The Italian murder case that has gripped media in the UK, US and Italy for nearly half a decade took an incredible turn this week as Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, found guilty alongside Rudy Guede of killing Briton Meredith Kercher in 2007, had their convictions overturned.
While the surreal scenes in and around the Perugia courthouse after the appeal decision resembled something out of a TV legal drama, replete with crowds hurling insults at lawyers and the stunned defendants being led through packs of suited men by the police, the chaotic case highlights again that miscarriages of justice do happen in the west, and that the lobby pressing for the resurrection of capital punishment in European nations should be held at bay.
Political blogger Paul Staines, who goes by the moniker of Guido Fawkes, recently came out of the closet as a keen supporter of the resurrection of hanging in the UK, and said he would "put all the resources at his command into a campaign for a vote on the restoration of capital punishment for child and cop killers," following the launch of the British government's e-petition site.
He said that public opinion supported hanging as a deterrent for murder, citing a YouGov poll that found 50 percent of those questioned would reinstate it.
Tory MP Philip Davies said of the campaign: "It's something where once again the public are a long way ahead of the politicians. I'd go further and restore it for all murderers."
Knox and Sollecito's total acquittal in the Kercher case is evidence that people that harbour these views are, very literally, dangerous. Italy banned capital punishment in 1948, but had it been in place for murder in the present day, the end result of what has now been decided as an error of Italian justice may have been far more morbid.
Miscarriages of justice at the highest level are not restricted to Italy; of course it happens in Britain. A recent example is that of Stefan Kiszko, a Ukranian tax clerk, convicted of murdering the 11 year-old Lesley Molseed in 1975. He spent 16 years in prison before being completely exonerated of the crime, being released in 1992 only to die a year later.
Britain effectively outlawed hanging for murder in 1969. Law in both Italy and the UK contained instances where capital means could theoretically be used until much later; the last vestiges of capital punishment weren't abolished in the UK until 1998, and death by firing squad was a technical possibility in Italy until 2008. Both countries revoked these laws to come into line with the European Convention on Human Rights.
That societies with mature legal institutions should adopt a stance that protects individuals from state murder by miscarriages of justice is correct. Whatever your views on the Kercher murder, there is no question that the evidence against Knox and Sollecito was, under scrutiny, flawed. As such, they should never have been convicted, let alone shot or hanged.
Knox's lawyer, Carlo Vella Vedova, told the BBC after the decision: "In this case there is no winner." Meredith Kercher is still dead. Rudy Guede is still in prison for the killing. The entire affair is still revolting.
But at least the cases against Knox and Sollecito were proven shoddy and overturned, and the pair weren't wrongly executed in the meantime: hopefully that's something the likes of Paul Staines can remind themselves of the next time they claim taking human life should be a matter for the courts to decide.
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