Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Is Amanda Knox Innocent?

Amanda Knox, even while appearing on television in America to promote her book “Waiting To Be Heard,” is facing yet another murder trial in Italy for a crime --- of which, in 2011, after spending 4 years in prison, she was found innocent by an Italian appeals court. In throwing out the murder case against her, that court declared that the prosecution’s charges were “not corroborated by any objective element of evidence.” The revival of the baseless charges against Knox, and the tabloid frenzy it will no doubt stoke, proceeds from a five-year-long judicial circus in Italy.

Amanda Knox’s ordeal began on November 1, 2007 with the brutal murder of Meredith Kercher, a twenty-one-year-old British exchange student, in a groundfloor flat in a cottage shared by four young women in Perugia, Italy. When police arrived the next morning, they found Kercher's body with several knife wounds, her clothing strewn around, and a broken window. They did not find a murder weapon. It was a holiday weekend; the seven other tenants of the cottage– including four men in the basement flat– all claimed to have been away on the night of the murder, including one other exchange student who was there when the police arrived: Amanda Knox. Knox, an angel-faced twenty-year-old student from Seattle, Washington, told police that she had spent the night at the home of her new boyfriend Raphaele Sollecito. Sollecito, who was standing with her, confirmed her alibi.

While the police investigators had no immediate witnesses to the murder and no murder weapon, they had a blood-stained bedroom in which the coroner determined that the victim was sexually assaulted and stabbed to death. This crime scene was crucial to solving the case since as the great French criminologist Edmond Locard suggested nearly a century ago, even the most careful criminal is likely to leave behind a hair, clothing fiber, a fingerprint or other trace of himself or herself. The crime scene in

Perugia contained more than enough such clues fully to identify the assailant. There were fourteen identifiable fingerprints in the room, a palm print on the blood-stained pillow under the victim’s body, a sneaker print in the blood on the floor. DNA of a person other than Sollecito or any other tenant was found inside Kercher’s vagina and on her purse. (Kercher's money was missing from that purse.) All those clues were marks of a single individual, though it took over a month to identify him. He was Rudy Guede, a twenty-year-old drifter from the Ivory Coast, who had broken into other homes in the area. Less than a week before the murder, Guede had even been temporarily detained by police in Milan for breaking into a nursery and stealing an eleven-inch kitchen knife.

The crime scene could establish from Guede's fingerprints that he had been inside the victim’s room, from his DNA inside Kercher's vagina that he had had sexual contact with her, and from his sneaker impression found on the floor in her blood, his palm print found in her blood on the pillow, and his DNA found on her purse, that he had been in the room after she was stabbed. His description, moreover, fit that of a black man whom two witnesses had seen on the street running away from the cottage that night

Shortly after the murder, Guede had fled to Germany. It took more than a month to capture him. He was then extradited to Italy, tried, and in October of 2008, convicted of both the sexual assault upon Kercher and Kercher’s murder.

The belated identification of a local burglar as the intruder and sexual assailant did not, however, end the ordeal of Amanda Knox. In the interim, the chief prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini had developed a theory that Knox - whom he described as a “she-devil” - had murdered her roommate and staged the evidence of a break-in. Knox had been imprisoned. For Mignini to abandon his "she-devil" theory, even after Guede’s arrest, could prove an embarrassment. In an earlier, so-called “Monster of Florence case,” he had already advanced a "Satanic theory" -- in which he attributed a string of unsolved murders to a Satanic cult who killed young women to use their body parts in black masses. His efforts in that pursuit of a non-existent cult resulted in him being criminally indicted for prosecutorial misconduct. (He was still under that indictment in 2007.) If his "she-devil" characterization of Knox were to fail as well, the prosecutor mght be further discredited.

The solution Mignini now found was to expand the “She-Devil" theory to include Guede, and to claim that Knox teamed up with Guede and her boyfriend to kill her flat-mate after a sex game.

The initial crime scene investigation had not produced a shred of evidence that Knox had been in the room at the time of the murder. Under interrogation, Knox had, however, lied to police. She had falsely told them that she had witnessed the Congolese-born owner of a nearby bar, Patrick Lumumba, murder Kercher. Knox had worked part-time for that bar. Lumumba denied having ever ben at the cottage. He was, nonetheless, arrested --- as were Knox and her boyfriend Sollecito. Lumumba was fortunate enough to have a solid alibi for the night of the murder. He was released. Knox repudiated her accusation. In her new book, “Waiting To Be Heard,” she says the accusation was a pure fabrication, induced by police intimidation.

The false statement makes Knox a liar, but not at all, by implication, a murderer. A recent study of criminal justice in the US by law professor Brandon Garrett shows it is not uncommon for innocent people to lie under police pressure; indeed no fewer than forty people out of 250 who were convicted and later exonerated by DNA evidence, had falsely confessed to crimes they did not commit.

In Knox's case, Italian prosecutors in their subsequent investigation did find two bits of DNA that could support a conspiracy theory. The first was taken from a knife found in Sollecito’s kitchen and matched Knox’s DNA. The second bit of DNA was taken from Kercher’s bra clasp and matched Sollecitto’s DNA. As it turned out, both DNA samples were later invalidated by the appeals court because of a serious flaw: the police technician who examined them had failed to change her lab gloves between examining DNA samples, raising the possibility of cross-contamination. That "evidence" was invalidated, leaving none. In the absence of any physical evidence against them, Knox and Sollecito were acquitted by the appellate court.

In Italy, prosecutors have the right to appeal an acquittal. On March 25, 2013, at the request of the prosecutor, a Court of Cassation overturned the acquittal of Knox, ordering her to be tried again for a crime, which an appellate court had found there was absolutely no evidence that she committed. The United States Constitution, under its Double Jeopardy provisions, protects individuals from being retried for crimes of which they have been acquitted. It would be a violation of Knox’s constitutional rights as a United States citizen to return her to Italy to be tried again. It would also, of course, be a travesty of justice for an Italian prosecutor to use her case as a means to revive a his reputation, as an advocate of Satanic and She-Devil conspiracy theory.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Skeleton in the Papal Closet

On June 5th 2012, financial police in Piacenza, Italy searched the home of Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, who was the target of a money laundering investigation. Until just a few weeks earlier, he had headed the Pope's
secretive organization for dealing with the world of Mammon, called not without irony the “Institute for Works Religious,” since it operates as an off-shore bank that is beyond the laws and regulations of Italy, the European Union, or any other authority. The raid uncovered a secret dossier that included 47 binders of Vatican documents, some of which exposed the Vatican Bank’s loopholes for laundering money, arrangements for discreet accounts, and a note instructing that these documents be delivered to a designated  lawyer and the media if anything foul happened to Tedeschi. As it was reported in the Italian press, he had feared for his life because some of the secret accounts serviced individuals in the Mafia and other criminal organizations.

Thirty years earlier, the body of Roberto Calvi, known as “God’s Banker” because of his work for the Vatican bank, had been found hanging under Blackfriars bridge in London, a well-organized murder that was never solved. Also missing was a half-billion dollars siphoned through the Vatican bank to anonymous corporations owned by unknown parties.And no one found at that time the documents in Calvi’s attaché case, which more than a half decade later were used to blackmail the Pope for $40 million. (Only $2 million was paid to the blackmailers by the Vatican Bank before the police moved in.)

The secret at the heart of these crimes, as it is brilliantly adumbrated in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part III , was and remains that the Vatican is desperately short of money, and has been for more than a century. It was so impoverished after the First World War that it borrowed $100,000 from a
bank to pay for the funeral of Pope Benedict XV. It had priceless art and church properties, but it could not sell them, nor did Dioceses abroad provide funds. All it had was the meager revenue from the sale of postage stamps and the annual Peter’s Pence collection boxes in churches. In light of its dire financial situation, it had no choice but accept in 1929 a settlement with the government of Benito Mussolini, which provided it with $91.4 million in cash and bonds. That sum at prevailing interest rates did not
yield enough income to pay the Vatican’s expenses, so, to get a high return,  the Popes used the Vatican’s sovereign status to set up a no-holds-barred offshore bank under the guise of the “Institute For Religious Work.” As its President Archbishop Paul Marcinkus told me, after he moved to full-fledged money laundering in the Bahamas, “You can’t run the church on Hail Marys alone.” Unfortunately, in the banking scandal following the death of God’s Banker, the Vatican bank lost a large part of its capital.

The new Pope Francis is clearly a well-intentioned man. But all his austerity measures, personnel changes, and efforts at transparency will do little to change its century-old insolvency problem. Now, more than ever, the Vatican needs money.
 Join me for an online video Q&A to discuss the skeletons in the papal closet– , including the murder of God’s banker, the blackmailing of the Popes, the money laundering train, and the other Vatican scandals, this Tuesday, 5 PM EST via Shindig. It’s free, but you need to register here.

You can also register here for my future online Q&As about DSK, Amanda Knox,Alexander Litvinenko, and the Lindbergh Kidnapping.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Decapitation Plot

Today is the 148th anniversary of the death of Abraham Lincoln. As all the world knows by now, he was assassinated by the actor John Wilkes Booth, who was shot to death by federal troops Since then Booth has in the popular mind become the template for the crazed lone assassin. In fact, Booth was not the only assassin at work that night. Only a few minutes after Lincoln was shot at Ford’s theater, Lewis Powell, and David Herold, arrived at the home of Secretary of State William Seward, who was in line after the Vice President to succeed Lincoln. Powell stabbed Seward (although he survived the assassination attempt.) Meanwhile, another would-be assassin, George Atzerodt, stalked Vice President Andrew Johnson with a loaded pistol, but failed to carry out the attack. These was a connection between these men: they had all been co-conspirators with Booth in a previous plot to waylay and abduct President Lincoln,

When Johnson succeeded Lincoln on April 15th as president, he had information that these assassins were part of a plot to decapitate the U.S. government, saying that there was “evidence in the Bureau of Military Justice that the atrocious murder of the late President, and the attempted assassination of the Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, were incited, concerted and procured,” by Confederate leaders. To investigate the extent of the alleged conspiracy, he set up a Military Commission (similar to the Commissions President Obama plans to use to try the 911 conspirators.)

The Military Commission found that there was a conspiracy involving Booth, Powell, Herold, Atzerodt, and the latter three were executed, and warrants were issued for top officials of the Confederacy who had fled the country.

So Booth, though a lone gunman, was not a lone conspirator. How high up did the decapitation conspiracy go?  In 1864, the Confederate Congress allocated five million dollars to finance covert actions by its secret service based in Canada. These operations included a plan to blow up the White House and one, which involved Booth, Powell, Herold, and Atzerodt to kidnap Lincoln. Further, the Military Commission found is a ciphered letter sent to Booth on October 13, 1864, asking whether Booth’s “friends would be set to work as directed,” but, it did not identify the task. So we do not know if Booth was authorized to upgrade the kidnap plot to an assassination plot, or if he recast on his own volition.

Historic research over the decades has provided intriguing clues, such as cash withdrawals from a Montreal bank account just prior to the assassination, but not conclusive proof of the involvement of Confederate intelligence officers. What is clear is that the assassination of Lincoln and attempts to assassinate Seward and Johnson, were part of a decapitation plot aimed at creating chaos in Washington D.C.

Please tune in to my video chat on the Booth conspiracy at 5 PM, Tuesday. April 16. You can participate in the Q&A via the incredible Shindig platform

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Vulnerability of Loner Theories

Lets not assume that all high-profile crimes are solved, even if authorities say they are. Nor should we assume that "loners" are necessarily alone.  See the televised conversation I had on April 7th in the Newseum in Washington D.C. with Shelby Coffee.