There are times when faith in the American criminal justice system is severely tested. There are the cases of death row inmates who served many years in prison before being exonerated by DNA evidence. Their lives were still ruined, but at least they are still alive, unlike those who were wrongly executed before the technology existed to certify their guilt. And then there are celebrated cases like the murder trials of O.J. Simpson and Casey Anthony, where trial observers felt sure the accused was guilty, but the juries did not feel they had been presented with the legal evidence to prove it.
Cheer up, America. Italy has made us look like the ideal.
The prosecution of American student Amanda Knox was troubled from the start. True, it’s natural, and understandable, to look to the roommates, boyfriends and girlfriends of a murder victim as possible suspects. But the Italian prosecutor—having hatched a bizarre theory about a crazy sex game gone horribly wrong—appeared more concerned about sticking to his theory than letting justice prevail. The forensic evidence in the case was iffy, at best, but prosecutor Giuliano Mignini wasn't about to back down. Instead, the prosecution portrayed Knox as a drinking, drug-using, sex-crazed siren who collaborated with her boyfriend (whom she had been dating little more than a week) to rape and murder her roommate, Meredith Kercher.
As the Guardian ably reports, Mignini has credibility problems of his own. He is now appealing a 16-month sentence for prosecutorial misconduct in another case (although he has been allowed to keep working during that time). Mignini believes he was thwarted in his earlier investigation of the "Monster of Florence," and told the Guardian he feels victimized—which should be astonishing to Knox and her family, who must have felt they were living in a Perugian Kafka novel.
The interrogating police apparently feel victimized, too: when Knox complained that she had been ill-treated by police during the initial inquiry, her parents repeated her statements on television. The response from the Italian authorities? Not an apology, or commitment to look into it. The Knoxes were changed with libeling the police.
Knox has been freed, after an appeals court said the evidence did not support her guilt (in a bizarre element of the Italian criminal justice system, the court could have actually increased Knox’s sentence to life in prison, if it wanted). But Mignini wants to appeal the appeals court decision, an option not afforded to American prosecutors. As Knox left the courtroom Monday night, local protesters yelled "Shame! Shame!" Perhaps they should reconsider their target.