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'No smoking gun' evidence in Kercher case

During the trial of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, prosecutors insisted irrefutable DNA and other forensic evidence incriminated the pair - but there was "no smoking gun" that proved definitively who killed Meredith Kercher, writes Graham Johnson, co-author of a new book on the case.

Amanda Knox in court in Perugia
Amanda Knox with her lawyer as her trial draws to a close

As the icy Appenine wind swirls round Perugia tonight, the prosecution will no doubt be celebrating in one of the ancient city's stylishly cosy bars.

However, despite the verdicts of guilty, I don't think they've heard the last of the mysterious case of Meredith Kercher.

Amanda Knox thinks she's been stitched up and will be looking for payback on her automatic appeal in around a year's time.

Raffaele Sollecito's family are clever and well-connected and won't let it lie, according to insiders.

And, astonishingly, Rudy Guede is looking like the straightest talker of the lot. His "I-was-on-the-toilet-when-it happened" alibi is increasingly credible, not least because of his lawyers' expert investigation into the witnesses.

Several phenomena have haunted the case like the Etruscan ghosts that reputedly roam the streets of Perugia, the 3000-year-old hilltop fort.

Raffelle Sollecito in court
Raffelle had begun a relationship with Amanda shortly before the murder

From the day Meredith's body was discovered on 2 November 2007, there is no doubt that Amanda Knox has been unfairly demonised because she is a young woman.

The sexualisation of females connected to big crimes is nothing new.

Remember Joanna Lees, who was wrongly blamed for the death of her backpacker boyfriend Peter Falconio in Australia? Lees was falsely portrayed as being predatory and promiscuous.

Few newspaper readers realise that the nickname "Foxy Knoxy" was given to Amanda by her soccer pals when she was eight because of her fancy footwork on the pitch - not because she was promiscuous.

Amanda's family hired a heavy-hitting Seattle public relations firm to turn around the "super tanker of disinformation" connected to the 22-year-old A-grade student.

Their tactics of instant rebuttal and undermining the credibility of the opposition are commonplace in rough-and-tumble corporate America.

The provincial Italian prosecutors were genuinely back-footed by their power.

Bloggers were another first. Surprisingly, many sites dedicated to the case were high-quality and pointed to the future of how crime reporting might be done.

Plan of house shared by Meredith Kercher, Amanda Knox and two other women

In court, the hottest topic of all was always DNA and blood traces found at the scene.

Italy's top forensics expert General Luciano Garofano, a co-author of Darkness Descending, believes that although the police did a good job there was "no smoking gun" that proved definitively who killed Meredith.

The Carabiniere officer said it was a pity that the police hadn't unscrewed the handle of the murder weapon to look for more blood that often gathers in the grooves and recesses under the blade.

His exclusive findings, published in the book, are surprising in that he talks down some of the best clues relied on by the prosecution.

Myths

The differences between the Italian justice system and the British and American courts also led to misunderstanding, and often alarm.

The closing speech of prosecuting magistrate Giuliano Mignini is a good example.

To the genuine surprise of the court, he changed key facts put forward at the beginning of the case.

Meredith Kercher

He moved the official time of the murder back an hour to about 2330 and modified the motive.

In Britain, for example, such dramatic changes are discouraged and both sides tend to base their arguments about "agreed facts" that have been decided in pre-trial hearings.

But in many ways, that's the beauty of the Italian system.

The court is there to establish the truth and not to trick witnesses.

The judge irons out the mistakes of the prosecutor. The prosecutor keeps the police in check. And, after whittling and sculpting their arguments down over a long period in court, they arrive at a story they're happy with.

The case also generated myths.

On the whole, the story was pitched as upmarket tragedy involving young people who look more like Big Brother contestants than murderers, against a backdrop of a posh Italian town.

The truth is more mundane.

Satellite image and map of Perugia

The house where Meredith was murdered is not a beautiful country farmhouse. It is a converted cowshed next to a two-storey car park, a busy road and just yards from the town's busiest junkie hangout, Grimana Square.

Drug dealers used the bushes near Meredith's room to stash their wares.

Meredith would have been oblivious to the topographic nightmare that surrounded her, seduced by the beautiful view and medieval city walls.

To a criminologist, 7 Pergola was a classic example of boundary crime, a property built on a border between a nice neighbourhood and a bad one, and vulnerable to higher incidences of crime.

Journalists don't know how the controversies surrounding the case have affected Meredith's family because they have remained private and dignified throughout.

John Kercher
John Kercher arrives in Perugia for the verdict

In August I had to knock on the doors of John and Arline Kercher to ask them for an interview.

I've done hundreds of such knocks during the course of my career as a journalist.

But this one was harder.

Maybe because I could see so many similarities between my family and theirs. Both John and I had worked for the same papers, namely the Mirror Group and News of the World.

We both lived in South London. We both struggled to make a precarious living as freelancers. And we both had four kids.

I couldn't imagine what it would be like for one of my daughters to get murdered.

I'm glad he said no.

Graham Johnson is a crime writer. Darkness Descending: The Murder of Meredith Kercher by Paul Russell and Graham Johnson with Luciano Garofano is published in January 2010 by Simon and Schuster.



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