Monday, December 20, 2010

The Limited DNA Reviews - Why They Probably Won’t Help Defense And May At A Stroke Be Game Over

Posted by The Machine

[Above: Dr Stefanoni at trial respoding to a question from Sollecito’s defense team]

Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito and their families were jubilant at Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellman’s decision to allow an independent review of some key forensic evidence.

Two experts from Rome’s Sapienza University - Professor Stefano Conti and Professor Carla Vecchiotti - have already been nominated by the appeal court (they will be confirmed in January) to do an independent review of the forensic evidence.

Late saturday and sunday many of the journalists covering Meredith’s case saw Judge Hellmann’s decision as a major victory for the defence teams. Several giddy journalists even reported that somehow Amanda Knox had won her appeal.

However, two very important facts were lost in all the hullaballoo surrounding Judge Hellmann’s decision about this independent review..

First, the original forensic investigation and tests already were carried out by independent experts. Dr. Stefanoni and her team were from Rome, and they worked for another arm of the government. They weren’t hired by the prosecution to blindly confirm their suspicions that Amanda Knox, Raffaele Sollecito and Diya Lumumba were involved in Meredith’s murder.

And many people seem to be unaware of the fact that it was not Amanda Knox recanting her false accusation, but the DNA testing work of Dr. Stefanoni and her team that led to the release of Diya Lumumba. In this case Dr Stefanoni has high credibility.

Second, a number of experts have ALREADY carried out independent reviews of the DNA and forensic evidence and some of them have testified at court hearings in the course of 2008 and 2009.

In this post, we will take a look at some of the experts involved in the original DNA tests and the subsequent reviews and consider the implications of the new review, including some possible unexpected stings in the tail.

1) The Original Tests

Dr. Patrizia Stefanoni is one of the leading forensic experts in Italy and she was part of the the Disaster Investigations Teams sent to identify victims of the south Asian tsumani in 2004. She had to pass a series of stringent state tests to join the scientific police in Rome. She led the forensic investigation into Meredith’s murder and was responsible for carrying out the DNA tests and interpreting the results.

The Double DNA Knife

Dr. Stefanoni found seven traces of human flesh (human tissue cells) on the large kitchen knife sequestered from Sollecito’s kitchen. There was only enough DNA for one test. However, the results of non-repetitive tests are allowed to be entered as evidence in Italy.

The defence teams are notified of the date and time of all non-repetitive tests to make sure that they can be present to observe that correct procedures are adhered to. If they miss the tests or don’t stay for the full (often long) duration they have not carried out their full mandate to their client (they might even be liable for malpractice) and the defense has no right to claim wrong procedures or lab contamination.

Dr. Stefanoni testified at the trial that the one test she did “reliably” identified the DNA as Meredith’s.

Italian TJMK poster and DNA specialist Nicki explained in May 2009 why the DNA on the blade of the knife was a definite match to Meredith’s DNA:

Two genetic profiles are identical and therefore belong to the same individual if a) they are in the same position, and b) they have identical shape and dimension. In this case, each peak produced in the original samples exactly corresponds to the peaks yielded by the knife sample, position, shape and dimension.

[Below: DNA on the blade of the knife(top chart), Meredith’s DNA(second chart), and the two superimposed]

The Bra Clasp

Sollecito’s DNA on Meredith’s bra clasp was identified by two separate DNA tests. Judge Massei rejected defence claims that Sollecito’s DNA was LCN DNA and noted that there was no reason to doubt the reliability of the result:

It has already been said that Dr. Stefanoni had reported that on the [bra] hook (Exhibit 165B) the mixed genetic profile attributable to the victim and to Raffaele Sollecito was found; looking at the electropherogram, the ratio had been estimated in the proportion of 1 to 6 (the victim’s DNA being six times that of Sollecito); the quantity of DNA found could not be considered terribly small because there were several peaks that easily exceeded 1000 RFU, and no [317] repetition of the analysis had been carried out because the peak height of the smaller fraction of DNA was good, such that there was no reason to doubt the reliability of the result.

2) Independent Reviews

Dr. Renato Biondo

There was an independent review of the forensic evidence in 2008.

Dr. Renato Biondo, the head of the DNA unit of the scientific police, reviewed Dr. Stefanoni’s investigation and the forensic findings. He testified at Rudy Guede’s fast track trial in October 2008 and confirmed that all the forensic findings were accurate and reliable.

He also praised the work of Dr. Stefanoni and her team. “We are confirming the reliability of the information collected from the scene of the crime and at the same time, the professionalism and excellence of our work.”

Professor Francesca Torricelli

The Kercher family hired their own DNA expert, Professor Francesca Torricelli, and asked her to examine the DNA evidence.

Professor Torricelli is the Director of a genetic facility at Careggi University Hospital and has been working in genetics since 1976. She testified at Knox’s and Sollecito’s trial last and she also confirmed Dr. Stefanoni’s findings.

She told the court that the significant amount of Sollecito’s DNA on Meredith’s bra clasp meant that it was unlikely that it was left by contamination. She also agreed with Dr. Stefanoni that Meredith’s DNA was on the blade of the double DNA knife.

General Luciano Garofano (image above)

Distinguished DNA expert and former Caribinieri General Luciano Garofano analysed the DNA and forensic evidence for the early 2010 book “Darkness Descending”.

He has more than 32 years of forensics experience and is a member of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. In his section of the book he explains at length why he too thinks that Knox and Sollecito are guilty of Meredith’s murder.

In an interview with The Sun’s Nick Francis, he said that the right people had been convicted:  “I believe the police have prosecuted and convicted the right people, even if they got some of the details wrong.”

He told reporter Andrea Vogt that there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn Knox’s and Sollecito’s convictions:  “I do not believe that there is enough evidence to convince an Italian magistrate and jury to overturn this conviction”.

Dr. Anna Barbaro

Rudy Guede’s defense lawyers hired their own forensic expert, Dr. Anna Barbaro, and asked her to examine the DNA evidence.

She didn’t dispute the DNA evidence against Guede, Knox or Sollecito. Guede’s lawyers claim that there was an innocent explanation for his DNA being at the crime scene and that Knox’s and Sollecito’s DNA implicated them.

Guede lawyer Walter Biscotti noted that the evidence against Knox was particularly strong.

3) The original prosecution team

Both Prosecutor Mignini and Prosecutor Comodi said after the appeal session on saturday that they are are confident that the independent review of the DNA and forensic evidence will confirm the sentences and verdict.

Mr Mignini


I don’t agree with the request and I see it as a waste of time. The judge did not criticise the methods that were used to collect and test the DNA….. The review was granted because the jury needed help to interpret the findings as they are difficult to understand. I don’t see how it is a victory for the defence, as the methods were not criticised in the ruling. The review will confirm the sentence and the verdict will stand.

Ms Comodi

As far as I am concerned this independent review will just confirm the excellent work carried out by the police scientific unit. The judge did not actually explain why he was allowing this review and although I do not agree with it I am sure it will underline the job originally done.

4) Two possible game-overs

Re-examination of the knife

In “Darkness Descending” the former Carabinieri General Garofano wrote that the police should have separated the plastic handle from the knife and checked for blood there.

The defence teams will regret having asked for the independent review if the new experts do this and they find there a testable quantity of Meredith’s blood.

Re-examination of the bra clasp

According to the authors of “Darkness Descending” Dr. Stefanoni found highly suggestive evidence of Amanda Knox’s DNA on Meredith’s bra. Raffaele Sollecito’s forensic expert, Professor Torre, also claimed that he had found Knox’s DNA on Meredith’s bra strap.

It seems that another forensic expert Vincenzo Pascali ALSO found Knox’s DNA on Meredith’s bra. The reporter Barbie Nadeau wrote the following:

Vincenzo Pascali, the chief forensic consultant who was set to give expert testimony about the possible contamination of the bra clasp, walked off the case last month, reportedly leaving a €50,000 bill. Back in September, Pascali, who declined to comment for this story, hinted that the clasp also contained Knox’s DNA.

And so in conclusion

One to two years later DNA testing techniques have improved, and also there is the sleeper of what is under the handle of the knife.

The defence teams’ insistence on an independent review could really explode in their faces if the new experts confirm more of Meredith’s DNA on the knife (Knox’s DNA is there very strongly) and that Knox’s DNA is on Meredith’s bra.

Posted by The Machine on 12/20/10 at 03:48 PM in Evidence & WitnessesDNA and luminolAppeals 2009-2015Hellmann 2011+


Thank you, The Machine for this detailed and explicit explanation of the forensic findings. I think the fact that Knox was initially in shock and then crying indicates that she never really wanted the independent review, it’s just another legal loophole to try and jump through. Even her lawyers didn’t seem very jubilant, only the family and supporters who are in denial.

Posted by bedelia on 12/20/10 at 11:39 PM | #

And also, it’s so sad just to “see” the DNA of Meredith confirmed on the knife. So incredibly sad to think that that was someone’s daughter and sister. Takes your breath away.

Posted by bedelia on 12/20/10 at 11:41 PM | #

An excellent post this. Well researched. Solid work.

The Machine shows just how many of the experts on the DNA involved in this case supported Dr Stefanoni’s findings.

I did not doubt, and I do not doubt now, that the same results will come out on re-testing, but perhaps with added bonus.

I had quite forgotten Garofano’s remark about testing the handle hole with the blade removed. Maybe nothing there but there could be a copious amount in DNA terms. Enough to do blood as well as DNA tests?

The authors of “Darkness Descending” also mentioned that the police overlooked checking and taking samples from the sump of Raffaele’s washing machine.

Although the defence are apparently going to produce witnesses to discredit Curatolo, confirmation of the DNA findings would put the case to bed.

It will be interesting to discover whether or not Professors Conti and Vechiotti pool their work and findings. A single report from them both (though it would be a pre-condition that they agree on their findings) would make the findings easier for everyone to understand and make the jury’s task a lot easier.

Posted by James Raper on 12/20/10 at 11:45 PM | #

Thanks for this summary of what is known about the DNA evidence thus far.  It is clear from hearing from the lawyers posting at the PMF that Hellmann is performing due diligence.  This is both his right and his obligation as an objective truth-seeker.

The likelihood of the bra clasp evidence being rejected is remote, collection method notwithstanding.  The knife is possibly problematic since the physical tests cannot be repeated.

However, due to the advances in DNA technology, the process appears to be more and more important to validating the results.  The smaller the samples, the less likely that precisely the same test can be performed anew.

A confirmation of results will be a devastating blow to any of the already slender chances Knox or Sollecito had for a reduction of sentence.

Posted by Stilicho on 12/20/10 at 11:51 PM | #

I should have added above, at the end “..., given that they are probably already well persuaded by the Massei Report”.

The Knox camp will the cry “Contamination!” but as has been pointed out, it is they that have to produce a credible hypothesis for this and not just bleat about it.

Posted by James Raper on 12/20/10 at 11:57 PM | #

Thank you ‘The Machine’ for such an excellent post.

I think it is an excellent opportunity for the world to “see” Amanda as the murderess she is now. The review of the evidence is only fair - her parents and RS’s parents may finally see that their children committed a heinous dead (I dont want to call it a crime because this is beyond legality - it is a wrong against humanity in every sense of the word).

Unfortunately as a pessimist I fear that FOA will claim a conspiracy or Italy as a third-world country again! But those who have been genuinely deceived will, hopefully - stop supporting this murderer at her ‘comedy charity events!’

Posted by Giselle on 12/21/10 at 12:19 AM | #

Excellent article about the DNA Evidence. Although I don’t understand the science, I do trust all those seperate experts to know what they are doing. I did not realise that so many experts had already looked at the DNA evidence. This article makes me believe even more in Amanda and Raffaele’s guilt (which I don’t doubt, incidently!) and makes me hopeful that in the end Meredith will have justice. Thank you for making the facts so easily accessible to the outside world…

Rest in Peace Meredith Kercher

Posted by TT on 12/21/10 at 12:27 AM | #

Thank you Machine—well summarized as always. One minor correction—the top DNA chart is actually the sample from the knife—you can tell by the slight amplification in background “noise” at baseline. The middle tracing is from the neck wound swab which was a more abundant specimen therefore a cleaner, crisper-looking line. Nevertheless the pattern is identical and clearly both samples came from the victim.

[Thanks a lot for that tip, Cats, the charts above are now correctly labeled. Fault was at source. Machine.]

Posted by 2catsintheyard on 12/21/10 at 12:33 AM | #


The Machine’s the best. Thank you so much for this full history of the DNA journey, the independent experts and the charts (for those who can read them, not me). It’s so much connected information. May Stephanoni and Biondi be vindicated. Garafano’s face fills me with confidence, something about him, but of course the only thing that matters is his expertise.

Posted by Hopeful on 12/21/10 at 12:59 AM | #

Excellent article about the DNA Evidence. Although I don’t understand the science, I do trust all those seperate experts to know what they are doing. I did not realise that so many experts had already looked at the DNA evidence. This article makes me believe even more in Amanda and Raffaele’s guilt (which I don’t doubt, incidently!) and makes me hopeful that in the end Meredith will have justice. Thank you for making the facts so easily accessible to the outside world…

Rest in Peace Meredith Kercher

Posted by TT on 12/21/10 at 01:21 AM | #

The material is impressively gathered & presented in this report.

I would add a reminder of what we all surely know, a detail which contributes nothing to the Science but bears distinctly on the Argument. Namely this, that Sollecito did not contest the finding of Meredith’s DNA on the knife blade.  Instead, he explained how it got there…

Although there wasn’t enough of Meredith’s on the blade for re-testing, as here reported, the thoroughly professional Dr. Stephanoni will surely be vindicated—again.

Posted by Ernest Werner on 12/21/10 at 01:33 AM | #

thank you, machine, for another excellent post. once again,you have anchored the truth in a clear and concise statement of the facts, and helped everyone regain focus.

and thank you, ernest werner, for reminding us of sollecito’s response to the presence of meredith’s DNA on the knife.

switch now to a horrendously, almost hysterically, inaccurate, biased report from ABC news. i left a comment. if you have time, team, please do so, too.

Posted by wayra on 12/21/10 at 03:53 AM | #

Here is something you might like to point out to the pro-Knox hysterics on the ABC thread Wayra links to just above.

Our poster Giustizia in this excellent post showed that wife killer Scott Peterson ended up on California’s Death Row without ANY forensic evidence.

A clear majority of murderers leave no forensic trace. By the way in not one single evidence area do Knox and Sollecito come out on balance looking innocent. Not one.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 12/21/10 at 06:30 AM | #

Good post yet again TM.

I believe the review of certain pieces of DNA evidence is actually a good thing and a classic case (for the convicted killers family and supporters) of be careful what you wish for.

How can they continue to whinge and moan if the evidence is yet again proven?

Will the next set of independent forensic experts then become part of the grand conspiracy against the poor innocent “young kid” from Seattle?

Posted by Black Dog on 12/21/10 at 10:19 AM | #

Peter, as you say Scott Peterson is not by any means an isolated case, there is a long list of convictions - safe convictions - where there has been no DNA evidence found.

For instance, although no DNA was found, but Jessie Dotson was convicted.

“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” Judge Mullins - he adds “It would be nice if we found something that would be a big red flag that said go get this person… DNA is a great tool, fingerprints are a great tool, but they’re not the end all, be all.”

I have a long long list of these and studies that have been done into DNA evidence at crime scenes. Judgments that make it clear that DNA cannot replace detective work.

Posted by Giselle on 12/21/10 at 11:43 AM | #

It might be off topic, but as far as the photo above concerned : is Dr. Stefanoni throwing a microphone at Dr. Bongiorno ? 😊

Posted by Helder Licht on 12/21/10 at 11:48 AM | #

Some Knoxophiles are claiming that if the judge thought the rest of the evidence was enough to convict, he would not have ordered the re-examination of the knife and bra-clasp.

Can anyone with more knowledge of the Italian system than me comment on this?

Many thanks.

Posted by Janus on 12/21/10 at 12:58 PM | #

Due diligence on the part of Judge Helman - certainly. But he may also have been prompted by another reason.

In Guede’s final appeal the Supreme Court said that it was satisfied that Guede committed the offences along with two other perpetrators. Initial reports of the decision even suggested that the Supreme Court named AK and RS. It seems it didn’t but the comment is highly suggestive. In fact the Supreme Court might as well have named them. I break rank slightly here as I must admit my first thought was “hmmm - Should the Supreme Court have said that? Would it not have been better just to have said “with others”, given that AK’s and RS’s appeals were in progress?”

Perhaps Judge Helman also had in mind that he did not need even the hint of a thought that a higher court was stepping on his toes.

Any suggestion that he was rubber stamping the Massei Report because the Supreme Court had already adopted it’s conclusions would have the Knox and Sollecito camps up in arms.

Posted by James Raper on 12/21/10 at 01:29 PM | #

Looking at the AK and RS trial again, there were four forensic geneticists testifying. Dr Stefanoni (witness for the prosecution), Dr Torricelli (instructed by the Kerchers), Dr Gino (instructed by AK ) and Professor Taliabracci (instructed by RS). Basically the first two had no significant reservations about the results whereas the last two had. So there was no clear majority (as it were) and there were no such experts appointed by the court and in that sense independent. Now, of course, two such independent experts have been appointed by the court.

There were of course Dr Biondo, and Dr Barbaro (for Guede), neither of whom had any trouble with Dr Stefanoni’s findings, but who were involved with Guede’s separate case. Now, as I understand it, they come back in to the loop as the Guede trial documents are admissable in AK and RS’s appeal.

That makes for a staggering eight forensic geneticists in all involved in the current appeal!

Posted by James Raper on 12/24/10 at 02:05 AM | #
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