The Italian murder trial of American Amanda Knox seemed to be a case created with the producers of 48 Hours or Dateline in mind. Young American girl accused of murdering her British roommate. Party girl gone bad, heinous crime, sex. All the key elements needed to make a sensational story, which the Knox case obviously became.
Though the British tabloids convicted her long ago, Knox was formally convicted on Friday and sentenced to 26 years in prison, although the Italian justice system allows numerous appeals and retrials.
I don't have any idea what the truth is in the Knox case, but I do know I wouldn't have the most faith in the prosecution team that helped convict her. It's nearly impossible for anyone to have any confidence in the Italian system if they've read the stunning, superb book The Monster of Florence.
Thriller writer Douglas Preston wrote the book, with contributions from famed Italian journalist Mario Spezi. Preston arrives in Italy to work on a novel, but quickly finds himself drawn to the story of the serial killer known as the Monster of Florence. The killer - a Son of Sam type - haunted Florence for three decades, as seven different pairs of lovers were killed and mutilated in rural areas outside of the city. Over the years, several people were accused of being the killer, many were arrested. Some were even convicted, only to be released later when it turned out their convictions were mockeries of justice. Preston begins researching the case along with Spezi. Eventually the pair apparently do what the authorities seemed unwilling or unable to do: find the real killer.
The prosecution, led by a man named Giuliano Mignini, eventually arrests Preston and Spezi. Mignini at one point even absurdly accuses Spezi of being the Monster of Florence. The book's details are so unbelievable and outrageous that it lives up to the old cliche, no one would believe this if it was fiction.
How to sum up the absurdity of the case? This is what I wrote to a friend once:
Imagine the BTK killer who operated in Kansas for decades had never been found. Over a 25-year span, seven different people are separately arrested and charged with being the BTK killer. Three of those are actually convicted of being the BTK killer. Later, all three are exonerated. Then, in 2006, Bob Woodward is arrested for obstruction of justice and is also suspected by the police of being the BTK killer. Also, four of the people arrested and charged - including Bob Woodward - are arrested only because of the insane theories posted by a conspiracy nut on their web site. No physical evidence, just conspiracy theories dreamed up and posted online. That's the American equivalent of what happened in the Monster of Florence.
So what's this all have to do with the Knox case? Obviously it's in the same country, but it's more than that. After all, just because OJ got off for murder, doesn't mean people lost complete faith in the American judicial system (although some certainly did). No, it relates to the Knox case because the same prosecutor who famously bungled the Monster case - Mignini - was the same man who prosecuted Knox! This despite the fact Mignini was accused of abuse of office because of the Monster case. And, like in that case, he again relied on strange and bizarre theories of the crime in the Knox trial.
Remember the North Carolina prosecutor who so famously messed up the Duke lacrosse rape case, Mike Nifong? Imagine Nifong, two years after the Duke debacle, being put in charge of a high-profile rape case where he accuses six or seven foreign exchange students with the rape of a stripper. Would anyone have some doubts about his judgment? It's a similar situation with Mignini.
Douglas Preston himself believes Knox is innocent and writes about why in this interview.
Maybe we'll never get the real answer in the Knox case. But Preston's book and the Knox case give people evidence that they should probably be extra-careful if they're ever fortunate enough to visit Italy. We've long been warned in over-the-top movies like Midnight Express to never try to smuggle hashish out of Turkey, lest you end up in a Turkish prison. And Brokedown Palace taught us the dangers of smuggling in Thailand. Thank you, Claire Danes.
Not sure what the lesson is for Italy, other than hope your prosecutor isn't Giuliano Mignini.