Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Knox verdict: another humiliation for Italy

These are embarrassing times to be Italian. The country is in a financial mess, on the precipice of becoming the latest victim of the debt crisis. The prime minister is now regarded even by most Italians to be a national embarrassment, yet he still clings to power. The waste crisis in Naples has spiralled out of control, and Italy's handling of migrants from North Africa during the Arab Spring has drawn condemnation from human rights groups and European leaders alike. Even their prime minister has heaped scorn upon Italy, calling it a "shitty country". The last thing Italians needed was another embarrassment.

As I write this, Amanda Knox is boarding a plane in Rome, heading back to her home in the US after four years in an Italian jail for a crime the judiciary now says she did not commit. Yesterday's verdict of innocence, the conclusion of the most closely-watched Italian court case in decades, brought jeers and condemnation not just from the crowd of Italians outside but also from the Italian media. Many in Italy see the verdict as the judiciary bending to American pressure. But other Italians agree with the sentiment felt abroad - particularly in the US – that the Italian judiciary and police system are so flawed there was no way Ms Knox could be convicted without significant doubt about her guilt.

The prosecutors had alleged that Ms Knox, staying in Italy to study the language, had with her Italian boyfriend killed her British flatmate Meredith Kircher – also learning Italian – after a sex game had gone horribly wrong in 2007. They centered the case around painting her as an evil creature, even calling her a "witch" in court. Both were convicted of the murder in 2009, but in the Italian legal system defendants are allowed two appeals. Apparently convictions at a first trial are commonly later overturned on appeal. After 2009 significant flaws were found with the police investigation of the case. An independent review found that the DNA evidence found on a kitchen knife in the boyfriend's flat was unreliable because the police had not followed proper procedures when collecting it. Yesterday the judge found that the police had made a catalogue of errors.

This was a case involving three nations, and each nation seemed to be most interested in protecting their own. In America, Amanda Knox was portrayed as an innocent college student who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. In Britain the tabloid press dubbed her "Foxy Knoxy" and painted her as a brutal, psychotic killer who had preyed upon her innocent English roommate. In Italy, the concern centred around defending the police and prosecutors, and upholding the dignity of the Italian justice system.

In the end, one could read into yesterday's verdict that the Americans won. That's certainly what much of the Italian press seems to be doing. The newspaper Corriere della Serra wrote today that the American media had subjugated Italian justice. Other papers echoed the crowd's chants of "shame" after the verdict was read. Notably, the US state department said that they were "satisfied" that the court had come to this decision. The British foreign office had no comment.

Whether you think Knox is guilty or innocent, either way the Italian justice system comes out looking very bad here. Either they wrongfully accused a young woman of murder - brandishing her a witch and holding her in prison for four years -  or the blundering of their investigation has let a brutal killer go free. But in Italy some are choosing to see this as a question of American media pressure letting a killer go free, choosing to ignore that mistakes made by the Italian police and prosecution.

It seems likely that the defensive Italian media reaction is part of a larger picture – a feeling within Italy that the country is being set upon by chastising neighbours. And that feeling is only going to get more pronounced. Recent leaked cables have shown that the European Central Bank is growing increasingly frustrated with the country and its inability to get control of its debt and implement an austerity package. Italy-bashing has become common place in Northern Europe, part of a growing trend of blaming Southern Europe and their perceived lack of a work ethic for the eurozone crisis.

I will be going to Italy next week for a long roadtrip from Pisa to Milan. I'll be stopped in San Gimignano, Florence and Bologna on the way. It will be good to get to know the country better and maybe even pick up some Italian, considering I actually haven't been there since I acquired Italian citizenship through ancestry three years ago. I also want to talk to people about how they're feeling about the eurozone crisis, particularly in the context of defending the European project from disintegration.

Paradoxically, Italians tend to be one of the most pro-EU countries at the same time as being very isolationist from the rest of Europe. This is simply for the reason that despite a tendency toward provincialism, Italians have such little faith in their own government that they welcome the EU coming in and enforcing European law. I've never met an Italian who wasn't a 'federalist' in the sense that they want more power to go from Rome to Brussels. Now that the entire European project is under threat, will Italians be enthusiastic about defending it? Or will they have a defensive reaction to being partly blamed for the crisis and join the anti-EU sentiments of the protestors in Greece? I'm curious to find out.


antonscouser said...

How did she get off with Murder? She was in paper the other week looking all smug and clever she's guilty as fuck the Italian justice system is shit they should give her a re - trial in England where victim is from or back over in America were that evil bitch Foxy knoxy's from! She killed that girl u can tell by the smug smile on her face! She has literally got away with MURDER!


Sammy said...

@antonscouser: WOW you mean you can tell when someone is guilty just by the look on their face?? That's amazing - forget DNA, fingerprint evidence, etc...all we need is for you to analyze the look on their face.
What a load of bullcrap.

Anonymous said...

Before commenting in Italy's criminal justice system, 'Amercian in Europe', have a look at your own country's considerably less than satisfactory record! People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones!

Plez said...


So I am guessing by your message that you are a dyed in the wool liberal, go with feelings not facts, huh?

Italy is a tough country to get in trouble in because it is, was, and always will be a country enraptured with the Opera. All news becomes drama, simple stories become dramatic narratives with multiple story arcs. The truth is often covered up because it is less entertaining than fact. Heck, Berlesconi has been able to stay in power because he is entertaining, even if he is a train wreck.

These are the reasons that my family left Italy to come to America. Of course, now America is becoming the same beast, but that is for another post, another time.

If you look at the facts of the case, there is very, very, very little evidence that Knox had any part in the murder. The media, once again, made judgment before the case was even heard and made people's minds up for them. My sympathies to the British family of the victim, her killer may never face justice because of another debacle in a country known for debacles over the last 3000 years.

Anonymous said...

@ the author of this article
I am Italian and I was born and have lived in Italy.. I am aware that my country is not in a "good shape" at the moment, but anyway I found your article at the very least offensive. And what makes me more ashamed about this article is that you have Italian citizenship! you should kiss our Italian as**s for letting you have our citizenship and letting you go around Europe doing this job you do so badly. The problem we have, maybe the one problem we have, is that we do not appreciate our history and culture and honour our citizenship as we should. We "live and let live" everyone, more than we should do. And this is wrong. In fact, we let asses like you have our citizenship! c.v.d.

richie Howard said...

The intense American PR machine went into overdrive to ensure that Knox was aquitted. Despite the compelling evidence – DNA, false statements, lies, slander, inability to know where she was - Knox has got away with murder. The US will always look after its own citizens, and the Italian’s have succumbed to terrible pressure. We should all feel guilty that the Kercher's will have never now have ‘closure’.

Anonymous said...

I used to think Europeans were smarter than Americans, but this case has disabused me of that absurd notion. I read comments like the ones posted here and finally understand that Europeans are clearly more committed to anti-Americanism more than they are to justice and rationality. If you think Amanda was guilty, you are untrustworthy at best and psychotic at worst. Never before has a woman's innocence been more obvious.

And Plez -- How dumb can you get? Liberals defend reason by definition. Conservatives are the ones who think science is immoral but see satan behind every bush and condemn innocent people to jail. Rationality = progress = liberalism = rejection of backwards traditions.

Italian in the US said...

I find your article very offensive, I do not understand why you say ANOTHER HUMILIATION FOR ITALY? Who authorizes you to links things that are not? Why do you need it?
I am an Italian living in the US, and I see plenty of humiliation for the US: the way they reacted to hurricane Katrina, torturing prisoners, the death penalty... lots of things to be proud of!

Anonymous said...

You can't seriously believe that these 2 were guilty, right? You may be angry that the Italian Justice system dropped the ball on this case, but there is zero reliable evidence. A heroin addict says he saw them there....a 14 hour interrogation that led to a "confession" that just happens to be the only interrogation not recorded....no physical evidence that points to anyone other than the person who HAS ALREADY BEEN CONVICTED. Unfortunately the losers in this case are the Kercher Family and the Italian people...who are being lied to and cheated by corrupt prosecution/police.

Anonymous said...

Yea! for Amanda It's proper justice that she was given her freedom because the real killer is locked behind bars doing 16 years - his prints were all over the place ~ It amusing that the British are so pompus and rightous on this issue (even piers morgan & vikki ward who should be fired) I agree with the other blogger - this is more about stuffy Europeans being more interested in Anti-americanism then agreeing that justice for her prevailed. Screw all of you evil- pompous assholes who have an axe to grind with the USA ~~ long live the American Media ! long live Italia!