December 06 2023
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‘The justice system has elements that are intrinsically psychopathic’

‘The justice system has elements that are intrinsically psychopathic’

Credit: Netflix from the documentary 'Amanda Knox'

From the documentary ‘Amanda Knox’ – out on Netflix from September 30

‘The justice system has elements that are intrinsically psychopathic’

I first became seriously involved in what is known in Italy as the ‘Caso Meredith’ in late 2009, towards the end of the first trial of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito. That was two years after the horrific murder, on the night of November 1, 2007 of the young British Erasmus student Meredith Kercher, in the flat she shared with Amanda and two older Italian women who were trainee lawyers.

It was not that I had previously been unaware of what was going on, or that I ever believed that an attractive, normal and empathic 20-year old American girl and her new Italian boyfriend could have had anything to do with stabbing her flatmate to death. But when the murder happened I was working as an endocrinologist in Hong Kong one month out of three; heavily involved in a Rotary leprosy project in Sichuan; studying Hongshan neolithic jade; as well as travelling to and from Hong Kong to Umbria and fighting with the Italian language. Also with a natural impatience, and modest Italian, it was difficult to follow the tortuous process that so often masquerades as Italy’s justice system.

  • Three False Convictions, Many Lessons: The Psychopathology of Unjust Prosecutions by David Anderson and Nigel Scott is out this month. It is published by the Waterside Press (here). It looks at three cases – Amanda Knox/Raffaele Sollecito, Stefan Kiszko and Darlie Routier The book ‘puts lack of empathy at the fore in terms of police, prosecutors’.
  • David Anderson is a former professor of medicine in Manchester and Hong Kong who was first alerted to miscarriages of justice when a former patient of his, Stefan Kiszko, was wrongly convicted of the murder of Lesley Molseed.
  • Nigel Scott is a writer and researcher and worked with Anderson on the Knox/Sollecito case.


Meredith Kercher

Meredith Kercher

Then late in 2009 something happened one evening as I watched the frenzy grow on TV to a climax in what was clearly Italy’s trial of the century. First, in the closing stages the prosecution used a cartoon film constructed at public expense only five miles down the road from where I live under direction of the assistant prosecutor.

This illustrated the prosecution’s pet theory, because, as quoted by journalist John Follain, assistant prosecutor Manuela Comodi was of the opinion that people mainly believe what they see on television. The cost of this film, which ran for 20 minutes, was €182,000, financed by myself and other payers of Italian tax. Four years later the Magistrates’ disciplinary body, the CSM, found it had been irrelevant to the proceedings (not, of course, actually prejudicial) but opined that the prosecutors had done nothing wrong.

Secondly, I saw Amanda, now fluent after her two year pre-conviction free prison Italian Language immersion course, declaring her innocence and pleading for her life. I contrasted this with the long-winded rambling and totally unempathic bombast of Giuliano Mignini, the public prosecutor. There was clearly something seriously wrong. And when they were convicted some days later I thought that I should become involved in fighting for justice, though I was not clear how.

‘Foxy Knoxy’
I realised that being English, as Meredith had been, retired on a pension, and living only 25 miles from Perugia might put me in a unique position of responsibility and opportunity. I studied the case, and talked a lot to friends and acquaintances, and soon encountered a great divide between those who had bought the official ‘Foxy Knoxy’ story (the majority) and others.

It seemed that women were especially vehement in their condemnation of Amanda for many things for which they had only the police and prosecution’s word. ‘What about the poor Kerchers?’ was a frequent lament. Others could see guilt ‘written in her eyes’. And what about the supposed cartwheels (witnessed by a policewoman Amanda said later struck her)?

At the back of my mind was the fact that a third of a century earlier a patient of mine, Stefan KIszko, had been falsely convicted for abducting and murdering an 11-year old girl, and for whom I might have fought harder.

By this time there was an active US-based Facebook group supporting Amanda, and linking with them eventually put me in contact with her family members, especially her stepfather who had moved to Umbria. I was horrified to hear of the part the family of the murdered girl, through their lawyer Francesco Maresca, seemed to be playing in sustaining the prosecution theories. The Kercher family of course, whether they liked it or not, now had a substantial financial motive of at least €10 million in compensation awarded against the families of Amanda and Raffaele.

I soon realised that the story of the serial killer nick-named the ‘Monster of Florence’, the subject of a book written by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi, interacted in at least two ways with this case. Since 2003, 18 years after the last killings, the investigations had been put under control of prosecutor Mignini and policeman-author Micheli Giuttari.

In 2006 Spezi was arrested and imprisoned for 23 days. Preston was kicked out of Italy; and Mignini himself was now being charged in Florence with abuse of powers against Spezi and 20 others, including eminent people in Perugia and Florence. And in the paperback edition of the book there was an addendum on the Kercher case, arguing innocence of Knox and Sollecito. I paid to have this translated into Italian, and circulated to important people in Berlusconi’s government.

I was also fortunate to be given a copy of an excellent critique by US scientists of the forensic evidence that had been used to convict, and I also had this translated into Italian. Subsequent trials and retrials essentially confirmed all the evidence presented in this file.

The next event of any note was when I met journalist Nick Pisa, and showed him the evidence, and at the end he said he now thought I was right. Slowly the UK press was beginning to express doubts about the conviction.

Free at last
In late November 2010 the appeal started, under judges Hellmann and Zanetti, and six new lay members of the eight person jury. It was clear that this was to be a complete re-examination of the case. I missed only one of 20 sessions as it ground on through winter, spring and summer – and I felt, with little evidence, that my being there was in some way helpful. On October 3, late into the evening, and with a hostile crowd outside the courtroom, the verdict of complete innocence was announced.

A small sop was unwisely thrown to the prosecution, saying that Amanda had been guilty of slander against Patrick Lumumba, the black man first arrested and later replaced by Rudy Guede (the real murderer). This sop gave her three years for slander (instead of the original one) of the four she had served in prison. This was to prove illogical and dangerous, and still remains so (pending the European Court of Human Rights ruling). But at least they were free. Another grave fault of the appeal investigation, repeated in every subsequent court, was the failure to do a DNA profile on semen stains on the cushion on which Meredith’s lifeless body was found. For it is surely quite simple – if it belongs to Rudy Guede he acted alone.

It is extraordinary to think that all of that was nearly five years ago. In Italy the prosecution can appeal against an appeal, and it did. The Supreme Court sent the case back for retrial (which took place in Florence from October 2013 to January 2014). That confirmed guilt, but was appealed again by the defence, finally to be heard at another session of the Supreme Court in March 2015. I was there in Rome when late at night the original appeal result was upheld. And the ‘Motivation Report’ which came out five months later is highly critical of the police but silent about the role of the prosecution.

This month is an opportune moment for our book to come out, not least because of what appears to be a great deal of pressure, even involving forensic ‘experts’ in Viterbo (where Guede is imprisoned), to sanitise Rudy Guede. In our book we look at the extraordinary case of Guede, who was undoubtedly a very disturbed young man, and examine whether forces might be at work to diminish his role to one of bit-part player.

Intrinsically psychopathic
I am not a lawyer and neither is my co-author Nigel Scott, so it takes some arrogance and cheek, you might think, for us to write about the law. But a lifetime in clinical medicine does force one to interact with all sorts of people, both as patients and colleagues. It struck me early in my readings of judicial systems, and not just in Italy, that surprisingly little seemed to have changed since the middle ages. Witch hunts were first developed and became de riguer under the master-psychopath priest Heinrich Kramer, author of Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches). Across Europe hundreds of thousands of people, often beautiful women, in waves of misogynistic terror, were tortured and burnt to death as witches.

Perhaps because I have a tendency to speak my mind I have crossed swords in medicine, with several people with clear psychopathic traits. The more I read about the neurological basis of empathy and its disorders, the clearer the picture became. The confrontational justice system has elements that are intrinsically psychopathic. Furthermore such systems can easily fall under the spell of individuals who lack the normal capacity for empathy (who we define in our book as ‘constitutional negative empaths’). Without proper safeguards this combines with the press, to exploit more normal psychological traits we all have, such as imprinting, confirmation bias, and schadenfreude. In this particular case this was further exploited by apparently interested and fixated parties, abusing the internet and social media under the shade of anonymity.

Much happened to make this whole journey a valuable and enriching late-life experience. In the late summer of 2012, Amanda’s family held a (premature) celebratory party in Seattle, to which my wife and I were invited. I had met many of Amanda’s US support group at the closing stages of the 2011 appeal, and became instant friends with many of them.

In 2012 I met Judge Michael Heavey, who early on had straightened me out via skype; I also for the first time met my co-author Nigel Scott, and we discussed writing a book jointly perhaps with Mario Spezi (who with his wife Miriam has also become a close personal friend). Then in mid – 2013 I had the privilege of meeting Judge Hellmann, who had been prematurely retired because of his court’s failure to toe the accepted prosecution line. I count the blogger-journalist Frank Sfarzo a friend, and have had the great privilege of working closely with Dr Francesco Sollecito, Raffaele’s indefatigable father, as well as Raffaele himself.

In many ways Raffaele, who was immediately put into solitary confinement before even being charged, is the unsung hero in this whole affair. It is clear that there was great pressure for him to throw Amanda under a judicial bus, as he shows in his book, which he staunchly resisted. It was Francesco Sollecito who first put me in contact with Francesco Mura, journalist and editor of a journal and now TV series Delitti e Misteri. He too has now become a personal friend.

Recommendations for reform
None of this really accounts for why I decided (with Nigel’s agreement) to broaden the book to include cases plucked from two other jurisdictions. Well, first of all I wanted to examine which of the problems highlighted in the Perugia case are specific to Italy, and how many are found in other jurisdictions from supposedly civilised countries. The Kiszko case was for me an easy choice for the UK, as he had once been my patient. The final resolution of the 1975 murder of Lesley Molseed from DNA evidence retained on sperm lifted from the girl’s clothing, onto Scotch tape, which 30 years later finally incriminated a local taxi driver Ronald Castree, provides an illustration of the responsible use of DNA (rather than the abuse highlighted in the Perugia investigations).

However it was almost by chance that I picked the US case. Spoilt for choice, I wanted an unresolved example of injustice, and chose the extraordinarily improbable conviction of a loving young mother, Darlie Routier, for stabbing to death on June 6, 1996 her two beloved boys, Damon and Devon, for which she has been held on Death Row in Texas for 20 years.

It is increasingly plausible to suggest that the Routier murders were the work of America’s most prolific and diabolical serial killer, Edward Wayne Edwards, revealed by the excellent detective work of John A Cameron. Darlie herself was also meant to die but was only saved by her necklace chain catching the tip of the knife and protecting the carotid artery; otherwise the husband Darin would have been convicted, and would surely by now have been executed. We may expect over the next few years to hear a great deal more about this psychopathic serial killer, whose modus operandi involved setting up a lover, friend, or innocent bystander for his murders and then letting the flawed US polizio-judicial system close the case while he was killing again and setting up the next false trail.

In our book we use the many defects revealed by these three cases to make recommendations for reform. If we were looking at an Olympic medal system for criminal injustice, we would award the gold medal to the USA, the silver to Italy, and the bronze medal to Great Britain.

There is certainly no room for complacency anywhere, and much work to be done in all three. And we firmly believe that such reforms should not be left solely in the hands of lawyers and judges. Whatever justice system is in place, it is run by flawed human beings, and clearly requires separation of powers to prevent contamination, destruction and fabrication of evidence. It must also recognise and correct for the existence of what we call ‘constitutional negative empaths’ who engage in their own special forms of targeted aggression, and who naturally gravitate into the prosecutorial side of justice systems.

This forms a natural home for high functioning psychopaths to operate on the polizio-judicial as well as on the overtly criminal side of the legal divide; and they need to be spotted and neutralised before it is too late. We argue that much effort needs to go into minimising the gap between ‘legal truth’ and real truth, with better recognition of the danger signs that point to miscarriages of justice.

All those concerned need to work to reduce the medieval power of what we call the judicial black hole, that can so easily suck in and destroy innocent people in the name of justice and revenge, while leaving the perpetrator free to kill again.