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  • Review: Meredith Kercher, Amanda Knox and Murder in Perugia May 24, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

    Nina Burleigh, The Fatal Gift of Beauty

    In 2007 a young British student Meredith Kercher was murdered in her flat in Perugia, Italy: she had possibly been raped before her death. The crime was a horrible one, but the victim was all too often forgotten in the events that followed. The prosecutors in Perugia decided that the murder, a sex game gone wrong allegedly, had been carried out by a young American (Amanda Knox), her Italian boyfriend (Raffaele Sollecito) and an Ivorian (Rudy Guede). This international element meant that the case would receive international media coverage.

    The British media, particularly Britain’s aggressive tabloids, rushed in to defend the honour of the dead girl. The American media, including several major networks, paid for their own coverage as they were concerned over an American national bleeding in the maws of Italian justice. Both the British and American press enjoyed the normal Anglo-Saxon head-shaking about Italy and how different the country is to ‘civilised’ Anglo-Saxon norms. The Italians, meanwhile, always extremely conscious of how they seem to the outside world, also waded in, goaded by the British and Americans. The result was a silly media storm as journalists across the world  talked trash about other ways of writing the news.

    As the hail came down though, Amanda Knox, Raffaele Sollecito and Rudy Guede were put on trial for the murder of Meredith Kercher and here the stakes were high. Rudy Guede was tried separately and rapidly sentenced to 30 years in prison: subsequently reduced to sixteen years – he is now enjoying his first ‘out’ days and will very possibly be released in 2018. AK and RS were tried together and they would spend about two years in prison waiting for the trial before they were also given long sentences. Subsequently they were released on appeal at which time AK wisely went back to the United States. The prosecutors and defence continued to do battle through the various levels of Italian justice until both AK and RS were found to be innocent in the final and emphatic judgment of Italy’s supreme court.

    This blogger chooses his words carefully here because several of the Italians involved in this case have proved to be litigious. However, the official position in Italy is  now that AK and RS were not involved in the murder and that RG was. Not everyone is happy, though, with this finale. The family of Meredith Kercher, for one, continue to believe that AK and RS were involved. RG continues to say or imply that AK and RS were also responsible for the young British woman’s death. A key thing to bear in mind for outsiders is that judicial systems are based on sending people we can be sure are guilty to prison: expressed in common law as ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Another point to remember is that imperfections in the Italian judicial system are shocking to non-Italians: but no less than the many horrific miscarriages of justice in the US and the UK are to outsiders.

    The evidence against AK and RS is, of course, complicated. Both unquestionably, and by their own admittance, lied and there are striking peculiarities in their behaviour in the day of the murder and the days that followed; possibly because they are both rather peculiar people. However, almost all the proofs, with one exception, can be gently pushed aside: certainly this blogger would not send anyone to prison for a day on the basis of most of the clues taken in by the Roman and Perugian police. The exception is the DNA found in the murder, particularly three elements: DNA of AK on a knife handle and of MK on the blade; RS’s DNA on a bra-strap; and the ‘selective clean up’. The first two, most importantly the second, work against the defence; the third against the prosecution. If you want to decide the case but have only two or three hours to spare then skip Netflix and other ‘documentaries’, this peer-reviewed article on the DNA evidence will bring you closest to the core arguments.

    If you want to get some more general background this BBC documentary is neutral and of a very high standard.

    If you have longer Nina Burleigh’s The Fatal Gift of Beauty is the only really readable mainstream book in English on the case:* Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi have written a volume but bizarrely and for reasons the reader will understand this has only been published in German!  There are perhaps two criticisms that can be leveled against Fatal Gift. First, NB is clearly and constantly surprised by Italy (who can blame her). The result is that her writing can often be a tad naive about Italian culture, resolving curiosities with recourse to Barzini’s tiresome The Italians: the equivalent of Italians explaining a bust up in a modern LA street with cowboy films from the 1950s. Second, NB clearly believes that AK was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She only really comes out, though, and says this towards the end, while arguing in that direction throughout most of Fatal Gift. The result is that Fatal Gift can sometimes feel passive aggressive. There are strong arguments, great descriptions, often lovely prose, but the reader can feel that they are being manipulated. The first problem could have been edited out easily. The second one is more structural, but was perhaps an inevitable consequence of NB’s perspective on the case: an angry j’accuse would have been less successful.

    Beach is always looking for good books: drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com

    *I have not read every book in English: note ‘mainstream’.