The Sad Fate Of Amanda Knox

How is it possible, in an age where human intelligence has produced wonder after wonder, to have a murder case where guilt is determined by the “reasoning” level of a moron?

I was reading an article recently about the legal profession and the appalling lack of quality in reasoning that prevails.  Often, court opinions are little more than screeds of heavy rheotric that ignore evidence that obviously – and often definitively – undercuts the desired result.  They are frequently comically disingenuous.  Or at least it would be comical is someone’s life didn’t hang in the balance.

So the “Nencini” report re-convicting Amanda Knox contains a discussion of 2 phone calls AK made to Meredith Kercher’s phone the day after her murder but before the body was discovered  that lasted only a few seconds.  Nencini then draws the inference that these phone calls were not genuine, that they were designed to deceive the investigators, that they were so short because Amanda Knox never expected Meredith Kercher to answer because Amanda Knox already knew Meredith Kercher was dead.  And the only reason she could know that was she had participated in the killing.  Let me quote here from the Nencini report as excerpted in a “guilter” blogger’s article:

“The telephone call made [by Knox] at 12:11:54 pm to the English service of the victim lasted 4 seconds. Perhaps not even the time to repeat the first ring.

Knox should have been affected by a certain anxiety in calling Kercher’s telephone services. Filomena Romanelli let the defendant’s telephone ring for 36 seconds the first time, and the second for a good 65 seconds; an insistence which appears normal. But that did not happen when Knox called… these are two calls that barely registered [and this] has only one plausible explanation:

There was no concern at all in the mind of Amanda Knox when she made the two calls to the young English woman, simply because she knew very well that Meredith Kercher could not have answered the calls; calls which had to be made because Filomena Romanelli insisted, but which the defendant knew were useless. Nobody would have been able to answer those calls; let alone poor Meredith Kercher whom the accused knew was lifeless, locked in her own bedroom.”

The problem is that there was a much longer phone call from Amanda Knox to Kercher’s phone earlier – at 12:07 PM – so long that Kercher’s phone – that had been tossed into some bushes and would otherwise have been lost – rang and rang until it was found.  And this phone call also occurred well after Kercher’s murder, but before the shorter calls.

To a sane and reasonably intelligent person, then, the earlier, longer phone call rules out making the incriminating inference from the later calls.  In other words, Nencini is either not sane or not intelligent.  Or, I suppose there is a third possibility:  he’s not honest.

So Amanda KNox’s fate at this point has rested with a man who is either crazy, or stupid, or corrupt and dishonest, and there’s no other alternative.

So appalling.


Filed under Uncategorized

Amanda Knox Redux (Updated)(x3)

It appears from press reports to be all but certain that Amanda Knox will come out of the Italian Justice system a convicted murderess.  It is at least equally certain that this is the wrong result.

The British tabloids have been braying for Knox all along for their own reasons, but I suppose it’s notable that the lowest of the low in British tabloids are still more than a cut above the Arizonan uncivilized mob frenzy surrounding Jodi Arias.

In the latest installment, in any case, the Daily Mail is spinning some kind of last minute filing by Rafaelle Sollecito (Knox’s former Italian boyfriend), also in the dock, as being a “brutal” act of distancing himself from his former lover to save his own skin.  That’s quite a dramatic characterization, but hardly seems to fit:  most of what they quote is pretty much what Sollecito has been saying all along.

The Mail article does not say, but as I recall Sollecito must be in prison back in Italy. That adds a level of pressure not present for Knox at the moment:  Knox fled at her first opportunity, and apparently will go back to an Italian prison only if extradited by the United States pursuant to treaty:

If convicted [that is the all-but-certainty we have been discussing – ed.], Knox could face immediate extradition proceedings and her supporters fear the worst.

One supporter told MailOnline they were prepared for what would be the ‘greatest miscarriage of justice’ that has ever happened to a US citizen.

Well, that last part would seem to be hyperbole.  There are worse injustices.  And very similar ones.  Mostly we do it to our own citizens.  Does that make it better, or worse?

Or does it matter at all?

Update:  Apparently all kinds of things can happen in the highest Italian court.  Meaning this could go on and on, even from here:
The high court judge at the hearing this week will either uphold the convictions definitively, or send the case back for another appeal, or potentially on to a different section of the high court.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised that they just kick the can down the road a little more.  Institutionally, the potential for embarrassment either way they go is so high it’s the easiest course.  For them.  Not for the people in the dock.
Update 2:  Maybe nothing until Friday now.  The Italians certainly know how to generate drama through their court system.
Update 3:  Is the delay to hear only from Sollecito’s lawyers,
but not AK’s?  That doesn’t sound good, but that’s what the BBC is reporting.


Filed under Uncategorized, wrongful convictions

Real Criminals

After a wrongfully convicted man is exonerated through DNA, prosecutors vow to retry him.  He opts for an Alford plea to spare himself and his family a second grueling ordeal.  But of course the conviction continues to haunt him the remainder of his life.

Which is then cut short by his own hand.

In a similar and much more familiar true story from Texas, we have the case of Todd Willingham, back in the news because professional disciplinary charges have been filed against the prosecutor who convicted him and sent him to death row, from which he was eventually executed.

But the story of the Todd Willingham prosecutor isn’t about professional misconduct; it’s about despicable, criminal behavior.

Would it matter that either of the prosecutors subjectively believed that the men they were lying and cheating and extorting to death were really guilty?

We had a comment the other day on an old post about Tom Moran, former prosecutor and now a State Supreme Court judge, the same “career path” as Ken Anderson.  The comment was probably from a lawyer, since it evinced an awareness of the “materiality” idea and bandied about terms like “preponderance of the evidence” and “clear and convincing evidence” and seemed aware of what the distinction meant.  Most likely a lawyer, then.  But it could also have been from a cop.

Could the prosecutor in the Willingham case, or the Conover case, or the Sephora Davis case, harbor a subjective belief that the people they wrongfully convicted really were guilty after all?  I suppose it’s possible.  People can harbor irrational subjective beliefs.  Look at some of the twitter traffic about Jodi Arias.  Or Amanda Knox.

But as horrifying as some of that reveals some people’s thought processes to be, at least the social media partisans in those extremely high profile cases are not directly involved, and do not stand to personally benefit from prevailing.

Not so with the prosecutors. They harbor an irrational belief – if indeed they really do – because it is very much in their self interest to harbor it.  Their subjective belief, in other words, is not the result of enlightened self interest or even rational self interest; rather, it is the product of pathological self interest.

Pathological self interest is chiefly a character trait of….criminals.

But in truth, our belief here at Lawyers on Strike is that the conduct is even worse, that these prosecutors do not, in fact, harbor any such irrational subjective belief, because prosecutors are lawyers and lawyers cannot be stupid.  They might not be geniuses, but they cannot be stupid.

So the more likely reality is that the conduct of these prosecutors has been beyond mere criminal and into the realm of the malicious and the malevolent.  It’s twisted almost beyond description that after a man who was labeled a murderer is exonerated, losing most of the good things other people enjoy in life, the chief tormenter refuses to repent or relent and attempts to destroy whatever is left of the life he unjustly ruined in the first place.  But this is what these men have done.  Are doing.

Yet we do not believe criminally prosecuting them is a solution.  The crimes of which they are guilty bear the strongest resemblance to human rights abuses that are addressed more in international law than through domestic law enforcement.

No, we believe the real solution on the domestic front is copious compensation for their victims.  So copious that their victims never have to work for a living again and can – as I would almost always recommend – leave the country and live as expatriates elsewhere.

There are two salutary benefits from this approach:  the first, obviously, is that it is only fair to do everything possible to fix what is broken, and money goes a long way for this specific wrong.  And it is probably the only thing that goes a long way.

But second, far more than making a punitive example of this or that prosecutor, imposing a large institutional financial burden on this kind of malevolent behavior changes the institutional culture internally, where it most needs to change.

Let us illustrate as best we can, with some help from Jeff Gamso.  There is a place for gallows humor, we agree.  We’ve encountered it in the Navy, in personal injury legal practice and in criminal legal practice.  But the place is very small, perhaps a moment’s respite from the overpowering weight of extremely serious tasks and responsibilities.

In other words, a remark here or there to prompt nervous laughter before everyone is overwhelmed by what is really going on.

But in a post yesterday Jeff quotes a prosecutor named Marty Stroud, who convicted a man wrongfully on bullshit evidence and although no one was executed, 30 years went by and the man’s life was essentially taken from him anyway:

In 1984, I was 33 years old. I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning. To borrow a phrase from Al Pacino in the movie “And Justice for All,” “Winning became everything.”

After the death verdict in the Ford trial, I went out with others and celebrated with a few rounds of drinks. That’s sick. I had been entrusted with the duty to seek the death of a fellow human being, a very solemn task that certainly did not warrant any “celebration.”

Mr. Stroud is right.  It is very sick, and he is describing a very sick prosecutorial culture that while not universal is nevertheless very common.

He is describing Tom Moran.  And too many judges.  And the lawyer (likely) who posted that comment the other day.

And Marty Stroud is right about something else:  There is really no end to the money we, as a society, owe his victim.  As I’ve pointed out many times, we shower people with money because they throw a football well or titillate us with pictures of their behinds.

Because they amuse us, in other words.

And then we balk when we, through our officials, have ruined an innocent person’s life, a truly horrifying wrong that in most cases can never be fully repaired.

So this is really about us.  As a people.  What we do with the wrongfully convicted is a measure of our character.  And the verdict on our character so far is this:  venal, stupid, lazy, cruel, miserly, prideful, obstinate, shallow, feckless.

I could go on.  But that’s enough adjectives for now.  Maybe the real criminals are us, is the point.

(h/t Nina Burleigh)


Filed under Uncategorized

Social Media Power?

We’ve been discussing the impact of social media on criminal trials and “due process” over the last few days, especially with respect to the Jodi Arias fiasco out in Arizona.  We have thought it a difficult subject warranting further review.

But it appears the police have no doubts whatever about the “power” of social media, and think parents should warn their children about it:

Three students have been charged in connection with alleged bullying incidents at Greece Athena High School.  Chief Patrick Phelan of the Greece Police Department made the announcement at a news conference Tuesday afternoon at police headquarters…The incident was then posted to Snapchat…”People should talk to their kids about social media and the power that it has,” Phelan said.

Maybe these charges would never have been brought but for the fact that the alleged culprits posted video on the internet.

Does that matter?


Filed under Uncategorized

Jodi Arias Juror #17 Explains

Sounds pretty fair and objective to me.

Discuss. Open thread.

On the other hand, we’re not just confused about Jodi Arias.



Filed under Uncategorized

This Is So Disturbing

Sometimes we’d just rather not know, because knowing seems to include a responsibility to do something, and not only can’t we do anything (other than a blog post, I guess) but we wouldn’t be too sure what to do even if we could do something.

Anyhow.  There’s a guy named Paul Sanders.  He apparently sat on a jury in a death penalty case in Maricopa County Arizona, where a woman named Marissa Devault was convicted of killing her husband, named Dale Harrell, with hammer blows to the head.  After the trial he wrote a book about his jury “experience”.

And he writes a blog where he talks about other death penalty cases as well, including of course the Jodi Arias case which comes out of the same increasingly weird Arizona backwater.

The guy is unbelievably self-absorbed:

A political science professor told me once in my senior year of college, “You are altruistic to a fault.”  I would hope that all of us in this room are the same way.  That we are united in the belief that despite the horror of what human beings do to each other, we can find the good from of it.  We will search through the wreckage of what any trial is, a search for lessons.  Closure comes when one is ready and, sometimes, it may never come at all.

He promises more.  Ugh:

I believe I have eleven more books in me.  The first eight will be from one to two trials a year.  Then, there are three on the shelves: “Mortician”,  “Limousine: Looking Back” and “The King’s Crown”.  This would give us thirteen books.

He has a special gift from God.  We’re not making this up:

The driving force behind this site is this special ability that God has given me.  I do not understand where some of my creations come from. I love the art of a good title, “The Logistics of Serendipity”, being one of my favorite.  Maybe my writings are “Flowery and Slanted”, maybe there is some bias, a confirmatory bias, toward the victim. And, maybe, it favors the jury.  It is in the jury that we find justice.  If we do not, then we find the lessons…One might hope that my gift can clarify the confusion and pain that one suffers as a family feels in a murder trial.  If it helps one person have faith when the night is darkest, then my gift is worth the effort.

This is the nightmare juror.  The trial is about whether the accused is guilty, and that’s all it’s about.  It’s not about the victims.  And it’s certainly not about the lawyers, or the jurors, although they are the main actors in the production.

To a juror like this guy, though, a trial of someone else, about something with no connection to him, will wind up being about him.

One Amazon reviewer of his book gets it:

Sounds to me like this person should never have been on a jury to begin with, also hope Marissa Devault’s attorneys can use this book to prove juror misconduct. She hasn’t had her first appeal yet.

Yeah.  What she said.

Lawyers should be thinking about how to ferret out narcissistic assholes like this in jury selection.  We don’t think there’s any easy way to do that, though.

Food for thought.


Filed under Uncategorized

Looks Like They’re Getting Ready To Prosecute The Hold Out Jodi Arias Juror

I mean, I hope they don’t go down that road, but the Maricopa County Attorney’s press release is not too reassuring.

To a lawyer, this benign sounding copy appears to be a veiled reference to an “investigation” focused on prosecuting juror #17, the sole hold out on sentencing Jodi Arias to death.

After the obligatory disclaimer that of course they do not want to single any juror out for their “decisions made in the process of jury deliberations” “[whether] those decisions are in favor of the prosecution or not…” – and that’s an odd way of phrasing the idea already suggestive of bias – the press release goes on to say:

“In instances where there is credible information of misconduct, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office will review the matter, request an independent investigation and then seek an independent review for any potential charges and then for prosecution.”

What is “credible information”?  That’s up to them to decide.  But don’t worry, any investigation will be “independent” not to mention “independently reviewed”.  How do you know?  Well, they’ve said so in a press release, and surely the Maricopa County Attorney’s office can be trusted, right?

Seriously, there is little that could happen at this point that would make the Jodi Arias fiasco even more important, but this is one.  And it’s not a good thing.  We at Lawyers on Strike don’t think we have ever seen in our lifetime a more dangerous threat to the right to trial by jury than would occur if juror #17 were now put in the dock, even if she was guilty of some kind of misconduct.



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