Before going into details, one thing is worth mentioning. Word has it people watch crime documentaries as mere entertainment and out of fascination with the macabre, when murders are involved. I believe that to be highly inaccurate, especially when these materials offer a glimpse into the justice system.
Everyone has a legitimate reason to be concerned or curious regarding the mechanisms they take for granted in a state. The police, the courts, the media; how cases are handled and covered, from start to finish.
Due to the plethora of crime-based fiction, we may live under the impression that every case is treated with clinical precision; that all evidence is analysed according to the latest standards, with the best technology and expertise available. Human error seems an unlikely aberration, not a common (potentially tragic) occurrence. And yet, cases keep popping up, of mishandled, contaminated evidence, bad faith and egos dominating investigations, as well as false, coerced confessions later proven as such.
The wrongful accusation and conviction of Amanda Knox and her then boyfriend for the murder of a young woman in Italy circled the world, with a string of circus-like details later proven to be based on nothing. Four years of their lives were wasted until their first acquittal, with four more spent in tension, as the case was being retried for dubious reasons.
A final documentary was released in 2016, with two key characters, aside from the accused – a prosecutor and a so-called journalist, the latter now bearing the brunt of the chilling attitude he displayed all throughout.
I came out of watching it with three simple words: Jesus fucking Christ.
The court was ultimately appalled at the sloppiness of the investigation and mishandling of evidence, which led to the conviction in the first place. The statements they gave were considered coerced and inaccurate, obtained under pressure and later recanted (it’s awful how often this seems to happen).
During the proceedings, a smear campaign fit for the Inquisition filled newspaper pages, depicting Amanda as a sex-crazed murderer; a psychopath, with no evidence whatsoever. This did not stop for years, despite the real culprit being apprehended and convicted shortly after.
The prosecutor handling the case clearly fancied himself, recalling his fascination with Sherlock Holmes and the ability to find answers in details which eluded everyone else. Interviewed outside the courthouse with a proverbial tobacco pipe in his mouth, he took delight in the community’s appreciation; he was a hero for putting a “pervert” in prison.
The fantasy he came up with was of a sex game gone wrong, with Amanda and her boyfriend murdering the young woman out of rage, for not wanting to participate. He got it all out of thin air, since there was no evidence of them having been there that night. He later added the actual killer into the picture, claiming there was a threesome the victim had refused to join or had complained about.
The case should have been simple enough. There was evidence of a break-in through a smashed window. The third suspect was present that night, recalled being there when the victim was wounded, his DNA was all over the house and inside the victim. Moreover, he was a burglar, known for breaking into houses.
For Mr Holmes, that appeared way too simple; he had to showcase his ability to find obscure details and complicate it. Besides, when the real killer was caught, he had already launched the accusation against Amanda and her boyfriend, with the hypothesis of a sex game; he would risk losing face by admitting the case was straightforward.
More poignant was his dislike of Amanda’s lifestyle, which the good Catholic labelled as promiscuous, feeding that to the press, to be taken to a grotesque level. There was no evidence of any dispute involving Amanda’s sex life, except in the fevered imagination of the puritan, and later, the public at large.
Moral outrage regarding her “promiscuity” erupted in a country filled with paedophile priests.
Having sex and taking recreational drugs was seen as incriminating, although the only thing that should’ve mattered was the evidence, or lack thereof, of her involvement in the murder. The already poor DNA evidence, later thrown out as contaminated, was a straw to cling on to in order to confirm the puritan’s fantasy.
This sideshow actually has a good explanation – the prosecutor seems obsessed with the occult, Satan worshippers, the Masons and so forth. Whilst the piece linked to is very acidic, the bare facts were also reported by the Guardian. He thinks there is a conspiracy against him and sees devil worshippers everywhere.
While on remand, this vilification of Amanda’s private life took disgusting proportions; she was lied to that she had HIV and was going to die of AIDS. Is that common in Italian prisons, for people who haven’t even stood trial? I really wonder. Perhaps they were trying to extract a confession that way. Why was HIV used in this lie, if not to make her think her sex life was responsible for that? Troubled by this, she kept a journal detailing past encounters, leaked to the press and thrown before the world, as “proof” that she was somehow immoral. He was so obsessed he saw one short kiss of the couple as a sign of deviancy.
Sherlock also had other genius observations, such as the fact that the victim was covered with a blanket, which, apparently, only a female would do out of respect for the body of another; a male “wouldn’t have thought of that”. He was literally pulling stuff out of nowhere, however bizarre, to justify having accused her.
Ambitious and nonchalant, he worked for the Dumpster Mongoose – pardon me, Daily Mail – at the time; he has since progressed to the Skunk – pardon me, The Sun.
From the start, he was elated when his piece on the murder landed on the front page. He treated the case as a media goldmine, with all needed elements to attract as many views as possible. His callousness towards the victim (seeing her murder as an exciting opportunity) as well as the potentially innocent defendants, viciously smeared, left people speechless (until they took to social media, that is).
He was even thrilled when the evidence turned out to be contaminated, as a shocking twist in the case. Of course anyone would feel relief at the thought of the exonerating truth coming out, but in a normal person’s mind, there would also be anger, for things having gotten so far based on nothing, as well as shame, over the smear campaign they’ve participated in.
He used old photographs of Amanda and her boyfriend goofing around, with a machine gun and Halloween-like costume, respectively, as if that could prove anything related to their character. He thought those photos were gold. Again, Jesus fucking Christ. The level.
One would expect baseness in the Donkey Manure, especially when it comes to celebrities (of course it’s wrong regardless of the target), but not in a murder case, where two people’s lives were at stake. One comes across a douche here and there in the media, but rarely someone so candid about their complete lack of ethics.
Guilty or not, she was an easy target; everything went. The possibility of a ritual murder was mentioned; even Voodoo.
He mentioned the allure of the sexual element, “girl on girl violence” (I paraphrase), completely removed from the seriousness and consequences of what was being circulated, and knowing in Italy the jury is allowed to bathe in media coverage, such as that of the Diarrhoea Mill.
The man convicted of sexually assaulting and killing the victim, based on hard evidence as well as him admitting right away to having been there, was a mere appendix in the media coverage. He wasn’t as interesting, Mr Pisa, the “journalist” claimed, as if it made any sense to downplay the person proven to have been involved, and focus on those the public found more “interesting”.
What was he supposed to do, investigate before publishing and let someone else run off with the scoop? He couldn’t do that, he shrugged. He was a journalist. I take it being a journalist nowadays means churning out rubbish to fill the space between adverts. What he scooped was shit from a septic truck, neatly arranged, with colourful pictures, on the pages of the Daily Munchhausen, read – although inexplicably – by millions of people.
Towards the end of the documentary, “Sherlock Holmes” briefly broods over the final acquittal of the defendants. If they are innocent, he says, he hopes they can forget. You know, after having spent four years in prison and having their names irreparably tainted, all of which originated from his genius detective hunch and fertile imagination. And if they’re guilty, they’ll answer before God, he says as the sanctimony kicks in again. I wonder though, who will people in his position of authority answer to for their mistakes, now or ever, and why he’s so cavalier about it.