Frustration of Justice – Here and in Italy

Like many others I was gripped by the newscasts yesterday in the build-up to Amanda Knox’s release from prison after four years — which blissfully for the TV networks was delayed by almost two hours leaving plenty of time of suspenseful “filler”.

The story had all the drama of a Shakespearean play. There was the “villain” — a strange macabre prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, who had a less than illustrious reputation and refused to let the first defense team look at the DNA evidence: a bra and a kitchen knife, the supposed murder weapon it based its victory on; then there was a beautiful heroine in Knox, now 24, who was either a witch or a martyred angel depending on if you thought she’d been party to a murder — and, really, who knew? Next came the Romeo/Juliet love story: Knox’s new relationship with an Italian computer engineering student, Raffaele Sollecito, 27, who seemed to come from a decent background and who looked far too clean shaven and preppy to have been involved in the alleged orgy that took place…

And then last but not at all least poor dead Meredith Kercher, the 21-year-old British woman, whose only apparent crime in all this was to say that her new roommate, Knox, then 20, didn’t like doing the washing up… and who was found naked, raped with nearly 40 stab wounds four years ago in the room she shared with Knox in Perugia, Italy. Why was she murdered? It was originally claimed a sex game had gone seriously wrong.

“What do you think will happen?” I asked a friend, a New York lawyer whose been involved in what he calls “pretty odd” criminal cases here as I watched the build-up to the verdict in Knox’s appeals trial. “She’ll get off — whatever the truth is,” he predicted correctly. “Truth has nothing to do with this. The law has everything to do with it. And Knox was tried incorrectly the first time around. The DNA evidence was contaminated, it doesn’t add up. If justice prevails she will go free….”

Well, justice did prevail — but I think we’d be inhuman not to feel desperately sorry for the Kercher family who still wonder, appalled, what on earth happened to their kind, dead daughter on that terrible night.

It all reminded me of another case where terrible sordid events happened — and we will likely never know the truth — and this one is far closer to home than Perugia, Italy.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn — or DSK — the former disgraced head of the International Monetary Fund was accused on May 14 this year of raping Nafissatou Diallo, 32, from Guinea in a hotel room at the Sofitel hotel in New York. The office of Cyrus Vance Jr, the New York District Attorney was in charge of the prosecution, which claimed at first that DSK had appeared naked and, according to her “charged” at Diallo, who had come to clean the room thinking it was empty. She claimed he made her perform oral sex — and the end result was his semen was all over the floor and her clothes; her injuries hospitalized her — and yet he told police when they boarded the AirFrance plane on which he planned to leave the country a few hours later “nothing happened.”

According to someone who used to work in the DA’s office before Vance took office there, these words alone should have given Diallo’s suit credibility. If “nothing happened” why was his semen all over the floor? But then, days later, Diallo’s credibility fell apart, amid reports she was an illegal immigrant who had lied on tax forms, she had left the room after the alleged rape to clean two others before reporting it, and that she had a phone call with a man in jail in which she talked about extorting DSK, having now realized who he was and that he was rich.
So on August 23 DSK walked free, because Vance knew he did not have a case he could prove “beyond reasonable doubt”.

But the story goes on, like Knox’s did.

Now Diallo is suing DSK for damages in a civil case where there is no need to prove anything “beyond reasonable doubt” — just enough to look like you are telling the truth. Her American lawyers are confident they will prevail; they say that they can prove with taped conversations that Diallo never planned to extort DSK in any phone call — what she actually said was that he was a “powerful, big man”… and she knew what to do (as in hire a lawyer)… well, duh. They also say they can prove that her cleaning cart never left his hotel room. She did not clean two more rooms before reporting the alleged attack.

So what actually happened? I asked someone close to both the criminal and civil case.

The answer, I was told, was that Cyrus Vance Jr. completely messed up his prosecution. “He put junior people on the case — don’t ask me why,” says one seasoned lawyer, trying not to sound too weary about the whole thing.

Therefore if this plays out as everyone expects and DSK does not get away with his ludicrous plea for diplomatic immunity (he wasn’t here on diplomatic business and America doesn’t have a treaty like that with the IMF) he will pay a large sum to settle out of court with Diallo. The last thing I suspect he wants is a public trial. He has enough on his hands back home in Paris, with Tristane Banon the young French journalist coming out next week with a book “le Bal des hypocrites” that claims he tried to rape her in Paris in 2003.

But even if Diallo gets millions for her ordeal, the truth of what actually happened in that hotel room will still not be known. And that is the one thing I find maddening about the justice system whether it’s here or in Perugia, Italy. At least with Shakespeare, you find out what the real story is. V

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