crimesider

Was Amanda Knox a political pawn in Italian politics?

Amanda Knox speaks during a news conference shortly after her arrival at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2011, in Seattle, after she won a reversal of her first murder conviction on appeal. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

CHICAGO - During the trials of Amanda Knox in Italy, labels came fast and furious at the American student – mostly furious. Knox was stamped a she-devil and her persona demonic.  But one label has been overlooked – political.  Amazingly, that single label could mean Amanda Knox will never again see the inside of an Italian prison.  It is a slice of the sensational murder case more "Face The Nation" than "CSI."

 In 2009, Knox and her co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito were convicted of murdering British student Meredith Kercher in Perugia. The two immediately appealed their conviction.  In 2011, appellate court judge Claudio Hellmann acquitted the defendants.  Knox and Sollecito were freed after each had spent 1,427 days in prison - almost four years. Following the verdict, judge Hellmann didn’t pull punches.  He declared: “the evidence was nonsense.”  Suddenly, several prosecutors and judges became the targets of criticism claiming they had mishandled the case from the beginning.

The vice-president of Italy’s judicial oversight committee, Michele Vietti, immediately warned against politicizing the case.  Many paid heed. However, Rocco Girlanda did not. 

At the time, Girlanda was a member of the Italian Parliament from Perugia.  His political party was the PdL (Popolo della Libertà) which was also the party of then Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.  Girlanda and ten other members of Parliament signed a letter asking Italy’s president to investigate the Knox-Sollecito prosecutors.  In addition,  Raffaelle Sollecito’s lawyer, Guilia Boungiorno, was also in Parliament, head of its Judiciary Committee, and a member of Berlusconi’s political party.

For his part, Berlusconi and his party were at war with Italy’s prosecutors and judges.  The Prime Minister was trying to reign in their investigative powers.  Prosecutors, for their part, were trying to put Berlusconi in jail.

Some may see a conspiracy looming here. Take heart, there is none.  There is, however, a good question: did the Knox-Sollecito case become politicized?  

In April 2013, the Italian Supreme Court threw out judge Claudio Hellmann’s 2011 acquittal of Knox and Sollecito. Now retired, Hellmann told La Stampa newspaper that he “foresaw” the reversal.  Hellman said “the party of the prosecutor is very strong in the judiciary” and that political party had “influenced” the Italian Supreme Court, according to La Stampa.  

Though Hellmann did not name the political party, it wasn’t the party of Berlusconi, Girlanda, and Boungiorno. Was it prosecutors pushing back against Berlusconi and his crew?

This wasn’t the first time Claudio Hellmann raised the possibility that political considerations were helping drive the pursuit of Knox and Sollecito.  In October 2011, he told La Nazione newspaper that there was “a political background” to the case.  It was directed squarely at Amanda Knox. Hellmann said, “Many wanted Amanda in prison because she was an American.”

Now that Amanda Knox has, again, been found guilty of the murder of Meredith Kercher, extradition to Italy has entered the conversation.  That discussion, so far has focused on whether a U.S. citizen’s Fifth Amendment right against double-jeopardy would protect the Seattle university student from extradition.

Fair enough.  But missing is a reading of the bilateral extradition treaty between the United States and Italy.  Specifically, Article 5 of the treaty, which reads:

“Extradition shall not be granted when the offense for which extradition is requested is a political offense/or if the person whose surrender is sought proves that the request for surrender has been made in order to try or punish him or her for a political offense.”

Was Amanda Knox’s “political offense” the fact she was an American?  And was her second “political offense” the possibility she became a pawn that two battling Italian political parties used to further their own agendas?

These seem to be reasonable questions given Claudio Hellmann’s comments. They deserve answers.  

  • Doug Longhini

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