Archived Story

Knox case simply is prosecutorial abuse

Published 10:59am Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Pothole Prairie, by Tim Engstrom

Amanda Knox is not going back to Italy. At least, I hope not.

Even if Italy requested extradition from the United States, I should hope U.S judges and, if necessary, Secretary of State John Kerry decline the request because under the Fifth Amendment of our Constitution citizens cannot face double jeopardy. In other words, they cannot be found innocent of a crime, only to be retried and found guilty. Recall that O.J. Simpson was acquitted and that was the end of the criminal side of the matter. Period.

Knox was found guilty in 2009, then found innocent in 2011 and released after four years behind bars. She now resides in Washington state. After the top Italian court ordered a new trial, a jury found Knox guilty all over again and gave an even greater sentence than in 2009.

However, trying her all over again was double jeopardy. Some legal experts say double jeopardy doesn’t apply to Knox and the issue of extradition because she was in an Italian court. However, not all of them do. Many legal experts say the Bill of Rights applies to citizens, not merely courts. Knox is an American citizen and ought to be protected from double jeopardy, even if it happens outside the United States.

Kerry, if it comes down to it, ought to point out protection from double jeopardy as a basic human right.

After all, many

European nations refuse to comply with U.S. requests for extradition in murder cases despite treaties because many American states have the death penalty. They call that a human rights issue, just the same.

Of course, the Italians will argue that it isn’t double jeopardy so much as the same case starting over again because the first rulings of 2009 and 2011 were thrown out on appeal.

Splitting hairs? In the U.S. once a not guilty verdict is rendered, appeals are not allowed. That’s because further action indeed is double jeopardy. The Italians and many countries have a goofy, legalistic way around the basic concept.

Besides, a big elephant that major media keeps forgetting to point out is that a man already has been convicted as the killer of Knox’s British roommate Meredith Kercher. His name is Rudy Guede, an African immigrant whose fingerprints were all over the scene. They never found Knox’s DNA at the scene. They did find some of her DNA in the bathroom, but, duh, it’s her bathroom. They were roommates.

There are other elephants in the room, too. Big ones. The Italian prosecutor has been convicted of illegally tapping phones of police and reporters involved in the Monster of Florence case. He was given a 16-month suspended sentence. Yet he was allowed to remain a prosecutor and was placed in charge of the Kercher murder. In the United States, he would have been disbarred from practicing law, let alone remaining a person with prosecutorial powers. He completely made up the “sex games” claim in the Knox case. Made it up. Isn’t the news media’s job to expose government lies?

And some of the so-called “lies” that Knox indeed did say to Italian police were stated for reasons obviously false to most U.S. investigators — they kept her up for hours, they supposedly struck her and she committed the sin of being young and stupid. She needed a lawyer.

There are more elephants in the room — such as a key witness being a homeless heroin addict whose testimony was easily proven false by bus schedules and mishandled forensic evidence — but it gets pretty long.

No, the worldwide media would rather play up the face that Knox balances on the teeter-totter of guilty or innocent instead of being good journalists and getting the real story, that the Italian justice system screwed up big time. Sure, there are some media outlets that scrutinized the Italians, because that is where I collected my information for today’s column, but they are far outnumbered by the “Did she do it?” style of reports. It’s preposterous that many Europeans believe she did it. At least most Americans because she is not guilty.

I should mention that the Italian courts also found her ex-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, guilty, then innocent, then guilty all over again, just the same as Knox. As an Italian, he lacks the Fifth Amendment protection Knox has. We tend to take our freedoms for granted until we read cases like this.

Let’s hope the Italian appeals court once again cleans up the mess.

It is telling when Knox says she is dedicating her career to helping the wrongfully convicted, people like Ryan Ferguson, who was freed in Missouri after serving eight years in prison for the slaying of a sports editor in Columbia, Mo., because once again a prosecutor abused his office in the name of winning a conviction.

Prosecutorial railroading seems to be a loophole in the checks and balances of the justice system. It’s too bad there isn’t a way to double check the checkers.

“To get arrested and to get charged for a crime you didn’t commit is incredibly easy, and you lose your life very fast,” Ferguson told USA Today when he was released in November. “But to get out of prison, it takes an army.”


Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.