Monday, January 31, 2011

JREF off topic

This is an open thread for comments coming from the James Randi Forum's Amanda Knox discussion.  Its purpose to allow off topic materials to float over somewhere.

Please link to a post in the related discussion, when you start a new topic,  if you know how.  Otherwise I'll try and do it.  


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Senator Cantwell & Amanda Knox

One of the people that the Friends of Meredith love to trash is Senator Maria Cantwell.   The reason is that she has taken an incredibly strong stand for Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito for a sitting US Senator.  She's questioned not just the punishment, which is common but the verdict which is almost unheard of:
“I am saddened by the verdict and I have serious questions about the Italian justice system and whether anti-Americanism tainted this trial. The prosecution did not present enough evidence for an impartial jury to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Knox was guilty. Italian jurors were not sequestered and were allowed to view highly negative news coverage about Ms. Knox. Other flaws in the Italian justice system on display in this case included the harsh treatment of Ms. Knox following her arrest; negligent handling of evidence by investigators; and pending charges of misconduct against one of the prosecutors stemming from another murder trial.
 I am in contact with the U.S. Ambassador to Italy and have been since the time of Ms. Knox’s arrest. I will be conveying my concerns to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I have also been in touch with the Embassy of Italy in Washington, DC. (press release)
Now the argument made against her, is that she made that statement out of ignorance.  That she didn't even know two Italians were convicted, hence her claims of anti-Americanism are ridiculous.  But, if you clicked on the link to the press release you will see in her description, "Knox stood trial with co-defendant and former Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito."  So claims that "she didn't even know that Raffaele Sollecito, an Italian national, was convicted by that same jury" are obviously false.
TJMK demand more details and Senator Cantwell being the gracious person she is offered them:
Dear Professor Snape,
Thank you for contacting me with your thoughts regarding the Amanda Knox case. I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.
I have serious questions about whether Amanda Knox received a fair trial by an impartial jury. According to some news reports, Italian jurors were not sequestered and were allowed to view highly negative news coverage about Ms. Knox. Additionally, there may have been cross-contamination of evidence due to negligent handling by police investigators.
In this case, as in all cases where US citizens abroad face legal jeopardy, I believe that the U.S. Government should work to ensure that U.S. citizens are treated fairly, given adequate due process, and when appropriate, a fair trial by an impartial tribunal.
If Americans run into trouble while overseas, they should contact American Citizen Services at the nearest U.S. Embassy.
Thank you again for contacting me to share your thoughts on this matter. You may also be interested in signing up for periodic updates for Washington State residents. If you are interested in subscribing to this update, please visit my website at Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future if I can be of further assistance. (link)
So of course like anyone else who dares speak up for Amanda she is subject to attacks.   Peter Quennell in my debate with him regarding her, "The sitting senator (Cantwell) made a fool of herself, and it is a year since her staff shut her up. Hillary Clinton of course brushed her off. For one thing Italian-Americans in Congress are very ticked at the xenophobic attitudes toward Italy being shown. For another the State Department found NOTHING wrong with the process and the trial and anything in a bill would have the whole of Italy in an uproar.  Besides there is NO sign the Italian judiciary can be leaned on. Go and ask a certain Mr Berlusconi."
    Now lets talk about who Senator Cantwell really is.  Is she a foolish woman being led around by her staff whom people casually brush off, or is that just a bunch of nonsense?  Maria Cantwell got a degree in public administration and then went to work for the Alan Cranston's primary campaign in 1983.   She got involved in local politics and was elected to the Washington House in 1986, had a successful legislative record.  She was a sacrificial lamb candidate in a Republican district for the US House in 1992, except she won her seat.  As a freshmen congressmen she took strong stands on electronic privacy, and changed national policy with regard to the clipper chip.  She running in a Republican district, in a landslide year (1994) almost held her seat.

    She left took over an executive position in RealNetworks and became instrumental in some of the very earliest streaming of sporting events ever done.  She was an innovator in online music,  balancing privacy with marketing, and we owe many of the compromises that have held for the last 15 years to her policies at Real.  After leaving Real she used a substantial chunk of the money she had accumulated to fund a Senate campaign without having to accept any donations.  She ran for the US Senate in 2000, won her seat and thus along with Senator Stabenow became the very first female candidate to beat an incumbent Senator.   Since then she has served a decade in the Senate where she took the lead again on privacy issues, environmental issues (she chairs the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard ), alternative energy (she chairs the Subcommittee on Energy), and of course technology.   In 2006 her opponent Mike McGavick was quite literally running from the  Liberty Mutual Group, and one of the main reasons we have healthcare reform today was that she won that election and beat back, at least in this one instance the forces of political corruption.

    This is a woman of substantial accomplishment.  Amanda Knox is lucky to have such an outstanding Senator and I can't think of any reason her comments should not be treated with the seriousness of a statement by a United States Senator.  There is simply no sign that Italian American politicians, like Nancy Pelosi, have anything but affection and camaraderie for Senator Cantwell.  Her suggestion about impartial tribunals has been key to international trials for many years, and moving it down from trials of military/political figures to civilians strikes me as an excellent policy and one that is well considered.   In short the attacks on Senator Cantwell are pure bunk.


    See also:

    Saturday, January 22, 2011

    Mack the Knife and biblical development

    Mack and Jenny

    So while I've been on the topic of murder I thought I'd get back to our regular scheduled programming with an analogy regarding the development of the books of the New Testament. The song Mack the knife has an interesting history:  

    One of the themes I've addressed regularly is how groups other than the proto-orthodox / proto-catholics produced earlier versions of many of the books of the NT.   This often is a source of confusion and debate.  So I thought I'd give an example from a song that underwent all sorts of diverse development and whose history his fully known, the song Mack the Knife.  Here there is no dispute or missing links regarding the history. I have no doubt that Kevin Spacey sang the 2004 version. On the other hand the lyrics, music and style came from the 1959 Bobby Darin version.
    Darin’s version picked up its score and lyrics from the 1956 Louis Armstrong version. Armstrong’s lyrics came from the 1954 Blitzstein translation from the German and the score from that came from 1928 Bertolt Brecht lyrics.  Brechts lyrics were originally paired Kurt Weill’s score, The Ballad of Mackie Messer, written for his wife Lotta Lenya (link to her singing it ).  But Armstrong was familiar with the version as abridged by Ernie Kovacs, which had the dark cabaret feel (listen to original Brecht).  Going back further the idea for the song came from Harald Paulsen (also in German), and he was modifying a folk tale that was based on a medieval German song whose origins are unknown.

    So who wrote Mack the Knife? Clearly the “canonical” version is Darin’s but can I really talk about Bobby Darin as the author while he openly acknowledges his debt to Armstrong? Moreover, if I move fron just considering style and start asking questions about what the song means I need to look at the context, the 1928 Three Penny Opera. But that’s a modified version of the 1728 Beggar’s Opera. Most of the ideas for “Mack the Knife” come from Gay’s ballad opera, and there is a more primitive version of the song there. But that opera’s lyrics were based on Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope’s play in 1716.
    Are those the original? Now imagine I asserted that God authored this song, based on historical events. Well the underlying historical events happened in the late 17th century and it was Pope and Swift who would have been inspired. Darin never claimed any sort of special inspiration but Mack the Knife stabilized in the 1950′s with his version.   We have hundreds of records involving dozens or artists and million of copies of versions that agree on both lyrics, score from the 1950s and 60s. That doesn’t mean the two and a half centuries prior the song was stable.    And this Darin stability ran in both directions with modern German versions show influence from Darin, for example this Dean Baxster, take.

    There is no single author.  The song evolved, from a variety influences.  Earlier versions exist and give us insights.  The modern Jazz, English language ballad has a culture but what gives the song its bite are the hints of the earlier cultures.
    And this is precisely what is meant when evolution of various biblical books is discussed. For example Bultmann's theory how the legends formed into a saying gospel, the Signs Gospel, which became a proto-John, which evolved towards canonical John.  Q and Mark form Ur-Lukas (proto-Luke in the diagram to the left), which migrate towards canonical Luke with Marcion's Luke (Gospel of the Lord) coming before or after.  Similarly for Moses books, the first five books of the bible that have multiple strands with alternative theologies.   When these notions come up think about how Mack the Knife evolved:

    Variants on Mack the Knife:
    Darin / classical versions:

    Monday, January 17, 2011

    windowserver.log, Raffaele Sollecito's alibi witness

    In the Massei report there is a ton of wild conjecture that passes for proven fact.  In the section dealing with the computer forensics however we run into statements that are reproducibly falsifiable.  That is Massei has findings of fact in his report which are not only contrary to literally thousands of pages of documentation published by Apple computer on how their operating systems work, but in fact can be falsified easily with every Macintosh computer sold in the last decade.  This is the very height of exculpatory evidence, it is evidence that can be infinitely attested to.  It is from an empiricist definition the very definition of a false statement.  Now this attack on the computer forensics, may sound like me getting on a high horse and nitpicking.  You might say something like "sure Massei is an arrogant buffoon for claiming as a matter of law that he understands OSX better than Apple computer, but he was deciding a murder case not a computer case" and you would be right.   But the computer forensics came up for very good reasons.  The false forensics were the means by which the police convinced Raffaele to give an alternate alibi to his original one.  That is without the computer forensics there is no reason to suppose that Raffaele and Amanda were not in his apartment watching Amelie at 11:00 when the prosecution believes that Meredith Kercher was killed.  They have an alibi again and we can go back to trying to decide this case on the facts on not on Mignini's hunch.    Moreover, if Raffaele has his 11:00 PM alibi then the prosecution doesn't have to argue their own medical examiner botched the autopsy to get their theory of the timeline to match what they consider the key material evidence.  Suddenly we are back to the murder happening at 9:00, Amanda and Raffaele being blocks away, and if they were involved at all only being involved in the clean up.   So this is a very big deal.  I'm going to do my best to try and make the debate between the prosecution and the defense on the computer forensics understandable, so you can follow as much of this as you can take and at least people have a reference they link off of.  The actual documentation submitted is very difficult to read because, IMHO, whoever wrote the documentation is parroting things they heard rather than understanding what they are writing.

    The core argument between the prosecution and the defense has been regarding the use of Encase which is a computer forensics tool.  Encase was used to interact with Macs, running the OSX operating system on the POSIX level, the stuff common to every UNIX.  So the prosecution did not look at anything which is OSX specific, for example the defense objected to the fact that the prosecution only examined the 3 types of timestamps used by POSIX vs. all 5 types of timestamps that OSX supports.  The defense argues that there is evidence in some of the OSX files and flags showing signs of human activity, and that these signs are not present in the POSIX things that the prosecution examined.  To give you an analogy  If I were describing a book in Chinese I might have to talk about its color, its weight, the front cover illustration if there is one, the number of pages.  That's a limited amount of information.    While if I were talking about a book in English I could talk about its title, the description on the back or dust jacket, other books by the same author.  And the defense's argument is that they have found evidence in that additional information proving human activity at the time of the murder.

    Getting more specific the defense argues that there is exactly the kind of exculpatory evidence that could have been missed via. inappropriate methodologies in the windowserver.log file.  Windowserver.log is part of OSX's NeXTSTEP heritage.  On most POSIX systems the sorts of messages in the Windowserver.log file would have been caught at the X11 level, not by the windowserver and thus wouldn't have been logged.   Since this is one of the  key points in the appeal it is worth answering the questions:
    1. What does the Mac's windowserver do?
    2. What sorts of things does it log?

    Take a quick peek at this diagram to the left.  You can see basic I/O actions like typing on your keyboard or moving your mouse get dealt with at the lowest level by Kernel drivers these can also basic translations So user hold shift - a - release shift - n - g - e - l - space - f becomes user types "Angel f".  Then  the system needs context if the system is booting or in some sort of single user mode you don't want to send messages to a complicated GUI.  The context determination is done by "Core Services".   For hardware actions that are going to require interaction with end user applications, like spreadsheets, web browsers or games the message is passed through to the Windows Server.  It then can handle the message itself, which is generally the case with mouse movements; or it can pass the message onto the correct application depending on where various things are on the screen, which is generally the case with keyboard input.   Lets see an example of both.  Microsoft Windows machines also have window servers and while things don't work quite the same, but close enough for this demonstation.

    I want you to grab another window other than this web browser and move your mouse really quickly so that you keep covering and uncovering this line from various angles.  Next I'd like you to reload this webpage and have the browser's rendering engine redraw everything. The first kind of redraw was fast.  What happened was your window server saw the two windows were going to overlap, had already buffered what the applications wanted in their windows broke everything down into primitives and fed it to the your graphics card.  When you changed your mouse direction the window server used the relative eternity of those hundredths of a second to repeat this process and the two windows passed smoothly.  The second time we had the application actually redraw everything and let the window server know what was needed.  Orders of magnitude slower.

    So hopefully I've convinced you:
    • To be grateful to your window server for the years of eye strain it has saved you from suffering
    • Why the window server is a very credible witness to a human interaction with a computer. Exactly the sort of process that would know when Raffaele (or another user) was clicking his mouse or banging on his keyboard.
    So you might think "perfect, we just ask the WindowServer what it was doing at the time of the murder and we either confirm or refute Raffaele's alibi".  Oh if only it was that easy.  WindowServer listened to your childhood coach about focusing on this play "keeping your head in the game".  It is fast it lives unencumbered by the past, existing in a permanent now.  Your obnoxiousness with the mouse  and the two windows is forgotten.  WindowServer itself is the perfect witness with an amazingly bad case of Alzheimer's.  Oh but it does keep a log book a place where it writes down some important stuff, called windowserver.log.
      I've highlighted where the Window Server sits on the OS side. This is just like our other picture but with more stuff on it, you still see hardware, kernel, core services, the window server, the application environments and the applications themselves.   The point I wanted to make is where this plugs into on the OS side, the Quartz system, if you are a Mac user this is probably not your first time hearing about "Quartz" the part of the OS that handles graphics for applications and hopefully seeing Window Server in this context helps you make the mental shift to thinking of this from the application's perspective.  If you start to think in terms of Quartz then you can think of this as the applications make calls to the Window server to draw, resize, hide, and move windows using Quartz graphics primitives.   It also handles extraneous interactions like the screen passing over, from the previous example.  What you would expect Quartz to do.  If you haven't heard of Quartz don't worry about it,  The main thing you need to understand is that it sits in the Quartz layer that most applications use to handle the screen.    If you look directly above WindowServer, you'll see references to Carbon, Classic...  the various applications environments.

      Cocoa has the best support for Window Server so lets look at this from Cocoa's perspective rather than the Window Server's as we switch over to the logging.
      I've highlighted the NSWindow binding which is where Window Server interactions will occur.  You can see it is inside of NSResponder, which makes sense, this is how the system is going to pass events to you as an application that it believes you need to respond to.  Conversely creating a Window needs to create a reference with Window Server so it can manage it....

      It is this interaction between NSWindow as an abstract binding and WindowServer as an actual entity that will generate log.  Anytime for example an application requests something impossible, like a window bigger than the screen it is on, if an applications reports that it has no idea what do with a message that was passed to it, etc... Window Server writes a short message in windowserver.log recording this failure and then "uses its judgement" about how to handle the problem.  If you look at your own windowserver.log (if you are on a mac) you'll see that depending on your applications somewhere from every few seconds to every ten minutes something like this happens and a note is recorded.  They may seem a bit cryptic but they are designed for the applications programmers to see where and when these times when windowserver had to guess occurred.  Apple's documentation for the NSWindow class, discusses in detail what sorts of events specifically will generate log.  For example in the section on setBackingType Apple indicates that if buffering is changed after initialization that will generate an error, a log entry in windowserver.log.  I don't see any advantage in going another level deep but I hope the discussion above makes it clear what the connection is between NSWindow and Window Server, and why that documentation should be taken as authoritative on Cocoa applications generating windowserver.log entries.

      For the other environments:
      • Carbon the default is to register windows and get messages more or less like the OS9 windowserver unless kOSAModeNeverInteract is set.
      • Java the interaction happens at the JRE level.
      • Quartz-wm: handles the interaction for X11 applications.
      • Quicktime has a lower level primitive that can peer with windowserver (this is complex)
      • Classic didn't run on Raffaele's computer so we can ignore.
      And that's basically it.  Most every application uses Quartz, Quartz uses Window Server to manager the windows, Window Server logs all errors or anytime an application doesn't know how to respond to but mostly when they make an invalid request.  Common invalid requests are documented.  That is the defense's theory and it is fully 100% supported by Apple.  I leave it to you whether you consider Apple or Massei/Mignini more credible on what generates log.   Needless to say everything in this post is reproducible and verifiable on any Apple computer running OSX.


      Let me move away for teaching for a second, and do a pure editorial. I've never personally done forensics in a case involving violence; when I've done it has always been theft or fraud or mostly just trying to figure out and reverse the cause of corrupted data that is driving the investigation. That being said a programmer's laptop should be analyzed more like you would a server and less like you would a general end user's. Encase is fine for Amanda or Meredith's laptops had the prosecution not "accidentally" destroyed them. I don't think it is appropriate at all for Raffaele's.   Since he was doing a computer science thesis he's a programmer it is going to require a skilled operator to do the investigation things are not going to in most obvious places or setup in the most obvious way and your typical forensic analysis will be wrong. For example the prosecution focuses heavily on cache data, and that is exactly the sort of thing you would typically check on an end user's laptop to look for activity. I agree with the prosecution's thinking. Most end users on a Mac would have their cache's in /Users/[Raf's username]/Library/Caches and /Library/Caches. But on Raf's machine I'd want to check places like /opt/local/var/cache (Apple's Darwinports default cache location), /sw/var/cache (Fink's default cache location) and he might even have a personal one like ~/caches. Encase won't check for those sorts of caches and thus the investigators won't find these in a cache's report. I agree with Raffaele's defense's intuitively, professionally, the examination the defense argues should have occurred, is exactly what I would have done were I investigating. I do consider this to have been a mistake.

      Moreover, I'll say it is the sort of mistake that a forensic accountant / examiner is likely to make; so at least on this point I don't see evidence of an intent to mislead the court. I think the prosecution is innocently incorrect.  I hate to take Mignini off the hook ever, but I don't see signs of the prosecution deliberately lying on this point.

      There is one another bad news for the defense.  Raffaele being a programmer cuts both ways.  Because he programs we can assume he knows or can easily learn how to have programs generate events that look like interactions with hardware.  He also knows how to change the windowserver.log file.  Which means on his system we have to consider the contents of these files less definitive than they otherwise would be.  I'd want to look at samples of his code from that time to get a grasp on whether the computer is telling me is likely to be true at worst or highly likely to be true at best.    I would scratch definite however in either direction.

      Friday, January 14, 2011

      Amanda's confession

      I can picture the scene clearly.  Jean-Paul's bath is room temperature.  I could hear Simonne, his wife, in the kitchen.  She was using the stove to boil up more of Jean-Paul's concoctions for his bath and at the same time make the 4:00 supper, they liked to eat early when Jean-Paul was too ill to entertain.   In the room I could smell the vinegar coming off the head bandage he was wearing, it was oppressive and mixed with the smell of rotten flesh it was hard to stay in the room with him.  There was too much instruction I needed to get, so I tried and swallow the bile and focus on the work.  Visually it was difficult as well.  The afternoon he had a rash which looked awful on the right of his chest; it was blistering and scabbing.  There were a few places in the rash where the skin had been peeled off.   Jean-Paul knew better than to scratch his body, he was already covered with scars, but sometimes the pain the itching was too bad.  His skin was like tissue sitting on-top of oil on top of ketchup.  When he finally did scratch, it instantly tore and the smell of the puss made the visuals worse.

      I was shocked when Charlotte walked in the room.  Simonne would have announced her at the door.  I wondered  if she had just barged through the front door or Simmone didn't want to come up with Charlotte.    Charlotte was a gorgeous woman, but the grief had aged her terribly since I'd seen her 30 months before.  Her blond hair peaked out from her bonnett.  She hadn't combed it that day, which was quite unusual.   She flew into the room.  Charlotte walking right up to Jean-Paul, an undressed man,  an undressed man not her husband.  I couldn't believe what I was watching.  Jean-Paul was less shocked then me, he reacted more quickly, sensed the danger, and started to bring the board he was writing on up like a shield.  He was translating another famous English work, his English was so strong, he had this flair for capturing the metaphors that the English lace their writing with and could find just the perfect correspondence in French.  That's what I was thinking about as I watched the board rise and those pages fall into the bath.  I know that sounds odd but while I admired Jean-Paul I never really liked him.

      It was then that I noticed the dagger Charlotte brought out from the money purse in the front of her dress.  I doubt Jean-Paul recognized but I knew it was the daily wear dagger of Restif, her brother, her dead brother, he had died in the September massacre with much of Charlotte's family.  Because Jean-Paul was still seated she had too much leverage, as she reached the tub she shifted her weight onto the board and it dropped back towards the bath trapping his hands in its fall.     She used the blister on Jean-Paul's chest like a bulls-eye and targeted his heart.   Her aim was solid, and the dagger pierced deep.  She didn't get caught on the ribs, I've often wondered if she had she practiced on hogs?

      She glanced at me, a smile.  I was actually happy to see her smile, those blue eyes, with light in them again.   And then I thought of the irony.  Five years ago, Charlotte even though she was little more than a  petty aristocrat, would never have smiled at a commoner about a shared activity she would have considered that act grossly inappropriate.  Now in her last truly free moment I saw that "égalité, fraternité" had become so much a part of her that she was untroubled sharing an emotion with one of a lower rank.  She saw our shared humanity.

      I suspect she missed the heart, but in Jean-Paul's condition that didn't matter.  It took him almost ten minutes to die.  I could hear the air from his punctured lung hissing with each breath.  The noxious chemicals from the bath that he used for his skin kept the blood flowing faster.  I don't know if he would he have bled out anyway, without the chemicals but I suspect he likely would have.    Simmone entered and wept, and wailed.  It was amazing how much she loved him, despite how visually and olfactory unpleasant it was to be in his presence,  that her care these years hadn't been just duty.  I realized she always saw the marvelous doctor from the 70's and not the withered politician.

      Simmone tried to help him but she had never been in the army, she didn't know what to do.  I did, know what to do, but I've mentioned all that was going through my mind.  Also I'm not sure it would have worked, so I followed Simmone's lead of laying him flat on the ground and let Jean-Paul bleed out.   It was a mercy when the hissing stopped.  In his final moment, Jean-Paul looked at me accusingly, knowing I hadn't really tried.    I shrugged, I loved him, but I never liked him.  I admired what he did, and considered him a monster.  I had often thought I was a terrible hypocrite for assisting him.  But over the last year, I had seen  his physical pain further twist his already damaged soul, this man had done much to damage our revolution.  That his final glance would be an accusation for me and not a comfort for Simmone proved Charlotte had been right.    Georges, Maximilian were there to take over for him.   If Charlotte thought this was worth the gallows for her, I'd honor her death with his.  And that unforced smile of Charlotte's proved that Jean-Paul's life had accomplished its mission.


      Amanda Knox was asked to imagine the death of Meredith Kercher and provided some details about herself in the kitchen.  That's not a confession to having been present to the murder, anymore than my little terrible attempt at fiction is a confession to having been present for the death of Marat.  It is not hard to picture a murder when asked.  That is not a confession and the use of the word "confession" to describe a vision she was asked to construct is frankly dishonest in the extreme.

      It is fair to say those statements have a ring of authenticity too them.  That is very different though than a confession.

      Thursday, January 13, 2011

      Italy the EU and the international standards of justice

      Why have trails at all?  What's the point?  Prosecutors are usually right, police investigate.  If the police knew they were not handing suspects off to a court but rather directly summary punishment / execution they would even be more careful.  We already have a grand jury system to avoid the worst abuses.  So why bother with the expense and time of a trial?

      I want you to think if you really object to extrajudicial punishment.  Is it OK to punish the probably guilty or do you need the virtual certainty of beyond a reasonable doubt?  Julian Assange's lawyers were arguing in a British court last week that there was a serious threat of Assange disappearing into the USA's now fully functioning extrajudicial punishment system.  Prior to 2001 the idea that the USA would be OK with running an extrajudicial punishment system in a systematic large scale manner was unthinkable.  I'm still deeply ashamed that I agree with Julian Assange that there is no guarantee once he is in US custody of a fair trial.  The world has started treating the USA like Egypt when it comes to criminal justice because we have started to act like Egypt.

      The country that has most effectively led the charge against the USA on violating international norms of justice is Italy.  Italy forms the backbone of the EU's opposition to the death penalty (link).  The advertisements in the upper left hand corner of this post are by Benetton, a series of people on death row in America whose faces are being used to promote their clothing.    The point of this image is to demonstrate how mainstream opposition to the death penalty is in Italy, that being associated with the anti-death penalty movement is like an American company wanting to be associated with Nascar.

      But what is the moral basis of opposition to the death penalty in a foreign country?  Italy makes the standard arguments: lack of deterrence, unfairness, inevitability of error, barbarity of methodology, cost but those are essentially domestic arguments.  There they attack the death penalty for undermining human dignity and lacking deterrent value and the irreparable harm that it causes.   But if you think about it there is underlying idea that trials should have a universal moral legitimacy beyond the scope of the governed.  That governments should not engage in the naked use of power, they have physical possession of the citizen of another country and thus the right to with them what they will.  In other words it is irrelevant to the United States whether Italy thinks our justice system is moral or immoral unless there is some underlying basis of morality that needs to be appealed to.    They are one of the primary authors of UN 62/149, which calls for an immediate moratorium on the death penalty precisely because they do believe in an underlying moral basis for criminal justice that is subject to international oversight.

      The EU and Italy in particular have argued forcefully that 
      • The Death penalty
      • Torture
      • Detention without trial, Guantanamo Bay
      • Renditions (kidnapping)
      undermine our -- with "our" being the west, the civilized world, the member states of the United Nations... -- shared sense of justice.  But what basis do they have for these complaints if they hold that people captured by Italians should be subject to arbitrary Italian law without any international review or input?  

      Now lets return to the original question about why have trials.  In the 12th century Henry II, King of England,  was trying to centralize power.  One of the ways to do this was to develop a direct relationship between the governing authority (the King's judges) and the people (the jury) that bypassed the local officials (the sheriff).  So Sheriffs would have the authority to execute, judges ruled on matters of law (guaranteeing the King's control of the law) and juries ruled on matters of fact.   The jury guaranteed the King's laws were applied in a way that the people approved of, preventing a popular resentment from building up against the national government which the local government could exploit.  Thus by empowering the people as a check on their local governments, the King enhanced his own power and created a system which had legitimacy at every level.  For a person to be convicted and punished: the local government, national government and people need to agree.

      And this established a basic concept in law that the punishment of offenders needs to have popular consent.  It should be noted that Henry II's reforms  was the point our system forked from the Inquisitorial system, the system that exists in Italy today. Italy accepts the underlying morality of Henry's reforms if not the specific mechanism (the jury) .  For example Italy certainly considers Israeli trials of Palestinians to lack legitimacy because they arise out of an "occupation government" that is to say a government that lacks the consent of the governed.   Italy's attacks on Israeli justice point to another example of where Italy as a matter of policy holds that criminal law is in some sense universal and not just an arbitrary use of power by the state, and moreover needs to be.

      So given that, what should Italy's response be when they've held a trial and Americans find the evidence wanting?  This is a big deal, normally the punishment not the actual guilt is in question, so this is an unusual case.   Yesterday, a poster on my board showed me the actual forensic methodology used to disqualify Raffaele Sollecito's alibi and there is no doubt that the methodology is highly questionable (see windowserver.log, Raffaele Sollecito's alibi witness for an extended discussion).  That Raffaele should be doing two decades in prison based on is a travesty, it is quite simply morally repulsive.  I do not see how Italy can claim to believe in universal standards of justice and behave like this.  Every time I learn more about this case I become further disgusted with Italy's handling of it.  I don't think I'm alone in the effects of education.

      This trial reminds in many ways of Mumia Abu-Jamal, an activist with a domestic terrorist organization called MOVE conviced for the 1981 murder of Daniel Faulkner who developed a widespread following almost immediately that became a major political cause in 1984.    Since the early 1980s there have been movies about his conviction pro and con continuing today (as those links show).  Italy itself is on Mumia's side (see item Y).  In Mumia's case I thought he was guilty and was rather opposed to MOVE though at this point I think he's reformed and I'd have no problem with his release.  Amanda is well on her way to achieving this same kind of long term controversy.  The parades the films the.... all attacking their justice system all undermining Italy's ability to be a leader on human rights.  You would think they would want a lot in exchange for losing their moral authority.  I don't understand is what Italy possible hopes to gain from his.

      The "best case" for Italy is that Amanda does her time. Interest in her case wanes.  She emerges a hardened criminal, no longer the girl with the naive faith in justice, no longer the girl who couldn't bring herself to even look at the crime scene photos.  Now she seen people sliced dozens if not hundreds of times, she has seen done far worse than anything Meredith Kercher was involved in.   Since Italy has a shortage of prison beds to keep this "murder" in prison means they have had to not hold many other prisoners.  To simplify lets say over the course of 25 years say a dozen Albanian prostitutes that rob/stab customers. So they have an extra 200 stabbings to show for their detention.  Destroying Amanda and driving their domestic crime rate up is the best case for Italy as far as I can tell.  If someone wants to propose a better case feel free.

      Another possible case, is she dies in prison or is seriously injured, particularly if it is at the hands of a guard.   High security prisons are not low risk environments so this is a very likely outcome.    If interest has waned then this really doesn't matter very much, most likely as her death would be a passing footnote.  If interest has not wained she becomes a martyr.  She's remembered forever as the image to the left.  Seattle unquestionable severs their sister city relationship with Perugia (link).  Italy has no moral authority on criminal justice issues for a generation, the EU move to suspend the death penalty is over.  And that's assuming that there are no cases involving Italian nationals around the time of her death in Washington or Oregon courts so that things heat up even further.  The same sort of thing would happen if the court of appeals reverses on premeditation and Amanda and Raffaele get life.   These are the scenarios where there could be real meaningful blowback for Italy and its the sort of thing the state is not well equipped to avoid.    The US still suffers substantial blowback from an assassination we were involved in 1953.

      A more reasonable possibility is that the court of appeals is sane enough to realize what happens when the American girl is still in jail for over a decade more than the rapist on a rape murder and gives her a sentence reduction that gets her sentence down around Guede's or shorter.  At worse  they both get paroled after about 8 years in jail, 2015 or so.  There is lingering resentment but the issue can die down.  People like myself who think she's most likely guilty of something like manslaughter, aggravated sexual assault or obstruction can live with an 8 year or less sentence.   While obviously I support immediate release due to severe prosecutorial and judicial misconduct, this would be a very sane outcome that's easy to achieve at this point.    A way to backoff from a train wreck that I would urge the court to consider.  

      And those are the scenarios with no upside.  Normally there isn't much upside to imprisonment, states detain dangerous people so they don't reoffend.  The argument being that these prisoners pose an ongoing threat.  The people to whom Amanda posses the most threat, assuming she were guilty, are the people the city she is likely to return to, Seattle.  The people of Seattle are eager and enthusiastic for her return.  They clearly understand and embrace the risk.  The downside of release simply does not apply in this case.   Even from a purely pragmatic standpoint the plusses and minus for Italy seem unbalanced in continuing their persecution.

      On the FOM side, I'm running into essentially a different group of authoritarians than usual.  Usually the authoritarians I deal with tend to see a group of church leaders as being essentially infallible, truly wonderful people motivated only by the best interests of all concerned, people who by default should be trusted.  Now those people tend to have a fairly skeptical view of the government and the courts.  They quite often have seen the IRS engage in abuses and have enough connection with the working and lower classes to have seen the innocent get convicted in traditional courts all the time.  Many of the people who believe most fervently in church discipline do so because they believe the state has become utterly morally corrupt.  If they are authoritarian towards the state it is usually mainly in theory not in practice, Gary North felt free to talk about the Obama inauguration with an essay, The Audacity of Hype.

      This new group seems to view courts in essentially the same way.  Their argument is that we as individuals have no right to question the details of the court cases.  A good example was when I had a problem with a statement in Massei.  The guilt side made sarcastic comments about Raffaele's defense, the innocent side provided me with more information about how the analysis was conducted.  One side argues for blind faith the other for reasoned discourse.  The forensic case is key for me, because it proves that  even when we know that some of the findings in Massei, are easily demonstrably falsifiable the persons who support guilt are unmoved to change their opinion regarding that fact, not about the entire case but about the finding.    In 1519 Luther stood against this very attitude at the Diet of Worms and held that all men were bound by conscience to judge the good by conscience, by reason and by divine law.  While I would never compare myself to Luther I would urge all readers to consider his words with regard to the blind submission to Massei as the final arbitrar of truth:
      Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. God help me. Amen. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. 

      See also:
      • Brazil / Italy debate over Ceseare Battisti (link
      • Politics and Inerrancy another foray into the connection between religious fundamentalism and support for right wing ideology.  
      • The economist has been critical of Italy's justice system over the years considering it an underfunded, slow and inefficient mess.  (sample editorial)
      • An article published later (Oct 3, 2011) talking about how Perugia has been negatively effected by this case: Perugia fights sex-and-drugs image.

      Saturday, January 8, 2011

      Evidence and the very unlikely

      OK strange question, how much evidence would you need to prove that an human alien hybrid killed Meredith Kercher?  Assume that were the prosecution's theory.  Assume they had picked someone up and they believed that person was a human alien hybrid.  Assume they were using his alien traits to explain evidence, like he had been able to get through the window because hybrids can jump 12 feet easy, he hadn't left any evidence because hybrids can make their fingers not secrete oils....  This was the prosecution's theory and you as a juror had to rule on the case.  What sort of standard should you hold them to?  You might stay that's a really stupid question, and your reaction is precisely where I want your head at, so bear with me please.

      Is it impossible that human alien hybrids exist or just very very unlikely?  You might say impossible.  OK what if there were families of human alien hybrids known to exist, towns which people could visit full of them.  Some had undergone analysis in various biological laboratories and the results were public.    You even knew people, who had met some and see them change shape.  Then you might say, "well then yes I'd believe in them".  In other words, its not impossible its just a question that there is nowhere near enough evidence to believe in something so unlikely.  Very much like Russell's Teapot.  There are lots of good reasons to believe that an animal like the platypus didn't exist, when it was first described and for several years there were debates when it was discovered if it was a fraud or a fluke.  But the evidence overwhelmed the skepticism.  And I think that this is a similar case, you don't really mean "impossible" what you mean instead is highly improbably, that is to say something for which you are going to need lots of high quality evidence.

      So given any murder there is a certain percent chance it was done by a human alien hybrid.  There is a certain chance it was done by random quantum effects.  There is a certain chance is it done by a monkey like The Murders in the Rue Morgue.  Those are doubts in any case, they just aren't reasonable doubts, because they are so unlikely.  But remember this situation is different, this is the prosecutor's theory.   Which means the prosecution not only has to prove the crime but because they are using this theory to explain away the counter evidence like the 12 foot jump via. the alien hybrid theory they actually have to provide enough evidence to justify the existence of alien human hybrids.  And of course you are beginning to see where I'm going; while Mignini and Massei's theories may not seem up there with alien human hybrids they are still incredibly unlikely.  So lets work this hypothetical a bit before jumping back to the main case.

      There is one more condition.  Maybe even a tremendous amount of evidence doesn't cut it.  The possibility that the pieces of evidence correlate and thus all or most of it is together wrong, that your analysis is wrong, that my analysis is wrong vastly overwhelm the likelihood of those scenarios.  One of the things that will strike you immediately if you read old trials is the sorts of scenarios that are considered likely or unlikely.  Something like an insect disease leading to a local significant shift in a particular insect population (like a bee) leading to a crop failure if it is considered at all, and not in that language, would be treated as unlikely while witchcraft or direct divine intervention are likely explanations for this natural phenomena.  Its hard to account for these variables but they exist with most evidence.     The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, bu Kuhn talks about how science deals with the incredibly unlikely.  Once it shows up it provides it disproves the paradigm of probably, which requires a paradigm shift, and that shift is undertaken only when the evidence becomes truly overwhelming.

      Just to put this in perspective lets do a quick through experiment.  Assume you have to decide between just two options A and B (with B being guilty).  Assume that you have pieces of evidence each of which is 70% accurate and fully independent, to help in picking between A and B.  If A and B are equally likely, and your standard of evidence was more likely than not you would just count up the evidence and side without whatever letter had more "evidence" behind it.  For most everyday decisions even 2 pieces of evidence would be 90% and thus good enough.   If OTOH you standard was "beyond a reasonable doubt" say 98% and A and B were still both equally likely, you would only need to go up 4 pieces of evidence.  So this 70% evidence is great stuff for making day to day judgements.

      But what if A and B weren't equally likely?  Assume that B were something like a human alien hybrid conjecture and A were something like "drug killing, gang killing, robbery, x-boyfriend, honor killing combined" in other words a grab bag of the alien human hybrid didn't do it.  Lets say that the one in ten billion murders at most are caused by an alien human hybrid. So to meet the reasonable doubt standard we would need B to be 500 billion times more likely based on evidence alone than A.    Which is to say if we have to pick between A and B we are often going to pick A even when most evidence points to B. If it were a pure 70/30 shot then it would take about 23 pieces of non correlating evidence each agreeing,  to make the odds less than 1 in 500 billion.

      Ah but happens if I have good quality evidence?  Say 98% evidence like a videotape of my alien human hybrid or a repeatable blood sample that shows him his cells producing a silicon based sugar.  1 piece of evidence for reasonable guilt if A and B are equally likely and only 6 for human alien hybrid.   So its a linear factor of 4.    So if you think one of the pieces of evidence is overwhelming, certainly not as good as a video of the crime.  Go ahead and count it twice.

      But here is where it gets tricky notice I keep saying independent.  What if they are not?  Well if they are even slightly dependent on one another that doubles the amount of evidence, moderate and I'm up around 100 pieces of the alien human hybrid.  And If you think about it that feels about right.  You would probably need about 100 anecdotes to believe this murder was committed by an alien human hybrid.  That is to say you believe this evidence correlated about 50% there is some overlap.

      Ah....  but you might say.  "Wait a minute, CD!  Nothing in the Meredith Kercher murder theory is as unlikely as an alien human hybrid.  People get into squabbles all the time and someone ends up dead.  Domestic violence is frighteningly common not uncommon".  And you would be right.  You would also be rewriting the prosecution's theory of the case.  And boy is it tempting.  Their theory of the case is tremendously stupid.  It requires us to believe multiple highly low probability things.

      Its hard to know exactly what is needed to prove the case and what is rank speculation.  But just starting on a particularly bad part of the report:
      Meredith Kercher, returning home around nine in the evening, and without
      anything in mind other than having a rest (the night before, Halloween, she had
      stayed up very late) and doing some studying. Like her English friends, she thought
      she had a class at 10 the following morning, and would not have had any intention
      of acquiescing to the demands, held to be of an erotic-sexual nature by what has
      already been observed, of whoever entered her room.
      Besides, she felt attached to Giacomo Silenzi, with whom she had just started an
      intimate relationship, and she was serious young woman with a strong
      1. How would you know what's on her mind as she is returning home?  What do you think you are writing a novel?
      2. Do we really know enough about Meredith's sex life to know whether her 10:00 am class would or would not have had any impact on whether she wanted to have sex.  Heck there would have been many many years without sex if I had to wait till days I could sleep in till noon.
      3. How do you know she felt attached with Giacomo Silenzi?  We know she had just started  boffing the pot grower downstairs.  Maybe she just liked his pot?  Maybe she liked his availability.  Maybe she liked the fact that Amanda and Laura had both wanted him and she just wanted to be queen bee?
      4. And even the statements themselves, "serious young woman with serious temperament" -- Who is dating a pot dealer and helping him grow the stuff
      5. Most people when striking up a conversation with a girl hint around the erotic sexual part a bit.  It might not have been entirely clear.  
      And on and on and on goes the rank speculation needed to make this murder work out.   And mind you this is key.  This is paragraph is the evidence that Meredith wouldn't have opened the door and thus someone else let Rudy in.   The fact that someone else let Rudy is the evidence that Amanda had to fake the break in.  Amanda having to fake the break in is one of the key pieces of evidence that Amanda is the murder.

      Reading this "evidence" does it sound sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Meredith didn't say:
      • sure come on in lets smoke some weed and then I gotta go to class or 
      • sure my boyfriends away I'd love to play tonight
        or maybe going with different theory, a food theory
      • you know I'm already getting sick of pastas, stracciatella I'm totally in the mood for some boiled cabbage, maybe some chips.  I'd love some company!
      We are talking a guy who played basketball outside her school and hung with her boyfriend.   This is called the Massei conclusions report, perhaps the Massei wild guesses report would be more fitting?  So lets assume its 80% likely that Meredith didn't open the door herself for Rudy and assuming she didn't open the door that its 80% likely that Rudy had someone let him and given that 80% chance that the someone had to be one of the 4 girls that no one else had a key to a rental apartment that they had had made over the last decade  and 80% that given all this Amanda would have realized she needs to fake a break-in....  well the whole scenario then is only 1 in 3.  And the same way the evidence adds the rank speculation takes the odds down and down and down.  And by way of example, if I used 60% for that the chances would have been just 7.75%.

      So you go through the Massei report counting conjectures.  How many of these 80% do you need to make the case.  20, 100,1000?  At 20 its less than 1% likely that things came down the way Massei speculates.  At 100 you are around the one in ten billion we used as a  placeholder for the human alien hybrid.  That's the power of compounding.    It doesn't sound crazy because it is a huge collection of more likely than not theories strung together.  But just multiple them out and you get something incredibly unlikely.  To prove this kind of a sequence, in practice you would need to:
      1. Collect evidence
      2. Construct a fixed single sequence sequence
      3. Collect evidence independent of your evidence in step (1) to confirm / disconfirm your sequence
      otherwise you need an astronomical amount of evidence to show you aren't just fitting a conjecture to the facts rather than confirming a conjecture with facts.

      The fact is Massei has no idea what happened, because an investigation was never done (see my article on prosecutorial abuse as to why it was never done).  They think they probably have the right people and the rest of the report covers:

      a)  Stuff they did investigate
      b)  Wild conjectures to tie those scattered pieces of evidence into a case.

      And he does hit his conjectures to the facts at hand.  In the pages on the stab wounds and their order he has a high quality autopsy and thus lots of facts he has to fit to.  On the what Meredith was thinking as she approached her door he has essentially none so he is free to assert anything he wants.

      There certainly is enough to indict Amanda based on the Massei report, but to convict?  Play a game.  Read the Massei report.  Each time you hit a piece of evidence cancel out 2 conjectures of his, which is being really generous with the evidence.  And that's not counting the fact of how silly some of the conjectures are.

      And then there are places where the evidence is just wrong.  I'm not an expert on DNA, one can see extensive evaluation of the evidence all over the web and I don't have the background to know enough to evaluate it.  But this line is different:
      Encase forensic analysis software determined, for such time period, that the only files created (last created) or written (last written) were generated, automatically, either by the computer’s operating system or the Firefox web-browser within its own cache: being files generated at regular intervals.
      I'm going to get a bit techie for this paragraph, explain how this is total nonsense, feel free to skip it as just an example.  I'd like you if you are on a mac or a linux box to open up a terminal right now and type the phrase man touch.  If you are stuck on a windows box here is what you would have seen link.   Touch is a program designed to change timestamps because it is such a common activity.   Changing those dates are standard Unix activities, I have tons of scripts that modify those dates to things other than their defaults that run on my machine; for example when I push data to the TIVO I script changes to mtime so that it sorts the way I want it on my TV.   Mac's internally have 5 timestamps they associate with files: createDate, contentModDate, attributeModDate, accessDate and backupDate. accessDate implements atime, attributeModDate implements ctime and contentModDate implements mtime. The fsCatalogInfo attribute for a file in objective-C (the default language for system's programming on an Apple) has those five as variables (i.e. for example fsCatalogInfo.createDate), which is to say this is not some deeply hidden attribute, Apple invested money in making these timestamps alterable because programs need to do that so frequently.    Other than those 5 attributes there is no place any time information is stored about file manipulation.    You can in 3 seconds have a file on your mac that was last modified 10 years before you owned the computer, heck before it was created as far as the filesystem is concerned.  And there is no secondary record of these changes.   With an average user timestamps are obviously good evidence.   By definition average users are people who think about how to work their computer not how their computer works.  But Raffaele is a computer science graduate who is doing a degree in genetic programming, he's spending all day thinking abut how computers work.  For him,  the timestamp mean nothing more than the times he choose to assign to files.   He's probably 10x the programmer I am, I'm way over the hill, he's in his prime.  If this were Amanda's computer I'd think "determined that the only files created" was too strong I'd weaken it to something like "indicates that most likely the only files created".    For Raffaele's I'd say "a weak easily modifiable record which at the time of analysis showed..." is a fair characterization. [note added 1/12/11: Rose below translated from Italian what they actually used.  I'm leaving this unmodified for continuity, but the actual forensic method was much less reliable than the one I assumed they used]

      I'm nitpicking the timestamp paragraph,  because that is one where I'm not quoting other experts.   I know for a fact that Massei is indicating that something that is only likely as an absolute certainty.     This is at least for me a perfect example of the basic problem with the Massei report, it replaces possible with likely, likely with almost certainly true and almost certainly true with tautologically true.  He takes weak evidence and argues that it shows things way beyond what it does in fact show.  Please google everything in these two paragraphs, check that everything I'm saying about timestamps is absolutely true.  Everyone does this with the inconsequential, "I'm sure I put gas in the car" as shorthand for "I'm usually pretty good about filling it once it gets below half full, and 3 days I remember it was less than 1/2..."  But if my job depended on it, I'd go out and check the car and  I'd still fill it up just in case the gas gauge wasn't working right.  If someone's life depended on it, I'd try and fill it and I'd make sure to have a spare gas container in the trunk.  And that's the level of certainty I would want before locking someone away for a quarter century, beyond a reasonable doubt.   And that is what the law requires.

       And then ask yourself did the forensic analysis really determine what happened on that computer or did it just provide a fallible piece of evidence about what happened on that computer?  And if it didn't then Raffaele can be telling the truth about what he and Amanda did during the time of the murder.  This little forensics was considered a major blow to their alibi.    And while you are thinking about that, read the report for yourself and go find yourself a dozen example like this of these unbelievable leaps of pure conjecture.   In the end there is one key question you absolutely must be able to answer before taking the awesome responsibility of destroying 3 children:
      • What lethal acts do we know for certain that Amanda Knox performed?
      • What lethal acts do we know for certain that Raffaele Sollecito performed?
      • What lethal acts do we know for certain that Rudy Guede performed?
      And I have yet to hear an answer to that question.


      See also:

      • A similar argument was made by Raffaele's attorney's in his appeal (link), translated in the comments to this post here.  

      Sunday, January 2, 2011

      Amanda Knox and Prosecutorial Abuse

      One of the few things both sides of this case agree is that it breaks your heart. If you take a look at the 3 pictures for the 3 articles you are immediately struck. The picture for the first article shows Amanda in her first year of prison: a joyful kid full of life and spunk, a mischievous little girl flirtish looking at the camera. She's so obviously full of hope, she can't imagine that everything won't work out in the end. You can see in those eyes the sort of girl to run off to Italy on a whim and immerse herself in the language, the people the culture for the sheer joy of discovery and adventure. Probably the same way she rock climbed right before the incident or climbed trees a few years before that. People were offended, but I think jealous is a better word. How dare she make it to 20 with that profound childlike joy fully intact?

      The picture for the second article is the same girl experiencing fear. There is a hunted look in her eyes. She is still in denial that Mignini would be able to keep her in his box for decades but no denial about his intent. The carefree girl is gone replaced with a murder suspect trying to navigate the minefield of being a prisoner within a system that really does intend her harm, made all the worse by the careless errors of the carefree girl of the first picture. The first Amanda was immature the second picture is no longer a child but not yet a woman.

      The picture for this article is shocking. The eyes are dead, passive all hope has been extinguished. Those are the eyes of an old woman ready to pass from this life to the hereafter they should not be the eyes of a girl the age of a college senior. Its hard to know whether there is anything left to save in that girl anymore, or just enough left to bury. 3 years of prison has destroyed her. All I can see: hopelessness, depression, fatalism.

      When I started this series I just figured I'd grab a picture form 2008, 2009 and 2010 respectively. When I saw what they looked like I had trouble not bursting into tears, a maudlin emotionalism that is totally unlike me. Life should do this to people over decades, or better yet not at all. To be able to see the eyes and the face change in pictures which show no sign of aging, to see this happen to someone deliberately so quickly, is devastating. It really bring home the monstrous evil of what's going on in Italy, and since American prisons are worse here as well. Early in the life of this blog I wrote a piece (link) on the mechanism of real and false guilt and how church discipline was used to create this sort of effect, the analogy being to real imprisonment; in the case of that piece in a 1930s Soviet Prison. I think back on that piece now, in the one sense how apt the analogy is in the haunted looks I've seen in the people I've worked with tossed out of their communities for being gay or being disobedient wives or starting to question whether the leader was really right. But the real thing is so much worse than the analogy.

      The justification offered for killing Amanda's soul and leaving behind a zombie is of course is the picture to the left of this text. Meredith Kerecher died slowly of exsanguination probably in pain, probably in fear. It was a brutal death of by all accounts a talented girl, delightful girl loved and cared for by many. Meredith probably fought for her life at the end that's why the blood smears are everywhere, she died in combat, she died fighting she died with a ferocious desire to live. Her 2007 picture will always be this. The horror of her death is compounded by the knowledge that she died young enough to fight like she did. She loved her life and she had so much to live for.

      And in 2007 there were people looking at this Meredith picture that were probably worried about a reoccurrence. They were probably worried about public fear. When Sonia Marra was murdered in Perugia in 2006 the police hadn't charged anyone, and rumors were starting in the University for Foreigners about a serial killer targeting students. The police wanted to make damn sure this didn't happen again, they wanted to reassure the public that Italian police work would be swift. But they couldn't find a motive and Meredith on the surface wasn't doing anything that was likely to get her killed.  There were some signs pointing to this murder being domestic violence and one of her roommates acted suspicious, offended the police and told some lies. So they fixated. 

      And then steps in a prosecutor who likes to play way over the line. Its important to stop here and point out that the fact this guy is a highly questionable character is not in dispute. Douglas Preston's Monster of Florence, about the Monster of Florence Murders (1968-85, well before Knox was born) talks about Mignini's villainy. His response was to engage in an illegal wiretapping operation against the police and journalists investigating for which he has been tried and convicted (link). Allegations of abuse swirl around him.

      And even in the Knox case there have been substantial misconduct. For example Mignini has tried to charge Americans in Italian courts for activities performed in the United States, i.e. without any jurisdiction, and activities absolutely protected by the First Amendment:
      • He filed criminal defamation charges agains a newspaper, the West Seattle Herald for reporting that Mignini is seen by many locals as inadequate and mentally unstable (link)
      • He convicted (in absentia) Joe Cottonwood a California carpenter for calling Mignini a bully (link), its hard to do more then point out the irony of a DA filing criminal charges against someone for calling them a bully
      • Slander charges against Amanda Knox's parents for quoting her sworn testimony (this BTW was the charge that got me off the fence regarding Amanda Knox) (link)
      He also has further tried to get around the protections against perjury in Italian law protecting defendants by filing a separate slander charge against Amanda Knox for her sworn testimony in her defense.

      So understanding this background, lets try and get inside Mignini's head in early Nov 2007. He's an experienced investigator, with a weak case against someone he is sure is guilty and is a serious flight risk. Her parents are on their way and while Amanda might not understand how much danger she is in, they will, and poof she will be back in Seattle. Once that happens he certainly isn't going to be able to get enough to extradite. Worse her alibi, Raffaelle, has money and might just follow Amanda back to the states for a few years, or head to Australia or even if he stays in Italy might be very hard to arrest with Amanda to tie him to the crime. So he's under immense time pressure and responds by conducting a series of illegal interrogations, the Italian equivalent of failing to Mirandize them, and then arrests them. He still doesn't have enough but he arrests them so he can hold them. Italy does not have the notion of right to a speedy trial so once arrested he can hold them for a year.

      And immediately his problems worsen because the physical evidence isn't confirming his theories. Neither is the witness testimony. There is lots of blood but not much in the way of bloody footprints. The knives they find don't either have the right kinds of evidence or don't match the wounds. Psychopathic sexual killers have histories of working their way up to rape murders. We should see evidence of things like animal abuse, spousal abuse, sexual assaults on Amanda and Raffaele's criminal record, but they don't have a criminal record for anything remotely violent, or really much at all.

      Since he's made an arrest he has to reassure the public that's he's done the right thing. Mignini starts planting false stories. For example he focuses the media on how Amanda's copy of Harry Potter was found at the cottage and not at Raffaele's place disconfirming her alibi, except it was found at Raffaele's place confirming her alibi. He leaks a false photo. Just to give you some idea of the effect of false evidence I played this the way he did. Notice how the "blood" on the photo on the left of the bathroom is pink, well its a chemical from the forensic team. The actual bathroom showed no signs of blood at all, except for a few drops in the sink, everything you see here would have been invisible to a human eye. Putting it next to the shot on the right which has actual blood misled you. I fell for the same trick when I first saw the photo. And he published these photos opposite stories of Amanda talking about not noticing the blood in the bathroom, when shown this picture makes her look like a total liar. Dozens of these propaganda stories were planted.

      That's the sort of thing a prosecutor who is trying to inflame the public against a defendant who can't prove his case would do. Stories of non existent comics, stories of non existent bloody footprints making a path. Lying by 12 minutes about when the postal police arrived and then planting a story based on this time shift about Amanda trying to create an alibi after the police got there. Lets not brush over this because this is not a point in dispute, Mignini orchestrated a public campaign of defamation using a mixture of false and true information into an emotionally agitated Perugian population. No one denies this attack campaign of disinformation occurred, the only point in dispute is why.

      What I would argue is he did so to try and create a political environment which led witnesses to make maximally incriminating statements against Amanda and Raffaele. We know that 31% of Republicans believe Obama is a Muslim. Essentially using the logic:

      a) Being a Muslim is bad thing to call someone
      b) Obama is bad
      c) Hence Obama is a Muslim

      Using a similar sort of technique many witnesses will tend to shave their answers in the direction of public opinion. In other words he needed to create incriminating evidence, so he creates an environment where it shows up.  Moreover the media starts paying for witnesses to give stories and suddenly witnesses start popping up after months who heard Amanda running down the stairs, saw her across the street at crucial times, saw her shopping for bleach (but not buying it) the day after the murder. Who can possibly survive this sort of orchestrated disinformation? This is very similar to how George W Bush organized a campaign of disinformation to intimidate America's intelligence agencies to misrepresenting the state of Iraq's nuclear weapons program (see Plame affair).  
      Of course the problem has been this case generated more publicity than Mignini anticipated. The way he expected it to work was that he gets this swarm of evidence and Knox confesses. Or he gets the conviction against Knox and her version is discredited. He never expected a media counteroffensive.

      One has to remember in reading this case in 2011 the question is not
      • Is Amanda Knox someone who acted suspiciously and thus the police were justified in investigating?
      That would have been the correct question on Nov 5, 2007, but rather the correct question today is:
      • Has Amanda Knox been proven beyond a reasonable doubt to have engaged in a premeditated conspiracy to kill Meredith Kercher involving two other people with elements of the crime understood and known?
      And the answer is not remotely. To demonstrate this just consider the following questions:
      • What lethal acts do we know for certain that Amanda Knox performed?
      • What lethal acts do we know for certain that Raffaele Sollecito performed?
      • What lethal acts do we know for certain that Rudy Guede performed?
      And this is why this case has so much heat. From the start the prosecution has attempted to conflate those two statements. Some people want to pretend that we are ready to answer the beyond a reasonable doubt question "yes", because it is no longer possible to just conduct an investigation. Either Amanda Knox, Raffaele Sollecito and Rudy Guede were the killers, and the only killers, without substantial mitigation, or this case just is never going to be solved. So if Meredith is going to have "justice", by which they mean throwing 3 more kids away; they have to pretend that the evidence says far more than it does.

      To put this another way, as a result of prosecutorial abuse we now have a situation where:
      • Amanda Knox had done some suspicious stuff before and after the murder.
      • Had there been a decent investigation we might had found out why.
      • But there wasn't a decent investigation.
      • So we are left with the fact that based on naive speculation she most likely either had something to do with the murder or is covering for someone who did.
      • Probably having something to do with a killing is a far short of being proven to have been a primary in a murder beyond a reasonable doubt.
      • The person who made the wrong choice to arrest quickly and use public pressure to force a defendant into talking, was not Amanda Knox.  She should not be punished by being denied justice because Mignini picked an ineffectual strategy.  
      To support the trial verdict is to end 2 kids lives on firmly believing that more likely than not they had something to do with it. We can speculate on whether Amanda and Raffaele are actually guilty, we should not speculate on whether they should have been found legally guilty, the answer is an absolute unequivocal no.  In the USA generally any evidence collected from abuses, like illegal searches are considered "fruits of the poisoned tree" and tossed out. In an American trial that would have happened to virtually all of the evidence against Amanda Knox. Essentially all the charges against her stem from early interviews of herself and Raffaele which were illegal. Their trial was an abomination and an insult to justice.

      Having a prosecutor engaging in rampant prosecutorial abuse doesn't prove you are not guilty in a moral sense, the reason he engaged in these abuses was because he was positive she was guilty. So the question then becomes given a fallacious trial, and a screwed up investigation can we go on to argue that not only should Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito be found legally not guilty but in fact are actually innocent? The answer is yes, those very same illegal statement from her earliest detention show convincing information about her state of mind which tend to disprove murder and that discussion of state of mind will be the topic of our next post.

      I'll close by commenting, I usually just whine about various news items. I don't usually even mention causes that raise money, but if you think enough is enough in this case: Amanda's Defense Fund helps both of them.