The murder of British exchange student Meredith Kercher is amongst the most sadistically executed crimes I have ever come across. Despite loud protests from the defendants supporters who, by criticising the investigation and judicial process, seek to nullify the evidence put forward so far, this crime is and will remain a fascinating example of group violence.

Psychologists have been studying the behaviour of groups for decades and this has not been without its fair share of criticism. Early studies from eminent psychologists like Prof Philip Zimbardo have cemented ethical restrictions and guidelines on psychology research in the hope that any mistakes made by psychologists in the past will not be replicated at the expense of willing participants in the future. Unfortunately, a lot of current social, clinical and forensic psychology research on, particularly group behaviour, is based in part on instances of group violence where the ‘participant’ was anything other than willing.

When I first started reading about this case, even before I’d come across TJMK, PMF or Perugia Shock, before I knew anything concrete about the defendants post crime behaviour or had access to information that has now confirmed my suspicion, I remember my immediate thought being: more than one person was involved in this. I am and have always been of the opinion that this crime makes absolutely no sense as a single perpetrator offence; indeed one of the things that stumped me from the beginning was the lack of evidence of any kind of history of violence in any of the accused, this is in part explained by the evidence of a group dynamic which could have contributed to the level of violence in the house that night.

If we exclude the involvement of the defendants Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, the likelihood of seeing this level of violence as a first offence, especially coupled with the suggestion that Rudy Guede was originally there to steal, would all but evaporate.

Concerning Rudy Guede as a lone wolf killer

As I discussed in a previous post, the murder of Meredith Kercher can be classified as a sex related homicide. I spend a great deal of time reading literature relevant to these sorts of cases in order that I can better understand the types of people that commit violent sexual homicides and their reasons for doing so. According to a research article published in the American Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 82% of those who commit violent sexual homicides have a history of violent offences; many of them have already served time for sexual assault, GBH, armed robbery etc.

Guede had no history of violence in fact he had no record at all, not even for drug dealing as was previously thought. According to the same research article, murders committed by offenders with no history of violent behaviour are usually crimes of passion or the result of a mis/undiagnosed mental health problem. Guede did not know Meredith; Guede had no reason to go to the cottage alone, he was not in a relationship with her, in fact the two probably never even spoke and if they did the conversation probably wouldn’t have lasted more than ten seconds. Crime of passion? I think not.

Likewise with mental illness, the sorts of mental health problems that can lead to these kinds of spontaneous violent offences are often serious mental health conditions like schizophrenia and other delusional disorders; they are often debilitating and require ongoing medical treatment and assessment. Guede had friends and acquaintances and what appeared to be a fairly active social life in Perugia, if he had been delusional or ‘hearing voices’ I’m fairly sure it would have been noted by now and the defence teams for Amanda and Raffaele would have picked up on it in an instant. Similarly, if Guede had any kind of serious or debilitating mental health condition it would almost certainly have been a factor in the sentencing report and his competency to stand trial would have been called into question. This was not the case and the evidence available so far indicates that Guede was competent to stand trial and therefore it can be assumed he is able to understand right and wrong and with it, the implications of his actions that night. I see no evidence to suggest he is mentally ill.

Balance of probability

Though it is not completely unheard of for an individual with no history of violent behaviour to commit violent sexual homicide, these cases are nearly always crimes of passion or result from the actions of a person with serious untreated mental health problems, this is well supported by research in internationally renowned journals on forensic psychology and psychiatry.

Those who support the FOA and criticise the investigation are welcome to do so but continuing to assert supreme confidence in the lone wolf theory attempts to challenge pretty much every single piece of forensic literature on violent offenders there is. This has not been an easy task, which is why, rather than discussing case scenarios on these blogs, those who have ‘burdened’ themselves with the enormous task of challenging every bit of evidence against Amanda and Raffaele with the unparalleled arrogance and blatant assumption that: “everyone else is wrong  or lying and we are right, evidence doesn’t matter or doesn’t exist because we don’t want it to or because we don’t have an explanation for it, therefore it’s wrong, wrong, wrong and so are you!”

Oddly enough this strategy isn’t doing the defendants any favours, it might work online but it won’t work in the place that really matters: court. This is why these blogs have been confined to discussing the specific wording of the text message written by Amanda Knox to Patrick Lumumba on the night of the 1st of November 2007, which, despite being ever so slightly case relevant, does not change or alter the FACT that Amanda Knox falsely implicated Patrick Lumumba in the murder of Meredith Kercher for which he subsequently spent two weeks in jail and is now suing her for slander. Neither does endlessly discussing whether or not Amanda Knox was hit on the back of the head change or alter the FACT that there is DNA evidence linking her and Raffaele Sollecito to the crime scene, this is why both are on trial to determine their individual level of involvement in the murder of Meredith Kercher.

The lone wolf theory can be disbanded simply with a balance of probability. What are the chances of Rudy Guede, a young man with no history of violence, no criminal record and no recorded drug problem deciding to randomly go to the house of a girl he barely knew (or did not know at all) in order to sexually assault and kill her? What are the chances of him scaling a wall in order to break into the apartment when other points of entry would have been easier? What are the chances of him selecting that house to burgle if this was his primary motivation? What are the chances of him, independently and without consultation from the defendants or anyone else with access to this type of knowledge, knowing that Meredith Kercher would be home alone on the night of the 1st November 2007?

Then compare that with the chances of two young people being involved, both of whom knew Meredith. Amanda knew her well and lived with her. Amanda also had a key to the cottage that night and knew Meredith would be home alone. Amanda may have had a problem with anger and possibly projected this onto Meredith; she may have even hated her and there was tension between them. Then add to the equation Raffaele, a rich, spoiled kid with a major drug problem, an extensive knife collection and a penchant for violent Japanese manga comics. He lived just around the corner from Guede and could have known him or met him briefly, Amanda knew Rudy through the boys in the downstairs apartment. Even if we ignore the DNA evidence, the injuries sustained by the victim, the staging and the clean-up, the involvement of these two in addition to Guede makes a lot more sense and on a balance of probability is far more credible than any kind of lone wolf killer. Plus, the police investigating the murder had cottoned on to the odd behaviour of Amanda and Raffaele before they arrested or suspected anyone else’s involvement.

This circumstantial evidence, coupled with reliable DNA evidence which includes Raffaele’s DNA on a bra strap in a room he supposedly never entered, a knife found at Raffaele’s house, a place Meredith had never been, with Amanda’s DNA on the handle and the victims on the tip, coupled with the lies and the defendants complete lack of an alibi for their actions and whereabouts on the night of the murder really doesn’t bode well at all. How the three ended up in the room is interesting but essentially incidental, DNA evidence places all three at the scene.

Group Theory

At this point you may be wondering how Rudy’s lack of violent history is seemingly more important than Amanda and Raffaele’s, indeed you would be correct in the assumption that they are all just as unlikely candidates for a lone wolf killer as each other, but the point is, neither of them were lone wolf killers, there were in effect all part of a ‘gang’ and as such, their actions and behaviour would have been decidedly different.

There have only ever really been a handful of theories about who was present that night and the only one that suggests the crime was committed by Guede alone has already been discredited, even by Guede himself who is now claiming (whether we believe him or not) that he was not the only person in the house with Meredith that night. Guede was indisputably present in the cottage but has now claimed in his recent appeal that he was on the toilet at the time of the fatal knife wound resulting from an attack which began as the result of a row between Amanda and Meredith over stolen rent money.  At this point in time and with the evidence available so far, it is pretty clear that Amanda Knox, Raffaele Sollecito and Rudy Guede were all present in the house that night and all took part in the sexual assault and murder of Meredith Kercher. This in itself suggests a gang attack which, according to current theory on group violence could explain how three people with no history of violence could attack and kill a young woman in such a brutal way and then refuse to say a single word to implicate the other during the investigation, probably in order to ensure that in keeping this pact of silence they would not implicate themselves.

Evidence suggesting group attack/behaviour and ‘team work’

Crime Reconstruction

The evidence available so far indicates that Meredith was attacked by three people. She had 47 separate injuries on her body when she died; some were consistent with being forcibly held by her arms, whilst someone taunted her with the blade of a knife. Reconstruction of the attack places Guede behind Meredith sexually assaulting her, Raffaele to the side restraining her and Amanda facing the victim with the knife. Guede’s DNA found inside the victim, bruises on the victims arms and the DNA found on the knife supports this reconstruction. The reconstruction of the crime scene implies each individual had a ‘role’ in the attack which is indicative of a group/pack mentality.

Clean up and staging
The evidence suggests that the crime scene was staged; to suggest a burglary and a rape had taken place. Amanda and Raffaele have been charged with altering a crime scene. Rudy Guede was seen in town by a number of witnesses whilst the staging and extensive cleanup of the cottage was taking place. The clean up was good, but not good enough, DNA evidence implicating both defendants has been found. The clean up and staging suggests an element of team work. Similarly, the evidence suggests that Amanda and Raffaele cleaned up their own involvement which also implies they were willing to ‘frame’ Rudy as a sole perpetrator, which could also tell us something about the dynamic of the group and the perceived ‘importance’ of each individual within the ‘hierarchy’ of the group.

Silence pact
It appears that a silence pact is in place,  like a ‘what happened in the cottage stays in the cottage’ pact, it appears there is some sort of agreement between Amanda and Raffaele, either to avoid implicating themselves or some kind of joint solidarity. I find it interesting that Amanda voluntarily chose to go to the police station with Raffaele without needing to do so. Their behaviour following the discovery of the body was almost mirrored. Their continued behaviour reminds me of a pact, as does their refusal to speak about Guede.

Impact of group dynamic and implications for our understanding of the crime

Research has indicated that people fall into specific ‘roles’ within groups and are used to fulfilling different roles which are dependent on specific sets of circumstances and social surroundings. Some people are leaders and therefore more dominant, others prefer to blend into the background or provide support to the more dominant members of the ‘pack’.

Hierarchy is extremely important, without it society would struggle and groups would lack purpose and direction. Humans crave hierarchy; this is why we naturally assume different roles. Some naturally take charge and some naturally follow. This is true of all groups.

In any group you usually have a ‘leader’, this person is in charge of making decisions and suggestions and will look to members of the group for advice and support. Leaders are usually more dominant, more loud, more sociable and more outgoing in general. Followers are less dominant and tend to be more introverted.

Group violence and current theory

Research into group violence has indicated that violent attacks on one individual by two or more members of a ‘pack’ are much more brutal, especially in cases when the attack results in the death of the targeted victim. Attacks committed by two or more individuals on one targeted victim are significantly more likely to result in the victim’s death.

One theory which attempts to explain this is the idea of deindividuation and diffusion of responsibility.   According to Zimbardo, deindividuation is the tendency of people within groups to lose their individual identities and become anonymous members of the group, closely linked to this idea is diffusion of responsibility, which outlines the idea that an individual within a group can ‘diffuse’ their own personal level of responsibility onto that of the group, in order to avoid taking personal responsibility for actions which they perceive are the result of the group as a whole. Their actions, like with deindividuation, become that of the group and as such the line between right and wrong can become severely blurred. This process helps to explain why in most instances of group attacks resulting in the death of the victim, the attack itself is often prolonged, sadistic and extremely violent, even if the victim did very little to provoke the attack in the first place.

The murder of Meredith Kercher

The murder of Meredith Kercher is a classic example of group violence and group dynamics within violence. The evidence suggesting that the victim was held, sexually assaulted and taunted with the knife before being killed indicates a group dynamic. Each individual had their own role in the killing and in all likelihood ‘fell into’ the role as a natural extension of their own personality types. Amanda as a person is more dominant than the other two; she is more loud, more adventurous, sociable and competitive, she would in all likelihood have been the ‘leader’ of the group, the ‘puppet master’ if you like. She is at the centre of it all, as such the DNA evidence placing her in the role of knife wielder makes sense, especially with her physical build and make up. It would not make sense in terms of group dynamic and utilisation of group ‘skills’ and ‘attributes’ to have Amanda attempting to restrain Meredith, the men naturally fell into this ‘role’ knowing that they would be able to hold Meredith still. Rudy fell into his ‘role’ as the instigator of the sexual assault and appears to be the weakest ‘member’ of the group, evident by Amanda and Raffaele’s lack of loyalty and their willingness to implicate him for a crime in which they also had an active role. Add to this the theory which suggests that in instances of group violence, a certain amount of deindividuation and diffusion of responsibility leads to an increase in violence, this could explain how three people with no history of violence have either been convicted or are currently on trial for the brutal and sadistic sexual assault and murder of Meredith Kercher.

Of course we will probably never know exactly what happened to Meredith, but current theory about group dynamics in these sorts of violent attack can go a long way to explaining what happened, even when the persons responsible refuse to say a word.