Saturday, April 20, 2013

Rome 2013


(continued from the previous blog PERUGIA)

March 25, 2013: I'm glad I went to Italy. I'm standing here outside Italy's Supreme Court, Corte de Cassazione, in Piazza Cavour, Rome, waiting with a crowd of press and other journalists. I knew I had to be there.

It's been an interesting journey, ever since I first came across the Meredith Kercher case at HUFFINGTON POST then at PERUGIA MURDER FILE. For a while it seemed like it could go either way. Amanda Knox and Rafaelle Sollecito have been found guilty, then provisionally acquitted by Judge Claudio Hellmann, now under appeal. A strong case, vs judges wanting to get rid of the problem? In January, I decided I should try to be there, to see whether justice would prevail.. I wrote and asked for a press pass, which I received in mid February. Was in Perugia March 18-24, and Rome March 24-31.

Cassazione is in a neo-classical 19th century building at Piazza Cavour in Rome. There are two entrances, one facing the Tiber river opposite Ponte Umberto I, and the other one most people go through on the Piazza Cavour side. Three camera crews milling around outside, from NBC, CNN and RAI.

I arrive at 9:20 AM and pick up my press pass, Passi n. 342, Sezione Penalli, Corte Supremi de Cassazione March 25, 2013. The court session begins at 10:00 AM.

Find my way to the Aula Prima Penale on the second floor. Huge, wide halls, facing a large inner court yard.

Not an overly large court room. 16 seats behind the partition where the legal teams sit. I grab one of the last seats, reporters from The Telegraph, New York Times, AP, Il Giornale dell Umbria, free lancers standing around and against the walls. Visible are Kercher family lawyer Maresca, Knox lawyers Della Vedova, and Ghirga, Sollecito lawyers Maori, and Bongiorno. Raffaele's father Francesco Sollecito surrounded by large family group, but Meredith's sister Stephanie Kercher could not be there due to her mother's ill health.

10:00 AM: The 5 judges walk in. Luigi Riello, attorney general for the court, sits on the podium to the left, with Maresca on that side, the defendant's team to the right..

...There are about 40 people in the audience. Journalists, law students from La Sapienza University, Sollecito family. Note: any Italian citizen or member of the press may attend Cassazione hearings. Just show your ID.

The presiding judge discusses the order of the day. There will be other cases dealt with later, after Knox and Sollecito.

10:15 AM: Proceedings begin. Riello makes a brief statement. Judges retire behind closed doors. Speak to the law students. Some think the case is very strong, others that it hasn't been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Most seem to favour a guilty verdict.

10:35 AM: Judges return, and ask questions of Riello about the points in his appeal. Two judges then enter into a lengthy summation of the case before them, and the appeal arguments. The relatrice is a woman in her 50's, v. bright and alert.  (Judge pro) Her respondent, Judge con, is probably in his 50's, with a goatee, and he starts with a lengthy summation. It appears they are arguing pro and con, a view of an inquisitorial system arguing and then arriving at a conclusion.

Question asked of Riello. He answers, then speaks very strongly about the legality of the appeal. Then he talks about a crime of passion, with a escalating crescendo of violence. The president listens intently.

Riello starts to veer off into the evidence, instead of the law, which is what Cassazione is about. The president interrupts him, saying "if I allow you to do this, then the defense will want to do the same, and we'll be here all day". Della Vedova smiles. Seems very confident at this point. More questioning of Riello, who makes a long dissertation. Judge con questions him about the interpreter Anna Donino, and how much she influenced Amanda Knox's "confession". Riello responds.

The relatrice (Judge pro) goes on at length about Le corte de Assise, (the Appeals court of Judge Hellmann) then about Rudy Guede's role in the crime, with 'the assistance of others'. Mentions the computer hard drives as argued by the defense. Then Amanda's role in falsely accusing Lumumba, the callunia. Brilliant, but rather long summation. Both she and the other judges speak past noon, with the arguments going back and forth, at length about the evidence, about Raffaele and the knife, the computer drives, biological traces, possible motive, Knox and the arrival of the postal police, Sollecito fudging the alibi, their guilty behaviour, Knox and Lumumba again. Emphasises that it was a sadistic act.

A very strong summing up of the evidence. I fell that finally, Meredith Kercher is being considered.

Frank Sfarzo shows up. No eye contact, hmm. He doesn't know who I am, stands there texting away. (Refer to the previous blog and all references to Sfarzo~gate)

12:42 PM: The judges are still going strong, with speculation it was an impulsive crime of the moment, and the relatrice summing up of the psychological motives behind the false accusation.

1:00 PM: The presiding judge thanks her for her (long) summation.

Riello sums up at length: Strong voice, humorous asides to lawyers. Asks for the 'disability' of the ruling by the Appeals court, jokes about the internet DNA research of Conti and Vecchiotti, that the law must be respected. Makes an impassioned speech about Intenzia, Motivazione, the 'anthropological relations between Knox and Sollecito, how their reactions were not normal'. "I was there" reads as "I did it". The accusation of Lumumba. A Psychological summing up. La Ragazza (naive Amanda) visiting Italy. Of Sollecito's "I can't remember". "Insomnio, Insomnio"

Sfarzo texting away. Francesco Sollecito wondering what I'm doing there

Riello goes on at length about Lumumba. Her accusation of an innocent man was "pathological". The illogicality of the appeal ruling by Hellmann. Judge Massei, the judge of the 1st instance trial, on the other hand, had expressed his judgement logically. Knox was the brain who manipulated Guede. Normal vs abnormal behaviour. Inappropriate behaviour.

Reporters coming and going out.

Will the court send back to Florence? Multo confuzione.

President tells him to get on with it. Basta! Is he losing patience? Riello's getting a bit long winded in the argument. Asking for the proper application of the law. Repeat: asking for a ruling of the illogicality of Hellmann/Zanetti again.

Not enough people present to fill the galleries. 16 seats audience. 20-30 standees. That's it.

Riello making fun of the contaminizione. Illogical arguments of appeal to try to prove contamination. Tidies up his files; thumps the desk with both hands. Gravissimo! Guilty, with Rudy Guede. Rejecto the recorso. To allow the appeal of the Procurator Generale. Pleads to ask the calunnia (criminal defamation) conviction and sentence of Amanda Knox to stand.

Lunch break 30 minutes. Court to reconvene @ 2:35 PM.

 The sign outside the court: 1st Sezione Penale Aula.

 Lunch till 2:45 PM. Speak to reporters and law students in the hall and crowded but elegant cafeteria down stairs. Law students have a mixed view on the matter. On the one hand, that Italy's legal system is antiquated and needs to move more toward common law practices. Others, equally passionate about the inquisitorial system and checks and balances within it. Aware of American media interference and attacks on the integrity of their system. The majority view, that I can see. One woman says oh, I think she's innocent (but leans toward the case not being proven) and another, a student from Africa, says flat out he thinks she's guilty. No one mentions Raffaele

The reporters consensus seem to be that the tough questioning by the court (of Riello) indicates that Knox and Sollecito will go free. The relatrice and he had quite a discussion about the proposed remedies, and I was struck by the sheer intellectual capacity of the arguments, and responses.

Return from lunch, and Frank Sfarzo is there towards the back, so I stand beside him, observing. His hair's longer now, so he's abandoned the short sides and trim he had on Vashon island, and wearing a rumpled blue pin stripe suit, no tie. He's on some IM account scrolling and texting away. Doesn't look too shabby, honestly, so I guess someone's still supporting him. Doesn't make eye contact. Then suddenly he lets out a big sneeze. Oh dear, has someone got a cold?

3:20 PM: Giulia Bongiorno is going strong, almost argumentative. She's a good speaker, with a flair for the dramatic. Judges listening intently, as she argues about the errors in Riello's statement, arguing on the law, the imputing of malfeasance by the appeals court. Going on about Rudy Guede as the sole perpetrator as determined by the Corte de Appello.

3:45 PM: This is when I see, and Giulia does too, the court slipping away from her. She's also arguing the evidence, going on about the computer hard drives, orating, almost operatic, now using the cartoon vixen defense of Knox.

4:00 PM: Maresca walks out as she continues. Sadly, she sounds almost desperate. The president sits there, bemused as she berates him, and geez, but she's being going on longer than Riello.

4:35 PM: Carlo Dalla Vedova. A snappy dresser always. Arguing "see you later"? (the text from Knox to Lumumba) Sheesh. Now every one on the defense team is arguing evidence, and running on scared.

4:50 PM: Happy Birthday, Luciano Ghirga. (Knox's lawyer) Going on about Masons, fer crying out loud. (PM Mignini's apparent 'obsession') Paints Knox as naive, Little Miss Innocenti.

5:05 PM: Ghirga concludes, and the court adjourns right after. There will be an announcement @ 9:00 PM.

The reporters all chase out after the lawyers. They seem to get their cues from whoever they talked to. It went well, no, it didn't go well. Fascinating to see their demeanour reflected in the stories they write and give in later interviews. Frank Sfarzo sits with other Italian reporters in one corner of the hall, spinning what just happened, and what is going to happen. I feel he's still after Mignini, and as I found out in Perugia, watch out, Frank, Mignini's carrying a much bigger stick now

I make friends with the cops. Much more fun than the reporters, but seriously, I respect the journalist's craft. They're professionals, forced by their editors and news departments to write crap, fit a narrative. No mileage in the truth, sometimes, though of course for many, it's the truth as they see it.

I get a sandwich and eat it out in the hall. Everyone has to hand in their pass by 7:00 PM but we don't need new ones to come back in. I enjoy they're not as paranoid about security as we NorteAmericanos. Then I get called to the front security, grande problema; nessun problema

8:35 PM: Giulia Bongiorno takes a call. Something stressful. I think her source is telling her something from inside the court.

9:05 PM: Doors open.

9:07 PM: The judges will announce their decision tomorrow, March 26, @ 10:00 AM. (Raffaele Sollecito's birthday)

In all the foofaraw I miss a couple of important calls I could have taken to meet some people, but instead I head off home. As I walk across the Tiber on Ponte Umberto I, there's Frank Sfarzo at the lights, driving a newish SmartCar, and we look at each other, then he drives off, still texting away. I'm not going to chase after him to get his license plate, thanks, and somehow I doubt he could have imagined I'd be there.

Off to bed, and I dash off a couple of notes. What will tomorrow bring? I've had this feeling, but never wanted to engage with it. The day will bring what it brings.

This is why I got involved in the Meredith Kercher case, and which has brought me here to Cassazione. To one day, see justice be done, and my commitment sees me here in Rome. It's been quite a struggle to balance my other work and heavy family responsibilities, but I do care about the world that I will leave behind for my children, and am honored to have taken up Meredith's cause for the last three years. Yes, I get passionate about my causes, which has in the past been anti-apartheid, Vietnam war, anti-war, pro-Palestine. I even worked on the campaign to try elect a female president in Pakistan, back in 1964. Meredith's cause was simply an extension of this, but has come over the years to take on a spiritual dimension that transcends mere reasons of logic or law.

A reporter asks me: "why're you so involved?" And I reply with a question I asked a while back: what drew you to this case? It is this question, I think, that will better help us understand ourselves, but also, why Meredith was so important to us. It was about justice, but also, about our deeper spiritual selves, and our need for peace. Another reporter (they got to know me quite well in court) asked whether I was Meredith's uncle! seeing as I come from the same city as Arline Kercher. No, but I'm sure that there was an affinity based on that. Never mind. It's a good question. Why am I here? And where do I go from here?

It's been a good two weeks in Italy. I arrived on the 18th and was delayed at the train station, getting a phone; I arrive late in Perugia and miss my appointment with PM Mignini. The sun was finally out yet as I get on the train, it's pouring rain. I feel those are cleansing tears, and feel hopeful that justice will finally be done. But I'm also glad I am here, to witness it.

Perugia is an ancient city built on an Etruscan foundation; its walls contain many remnants of the older civilization. Its inhabitants have always been fiercely independent of Rome, and could care less that the sophisticated Romans think of them as er, slightly provincial, and maybe, superstitious. Me, I love every thing about it, from the chocolate to the culture and the warm, friendly people. And there is another thing that drew me to it: the Etruscan culture was very concerned with the after life and the hidden dimensions. It seems to me that while there's this huge disconnect in Western civilization between rationalism and spirituality, here in Perugia it's all a whole lot closer to the surface. I met occultists who I'm now pleased to call friends, and sense the many bright, shining spirits that hang there. Meredith had a much deeper connection to Perugia than most can imagine, so I have kept my views on this mostly out of this site, even when I felt it precluded a deeper understanding of this case or the culture of Perugia. If people wanted to call it a simple murder case, then why does it haunt those of us drawn here? I tried, in my own way, to help bridge that and create a deeper understanding.

I should also point out that PM Mignini was unfairly targeted for even hinting there were deeper, darker forces at play here in the MOF and Meredith Kercher cases. North American media played on those very same anti-supernatural tendencies by painting him as a satanism obsessed prosecutor, and in so doing, allowed some serious criminals to walk free. Even when some native commentators on TJMK and PMF discussed the deep hold masonry has on the Italian polis I felt those references went over the head of most people or were politely ignored. That's sad, really. I do not speak for him or claim to know what his views on the supernatural are, but failure to understand the underlying Perugian culture seriously impedes our understanding of this and the related MOF case, and gives his enemies a free rein to continue attacking him. And us from defending him. IMHO. Me, I can always walk away from it, but I am here for a reason.

The train from Perugia arrives in Rome the afternoon of the 24th, and it's gloriously sunny. Yet, that night in my hotel room, I'm woken by a heavy storm and lightning that once again, feels like cleansing tears.

It's sunny but cold the morning of the 25th, so I make my way to Cassazione and am there till after 9:00 PM, when the announcement is made that the court will render its decision the next day, 10:00 AM, March 26, 2013. Regardless of what many are now saying it was clear the appeal would be won, the fact is the consensus among the reporters in court that night was that Knox and Sollecito would win. But I saw Bongiorno's face fall when she received that call at 8:35 PM, and believe that is when she found out which way the decision would go (Which is why Papa Sollecito and Frank Sfarzo weren't in court the next day)


9:30 AM, March 26, 2013: I'm there early. It's a bright sunny day, and I am hopeful. New shirt and tie, and the briefcase of course:) Some reporters are lost, but I've been in and out so many times I lead them through the many halls, elevator from the cafeteria, right then left, left.

10:00 AM: The doors open, and we go in. Standing room only. The judges enter at 10:05 AM, and at 10:07 AM, bang! a complete victory for the appeal, and the decision read in less than 60 seconds by the presiding judge. Complete, shocked silence in court. Maresca dashes over to hand some papers to the bench, and the lawyers huddle together. Outside, the defense put on a brave face, but they look shell shocked, the defeat is complete.

I shake Maresca's hand, and head out. He says to the waiting reporters, at least now they know they will get a fair hearing in Florence, but really, this is his style. He won't gloat about what was the end of a long and shameful episode in the treatment of this case.

But first, I go to public relations to get a copy of the dispositivo (they had to call the court clerk's office to have it sent down to them and it appears I got the first copy, no one else had asked by 10:30 AM) and I pass it on to the other reporters so they head off to the clerk's office to get their copies. I also find out how to get a copy of the reasoning report when it is released in the future.

Then I go out and watch the reporters file their stories with the waiting TV cameras. Watching the reports on the news later, I ask: Are these the same people that complained to me about how the story was 'worth nothing as compared to real problems' they'd rather be reporting, like war and the economy? That 'it doesn't matter at all except to the families'? I replied that well, justice is always important but they said the only reason they were there was because their head offices wanted to push the story. (Funny, but when I returned to Piazza Cavour two days later there was an NBC crew from London complaining about how they should have been on their way home but were still there for reasons undetermined

I spend the rest of the day meeting reporters and once again, the rain starts to fall. Let it pour. I find it cleansing, healing.

Tomorrow, I'm going to start enjoying my vacation. But tonight, I will find Pesci Fritti, a small trattoria off piazza dei Satiri, and, enjoying my dinner, raise a glass to the Kerchers and to Meredith. RIP, Meredith Kercher.

Why did I go to Italy? Whatever I do, there always is a reason, or many,  that compelled me. The many spirits of Perugia. Past lives in ancient Etruria (the homeland of the Etruscans, corresponding to Tuscany and Umbria and Rome itself. Papal politics, which I have been following since the assassination of Pope John Paul I and the Banco Ambrosiano scandal. Italy, that has drawn me since I was young; the assassination of PM Aldo Moro and the masonic lodge Propaganda P2, Italy's role in facilitating the Iraq and Libyan wars. Much karma here, and the earthquake was a message. But never mind that. I will do my healing work here, much as I did in Tehran 2007, then return home.

But there always is the personal: people who have been haunted by the case, in Italy and also at home. What can I do but try to help? I draw the Tarot card, "Justice". Yes, I bring justice, and I bring karma. Wherever I go, there is change, and I don't even try to change things, just be.

Why am  I here? Well, the people I met through the case. So many people in need of help, from the woman who was a healer yet afraid to express that side of herself, to the man still grieving over the death by suicide of his parents, to the woman whose thesis was going no where. Each of these, and many more, I helped. The people in Perugia I have met before, the streets of Rome where every step brings back memories...the people I ask: where do you go from here? This is what I do.

Where do I go from here? I don't know. The future will bring what it brings. But in  the end, this is the memory I take back home to Toronto:

Me, waiting here outside Cassazione the evening of March 25, waiting for the judges to come back.

Waiting, for justice.

1 comment:

Kathleen Kempker said...

I read this series like a hungry an immigrant reading a letter from home.
What can I say, except thank you. Thank you.

Your friend, Bettina