The verdict handed down yesterday at the new appeal trial for Amanda Knox and her former Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, accused of the murder of British citizen Meredith Kercher in Italy in November 2007, may come as a surprise to those whose view of the case has been affected by an international media blitz based on the oft-repeated claim “There is no evidence”. Many believe that Rudy Guede, convicted in October 2008 for participating in the murder, acted alone.
There is, however, copious evidence to consider: the DNA alone is enough to raise questions. Leaving aside much of it, let’s focus for a moment on three key pieces of DNA evidence and present them from both sides, just as the jury may have heard them spoken of in court.
First – the bra clasp. The part of the victim’s bra containing the hooks had been ripped or slashed from the rest of her bra. Not immediately collected on that first day after the murder, it remained in the room in a sealed house for six weeks before being sent to the lab in December. There, it was tested and found to contain a large sample of Meredith’s DNA, together with a smaller but clearly visible contribution from Sollecito. The defence objections: firstly, between the two searches, objects in the crime room had been moved around, and indeed the bra clasp was found about a metre away from its original position. Secondly, apart from ‘alleles’ - genetic traces - of Meredith and Sollecito on the clasp, there were a few unidentifiable extra ones. Putting these two facts together, the defence pointed out that Sollecito’s DNA on the bra clasp could have been a consequence of a careless police technician stepping on Sollecito’s DNA elsewhere in the flat and then entering the room and stepping on the bra clasp, even though no DNA of Sollecito was found anywhere else in the house except on a single cigarette butt in the ashtray.
Second – the mixed stain. Although not visible to the naked eye, the chemical Luminol which flashes blue on contact with blood revealed a spot in the room of the flatmate whose window had been smashed and room rifled. Swabbing the spot produced a mixture of Amanda and Meredith’s DNA. This is a clear proof that the murderer entered that bedroom after the murder, as someone must have brought Meredith’s blood into the room, contradicting the defence theory that Rudy Guede broke into the house and then committed the murder. The usual defence explanation for mixed DNA stains in the bathroom and corridor, namely that the house would have been coated in Amanda’s DNA given that she lived there, does not necessarily apply to a flatmate’s bedroom. It is much harder to leave traces of DNA than is commonly conceived, and hardly any of Amanda's DNA was found in her own room - where she surely spent a lot more time than in her flatmate's.
Lastly – the knife. Days after the murder, a large kitchen knife was seized in Raffaele’s flat, where Meredith had never set foot. Police geneticist, Patrizia Stefanoni, swabbed spots on the blade of the knife and on the handle in the knife’s first DNA Test. One spot in particular attracted her attention: a visible scratch on the flat of the blade. The swab taken from this scratch yielded a positive ID for Meredith Kercher. By the third trial, when a new attempt was made to collect DNA from the knife (which had been swabbed again during the appeal trial, though no tests were then conducted) there was no match to Meredith – a result welcomed by Knox's defence team, though it did not in fact impact on the findings of the first trial.
Stefanoni’s test – she only conducted the first - came under strong fire in the courtroom. Two independent expert witnesses called in for the appeal against Knox and Sollecito’s original 2009 conviction stated that she had not worked in conformity with standard international protocol. Indeed, standard protocol for DNA testing involves three steps: first determining how much DNA is in a sample, secondly amplification, which reproduces the sample millions of times, and thirdly electrophoresis which produces the familiar DNA graphs showing peaks in the location of an individual’s alleles. Under cross-examination, Stefanoni explained that quantification had given a result of “too low” as the machine she used that day was not the most sensitive one in the lab.
Knowing that samples undetectable by the machine can still be sufficient to yield positive results, she chose to continue with testing. At the second stage of testing, amplification, a sample will normally be split into two or more pieces in order to run independent tests. But knowing that the sample was small, Stefanoni feared that cutting it in two would yield no result at all, and chose to amplify the entire sample in one unrepeatable test. The end result was a perfect match to Meredith Kercher.
Knox’s supporters have claimed since the beginning that the accusations levied against her are based on the Italian justice system’s hatred of a pretty, American girl who likes parties and having sex. And whilst both parties protest their innocence , Thursday’s decision shows that there is real evidence against her and Sollecito, that cannot be ignored.
In pictures: The trial of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito
In pictures: The trial of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito
1/14 Amanda Knox 's lawyer arriving for the final verdict
Amanda Knox 's lawyer Carlo Dalla Vedova arrives at the Italy's Supreme Court in Rome on March 27, 2015, the day that Knox's verdict was overturned
2/14 Raffaele Sollecito's lawyer before the final verdict
Giulia Bongiorno, lawyer of Raffaele Sollecito, delivers comments at the Palazzo di Giustizia courthouse before the last session for the final verdict of the Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito murder retrial
3/14 Amanda Knox on 'Good Morning America'
Amanda Knox sits alone before being interviewed on the set of ABC's 'Good Morning America' in New York, 2014
4/14 Amanda Knox on 'Good Morning America'
Amanda Knox wipes her nose with a tissue while making a television appearance in New York, 2014
5/14 Amanda Knox on 'Good Morning America'
Robin Roberts interviews Amanda Knox on ABC's 'Good Morning America' in New York, 2014
6/14 Raffaele Sollecito leaves the court
Raffaele Sollecito leaves the court in Florence, 2014
7/14 Raffaele Sollecito leaves the court
Raffaele Sollecito leaves the court in Florence. Judges in a Florence court gathered to decide whether US Amanda Knox and her Italian ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito are guilty of the 2007 murder of British exchange student Meredith Kercher in Perugia, 2014
8/14 Kercher's sister, Stephanie Kercher and brother Lyle Kercher
Kercher's sister, Stephanie Kercher (L) and brother Lyle Kercher speak during a press conference in Florence, 2014
9/14 Appeals Court Judge Alessandro Nencini reads out the verdict
Appeals Court Judge Alessandro Nencini (C) reads out the verdict for the murder of British student Meredith Kercher in Florence, 2014
10/14 Layers of Raffaele Sollecito Luca Maori, Giulia Bongiorno and Amanda Knox's lawyer Carlo Della Vedova
(L-R) Layers of Raffaele Sollecito Luca Maori, Giulia Bongiorno and Amanda Knox's lawyer Carlo Della Vedova attend the final verdict of the Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito retrial at the Courthouse of Florence of Nuovo Palazzo di Giustizia in Florence, 2014
11/14 Amanda Knox on NBC News' 'Today' show
Amanda Knox speaks to Matt Lauer (L) as she appears on NBC News' 'Today' show in New York, 2013
12/14 Amanda Knox at a news conference at Sea-Tac International Airport
Amanda Knox cries and gestures to friends while her mother Edda Mellas sits next to her during a news conference at Sea-Tac International Airport, Washington after Knox landed there on a flight from Italy, 2011
13/14 Amanda Knox leaves the court
Amanda Knox breaking in tears as she leaves the court after the announce of the verdict of her appeal trial in the Meredith Kercher' murder at Perugia's court, 2011
14/14 Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito
Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito stand outside the rented house where 21-year-old British student Meredith Kercher was found dead in Perugia, 2007