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Customer Review

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:


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.


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.


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.

* *


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."


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.'"


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:




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