Sunday, December 26, 2010

Amanda Knox as the shadow

Michael Wolff wrote a good summary of the case:
The promiscuous girl next door goes on her junior abroad to Italy, where she has lots of sex, smokes tons of weed, meets other students and rootless young people from exotic places, has the time of her life, and then one day finds her British roommate raped and with her throat cut. The hapless and desperate Italian authorities shortly implicate the American girl, her Italian boyfriend, and an African bar owner in the murder. Then, possibly because this is Italy, they convict a more or less random passerby for the murder. At the same time, the authorities continue to insist that an orgy-gone-wrong is the motive for the murder and that Amanda Knox is the mastermind.

I think that pretty accurately captures why this case has become an international case, though of course grossly oversimplifies what happened. The other aspect which is different and leads to publicity of course is that the Knox family and Amanda Knox herself have encouraged publicity. Generally suspects are reluctant to talk to the media the "anything you say can be used against you". People talk after they are exonerated, after they are pardoned, after they do their time or finally after they are on death row. They don't generally talk during the early phases. And of course given that the press generally, but not always, treats people who talk to them more favorably than people who don't Amanda is getting a more sympathetic press than most other criminal defendants. And then there is some culture clash, where actions of the Italian authorities are things that an American would object to. My post regarding the "slander" charges against Amanda Knox and her parents being typical of those cultural issues.

So of course given a sexy murder, a sexy suspect and controversy there are several movies coming out about this case. The feeling of the anti-Knox people is that the movies should be about Meredith Kercher. But any objective person knows of course the movie should be about Amanda. There will never be a movie about Max Jensen or Bennie Bushnel, rather Executioner's Song is about Gary Gilmore, his inner demons and the people who loved him. And perhaps it is precisely this that the anti-Knox people find most upsetting. Executioners song humanized Gilmore after he was shot by Utah. Throughout the movie, the audience identifies with Chrisine Lahti's Brenda Nicol trying to rescue Gilmore. They agree that prison has made him worse, they hope he can be saved they hope that the intense love he feels for Rosanna Arquette's Nicole Baker and her children. There is no article on Wikipedia for Max Jensen. He is lost like sands in a hourglass. Kercher's father rails about Amanda's celebrity, thinking this is something unusual; but honestly when you were reading this paragraph did you have to look up who Jensen was? I remember Gilmore clear as day, and had to look up the names of Jensen and Bushnel (Gilmore's two murder victims) to write this.

So once it becomes obvious that of course the movie is not going to be about Meredith Kercher the question becomes why do intelligent people think it should be? The father is obvious, but why the rest? Why would an issue like this even be raised? I can think about US trials where the verdict was genuinely in doubt and controversial I don't think anyone pretended that "the victims family" not liking the controversy was all that relevant. It's not uncommon for the victim's family and friends to fixate on a suspect, that isn't given much weight for good reason. But why of the 3 would they choose to fixate on Amanda?

At first blush one could argue the most likely cause is the prosecutor. When one reads between the lines of the prosecutor, he seems fairly sure that the other two suspects are bad people but Amanda Knox was a budding young serial killer cut off by a careless act before she had time to fully flower. That the best thing they can do for society is keep her off the streets for as long as possible, and / or once the trial is over give her some treatment for whatever her real motivations are. His focus may be experience but it is yet more piece of the puzzle. What's interesting of course is that the prosecutor with this view is considering Amanda much more special (though in a negative way) than Meredith. For example Judy Bachrach asserts, "Soon the Italian officials came up with a theory that Amanda wielded such enormous power over Rudy and Raffaele that she could order them both to violate and murder her housemate."

And when one sees the discussion online, Their focus as well is on Amanda, even while arguing the focus should be on Meredith. Sometimes the two groups even identify themselves as FOA (Friends of Amanda) vs. FOM (Friends of Meredith), since the FOA name came first I think I can freely call them the anti-Knox faction. When they say the focus should be on Meredith they mean it only in a negative sense as a contrast. a sort of ego / shadow dichotomy with Amanda vs. Meredith.

  • Meredith studied hard in a respectable program while Amanda flittered just taking some classes on the side.
  • Meredith had a single boyfriend and never would have cheated on him with Rudy Guede while Amanda is a sexual libertine (this one despite the evidence to the contrary).
  • Meredith's family has quiet dignity while Amanda's are loud and inappropriate
  • Meredith was going to work hard at the bar while Amanda flirted with customers.
  • Meredith is beautiful while Amanda is only cute.
  • Meredith is financially responsible while Amanda is financially reckless.
  • Meredith is liked by all while Amanda is avoided.
  • Meredith is British (civilized, deserving), Amanda is American (uncivilized, rude, feeling entitled while being undeserving)

And I'd like to give one more. Meredith suffering is seen as unconnected with her life. In reading the anti-camp's writings you are struck immediately by the delight in Amanda's suffering while being completely disinterested in Rudy Guede's imprisonment. Which is odd for people supposedly interested in supporting Meredith , Guede was after all the drug dealing rapist whose skin was inside her and most likely stabbed her, since he didn't object to the murder charge. He doesn't matter to them, rather they show him sympathy. And it is not a situation of hating all defendants equally, they are very concerned that Amanda might get off by blaming the crime on the actual rapist. If they were primarily concerned about the rape/murder why not want revenge on the one person who unquestionably a primary? I think it is fair to say something else is going on here then just a desire for justice. The prosecutors view that Amanda is in some sense more responsible for the deaths than the men who carried it out, is more evil than the actual rapists and murders predominates.

The theory speaks to this sort of confusion.  Rather than the humorous, playful, mischievous and overly trusting Amanda they see a stone cold psychopath who is also overcome by emotion and guilt for a murder she committed because of narcissistic jealous outburst enhanced by drugs, except on the night of the murder which she callously planned.

And I think I know why. I used the Jungian shadow term deliberately. From listening and hearing what we are dealing with is projection. Meredith and Amanda are changed from people into archtypes and symbols. The murder becomes a moment where the shadow is triumphant over the ego, which is soon replaced with the shadow being imprisoned in the unconscious mind unable to effect reality (i.e. prison) its desired state. People have been reading into Amanda their own anxieties about their own psychological struggles and reading into Meredith an ideal they strive for. I challenge you to read the anti-Knox blogsphere (see links in previous article) and not immediately notice the tremendous hatred of Amanda Knox uniquely among the defendants and how this seems out of sorts with what we are dealing with at worst. A 20 year old who got into a situation over her head and acted out under the influence of drugs and doesn't know how to dig herself out of the hole. The absolute worst case demands our sympathy. Who has not been in a similar situation, though generally one with lower stakes?

Moreover this shadow dichotomy allows for people to hold simultaneously incompatible negative opinions of Amanda. For example, frequently she is accused of being tremendously jealous of Kercher and insulted by her negative comments. That would make her catathymic killer, someone with a lifetime of pent up anger that explodes in a homicide. Catathymics rarely reoffended, the actual violent murder releases the anger, scares the perpetrator and they achieve many of the effects of therapy. For her to be a budding young serial killer she would have had to be disinterested in Meredith and looked down on her contemptuously. But jealousy is a negative emotion, and being a threat to society is negative hence both must be true. One can believe that Amanda felt like a loser intimidated and humiliated by Meredith but then her moral conflicts about the murder are real and she experiences genuine remorse. One can believe that Amanda is remorseless or even savors the memory of the killing, but then she was not jealous of Meredith. (See link for a discussion of types of killers in this case). The fact that people insist on believing both shows that Amanda and Meredith are being related to as archetypes and not people by the FOM crowd.

About 10 years ago there was an Italian, Derek Rocco Barnabei. He was alleged to have raped and killed his girlfriend . Good looking kid with a nice mother. The Italians including the Pope thought he was innocent and protested. Virginia executed him. He got a first class trial but there was some misconduct by the prosecutor as this case became an international incident. Italy flew his body back and erected a memorial (link).

If Amanda does a quarter century worth of time based on no direct evidence but rather evidence that she participated in concealing evidence she is going to remain a figure of sympathy. The anti-Knox people seem to be so blinded by their psychological angst that they are not thinking through what is becoming the likely future. Right now the person the evidence points most strongly to, and who is most the career criminal, Rudy Guede, is going to be released first two decades before Amanda Knox, with the Italians constantly trying to pile on more more minor crimes to increase her time in prison. The punishment she receives in Italy is not going to seen as a just punishment for a serious crime but rather just another example of American killed (effectively) by foreigners, little different than say Jack Hensley who was tried and convicted in a foreign court using different legal procedures resulting in a verdict which is absolutely rejected by Americans. If the goal is to hurt Amanda moral legitimacy may not be important. If the goal is to have the punishment be seen as just, for her not to be viewed as a victim then the substantial and serious questions about this trial need to be rectified. Amanda Knox's father is absolutely correct that the technique used to justify the questionable legal strategy of aiming for murder when the evidence, at best proves much less has been character assassination. Rather than try her on the evidence for the lesser charge, the Italian prosecutors has insisted on whipping up hate against her. Many people see what happened in this case, want trails to determine the truth and rightfully object to what happened.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Amanda Knox

So I've been reading with some horror about the Amanda Knox case. This isn't a church discipline case, its a real court case. Up until the judges report was available in English there wasn't much that could be said. The report (link) falls far far short of establishing anything remotely like a murder conviction. It essentially provides some evidence (and IMHO not enough to convict) for either a conspiracy after the fact or obstruction of justice. In particular it never presents clear specific acts that Amanda Knox engaged in to kill Meredith Kercher. The standard of evidence seems to be whether the police can find evidence to definitely contradict their theories, rather than to find a theory which is provable beyond a reasonable doubt. The report makes detailed allegations regarding conspiracy after the fact and almost none about the murder itself. Further if you believe the prosecutions case you see people aggressively acting to clean up a murder scene but not having prepared for the murder in any way, meaning that malice aforethought seems to be missing. I have trouble seeing how you convict for murder.

The key evidence is are inconsistencies in testimony that the defendant has off and on alleged resulted from beating a suspect up. I'm from the North East, its not unknown for a cop to "tune up" a suspect, though it is rare. Its almost never used with a first time offender who is so obviously terrified, or high, she's acting erratically already. And what Knox describes, strikes to the back of the head, are very dangerous and used primarily to avoid bruising. I don't have good statistics but using these sorts of methods would seem to imply a nonchalance about whether the suspect suffers brain damage. These sorts of hits cause the brain stem to separate from the brain with the degree of force and exact type of hit determining the degree of separation. They are called "rabbit punches" because this type of blow was traditionally how hunters killed rabbits. If true, her life was quite literally in danger and confusion from head trauma isn't totally unreasonable.

In reading her statements even if we assume she was not being hit or sleep deprived, she clearly was being denied council and repeatedly expressed confusion. Drugs, which the prosecution obviously suspects could also make her unfit to give testimony. Her early testimony is worthless and should have been thrown out, and some has been. And that's not even counting the fact that she was obviously a suspect yet still being interrogated like a witness a clear violation of Italian law. And even if it weren't the lies provide more evidence for the obstruction charge they prove nothing about the murder. What we are left with after that is some circumstantial evidence that points to her probably being involved in some way, particularly after the fact. Which is far short of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that she was a primary.

What is absolutely beyond the pale though is the slander charge. Essentially the court ruled that because the police all agree they didn't hit there therefore they want her to do an extra 6 years. Italy doesn't have a notion of perjury for a defendant and this seems like an attempt to get around that. What's even worse is going after her parents with the slander charge, which is both blatant censorship and witness intimidation. This is where IMHO this case went from a young woman overcharged and over-convicted to pure injustice.

This injustice is especially bad because one of the primary points of dispute was the prosecution making up all sorts of elaborate stories and distributed these stories to the media to taint the jury with claims that it wouldn't matter in Italy. For all my complaints about the USA its nonsense like that gives me pride to be an American. This case is getting lots of attention though the Italians seem intent on stealing this woman's (and really at the time of the murder, girl's) life away from her.

I'd like to send her a message that she is not forgotten, so I gave a donation to her defense fund.

See also:

Pro Knox/Sollecito:
Anti Knox/Sollecito
  • Imam rapito affair, a case of 22 Americans being tried and convicted in absentia at the same time. It provides a political context for those alleging anti-Americanism in the judiciary. There are no allegations by either side that Knox had any involvement with Abu Omar.
  • Statement by Senator Cantwell on the verdict. This is extraordinarily rare and serious. The Italians and Kercher supporters are blowing this off as irrelevant, but an attack on the verdict in a purely criminal case by a sitting US Senator is almost unheard of and implies very series misgivings in Cantwell's mind.
  • Blog wars article about the domestic factions pro and con.