I experienced absurdism and despair firsthand on the morning of Saturday, May 21st, when the Knox/Sollecito appeal resumed in Perugia after a hiatus of eight weeks. It seemed the point of this court session was to determine how long a hiatus should be taken until the next court session. These long breaks have been a hallmark of the Knox/Sollecito trials. Due to Italy's severe passion for holidays — religious holidays, vacation holidays, lunch holidays — the first trial never met more than three times a week. But during the appeal, the pace has cooled off considerably. Now they only meet on Saturday mornings. This is because the Sollecito family has hired the prominent lawyer Giulia Bongiorno, who is the president of the justice committee in the lower house of Parliament. Italy permits its politicians to pursue outside employment, but Bongiorno can only attend the trial on weekends, when Parliament is not in session. A driver in an armor-plated truck, provided by the Italian government, zips her from Rome to Perugia for each court date.
It is immediately clear that Bongiorno is the best lawyer in the room. It's not even close. ("Nobody here's good at their job," says Frank Sfarzo, a local blogger who has followed the trial more obsessively than anyone. "If they were, they wouldn't be in Perugia.") While the provincial lawyers on either side primp and propound, Bongiorno leaps up from the counsel table to deliver concise, forceful laments. She is the only lawyer in the room who seems appalled by what she is witnessing. After the session, she provides the reporters with cogent digests of the day's trial. Then the door of the armor-plated truck opens, and she is whisked back to Rome.
The Italian system, despite its many celebrated inefficiencies and inanities, is not all bad. The Italian appeal process, for instance, is more lenient than the American model. In Italy, the appeals judge is allowed to retry the entire case. To the enormous relief of the Knox family, Judge Claudio Hellmann began the appeal with an assertion of reasonable doubt. "The only thing we know for certain in this complex case," he declared, "is that Meredith was murdered."
Hellmann ordered new analyses of the DNA tests by independent experts — a request that was refused, for no particular reason, during the original trial. There have been indications that the readings on the knife and the bra clasp will be ruled too weak to satisfy international forensics guidelines. If this is what the independent experts conclude, the Knox team anticipates a full acquittal.
Italian observers are skeptical. The Italian judicial system is carefully designed to ensure that no one is penalized or shamed egregiously. As in Italian politics, everyone gets a little something. The initial criminal trial is closer to an inquisition, and favors the prosecution. Sentences tend to be harsher than merited. But that is because the trial is merely a prologue to the mandatory appeal, which often results in a reduced sentence.
The lack of physical evidence is not the only flaw in the prosecution's scenario. There is also no motive. But the alternative scenario — that Rudy Guede acted alone — is not entirely convincing either. Guede was a petty crook who carried a knife, but he had never committed a violent crime. He was a nuisance around town, hitting on student girls, but an amiable one. He had lots of friends, including the four boys who lived downstairs at Via della Pergola. Why would he sexually assault and murder Meredith Kercher?
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