In the Meredith Kercher case, Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito are currently in the process of appealing their murder convictions. The prosecution is also appealing, seeking to extend their sentences from 25 and 24 years respectively, to life. A third man, Rudy Guede, was convicted in a separate trial and has exhausted all of his appeals and is now serving his final sentence of 16 years.
Sollecito and Guede have gone through the process fairly quietly, although the behaviour of the family of Sollecito has gotten them in some legal hot water. In Amanda Knox's case however, there has been a highly vocal PR and political campaign waged on her behalf on a daily basis, carried out by a small but loud and aggressive group of followers on the web and in the media, sponsored by Knox's family.
One doesn't need to delve too deeply beneath the surface of the case to see them, they are hard to miss. It has always been their contention that Meredith Kercher was murdered by Rudy Guede and Rudy Guede alone, in a 'Lone Wolf' attack. This is despite the fact that the evidence at the crime scene clearly demonstrates the presence and invlovement of multiple people. This is also in direct contrast to the strategy of Knox and Sollecito's defence, who have never pushed hard for a lone wolf scenario and who very recently put forward some rather shady witnesses to testify that there were in actual fact, several persons present and involved on the night of the murder.
Knox supporters have many talking points, but chief among them is the argument that there was no trace of Knox or Sollecito found in Meredith Kercher's room where she was murdered and her body was found the following day. This they claim, is proof that Knox wasn't there, that "absence of evidence is proof of absence'. This is then transformed into the claim that there was no trace of Knox and Sollecito at the crime scene. There are several problems with this argument.
First and foremost, the crime scene is not limited to Meredith Kercher's room, but includes all areas of the cottage that were tampered with during the crime and where evidence was found. In addition to Meredith's room, these include the small bathroom that Meredith and Knox shared, the second larger bathroom which was shared by fellow housemates Laura and Filomena, Filomena's bedroom, the corridor, the living room and Knox's room. It also includes the separate ground floor apartment, occupied by four male students who were out of town with family the night the crime took place.
The Boys Apartment Downstairs
The police were confronted by a locked downstairs flat which yielded no answer when they knocked. Having just found a dead girl in the apartment upstairs, out of concern there may also be victims downstairs, they forced entry. They were confronted by the sight of blood. There was blood on the walls, on the light switch and on the quilt cover of one of the boy's beds, but no sign of any of the boys themselves. The police feared that the boys may have been victims or involved in the attack. It would later transpire that the downstairs apartment had nothing to do with the crime and that the blood was from their pet cat that had a cut ear that had got infected and kept bleeding all over the place. Indeed, the boys had left the keys with Meredith before leaving, primarily so that she could look after the cat while they were away. Even though it would emerge the boys flat had nothing to do with the crime upstairs, it still needed to be forensically processed by the scientific police.
The Large Bathroom
This was the bathroom shared by Laura and Filomena. Someone had defecated in the toilet and hadn't flushed. The Scientific Police were able to retrieve a DNA profile from some of the used toilet paper and this was matched to Rudy Guede.
The Living Room
The living room contained a trail of bloody trainer prints leading from the corridor out through the living room and exiting the front door. These were assigned to Rudy Guede, although were never actually matched as Guede had discarded his trainers some days after the murder whilst in Germany and they were never recovered. However, he admitted to the pair being the same make, model and size of the prints.
Amanda Knox's Room
Knox's room was right next to Meredith's room and had Filomena's room on the other side of it. Bare bloody footprints matching Knox were found on the floor. In addition, Knox's bedside lamp, the sole source of lighting in the room, was gone and later found on the floor of Meredith's room.
This contained bloody trainer prints, heading into the living room from Meredith' s bedroom, assigned to Guede. It also yielded bare bloody footprints matching Knox and a single bare bloody footprint matching Sollecito. One of Knox's footprints was stepping into Meredith's doorway.
The Small Bathroom
The small bathroom, situated next to Meredith's room and shared by Meredith and Knox, contained Meredith's blood on the sink, the bidet and the floor. Some of this blood contained Knox's DNA which was possibly from blood. A drop of Knox's blood was found on the tap. The bath mat by the sink and shower also had blood on it as well as a bare bloody footprint which was a match for Sollecito.
This was the room that had supposedly been broken into by an intruder. The room was tossed with her clothing and laptop dumped on the floor and covered in glass from the broken window. The evidence would later reveal that this break-in was certainly staged, in order to lead the investigation astray. A small amount of Meredith's blood was found on the floor and this contained Knox's DNA. No trace of Guede was found in the room.
This was where the attack took place and where Meredith's half-naked body was found the following day, on the floor, under a quilt. Her clothing lay strewn on the floor, her pillow lay beneath her buttocks and there were bloody towels on the floor, along with pools, streaks and spots of blood. Her bedside lamp was on the floor by her bed, Knox's bedside lamp lay on the floor at the foot of her bed. Her handbag sat open on her sheeted bed, on the sheet lay Meredith's books and the partial bloody imprint of a knife, along with the odd smear and drop of blood. There was a smeared bloody hand print on the wall above her bed, there was a bloody handprint on the pillow and there were a few bloody fingerprints on the handbag. The prints on the handbag were too smeared to match, but contained the Y-haplotype of Rudy Guede. The bloody handprint on the pillow rendered fingerprints that were matched to Guede. There was a trainer print in the center of the room and a partial one on the pillow that were assigned, but not actually matched, to Guede. Guede's DNA was also found on Meredith's bra and his Y-haplotype (from skin cells) was found on the left sleeve of her sports top and on a vaginal swab taken at the scene. Sollecito's DNA profile was found on Meredith's bra clasp which had been cut from her bra with a knife, either during or after the attack. On the pillow, there was also a trainer print which the prosecution maintained was the same size as Knox, while the defence maintained it had been viewed incorrectly and was in fact a match for Guede.
Meredith's Bedroom Post Murder
Secondary Crime Scenes
In addition to the two floors of the cottage, which formed the primary crime scene, there were secondary crime scenes for the scientific police to examine. These included the cottage grounds and road just outside the cottage. There was also the garden of a Perugian resident, some 10 minutes walk from the cottage, where Meredith's two cell phones were found dumped. A few days after the murder, Knox, Sollecito and Patrick Lumumba, an innocent bar owner and Knox's former employer whom Knox had falsely accused of committing the murder, were arrested. This added Sollecito's apartment, some 4 minutes walk from the cottage, Lumumba's apartment and Lumumba's bar to the list of sites that needed to be examined. Fingerprint analyses would some days later, identify Rudy Guede and his apartment, some 5 minutes walk from the cottage and one minute's walk from Sollecito's flat, would be added to the list of crime scenes.
Patrick Lumumba, Falsley Accused by Knox
What we have therefore, is a complex and expansive primary crime scene, complicated further with multiple secondary crime scenes, all of which had to be examined by the scientific police, the results of which contribute to the body of evidence against all three of the accused. It can be concluded then, that it is utterly wrong to attempt to limit the crime scene to Meredith's tiny bedroom. Of course, Knox and Sollecito's defence have vigorously contested the evidence found at the crime scene, which is what one would expect since they are denying any involvement. A recent independent report commissioned by the appeal court judge also raised concerns with how some of the evidence was collected and later examined. However, that report had its own problems, some of which I addressed in my previous article Meredith Kercher, Amanda Knox, Raffaele Sollecito & the Independent Experts.
The fact that little evidence from Sollecito and none from Knox was found in Meredith's room is being cited as proof they weren't there, belies a mistaken perception that criminals MUST leave forensic evidence of themselves at the crime scene when in fact, it's surprisingly common that they don't. As explained by Ellen Kreitzberg, JD, Professor of Law at Santa Clara University:
"The DNA testing and evidence only occurs in a situation where the assailant leaves biological evidence behind. For the most part, we are talking about rape cases where there is semen left that can be tested. There are occasionally non-rape cases where the assailant may have left behind hair fragments or fingernail fragments that are of a sufficient quantity that they can be tested for DNA. But if no biological evidence is left behind, which is what occurs in most cases in the criminal justice system, no DNA testing can occur. The second qualifier is: even among those cases where there is biological evidence left behind that can be tested, if it is not gathered and collected and preserved properly, you will end up with a false test.
So I think the possibilities with DNA testing are immense in terms of being able to exonerate certain people, or on the other hand, definitively indicate that they were the perpetrator. But it still will not be available in somewhere between 70 and 75 percent of the cases in the criminal justice system, perhaps even more. So it is not the silver bullet that is going to solve our criminal justice system problems."
Amazingly, 70-75% of cases reveal no usable DNA! And it's far from uncommon for there to be no hair,nails or bodily fluids either. But what about fingerprints, surely we should expect to find those? Apparently, there are problems with those too, as stated in this paper Chemist contributes to development of novel method for recovering old fingerprints:
"Despite fingerprinting being a foundational technique of modern forensic science, only a fraction of all the fingermarks at a crime scene are actually detected."
There's a myriad of reasons for this. Often, prints are too smeared or too partial to be of any use. Others are on surfaces that don't render prints very well and others become damaged by their environment or time. As a case in point, Knox had lived in the cottage for over two months, yet only ONE of her fingerprints was found in the WHOLE apartment and that was on a glass in the kitchen. Are we then supposed to wonder that none of her fingerprints were found in a room that she's accused of being in for less then half an hour? It also must be considered that the public are highly aware of forensics such as fingerprints, so when people commit crimes they tend to be careful what they touch and how they touch them and wipe things they do touch off afterwards, or even wear gloves so they don't leave prints. A little awareness is all it takes. It should also be pointed out that there were at least 16 prints found in the room and also parts of footprints that were too smeared or partial to identify, including the bloody handprint on the wall above Meredith's bed. Any of these could potentially have belonged to Sollecito or Knox. After Meredith's discovery, the room was also entered by ambulance men, a doctor and several scientific police. While they would have been as careful as possible, simply entering a crime scene can damage potential evidence. There is also the matter of Knox and Sollecito being convicted of having performed a partial clean-up as part of the staging after the murder, which is supported by the evidence, and so this could have erased further evidence left by the pair. There is also one final consideration. Raffaele Sollecito's trainers were of the same make and similar model to those of Guede, having an almost identical sole pattern. It is therefore quite possible, that one or more of the partial fainter trainer prints may in fact, have belonged to Sollecito.
Knox supporters counter this with the argument that evidence of Guede was found in Meredith's room, implying that because he left evidence there it creates a law where if Knox and Sollecito were there, they would certainly have left evidence too. This is a self-created arbitrary law and doesn't really stand. Just because Guede left evidence of himself, it does not suddenly override the statistical fact that criminals only leave forensic evidence of themselves in 25-30% of cases and there's no reason why Knox and Sollecito should not fall into the category of the 70-75% that do not. There is also the matter of how different individuals have different roles in a crime and so interact with the crime scene in different ways, which effects the type of evidence each leaves or whether they leave any at all.
From the evidence both on the body and at the crime scene, it was possible to piece together in the trial an idea of the dynamic of the attack. The prosecution maintained that they had the victim kneeling in the floor, with Sollecito and Guede standing either side of her holding her arms, while Knox stood in front of her torturing her with the knife. During this time, Guede also sexually assaulted her with his free hand (hence his Y-haplotype from skin cells on the vaginal swab). The judges concluded a similar, but slightly different dynamic whereby the victim was on her back on the floor with her arms restained on each side by Knox and Sollecito, while they threatened her with knives and Guede lay on top and sexually assaulted her. The fact remains that the victim was restrained by three people, leaving her little abilty to lash out to inflict injury or scratch them in order to get genetic material under her fingernails. In any case, Meredith's fingernails were cut extremely short, too short to get genetic material under them. Being restrained, she couldn't yank out hair either. Since Guede alone carried out the sexual assault, it is little surprise that no DNA from Knox or Sollecito was found on the vaginal swab. It must also be remembered that the attack lasted for a very short space of time and the attackers' focus was on the victim, not going around the room touching things to leave traces.
But, it's what Guede did AFTER the attack and the victim had been stabbed and the other two did not do, that primarily explains the forensic evidence in the room. Whilst under arrest in Germany awaiting extradition to Italy, he wrote a diary where he spoke of some of the events that took place at the cottage that night. He admitted being at the cottage the night of the murder to see Meredith, but claimed he was on the toilet in the bathroom when she was attacked. He emerged from the toilet on hearing a scream, to see Meredith lying bleeding on the floor, her attacker standing over her with a knife who then fled on seeing Guede. He claimed he then went to Meredith's aid, using towels to try and stem the bleeding from her neck. On realising how serious the injury was and that he couldn't help, he fled in a panic, fearing he'd be accused of the crime. His story of being an innocent bystander in the attack is of course nonsense and disproven by the evidence, but liars and criminals tend to mix lies and truth. The evidence in fact supports his story of trying to help staunch the wound with towels, as there were blood soaked towels on the floor of the room. It would also explain how he got so much blood on his hands, in order to leave the handprint and fingerpints on the pillow and handbag. He claimed he moved the handbag so he could grab Meredith's pillow to place it under her to make her comfortable. Fluids, provide the best medium for transferring DNA. Unless there is friction, it's actually very difficult to transfer DNA in dry conditions. Spending such time so close to her as she bled out, would also explain how the soles of his shoes became coated with enough blood to leave trainer prints leading out the cottage. His applying pressure to the victim's neck with the towels, may also explain her broken hyoid bone. In contrast, Knox and Sollecito, immediately after the stabbing and before there was too much blood, headed straight for the little bathroom in order to wash up, as demonstrated by the blood on the sink and bidet and bloody bare footprint of Sollecito on the bath mat. Shortly after cleaning up they also fled the scene, only to return later to perform a partial clean-up and staging after the blood had dried and in so doing, they interacted with Meredith's room as little as possible and if they did so, they did so carefully. Guede's diary, known as 'the German Diary', has been translated from the Italian into English by Perugia Murder File and can be downloaded here: RUDY HERMANN GUEDE'S TRANSLATED GERMAN DIARY
The limitations faced by the scientific police must also be understood. As explained earlier in the article, they were faced with an ever expanding crime scene with lots of potential evidence to process, both at the scene and back at the lab. The scientific police were from the Rome crime lab which processes some 25,000 crime scenes a year. With limited resources and such a high work-load, they have to be highly selective in regard to how many samples they take and from where they take them. They do not swab every single inch of a room for DNA, or even most of it, that's too impractical. They instead focus on those spots that they feel may be most likely to yield forensic evidence. For them, their priority areas for examination were clear, those points where they could see that the attacker had touched the environment. Therefore, they focused on the handprint on the pillow, the bloody trainer prints on the floor, the bloody prints on the handbag and the muck in the toilet. It's little wonder that most of the tests therefore, revealed the presence of Guede, rather then Knox and Sollecito. Had he not tried to help the victim after the attack, the picture of the evidence in the room (and other places in the cottage) would have been very different. Certainly, the scientific police would have been forced to sample different areas in the room and those may well have revealed further evidence of Knox and Sollecito.
As we have seen, the crime scene is extensive and not limited to the bedroom and it reveals ample evidence of the presence and involvement of Knox and Sollecito, as well as Guede. There is also nothing remarkable about the fact that little or no trace of them was found in Meredith's room and while the absence of such traces may be helpful to their defence, it certainly is not proof that they were not there and not involved. We have also seen that how different individuals interact with the crime scene, the dynamic of how a crime is carried out and how forensics officers gather evidence from a scene determines what evidence if any, is left and from whom and what then is found.
In my next article, I shall be examining 'patterns of evidence' and how the evidence from this case forms a clear pattern and provides a narrative of the key elements of the crime.