Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Bizarre Pursuit of Amanda Knox: Injustice Italian Style

  Yesterday the Court of Cassation, Italy's of highest court of appeal, overturned the acquittal of Amanda Knox. The comely Knox was a 20 year old American exchange student in Perugia when her British flat-mate Meredith Kercher was murdered in 2007. Initially, she was convicted on the basis of demonstrably flawed DNA evidence but then acquitted after the appeal court found that the charges against her were “not corroborated by any objective element of evidence.” As I show in The Annals of Unsolved Crime, there was not a scintilla of evidence that placed her at the murder scene. Nor was there a witness. The case proceeded from a wild theory of prosecutor Giuliano Mignini that she was a “she devil”. The same prosecutor had previously made a fool of himself in the s-called “Monster of Florence” case by blaming a non-existent satanic cult for the suicide of a Perugian doctor,and was now trying to redeem himself by spinning another Satanic cult crime.

To be sure. Amanda Knox, under unrelenting interrogation without a lawyer, had given a false statement, which she later fully repudiated. Making a false statement is not a rare phenomenon. Especially when the accused are denied lawyers. Brandon Garrett, a distinguished professor at the University of Virginia Law School, examined 250 cases of people convicted of crimes that DNA later proved they did not commit. No fewer than forty of these exonerated individuals had given a false confession to crimes they did not commit. The lesson Italy needs to learn is that interrogation without Miranda rights and adequate legal representation leads to false admissions. The absurdity in the Amanda Knox case is that the Italian prosecutors are now getting another chance to perpetuate their original miscarriage of justice.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Death of Boris Berezovsky

On March 23, 2013, Boris Berezovsky, the once powerful Russian oligarch who helped bring Vladimir Put to power, was found dead in home in Ascot, England, an as yet "unexplained death," according to British authorities. 
  Some seven years earlier, on January 23, 2006,  Berezovsky had been the toast of London, or Londongrad as he called it, holding  his 60th black-tie birthday party at Blenheim Palace, Winston Churchill's birthplace. In the center of the room was an ice sculpture representing St. Basil's Cathedral on Red Square, coated with mounds of belugi caviar. At one table was Alexander Litvinenko, Andrei Lugovoi, and Akhmed Zakayev. They all had been born in the former Soviet Union and they had all been in prison, and, under Berezovsky's aegis, they would  engage in covert intelligence operations in Russia. Britain, and Spain.  Berezovsky's stated goal was to overthrow the Putin regime, explaining in a 2007 interview with The Guardian,"It isn't possible to change this [Putin] regime through democratic means. There can be no change without force, pressure." Asked by the reporter if he was effectively fomenting a revolution, he said: "You are absolutely correct." Ten months later, these men, and Berezovsky's most private office, would be exposed to the rare radioactive isotope, Polonium-210, that had been smuggled into London.  Despite a surfeit of speculation, there is no satisfactory explanation how the Polonium 210, which can be used as a trigger in an early stage nuclear weapon, got to London.  For my take on this mystery, based on my extensive interviews in Moscow and London, see "The Case of The Radioactive Corpse" in my book The Annals of Unsolved Crimes.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Perils of Confirmation Bias

In writing my new book The Annals of Unsolved Crime, I learned that even the most well-intentioned investigations are vulnerable to what social scientists call “confirmation bias.” This phenomenon helps explains why criminal investigators tend more readily to accept evidence that confirms their initial working hypothesis and hold in abeyance evidence that undermines it. While nowadays neuroscientists are actually able to observe such cognitive dissonance at work inside the brain with MRI scans, it has been long understood by philosophers. Francis Bacon summed it up eloquently four centuries ago when he wrote in Novum Organum that “The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion . . . draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects or despises, or else by some distinction sets aside or rejects.” Such confirmation bias limits even the most exhaustive investigations backed by all the resources of a powerful government, as I found in my re-examinations of inquiries into the Anthrax attack on America, the Oklahoma City Bombing, and the JFK assassination. It also accounts for why in my view some of history’s most intriguing mysteries remain unsolved.