on 20 January 2014
"A Death in Italy" is the same book as Follian's earlier "Death in Perugia." I have both in U.S. editions, and the only difference is a 2 1/2 page addition at the end of the newer title.
Turn to any page, and the text is identical.
Here is my review of "Death in Perugia," which applies equally to "A Death in Italy":
The premise is admirable. John Follian, a London Times journalist who covered this case from the day of the murder, lays out an unbiased account of the bare facts. He has interviewed most of the key participants and witnesses, and quotes them at length. They tell us exactly what they saw and how they felt.
The reader, armed with this information, should now be in a position to judge for himself what really happened.
Says Follain, "I have done my best to give a voice to as many of those involved as possible, with the help of both case files and author interviews, and with the aim of writing an objective, chronological account". We do indeed get the impression, turning these pages, that Follian is objective. He neither judges nor insinuates, and presents facts in crisp, clear, unambiguous prose.
And herein lies the problem.
Many things his participants say are now known to be false or at least not what they seem, but Follain is too objective to tell the reader this. Even worse, many official "facts" are also known to be untrue, or at the least poorly understood due to conflicting accounts and questionable witnesses. Follain "cures" all such ambiguity by simply omitting it, giving us a simple, unambiguous, but arbitrary and selective account.
This problem is fatal and best illustrated by specific examples:
(1) AMANDA'S VIBRATOR AND CONDOMS
Follain - p. 29
Sophie Purdon tells Follain "... when Amanda first arrived at the cottage, Meredith said, she'd put a beauty case in the bathroom, with a vibrator and some condoms clearly visible. `How's it possible, you arrive and ... I can't believe it, she left it on display. It's a transparent beauty case and it's there for all to see!' Meredith said with a laugh."
The above may indeed by an accurate account of what Sophie said, and even of what Meredith told her. But out of fairness here is how Robyn Butterworth testifies about it in court --
Candace Dempsey (Murder in Italy): pp 278-79
Although all four flatmates were sexually active and smoked marijuana, [Mignini] now portrayed Amanda as the depraved girl in an otherwise conventlike household who had exposed her British roommate to sexually explicit materials. The shocking news was that Amanda had kept a clear plastic bag on the floor under the sink... filled with her own personal toiletries. ... Meredith had once shown it to Robyn.
"What were the contents?" Mignini asked her.
"Meredith pointed out a beauty case with condoms and I think a vibrator," Robyn said ...
So why were the two British girls checking out Amanda's toiletries, stored in a clear plastic bag in the American girl's own bathroom? Robyn didn't want to explain.
"Did you see the condoms? Did you see the vibrator?" Mignini kept pressuring her.
"I did not look inside the bag," Robyn finally said, adding that she was only in the bathroom to brush her hair.... No, she finally admitted, she could not see the objects inside. Nor did Mignini explain why seeing a condom would shock anyone since condoms with devilish names were displayed in Italian drug stores and could be purchased on street corner machines, even right across from the University for foreigners.
Nonetheless, Amanda's condoms and vibrators lit up that day's coverage.
* * *
Although Follain quotes from Amanda's diary a lot, he neglects to quote the passage about Meredith bumming condoms from her.
(2) A SCREAM IN THE NIGHT
Follain, pp 56-57
Nara Capezzali, a short, stout widow in her late sixties... went to bed at 9:30 pm. ... She slept for two hours or a little more - she wasn't sure precisely how long... [she]...walked towards the bathroom. As she passed the large window in the dining room... she said later: "I heard a scream... such a scream ... an agonizing scream which gave me gooseflesh." The scream went on for a long time and she heard it very clearly. It was a woman's scream, and she thought it came from the cottage. ... "Two seconds, maybe a minute after the scream ... she heard the sound of someone running on the iron staircase. Almost at the same time, she heard a "scurrying" sound, as if someone was running along the cottage's drive of stones and dry leaves.... She went back to bed... Capezzala lay awake for some time, still shocked by what she'd heard.
* * *
What Follain neglects here is that, obviously, the next morning the cottage across from Capezzala's apartment was a major crime scene with police everywhere. The story of the murder made newspaper headlines and was the lead story on TV news. But Capezzala did not come forward with her story for an entire month -- until Amanda was in jail and the story had become the sensation of Europe, the U.K., and America.
Capezzala did not call the police. She called a local TV station, which sent out a camera crew to interview her. She gave them a tour of her apartment and showed them her view of the cottage. Her story appeared on local TV news. The police saw the story on television, and got her to repeat it in court at trial. It was convenient for Mignini that she was unsure of the exact time, because his theory was constantly changing. Capezzala need merely testify to what she "heard," and they supplied her with the time.
Bruce Fischer (Injustice in Perugia) pp 181-82
The scream was allegedly so "blood curdling" that Nara did not bother to look at the time or call the police. Her daughter, who was in bed, did not even wake up... The next morning, Nara mentioned this alleged scream to no one. Three other witnesses testified to having been near the cottage at the time Nara claims she heard a scream. These three witnesses were dealing with a broken down vehicle in front of the cottage, yet none of them heard a scream.
(3) AMANDA BUYS G-STRING UNDERWEAR
Follain: p. 113
At about 7 p.m., Carlo Scotto di Rinaldi, owner of the Babbol clothes shop off Perugia's main square opposite the cathedral, noticed a young couple walking around in his store, caressing, kissing, and embracing each other in such a way that customers kept looking at them. The young woman chose a thong and a pullover and, as they neared the till to pay for them, the owner overheard the young man tell her in English: "Later you'll put them on at home and we'll have hot sex..."
A few days later, the shop-owner recognized the couple as Amanda and Raffael. He called the police, thinking that what he'd seen might be of use, and handed over footage from the shop's CCTV.
Nina Burleigh (The Fatal Gift of Beauty) - p 181
When the police sent them home early Saturday evening, Amanda and Raffaele went shopping. Amanda needed some clean underwear. She had her period and was still wearing the clothes she'd put on the morning before Meredith's body was found. She and Raffaele went to Bubbles, one of the cheaper of the overpriced clothing shops in the Perugia centro... The underwear, lots of thongs, were laid out on a table. The loss-prevention camera captured Amanda and Rafaele together at that table at 7 pm, picking through the lingerie, stopping to hug and kiss.
After they were arrested, the video was valuable and the owner sold it and his own narration, including his memory of Raffaele saying, "Now we'll go home and have wild sex," to the Italian television networks, which looped it alongside the tape of the couple hugging outside the murder house. Raffaele's father sued Bubbles for releasing it.
(4) AMANDA'S FALSE ACCUSATION OF PATRICK
Follain clearly does not believe the defense claim that 20 year old Amanda was interrogated by angry adults for up to 14 hours without sleep, bathroom break, or refreshments. The police insisted she was not pressured, nor did they make suggestions. She was treated well and given plenty of refreshments.
Police suspected Meredith's killer was black because black hairs were found in the murder room. There were few blacks in Perugia. Suspicion fell on Patrick because he knew both Meredith and Amanda. They believed Amanda must have had a grudge against Meredith, and used her key to let him in the house. They say Amanda's confession came about like this: At one point in the interrogation they looked through her phone and found a text message sent to Patrick the night of the murder, saying "See you later". When confronted with it, she realized the game was up, "collapsed," and "spontaneously" confessed everything.
Follain buys this story completely -- pp 135-36:
During the questioning, detectives repeatedly went to fetch her a snack, water and hot drinks including chamomile tea.
Asked why she hadn't gone to work at la Chic on the evening of Thursday, 1 November, Amanda replied that she'd received a message from Patrick at 8:18 p.m. telling her that the bar wouldn't open that evening because there were no customers...
Amanda said she hadn't replied to the message, but a detective showed her that her reply was still on the display on her mobile phone. "Sure. See you later. Have a good evening!" the message read. ...
When the message was shown to her, Amanda suffered what the interpreter described as an "emotional shock". She lifted her hands up to her head and put them over her ears, hunched her shoulders forward and started crying.
"It's him! It's him! He did it! I can hear it," she burst out. Shaking her head, she added: "He's bad, he's bad."
* * *
Based on this confession police arrested Patrick, Raffael, and Amanda, and famously declared "case closed".
But Patrick had an alibi and had to be released.
Follain neglects to tell us -- as Judge Hellman would later point out -- that if Patrick is innocent the police version no longer makes sense. If anything, Hellman writes, naming Patrick suggests Amanda was innocent.
From the Hellman Report:
"Now, since Lumumba was in fact uninvolved in the murder, the emotional shock cannot be considered to have arisen from her having been caught (doing what, exchanging a message with a person who had nothing to do with the crime?), but rather from having reached the limit of emotional tension.
"It is indeed totally illogical to suppose that Amanda Knox, if she actually had been a participant [concorrente] in the crime, could have hoped that naming Patrick Lumumba -- whom in such a case she would have known to be entirely uninvolved and far, even physically, from where the crime took place -- would have helped her position in any way; it would, if anything, have been easier for her to indicate the real perpetrator, even while stressing her own absolute innocence: after all, she lived in that house, and for her to have been in her own room at the time of the crime, perhaps actually entertaining Raffaele Sollecito as held by the first-level Corte di Assise, would have been entirely normal, and would certainly not have entailed responsibility for a crime committed by others in the next room.
"Thus for Amanda Knox, in the event that she had been inside the house on Via Della Pergola at the time of the murder, the easiest way to defend herself would have been to indicate the true author of the crime, [who would have been] present in any case inside the house, because this would have made her credible; and not to instead indicate a totally innocent individual, whom she had no reason to hope would be without an alibi, and who might have been able to refute the account she had provided to the police."
"To determine the real significance [per valutare la reale portata] of the "spontaneous" statements and the note written practically right afterward, we must take into account the context in which the former were given and the latter was written. The obsessive length of the interrogations, carried out during [both] day and night, by more than one person, on a young and foreign girl who at the time did not speak Italian at all well, was unaware of her own rights, did not have the assistance of an attorney (which she should have been entitled to, being at this point suspected of very serious crimes), and was moreover being assisted by an interpreter who -- as shown by Ms. Bongiorno -- did not limit herself to translating, but induced her to force herself to remember, explaining that she [Amanda] was confused in her memories, perhaps because of the trauma she experienced, makes it wholly understandable that she was in a situation of considerable psychological pressure (to call it stress seems an understatement [appare riduttivo]), enough to raise doubts about the actual spontaneity of her statements; a spontaneity which would have strangely [singolarmente] arisen in the middle of the night, after hours and hours of interrogation: the so-called spontaneous statements were made at 1:45 am (middle of the night) on 11-6-2007 (the day after the interrogation had started) and again at 5:45 am afterward, and the note was written a few hours later."
(5) THE BRITISH GIRLS
Follian gives the British girls a disproportionate amount of space when you consider they were not involved and only knew Meredith and Amanda for about six weeks. He not only quotes them in dialogue but even tells us what they were thinking:
"Just then, Amanda walked into the waiting room. `God, what she's gone through...' Sophie thought to herself and quickly went up to her. `Oh Amanda, I'm so sorry!' Sophie exclaimed as she instinctively put her arms around her and gave her a bear hug. Amanda didn't hug Sophie back. Instead she stiffened, holding her arms down by her sides. Amanda said nothing. Surprised, Sophie let go of her after a couple of seconds and stepped back. There was no trace of emotion on Amanda's face." (pp. 90-91)
Follian presents the above as objective fact based on his interviews long after the murder. Burleigh suggests such interviews represent hindsight in a scramble to distance themselves after Amanda was crucified in the press:
Nina Burleigh (The Fatal Gift of Beauty) p. 233
"Based on records of the Kercher murder investigation, from police witness conversations that took place at the questra, and later, after Amanda's statement and arrest ... Amanda's chief accusers - the British girls - shared different memories before and after the arrest. In their first conversations at the questra, none told police that Meredith disliked Amanda. ... Six weeks later, interviewed in Bergamo in northern Italy, with Amanda's confession widely disseminated, the British girls first began recalling Meredith's unease about Amanda's bathroom habits and her weird boy friends. They also talked about their own impressions of Amanda in the questura, hours after poor Meredith was murdered, about watching her making out with Raffael at the questura, her curious callousness."
Burleigh, p. 256:
"The `British girls' arrived at the Tribunale together on February 13, 2009, tweedy, peaches-and-cream-complected sylphs who moved as a pack. Their testimony was so similar that observers thought they seemed robotic or coached. They repeated exactly what they had shared with police in Bergamo in 2008, when they described Meredith's annoyance with Amanda's strange male visitors, guitar playing, and hygiene, and Amanda's callous behavior at the police station...
"Amanda Knox reportedly turned to her lawyers and said, `Wow, it didn't take long for them to hate me.'"
(6) POLICE MANIPULATION OF MEDIA & THE TABLOID FRENZY
Nina Burleigh wrote in the Los Angeles Times:
"When I went to Perugia in 2009, as Knox's testimony began, to research a book on the case, I didn't know whether she was guilty as charged, but I was certainly willing to believe it. ... After a few weeks in Perugia, I saw that there was something very wrong with the narrative of the murder that the authorities and the media were presenting. There was almost no material evidence linking Knox or her boyfriend to the murder, and no motive, while there was voluminous evidence -- material and circumstantial -- implicating a third person, a man, whose name one almost never read in accounts of the case. It became clear that it wasn't facts but Knox -- her femaleness, her Americaness, her beauty -- that was driving the case."
A few others such as Candice Dempsey and the blogger Frank Sfarzo came to the same conclusion. As for the rest, Bruce Fischer writes (Injustice in Perugia, pp 53-55):
"Amanda was mistreated horribly by the media ... headlines about [her] were ... seen around the world, long before any evidence was even collected. With the help of the media, prosecutor Giuliano Mignini's fictional character - the satanic, ritualistic c sex-crazed killer Foxy Knoxy - was born. ... The press declared [her] "a devil with an angel's face." She was called a she-devil: a diabolical person focused on sex, drugs, and alcohol. Her MySpace page was dissected. Photos that would normally be found on any twenty year old's MySpace account were perceived as sexual. ... The prosecution successfully used the media to assassinate Amanda's character. ...She was found guilty in the court of public opinion long before her trial began."
This is no small omission in Follain's "objective" account. The above helps to explain, for example, why the British girls later remembered things differently. And why witnesses -- like the woman who heard a scream in the night, and the grocer who reported sold her bleach -- were unearthed not by the police but the media.
Follian modestly omits his own part in this saga. Headlines that appeared under his byline include:
AMANDA KNOX, `FOXY KNOXY', REVEALS HER LESBIAN TRAUMA
AMANDA KNOX SNARED BY HER LUST AND HER LIES
FOXY KNOXY THE `SHE-DEVIL' WAITS SERENE
DIARY REVEALS FOXY KNOXY'S SEX SECRETS
on 23 January 2012
Amidst the media hurricane that engulfed this case, Follain brings in to sharp focus those at its centre.
Claims that the book allows you to reach an informed view though, seem misplaced. This being due to issues of selectivity, omission and lack of analysis. Follain's aim is to provide an objective account, but does he always reach this benchmark?
This account, 433 pages, doesn't discuss the trails until p263. Pr-trial he often relays events through the eyes of those who believe of Knox's/Sollecito's involvement, a literary strategy that hardly seems impartial. Follain relays views regardless of any potential bias, or lack of probative or evidentiary value they may have. He provides little critical analysis & only intermittent counterpoint.
Omissions include evidence challenging the simulated burglary hypothesis, flatmate testimony, analysis of luminol tests, footprints, blood, & bathroom traces. Medical testimony seems selective; Follain omits that p295 Dr Lalli "excluded the biological data alone could indicate the presence/action of several people against the victim". Likewise he omits that Professor Bacci p296 testified "in the case of group violence the signs are very obvious & such evident injury signs were absent". Forensic DNA aspects seem uneven; 7 pages to Stefanoni's prep/testimony p303-309 while only 2 paragraphs to professor Tagliabracci's challenging testimony p334. Stefanoni's out of court comments are never challenged scientifically. At appeal, Follain covers the breach of rules for LCN DNA testing p404 but only covers one aspect of this p406. Questioning of court appointed experts seems brief: he covers laboratory contamination of the bra clap but not the knife 409/10-(other than reference to control tests, results of which the book doesn't discuss). Regarding contamination away from the lab he covers only the knife and not the bra clasp (other than one area, the gloves) p410
Follain's fly on the wall style isn't always consistent. Relaying the police interrogation Nov 5th/6th p134/37, he stays in the moment - not highlighting later refutations. Yet p162, a taped prison visit between Amanda & her mother, his technique differs. When Amanda alleges police misconduct, this is all too much for Follain, he interjects "a claim later denied by police". He does the same p167, a visit with Amanda's lawyer, inserting a later press statement & p243 an interview with Amanda's parents, again he intervenes " the police denied this account". The breach in law, as ruled by the Supreme Court p238, he describes as a "reprimand for Mignini" but Follain remains silent on the absence of audio recordings for 6th, not discussing such a legal requirement. This seems curious for he uses the phrase "on the record" twice p134/136, & moreover he supplies many quotes lifted from other police recorded sessions. Equally odd, is the romanticized portrayal of prosecutor Mignini.
At times I wondered if Follain had subtly changed the dynamic of events, artistic license perhaps. Follain relays 3 calls between Amanda & Filomena the morning after the murder p63, even though there were 4. He asserts Filomena told Amanda to call police on the first call, but this was in a later call. He holds after the first call, Filomena tried to call Meredith twice, yet phone records show it was Amanda who made these calls. Later, he is creative when describing how in " Filomana's room, the luminol tests revealed two blood stains" p218, making no reference that TMB luminol tests for blood were all negative. Again p171 on the knife tests for blood, he holds" the negative result could be due to the tiny size of the samples", but Amanda's DNA samples weren't tiny, only Meredith's. Likewise, he truncates testimony: when quoting Rudy at the appeal p402 he omits " well like I told you earlier, this is a thought that I've always had in my head, it's a thought that in any case in the end I decided to put in written form..It's not as if there is my truth...". Excluding this part creates the impression Rudy actually saw them at the cottage, which isn't the case. He's talking about a "vision" he's always had. Follain fails to clarify this.
Other times I sensed Follain leading me down the garden path: a policeman is "taken aback" when Raffaele says " We're tired, can we go home" p96 - but Follain is nebulous as to timings. How long had they been there when they made such requests? Had they already been questioned? He admits p99 "Amanda & Raffaele spent the whole night at the police station".
P34 he holds Amanda "badgered" Meredith to go for a drink and p40 "not wanting to be on bad terms with her flatmate" Meredith went to a chocolate festival. None of Meredith's British friends were present on these occasions, yet Follian ascribes negative emotional contexts to them. Why? Similarly, p39 Follain relates a time the 2 girls were with Giacomo, Meredith's boyfriend. Why doesn't he include evidence of Giacomo's impressions of the girls relationship during this period? Giacomo's later testified there were no particular problems, only the complaint about cleaning. During the trial too, Follain often quotes from unnamed investigators & provides no counterpoint.
The conclusion doesn't clarify, in Italy there are two levels of not guilty: Reasonable Doubt (Not Proven) & Innocent (not having committed the crime). The appeal verdict being the latter. I enjoyed the book, Follain's an astute writer & there is some balance, but it's not consistently maintained. The book reads well & it's tone is restrained. Neutrality though is another matter & claims of true objectivity don't stand up to scrutiny.