In writing this post I’d like to extend my gratitude to Stuarthome2000, the thoughtful citizen of Perugia who has kindly given up his valuable time to provide all TJMK and PMF readers with factual and up to date information from the courtroom. There is a great deal of detail in his reports, detail that would probably not be found in newspapers who merely sum up the most dramatic events of the day, nor would they be found in one particular blog from a ‘reporter’ who claims to be objectively blogging about the case from his courtroom seat.

The Witnesses

I have written a quick rundown of the witnesses and their testimony from last weekend’s trial dates, more information and detail from Stuarthome2000’s fantastic posts on Friday and Saturday’s trial dates can be found at True Justice for Meredith Kercher

Friday the 27th March:
Saw testimony from Nara Capezzali the 69 year old widow who reported getting up to go to the bathroom on the night of the murder at around 11 or 11.30pm and hearing a chilling and disturbing scream coming from the cottage. A few minutes later she reported hearing the sounds of at least two people running in different directions. Ms Capezzali reported hearing the sound of footsteps on the metal stairs next to the parking facility outside her apartment; she also reported hearing footsteps on the pavement below and rustling in some nearby bushes. Ms Capezzali recalled being so disturbed by the scream that she was unable to sleep that night. She made herself some camomile tea before finally settling down in the early hours of the morning. Similarly, Maria Luisa Dramis reported hearing someone running up or down her street on the night of the murder at around 11 or 11.30pm. Antonella Morlacchia who lives in an apartment with a clear view of the cottage reported hearing a man and a woman arguing at around 10pm on the night of the murder.

The court also heard from Giampaolo Lombardi, the tow truck driver seen by alleged ‘super witness’ Hekuran Kokomani on the night of the murder. Lombardi testified as to having seen a dark coloured car parked in the driveway of the cottage that night, the prosecution alleges this is significant as the defendant Raffaele Sollecito drove a dark coloured Audi. The testimony of the witnesses Francesco Tavernese, Leonardo Fazio, and Antonio Galizzi were concerned with the character of Raffaele Sollecito, his time in the ONASI student centre in Perugia and his conduct in his hometown of Bari in Southern Italy. This testimony revealed that RS was shy and bashful, enjoyed kickboxing and was once arrested for possession of hashish, however drug searches in his halls of residence found nothing except for some pornography that ranged in taste from ‘normal’ to ‘extreme’.

The testimony of Leonardo Fazio, a friend of RS at the ONASI student centre corroborated the assertion that RS is shy and liked to visit the gym. Fazio also stated that he had seen RS and his co-defendant Amanda Knox in the days following the murder acting normally as if nothing had happened. This seems to both corroborate and refute testimony from Meredith’s English friends who remember Amanda and Raffaele acting ‘oddly’ at the police station after the body had been found, though it could be stated that Amanda and Raffaele behaved  like a ‘normal’ couple following the murder by kissing and petting outside the house and in the police station, going for a pizza, flirting with each other and making, for want of a better word, a ‘scene’ in a local lingerie shop, we could also conclude that AK and RS behaved anything other than normal following the murder by acting cold, distant and so strangely that it immediately roused the suspicion of people close to Meredith and investigating officers who quickly began covert surveillance of them.

Saturday the 28th March:
Saw impressive and potentially damning testimony from Antonio Curatolo the 53 year old homeless man who spends a lot of time in Piazza Grimana which has a good view of the gate leading to the cottage. His testimony was supposedly clear and concise; it appears that Curatolo is no fool and that he definitely knows what he saw. Curatolo claims he saw a man and a woman in Piazza Grimana at around 9.30 or 10pm on the night Meredith was murdered. When asked to describe the couple he pointed at Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito. He stated that they may have left the Piazza at around 11-11.30pm but definitely returned before midnight. Curatolo stated that he saw RS looking towards the gate leading to the cottage where Meredith was killed. According to a report from Ann Wise, Curatolo also claims to have seen the couple talking animatedly. Curatolo’s testimony is crucial as it places Knox and Sollecito in the vicinity of the cottage on the night of the murder when they have both claimed to be at RS’s apartment. Amanda’s lawyer Luciano Ghirga made a statement to reporters alleging that Amanda was unhappy with Curatolo’s testimony he said: “Amanda was not happy with what Curatolo had to say, because she was not there that night”, funny then that she chose not to rise and refute the testimony of this key witness by addressing the court as she is legally entitled to do under Italian law.

Raffaele Sollecito however, did address the court in response to testimony from Fabrizio Giofreddi who claims to have seen Knox, Sollecito, the victim and he alleges, with 99% certainty, Rudy Guede leaving the cottage together on the 30th October 2007. Sollecito firmly stated to the court that this witness could not have seen the four together as he had never met Rudy Guede.

The court also heard from the hugely criticised and reportedly unreliable ‘super witness’ Hekuran Kokomani who claims to have driven up to Amanda and Raffaele who were lying in the road outside the cottage on the night of the murder. Kokomani claims to have had an altercation with RS and also claims that Amanda pulled out a large knife, raised it above her head and began cursing him in Italian, he then claims to have thrown some black olives and an old Nokia phone at Amanda before taking a picture of her and RS which he later deleted, he then claims to have bumped into Rudy Guede who told him that the knife in Amanda’s hand had been used to cut the cake at a ‘party’ in the cottage. Kokomani is currently being held on drugs charges after 8 grams of cocaine were found in his house. His testimony was reportedly all over the place and it probably didn’t impress the jury and it also seems that the witness may have been talking about the night of the 31st October 2007 and not the night of the murder. Antonio Aiello, Kokomani’s lawyer took the stand to state that Kokomani had contacted him with regard to what he had seen, Kokomani agreed that his tale could wait until the lawyer returned from his holiday. Upon his return Aiello agreed to accompany Kokomani to the police station to make his statement and admitted that even he did not really understand what Kokomani claims to have seen.

The witnesses summarised
So in short we have three witnesses that claim to have heard unusual sounds coming from the direction of the cottage on the night of the murder we also have three witnesses that report seeing the defendants or a car potentially belonging to one of them in the vicinity of the cottage that night, this is damaging as they both claim to have been at RS’s apartment all night. We also have a witness that claims to have seen RS, AK, RG and the victim together two days before Meredith was killed.  Both defendants deny ever meeting or socialising with Rudy Guede. This testimony seems to refute previous testimony from Meredith’s English friends who had never seen them together or heard her mention his name.

On a little side note I find it interesting that two witnesses stated that RS was sporty, one stated that he enjoyed kickboxing. If RS was fit and did kickboxing why then does he say he wasn’t strong enough to break down Meredith’s door when she didn’t respond? So either we have a regular gym goer and a kick boxer who couldn’t break down a door (despite another young man on the scene being able to do so) or we have yet another big fib from Raffaele.

But how reliable are these witnesses? It seems that their testimony is crucial to the prosecution’s case against Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito. Does their testimony tell us anything about what happened that night or have any implications for our understanding of the crime?

Eyewitness Testimony

The reliability of eyewitness testimony has long been debated amongst psychologists and the general consensus is that eyewitnesses, on the whole either believe they have seen more than they actually have or deny what they have seen is important or relevant. Some of the factors involved in determining the reliability of a witness include:

  • Age (children are much less reliable than adults as witnesses)
  • Mental competency
  • Level of intoxication at the time of the ‘incident’
  • Drug/alcohol dependency
  • Eye sight/hearing or whether the ‘incident’ was obstructed from view
  • Weapon focus
  • Trauma
  • Attention i.e. how much they were focusing on what they were doing at the time the ‘incident’ occurred.

What took them so long?

Good defence lawyers like Giulia Buongiorno sometimes make mincemeat out of witnesses and often attempt to do so because they know that psychology research has picked several gaping holes in the reliability of eyewitness testimony. One of the points that a good defence lawyer will use in an attempt to discredit the witness is the length of time it took for the witness to make a statement to the police with information that later forms the basis of their court testimony, it is important that the witness is interviewed according to correct procedure and that they are clear of all details related to the statement which may be relevant upon cross examination by defence lawyers.

Investigators must be careful not to lead the witness during the initial interview (and in court) as this can encourage false memory ‘reconstruction’ whereby details are altered or added to the original story through suggestion by the interviewer, these details may be false or misleading. Some witnesses are more ‘suggestible’ than others, especially if they have a great deal of respect for the police or are trying to please investigating officers. The interviewer must strike an appropriate balance between encouraging the witness to think back and remember as much detail as they can and pressing them on issues which the interviewer believes may be crucial to the investigation. It’s a very fine balance and unfortunately, interviewers often get it wrong.

During last Friday’s hearing, Buongiorno fiercely grilled the 69 year old widow Nara Capezzali as to why it had taken her 20 days to come forward with information about what she had heard that night. From her window Ms Capezzali saw the arrival of the police and the crime scene investigators and was told about the murder at a magazine kiosk in Piazza Grimana the next day. Buongiorno grilled Ms Capezzali so hard about not coming forward sooner and not mentioning that she had drank a cup of chamomile tea to settle her down in her original statement, that Ms Capezzali began to cry in court possibly through frustration or intimidation. Ms Capezzali reiterated that what she heard that night was reliable and true as it had upset her. This may have impacted upon the jury who could either perceive her as being too ‘old and scatty’ to be reliable or it, more likely may have evoked a certain degree of sympathy which may ensure her testimony is well remembered and considered by the jury.

During a trial as high profile and with as much information as this, the jury are literally bombarded with information, information they are expected to remember and consider over a long period of time. The trial began on the 16th January 2009 and is expected to continue until at least the autumn, it may even continue into 2010 and it is important for both the prosecution and the defence to make an equal impact upon the jury. Nara Capezzali’s tears are sure to be remembered, as is the laugher that Stuarthome2000 reported, resulting from a big presumption made by Giulia Buongiorno as to how homeless Curatolo could have possibly known it was 9.30pm when he saw Amanda and Raffaele in Piazza Grimana, his response? “Because the sign next to the piazza has a digital clock”, he also added “and I have a watch”. Buongiorno must have been furious with herself for making the ridiculous assumption that Curatolo could not or did not have the means to tell the time and I have no doubt that the resulting laughter from this presumptuous slip-up will play a small part in ensuring the jury remember the crucial testimony of Antonio Curatolo.

Witnesses Fabrizio Giofreddi and Antonella Morlacchia were both asked why it took so long for them to come forward with the information that formed the basis of their testimony. Giofreddi stated that he was not following the case and as such had no idea it would be relevant, fortunately he told his Spanish professor what he had seen who encouraged him to go to the police. Similarly, Antonella Morlacchia did not think what she had heard was relevant either but was also encouraged to go to the police upon talking to one of her friends who happened to be a journalist.

Supposed ‘super witness’ Hekuran Kokomani was reluctant to talk to police until he had consulted his lawyer Antonio Aiello who later accompanied him to the police station to make a statement. Since he has now been arrested for possession of cocaine it would be fairly safe to assume that Kokomani was reluctant to share what he had seen for reasons much different to the other witnesses.

Factors involved in a witness coming forward with information relevant to a serious crime investigation

There many factors involved when a witness debates whether or not to go to the police with information relevant to a criminal investigation, aside from a witness not realising the importance of the information because they have not been following the investigation in the papers or on the TV, some of these factors can include:

Fear of wasting police time, not being believed or that information is irrelevant
A lot has been made of ‘wasting police time’ and older people in particular are more likely to deny the importance of what they have seen, this may be because some older people perceive they would be wasting the time of the authorities by coming forward with details about what they have seen or heard, thinking their information is ‘irrelevant’ or ‘nothing’. As a result of this some (particularly older) witnesses like Nara Capezzali are reluctant to come forward and share with police what they have seen or heard possibly due to a belief that as they are old their memory will be deemed unreliable, often these older witnesses are sharp and observant, especially if they live alone and spend a great deal of time looking out of the window or ‘snooping’ through the curtains. Older witnesses are often good time keepers and have a reasonably good memory, unless they have a condition which influences their memory or mental state. Sadly they are the often ones least likely to come forward, sometimes through a fear of wasting police time or not being believed. They may also be nervous about giving testimony or frightened of retaliation for doing so.

Fear of the police
In the same way that some witnesses have a lot of respect for, or are overly keen to help the police some are quite literally terrified at the very thought of having anything to do with the police or helping with a criminal investigation. This could be because they are involved in criminal activity, take illegal drugs, have been in trouble with the police themselves or have had a negative experience with the police in the past for whatever reason. Hekuran Kokomani was in all likelihood reluctant to go to the police as the discovery of 8 grams of cocaine in his house indicates he was either a heavy user or a small time drug dealer. Bringing his lawyer to the police station also indicates that Kokomani had a certain level of paranoia about law enforcement officials and associated being at the police station with needing to have a lawyer present. Though his testimony was disjointed and bizarre, Kokomani originally reported seeing the breakdown truck and his cell phone was pinged in the vicinity on the nights of the 31st October and 1st November, despite this I believe the jury will have trouble believing his testimony as it quite frankly seems too unlikely and too disjointed to be true, it also sounds as if Kokomani has attempted to weave into his ‘story’ certain facts that later became apparent, such as the presence of the knife he claims he saw in the newspaper. As Kokomani waited until his lawyer returned before making his statement he could have read a lot about the case and may have inserted a few extra details in order that his story sound more ‘believable’.  It will be interesting to keep an eye on developments surrounding Kokomani’s drug use/possible dealing as his presence near the cottage on the night of the murder or the night of Halloween could be relevant to the case. Similarly, as a homeless man, Curatolo may have been wary of the police or had dealings with them in the past yet I believe his decision to testify “because it is a question of conscience” makes him a more reliable and honest witness.

Bystander Effect
In areas that are quite densely populated it is common to see a kind of diffusion of responsibility in witness reporting. Some witnesses mistakenly believe that someone else must have heard what they heard or saw what they saw and will report it to the police instead. Some people do not go to the police under the mistaken belief that someone else already has or will! A tragic example of this is the murder of Kitty Genovese. It may well have been that someone else in the apartments above the cottage heard or saw something that night and didn’t come forward for this very reason.

Reliability of Witness Testimony

For the reasons listed above I believe it is unfair simply to criticise or discount the reliability of the witness testimony seen over the weekend solely on how long it took the witness to come forward with the information relevant to the investigation. However, the amount of time taken to come forward with this information could have had an effect on the ability of the witness to accurately recall specific details, as may the way they were interviewed and the questions they were asked when making the initial statement.

A number of the witnesses did not come forward until well after the crime had been committed yet some of them explained that they not feel their testimony was important or relevant to the case. These witnesses were encouraged by others who, upon hearing about what the witness had seen or heard promptly told them to go to the police, which they did. If the witnesses genuinely believed they had heard nothing or the defence claim they cannot possibly remember due to the passing of time, why then do several of the witnesses claim to have accurately remembered what they saw or heard up to a year after the murder was committed? This may in part be explained by the news of the murder spreading through Perugia which may have cemented in the witness’s minds the things they saw or heard on the days leading up to and the night of the murder. Some of these witnesses remembered enough to tell a friend what they had seen, why then should we discount them by assuming they cannot tell the court the same thing?

In a previous post I discussed how Knox and Sollecito’s claim to have been so stoned on the night of the murder they cannot remember what happened could affect their long term memory recall of the night in question; this could influence a witness in the same way. If a witness decided their testimony was not important or relevant they may cast it aside and this action may influence subsequent memory recall and be clouded over time. Similarly, a witness in their desire to help the police or be involved in the investigation may be open to suggestion or leading questions that could alter or obscure what they really saw on the night in question.

As Curatolo was homeless he may have spent a great deal of time ‘people watching’ or just watching the world go by, I’d be willing to bet that he has seen a thing or two around Perugia and has a good memory for people and places. He may or may not have been in trouble with the police but we could suggest that Curatolo has no particular allegiance with them either. Because of this he would be less likely to try and ‘please’ them with what they want him to have seen in favour of testifying to what he actually saw: Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito in Piazza Grimana looking towards the cottage where Meredith Kercher was murdered on the night of the 1st November 2007, when both defendants have claimed to be elsewhere.

Aside from Antonio Curatolo, one specific witness the court has seen so far which has stuck in my mind is Marc Quintovalle, the shop owner who testified as to having seen Amanda Knox in his shop early in the morning before the body of Meredith Kercher was discovered later that afternoon, this testimony is crucial as Knox claims to have been in bed with Sollecito at the time. Knox did not choose to stand and refute the testimony given by Mr Quintovalle. Quintovalle remembered Knox’s distinctive features and all but stated he found the defendant attractive to the court. I believe that his mild attraction to Knox and in particular her distinctive blue eyes coupled with the events that unfolded later that day cemented in his mind the brief meeting her had with her in his shop that morning.

Some Ideas and Conclusions

Though the witness testimony we have seen so far could in certain instances be unreliable and on its own should not form the basis for a case, it does help to put the events of the evening in some sort of context. It also helps with establishing the timeline of events that night and gives some sort of human ‘face’ to the evidence.

It has been noted that Amanda in particular has not stood and addressed the court as she is entitled to do in defence of testimony from various witnesses that place her outside RS’s apartment on the night of the murder, something a jury would expect her to do should she disagree with the testimony of the witness. As a result of this the jury may conclude that her reluctance to refute this testimony implies she does not dispute it’s reliability, which in turn implies she was not at the apartment with RS as she claims.

With regard to how long it took some of the witnesses to come forward I would agree that in most cases this may influence memory recall of the event, however the witness testimony we have seen so far (with the exception of Kokomani) has been received well, has showed continuity and has in certain cases refuted the defendants weak alibi as to their actions and whereabouts on the night in question.

It does matter when the witnesses decided to come forward and that will influence the reliability of their testimony, however at this important stage of the trial, the witnesses are not really contradicting themselves and bear in mind they are often being cross-examined by the ruthless and probably terrifying Buongiorno if and when they do, this is in stark contrast to Amanda and Raffaele who have contradicted themselves many times and will continue to do so until they start telling the truth.