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article imageOp-Ed: DNA laboratory fraud revealed in Amanda Knox case Special

By Bruce Fischer     Jun 16, 2014 in Crime
The Meredith Kercher Murder case takes another twist as information emerges that the lab responsible for DNA testing had faulty equipment and that data seems to have been intentionally withheld from the court and defense.
New information in the Meredith Kercher Murder case has now emerged alleging that Patrizia Stefanoni, the lab technician responsible for DNA testing on behalf of the prosecution, committed scientific misconduct by suppressing data from faulty equipment and falsifying evidence in order to support the prosecution’s case.
Meredith Kercher was murdered in 2007, in Perugia, Italy. Three people were charged with the crime, Amanda Knox, Raffaele Sollecito, and Rudy Guede. Guede’s conviction was finalized and he is currently serving a 16-year sentence. Knox and Sollecito have been locked in a legal battle that continues to this day. Both were convicted in 2009, and then were declared innocent on appeal and released in 2011. The two were then convicted once again in 2014, and have yet another appeal upcoming most likely in the fall of this year.
New evidence has now surfaced suggesting that scientific misconduct may have contributed to the wrongful convictions of Knox and Sollecito. The alleged misconduct concerns a sample from the tiny metal hook of Meredith Kercher’s bra clasp, which is the sole piece of DNA evidence that the prosecution claims can be attributed to Raffaele Sollecito. No other evidence of any kind was ever found in the room where the murder occurred that implicates Knox or Sollecito.
Careful analysis of the Italian Scientific Police's Lab Data reveals there was contamination in the machine when the famous bra clasp trace was being tested and the laboratory equipment was malfunctioning during that testing. However, complete records of the equipment failure have been suppressed from the data that was released by the prosecution in July of 2009. This data was also denied to the court appointed independent experts, Carla Vecchiotti and Stefano Conti, of the University of Rome — La Sapienza, during the first appeal trial.
This apparent perversion of the course of justice was discovered by Dr. Tom Zupancic, Chief Scientific Officer of Applied Biomolecular Technologies and Chris Halkides, Professor of Biochemistry at UNC Wilmington. Both scientists are members of the Injustice Anywhere advisory board, an organization that I co-founded. Injustice Anywhere currently advocates for eight cases, including Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, through our organization Injustice in Perugia (IIP) — an international organization made up of lawyers, criminal investigators and advocates who are volunteering to assist Knox and Sollecito in their fight for justice.
Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito
Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito
wrongfulconvictionnews.com
The validity of the bra clasp evidence has been heavily scrutinized long before this new information came to light. Investigators were left to scramble early on in the investigation when it was revealed that a bloody shoe print originally attributed to Sollecito did not match his shoe tread. The print was actually a match for Rudy Guede. This left the authorities with nothing to hold Sollecito in custody for the crime.
With the renewed challenge to implicate Sollecito, Investigators headed back to the cottage and miraculously found exactly what they needed, collecting the bra clasp off the floor in Kercher’s room, 46 days after her murder, from an unsecured and contaminated crime scene. In an odd spectacle, police video footage reveals investigators gathering around this single piece of evidence as if they already knew they had what they needed. During their celebration, the clasp was dropped on the floor, stepped on, picked back up, and then passed between several investigators wearing visibly dirty gloves as if it was a prized possession. Video footage also shows these same investigators handling multiple pieces of evidence on the floor wearing the same gloves.
Stefanoni’s findings detailed a minuscule sample from the clasp showed a DNA profile that was a partial match for Sollecito as well as DNA from several other males, which strongly suggests contamination. Sollecito was at the apartment on several occasions so finding his DNA would be no surprise. Sollecito also attempted to break down Kercher's door the morning the body was discovered. Two of his finger prints were found on the outside of the door from that event. Investigators very likely made contact with that door with the same gloves used to handle the clasp.
The new information not only reveals that there were severe problems with the DNA data, it also suggests that Stefanoni committed perjury. When asked specific questions at trial about contamination in her lab, Stefanoni told the court that no contamination has ever occurred in her lab.
On May 23, 2009, Stefanoni testified as follows:
PM Mignini: Listen, how many years have you been doing this work?
Stefanoni: Nearly 7 years.
PM Mignini: Approximately 7 years. Have you worked on cases similar to this?
Stefanoni: Yes. Yes, yes.
PM Mignini: Many similar cases?
Stefanoni: Yes, various cases of similar complexity, basically, yes.
PM Mignini: Do you remember if you’ve always followed the same method?
Stefanoni: Yes.
PM Mignini: In the way you basically collected the samples and then in the analysis?
Stefanoni: Yes.
PM Mignini: Right, do you remember any confirmed contamination of samples?
Stefanoni: No, such a problem has never been highlighted to me.
PM Mignini: So you have absolutely no recollection [of such a thing]… and you have always followed this same method that you have described to us today?
Stefanoni: Yes.
Stefanoni’s testimony led Judge Giancarlo Massei to conclude that there was no laboratory contamination, as noted in his motivation document explaining his ruling to convict Knox and Sollecito in 2009:
“In response to a specific question on this point, Dr. Stefanoni declared that she had been working as a biologist for seven years, had always used the same methodology, and had never heard that any problem of contamination of exhibits had occurred.”
The new-found data appears to show that Stefanoni knowingly lied in court, leading Judge Massei to be negatively influenced by the erroneous information.
Data continues to be suppressed to this day
The recent analysis by Zupancic and Halkides further highlights the suppression of information by the prosecution in this case. The data indicates that there was contamination in the machine when the bra clasp was analyzed, meaning that many other samples could have been contaminated during that time. Zupancic and Halkides also uncovered the fact that the prosecution concealed data for the alleged murder weapon as well. Their analysis shows that Raffaele’s kitchen knife profile was generated within a set of tests for which 90% of the results have been suppressed, which according to Zupancic and Halkides, strongly suggests the occurrence of a severe contamination event that the prosecution has never explained. Unfortunately, no electropherograms have ever been presented by the prosecution. The issues with Stefanoni's work can only be clarified through the full disclosure of the EDF files, if they still exist. Until there is full disclosure, many questions will remain.
Zupancic recently gave a presentation at a forensic DNA conference hosted by The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, highlighting his findings. Zupancic spoke with Komo News about the event.
"American attorneys ... were stunned to hear how the Italian forensic analysts and prosecutors connected to the Knox-Sollecito case manipulated and withheld evidence in this case," he said. "Such behavior would never have been tolerated in the American system. It shows an inherent contempt for fairness, the concept of justice and is a serious breach of acceptable judicial practices.”
Zupancic went on to tell Komo News that such irregularities can also happen in the United States when strict adherence to proper collection procedures is ignored or violated.
Knox and Sollecito have recently filed their appeals to the Italian Supreme Court (ISC). Their latest conviction of 28 and 25 years imprisonment respectively came as a shock to many, given the obvious lack of motive and forensic evidence. If the validity of DNA evidence used to convict is fully disproved, questions arise if the ISC will be able to stand by the current verdict, or if they will finally admit their mistake.
The complete detailed analysis of the DNA processing records can be reviewed here.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
More about Amanda knox, Raffaele sollecito, Meredith kercher, Injustice in Perugia, Perugia Italy
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