Judge in Amanda Knox Verdict : “This Case Consumed Many Lives”

Alessandro Nencini

Judge Nencini enters courtroom with verdict in hand.

By Wendy Murray

Alessandro Nencini, the presiding judge in the recent guilty verdict in the case against Amanda Knox, agreed to be interviewed by Italian crime journalist Fiorenza Sarzanini, for Italy’s  newspaper, Corriere della Sera. The interview was published two days after Knox was found guilty (along with Raffaele Sollecito) of the 2007  murder of her housemate, Meredith Kercher, and sentenced to 28.6 years in prison. (A third convict, Rudy Guede, is already serving a 16-year prison sentence; Sollecito was sentenced with Knox to 25 years.) Judge Nencini will submit an official report that explains the judgement within three months of the January-30 verdict. Until then, this short interview offers a glimpse into the emotional and complex deliberations that went into weighing this case, which he says, “has consumed many lives.”

(Note: I have rendered some idiomatic translations from Italian to English. The original article, in its completion — in Italian — can be found here. )

Fiorenza Sarzanini

Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito: The Judge Speaks
“I have children too; it was a huge burden.”
By Fiorenza Sarzanini

“I feel relieved because the moment of the decision is the most difficult. I have children too, and handing down convictions of 25 and 28 years for two young people is a very hard thing, emotionally.”

It is 10 am the day after the verdict and Justice Alessandro Nencini is in his office. The President of the Florentine Court of Appeals, which two days ago found Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito guilty of the murder of Meredith Kercher, knows that the decision will “open up new debate, especially in the media,” but that is exactly why he agreed to explain how the verdict was reached.

You deliberated in chambers for 12 hours. Was the judicial panel divided? 

Reading the verdict

The case files took up half of the room. There are 30 expert reports. The lay judges, who aren’t court staff, had to read all the documentation to reach a joint decision, as is expected in the appeals court. You have to review all the documents, think about them, and reason. We did that using all the time that was necessary, and taking into account the fact that the victim [Meredith Kercher] was also a young girl.

Then the decision was unanimous?
I spoke of a joint decision. I can say that in all these months and in particular during the last session of deliberations, we carefully considered the gravity of a verdict that involves young people and their entire families. This is a case that has consumed many lives.

Yours was a narrow path, [you were walking a fine line]. Did the Court of Cassation give you the burden of rectifying the decision that came out of Perugia that acquitted the two accused?
Not so, we had maximum flexibility. The only restriction was that in the case of acquittal, we would have give reasons based on logic. There was no other binding restriction.

Not even with regard to the decision handed down in Rudy Guede’s case?
Effectively the specifics of the case is this: there was a person already definitively convicted in the same homicide. The Court of Cassation asked us to evaluate who participated [in the murder] and explain their concurrent roles. We could just have easily concluded that the two accused weren’t there and then provided convincing reasoning [for that]. But we did not believe this to be the truth.

Why didn’t you question Guede?

For what purpose? He has never confessed and even if we had called him, he had the right to remain silent. We didn’t think it was necessary. Rather, we felt it was important to examine the other aspects [of this case] in more depth. In fact we requested expert reports and heard witnesses, about which there were doubts. That is the role of the appellate judges. In four months, we’ve been able to arrive at a definitive result. Sollecito’s lawyers had asked you to split the defense.
We’ll explain the point more in the reasonings [the written explanation of the verdict], where we will explain why we rejected that request.

At every point, Sollecito chose not to be questioned during the trial. Did this influenced your decision to convict him?
It is the defendant’s right. But it certainly removes [his] voice from the trial proceedings. He limited himself to making spontaneous declarations, saying only what he wanted to say, without being cross examined.

Over the years [of this case], there has been speculation about various possible motives. What did you yourselves conclude about this?
We have a conviction about it and will explain it explicitly in our reasoning [to be officially released within 30 days of the verdict]. For now, what I can say is — that up until 8:15pm that evening [of the murder], these young people all had different plans. Then their commitments fell through and created the occasion for this to unfold.  If Amanda had gone to work [that night], we probably would not be here [now].

Are you saying that the murder was a coincidence?
I’m saying this was something that unfolded between these young people. There may have been some coincidences and we’ve taken it into the reasoning. I’m aware this will be the most debatable aspect [of this case].

[The Court of] Cassation demolished the acquittal. Will you as well?
We are not going to bring that up [in the upcoming reasoning document]. We simply have had to focus on the decision in the first instance, [in which she was found guilty], which we confirmed based upon the facts.

You don’t believe that there were errors?

I didn’t say that. There may have been some, and I’ll point them out.

You convicted Amanda Knox, but didn’t issue any precautionary measures against her. Why?
She is legally in the United States. At the time of the crime she was in Italy to study. She went home after having been acquitted. She is an American citizen. This problem [of precautionary measures] may arise and will be addressed when it is time to carry out the sentence. For now I don’t believe that such a measure is necessary.

Why then have you confiscated Raffaele Sollecito’s passport?

It was the agreed minimum. In these cases such measures serve as prevention. We want to avoid the possibility that, during the period of waiting for a definitive judgment, he makes himself impossible to find .

You believe it is enough that he be forbidden to leave the country?

Yes, that seemed more than sufficient to us. If there are other developments later, we will consider them at that time.

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Comprehensive collection of  primary documents surrounding the case can be found here.

A Professor of Law at Harvard discusses this case here.

Post: “Amanda Knox Should Pay This Debt” is here.

Post: “Trust the Process” is here.

A balanced discussion of both sides here.

About Wendy Murray

Wendy Murray is a veteran and award-winning journalist. She served as associate editor and Senior Writer at Christianity Today magazine and has written extensively for other publications such as Books & Culture and The Christian Century. She has written 11 books.