In Depth

Knox and Sollecito: justice revisited in prime time

A soundbite in the court of public opinion is so much easier than wading through all that legal evidence

knox-sollecito-new.jpg

IS THE WORLD turned upside down in the continuing bizarre saga of the Amanda Knox case? It feels like it.

The morning after the guilty verdict was upheld in Florence last week, I asked whether some media representatives were complicit in a public relations-orchestrated sham unfolding before us in what felt like a twisted reality show (though not for Meredith Kercher's family, for whom it is simply reality. Period.)

Now, just a few days later, the scenario is this: an American and an Italian are convicted of murder, and that conviction is upheld on appeal. The next morning, the judge responsible gives an informal interview, conducted in the court house corridors, to a few newspaper reporters. Hours after their articles hit the newsstands, lawyers for one of those convicted (Raffaele Sollecito) pounce on the judge for speaking out “inappropriately” and call for disciplinary action.  

The man actually convicted for murder, meanwhile, is invited to appear on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 where, like Amanda Knox on Good Morning America, he is treated like a celebrity. Just as the ABC anchor had squeezed Amanda’s hand supportively, Anderson Cooper tells Sollecito: “I appreciate you talking to us, and I'm sorry it's under these circumstances.”

I bet the Kercher family is sorry it is under these circumstances, too.

Is this fodder for the college media ethics classes for decades to come? Guilty or innocent, they have been twice convicted. In the United States, Son of Sam laws prevent convicted killers from cashing in on their crimes, but of course Knox and Sollecito are not yet definitively convicted (Italy highest court must yet rule, and that could be as long as a year away). Neither have they received anything in exchange for their interviews, as far as the records show.

So where is the line between glorifying perpetrators and breaking a lance in their favour after conviction in a foreign country? Or does it all come down to ratings, ratings ratings?

It is true that Italy’s justice system has inefficiencies and backlogs and is in need of reform. But it is also true that its judiciary is legitimate and the trial in Florence was fair and presided over by the well-respected anti-mafia judge, Alessandro Nencini - two factors that should be taken into account when the US considers Italy's request for Knox's extradition, if and when that day comes.

Any extradition process will undoubtedly promote a heated political debate in America, where opinions have already become somewhat politicised. Right-leaning commentators have been bumping heads with liberal Democrats like Maria Cantwell, a Washington State Senator from Seattle who is a close ally of Knox's supporters and has the ear of Secretary of State John Kerry, whose ultimate decision an extradition order will be. (He has wisely remained silent on the matter so far.)

While Knox has suffered a big short-term defeat, her home town celebrated a major victory on Sunday, when the Seattle Seahawks trounced the Denver Broncos 43-8 in the city’s first Super Bowl win in 38 years. Knox is going to need an outstanding defence, too. "I’m still in shock," she wrote on her blog on the day of the game. "I don’t know what the future has in store for me, what I will and will not be able to do."

On CNN, Sollecito suggested he was only convicted because he was Amanda's boyfriend and said: "There's nothing against me and nothing very strong against Amanda." His lawyer was introduced as - surprise, surprise - the media-savvy Manhattan defence lawyer John Q Kelly, who has never uttered a single word in Sollecito’s defense in the courts where he has been tried over the last six years.

Kelly apparently is Sollecito’s lawyer in the court of public opinion, where giving a soundbite is so much easier than wading through those 10,000 pages of evidence and 30 expert reports. That's prime time vs justice for you. 

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