the difference between what they did and what the police said they did? Or are the prosecutor and the police right, in this case dead right, in everything they suggest? Was Kercher was killed in some terrible ritual that found its roots in violent comics, all Hollow's eve, drug-induced activity and the mis-belief that somehow the victim may have even wanted to participate until someone, someone holding a knife, went too far and cut too deep, taking the life of a otherwise innocent victim who had no reason to die that terrible all Saints' Day?
Many of these questions were considered via the Dateline special, with the finding of guilt and innocence left to the Italian trial due to take place in less than one month. If found guilty by the two judge, four citizen panel, both suspects, like Rudy, could spend the next 20-30 years in an Italian jail. If found not guilty, however, both, as Amanda wrote in her diary, will have something to remember for the rest of their lives. Supporters and detractors line up on both sides of the Internet and the Atlantic Ocean, believing they have sorted out the truth in this brutal crime. No one wants a rusl to judgement, but (most) everyone wants the truth. Meanwhile the friends and family of Meredith Kercher can only hope for justice and that those responsible for her brutal and senseless death will finally be held responsible. Little consolation, though, for their future life without her; one, of course, that the families of Amanda and Raffaele must also face in their own way.