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Italian police violated Amanda Knox’s human rights: European court

Europe's top rights court on Thursday ordered Italy to pay thousands of euros in damages to Amanda Knox, the American student acquitted in 2015 of the gruesome killing of her British housemate after spending years behind bars.

Italian police violated Amanda Knox's human rights: European court
Amanda Knox back at home in the US. Photo: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images/AFP

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, said Italian authorities failed to provide a lawyer for Knox in the initial days of an eight-year legal drama which made global headlines.

She served four years in prison over the November 2007 killing of her roommate, British exchange student Meredith Kercher.

Knox and her boyfriend at the time, Raffaele Sollecito, were convicted of the murder despite their denials of any involvement. Knox's sentence was stiffened to 28 years in prison when the conviction was upheld in 2014, though both she and Sollecito were acquitted by Italy's top court the following year.

That court later denounced “major flaws” in the police's handling of the investigation, as well as the absence of a “body of evidence” allowing for a safe conviction or any admissible DNA evidence linking the pair to the murder.

READ ALSO: 'Meredith Kercher should not be forgotten'


Photo: © John Kercher, supplied by TJMK

In the meantime Knox filed a claim with the European court of unfair treatment at the hands of the Italian police, in particular during overnight questioning on November 6th, 2007.

She claimed she was slapped on the head twice during the interrogation, and forced to speak despite being exhausted and unable to show “discernment or willpower”.

Knox also said she was not assisted by an independent and professional interpreter, but only a police employee who acted instead as a “mediator” who encouraged her to “imagine hypothetical scenarios”.

'I was in shock'

Kercher's half-naked body was found on November 2nd, 2007, in a back room of the apartment she and Knox shared in the central city of Perugia. The 21-year-old had been stabbed 47 times and had her throat slashed. Police also found signs of sexual assault.

During the initial questioning, Knox eventually accused her former manager at a pub of murdering Kercher — a statement she signed but then withdrew. The manager was eventually released without charge, prompting prosecutors to accuse Knox of making a “malicious accusation”.

The rights court judges ruled that Italian authorities had improperly denied access to a lawyer and failed to assess the conduct of the police interpreter, which had “compromised the fairness of the proceedings as a whole”.

READ ALSO: 

“I was in shock, and I volunteered to help the Perugian police in any way I could,” Knox said in a statement after Thursday's ruling, citing 53 hours of questioning over five days “without a lawyer, in a language I understood maybe
as well as a 10-year-old”.

“When I told the police I had no idea who had killed Meredith, I was slapped in the back of the head and told to 'Remember!',” she said.

But while faulting Italian authorities for not investigating Knox's claims of mistreatment and violence, the court found no evidence of “inhuman or degrading treatment”.

€18,400 in damages

Knox nonetheless thanked the court for “acknowledging the reality of false confessions”.

She had sought €500,000 in damages and an additional €2.2 million for legal and travel costs incurred by her and her parents, who travelled from their home in Seattle, Washington, to be at her side during the years of legal proceedings. But the court ordered Italy to pay only €18,400 in damages and legal costs.

While Knox and Sollecito were in jail, Italian police arrested an Ivory Coast-born drifter and small-time drug dealer named Rudy Guede over the murder.

The judge in Guede's fast-track trial in 2008 ruled that he could not have acted alone, a decision which prosectors seized on to pursue the charges against Knox.

Guede has insisted he is innocent, saying he had consensual sex with Kercher before going to the bathroom, where he listened to loud music on his headphones, and when he came back out she had been attacked. But an Italian court last year denied a review of his conviction, upholding his 16-year sentence.

Since her release Knox has returned to Seattle, where she works as a journalist. She has also written a memoir of her ordeal, 'Waiting To Be Heard'.

READ ALSO: Knox trial puts fear into American students


Photo: Tizana Fabi/AFP

By AFP's Clémentine Rigot

CRIME

Italy marks 30-year anniversary of anti-mafia judge murder

Thirty years ago, the Sicilian mafia killed judge Giovanni Falcone with a bomb so powerful it was registered by experts monitoring volcanic tremors from Etna on the other side of the island.

Italy marks 30-year anniversary of anti-mafia judge murder

The explosion, which ripped through a stretch of motorway near Palermo at 5.56 pm on May 23rd 1992, sent shockwaves across Italy, but also signalled the start of the mafia’s decline.

Anti-mafia prosecuting magistrate Falcone, his wife, and three members of his police escort were killed.

The mob used a skateboard to place a 500-kilogram (1,100-pound) charge of TNT and ammonium nitrate in a tunnel under the motorway which linked the airport to the centre of Palermo.

Falcone, driving a white Fiat Croma, was returning from Rome for the weekend.

At a look-out point on the hill above, a mobster nicknamed “The Pig” pressed the remote control button as the judge’s three-car convoy passed.

The blast ripped through the asphalt, shredding bodies and metal, and flinging the lead car several hundred metres.

The three policemen on board were killed instantly.

READ ALSO: Could body found on Italy’s Mount Etna help solve long-standing mafia mystery?

Falcone, whose wife was sitting beside him, had slowed seconds before the explosion and the car slammed into a concrete guard rail.

His chauffeur, who was sitting in the back, survived, as did the three agents in the convoy’s rear.

A “garden of memory” now stands on the site of the attack. Oil from olive trees that grow there is used by Sicilian churches for anointing children during baptisms and confirmations.

‘Mafia massacre’

Falcone posed a real threat to the Cosa Nostra, an organised crime group made famous by “The Godfather” trilogy and which boasted access to the highest levels of Italian power.

It was he who gathered evidence from the first mafia informants for a groundbreaking trial in which hundreds of mobsters were convicted in 1987.

And at the time of the attack, he headed the justice ministry’s criminal affairs department in Rome and was working on a package of anti-mafia laws.

His murder woke the nation up. The Repubblica daily attacked the “mafia massacre” in its headline the next day, with a photo of the famous moustachioed magistrate, while thousands of people in Palermo protested in the streets.

All eyes turned to fellow anti-mafia magistrate Paolo Borsellino, Falcone’s close friend and colleague, who gave an interview at the start of July saying the “extreme danger” he was in would not stop him doing his job.

On July 19th, just 57 days after his friend, Borsellino was also killed in a car bomb attack, along with five members of his escort. Only his driver survived.

Amid national outrage, the state threw everything it had at hunting down Cosa Nostra boss Salvatore (Toto) Riina, who was involved in dozens of murders during a reign of terror lasting over 20 years.

Riina was arrested on January 15th, 1993, in a car in Palermo.

The truth?

The murders of Falcone and Borsellino “in the long term turned out to be a very bad business for Cosa Nostra, whose management team was decapitated by arrests and informants’ confessions”, Vincenzo Ceruso, author of several books on the mafia, told AFP.

Dozens of people have been convicted for their roles in the assassinations.

But Roberto di Bella, now an anti-mafia judge at the Catania juvenile court in Sicily, said that while “the majority of the perpetrators have been tried and convicted”, there remained “a part that is still not clear”.

Survivors insist there are still bits of the puzzle missing and point to Falcone’s belief there could be “possible points of convergence between the leaders of Cosa Nostra and the shadowy centres of power”.

“We still don’t have the truth about who really ordered the murder of Giovanni Falcone, because I don’t believe that ignorant people like Toto Riina could have organised an attack as sophisticated as that in Capaci,” Angelo Corbo, one of the surviving bodyguards, said in a documentary.

He said he was not alone in believing there were “men in suits and ties” among the mobsters.

However, an investigation into possible “hidden orchestrators” of the Capaci attack was thrown out in 2013.

“There is no evidence of the existence of external backers. There is no doubt that these are mafia acts,” author Ceruso said.

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