Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It's not about Italy

(Jim Lovering)

She was, is, and always will be innocent, but the system refused to see that. Her persecutors, with help from a frenzied media, turned a wholesome, fresh-faced American girl into a sexually depraved monster. They constructed a cartoon caricature so far from her real nature that it would be laughable if not for the fact that her life and her freedom were at stake.

The idea that she would commit the crimes for which she was charged is ridiculous to anyone who really understands the nature of sex crimes and sex offenders. But reason did not prevail in this case. Instead, public authorities looked to their own interests and reputations. Their goal was to win at any cost. To compensate for evidence that was weak and contrived, they whipped up hysteria inside and outside of the courtroom. They fed the worst impulses of human nature. They made the public hate her.

And when the long trial reached its conclusion, Margaret Kelly Michaels was convicted.

It happened in 1988, in a US court in the state of New Jersey. Michaels was convicted on 115 counts of child sex abuse and sentenced to 47 years in prison. She was absolutely innocent. The US criminal justice system, with all its supposed protections, reached a verdict that was absolutely wrong.

Hers is far from the only case. There are countless others in the US. In DuPage County, Illinois, police and prosecutors in the Jeanine Nicarico murder case schemed and connived for over a decade to keep two innocent men in jail, long after they knew beyond a shadow of a doubt who the real killer was.

In Wenatchee, Washington, a psychopathic police detective named Robert Perez conducted a witch hunt that put more than 20 innocent men and women behind bars. It took years for a team of lawyers, working pro bono, to clean up the mess Perez created for no better reason that to glorify his malignant ego.

And for most of that time, Perez had the citizens and institutions of Wenatchee thoroughly behind him. Like the lead prosecutor in Perugia, Giuliano Mignini, Perez was a shrewd operator. He knew how to manipulate the public and play to their emotions.

The case of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito does not reflect a problem unique to Italy. It reflects the shortcomings of human nature. It shows how badly any justice system can err when local authorities reach the wrong conclusion in public and then try to save face at all costs.

These cases take time to unravel, but eventually, they do. In the end, Kelly Michaels, the innocent men in the Nicarico case, and the innocents of Wenatchee Washington were all vindicated and set free. Someday the world will understand that Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito are likewise the victims of an injustice. I have no doubt that the Italian public, led by brave individuals like Frank Sfarzo of Perugia Shock, will play the lead role in bringing that understanding to pass.