Monday, September 26, 2011


gra·tu·i·tous Adjective/grəˈt(y)o͞oitəs/

      1.    Uncalled for; lacking good reason; unwarranted.

For the past several weeks as the appeal by Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito have wound through the courts, the family of the Meredith Kercher, the victim in this highly controversial case, has begged all who would listen to remember Meredith. They have spoken lovingly of their lost daughter and decried the fact that Meredith “has been forgotten.”

Just two weeks ago, Meredith’s sister Stephanie wrote a letter to the family’s Italian lawyer Francisco Maresca which was immediately turned over to the press. Stephanie is quoted in the letter; “All those who are reading and writing about this case, please remember our beautiful Meredith.” I empathize with her; Meredith was truly beautiful and should be remembered. “We have not forgotten her,” she said in the anguished missive, “And we will continue our fight with the support of our lawyer Francesco Maresca.”  (Why she said that in a letter addressed to Maresca causes one pause.)

Later in the correspondence to her Maresca, Stephanie continues; “In the midst of all this….Meredith has been forgotten…and so everything should be for her….”

Today, someone had little heed for those anguished words. There were more important things than the memory of Meredith Kercher to one person this afternoon.

Today, in the courtroom in Perugia, at 2:40 p.m., without warning, without dignity, without any apparent concern for Meredith or her grieving family, without decency, an attorney began to display eight foot square, gruesome, lurid and obscene naked full-frontal photographs of Meredith Kercher’s blood-smeared body, lying on the floor next to her bed where she had been murdered and sexually assaulted. She lay in the very position that Rudy Guede left her after putting a pillow under her hips to assist in the sexual assault. The photos were, to say the least, explicit, and press cameras immediately began clicking, as the courtroom spectators stood and moved toward the huge screen where the large photos were being displayed. Meredith was shown from the tips of her toes all the way to her eyes, fixed in a glassy, gruesome stare above a gaping throat slash. The audience gasped. More grisly photos followed; close-ups of the deep slash to Meredith’s throat, showing the severed muscles and larynx. But still the photos continued; photos which showed graphically the sputum foam which was the result of her labored breathing as the blood from her neck drained into her lungs. The photos showed her empty eyes and her blood-caked hair.

Who would do such an abominable thing? Who would have such complete disregard for a young woman and her grieving family? Who would so obscenely desecrate Meredith and her memory with appalling, offensive, horrid images? Was it the defense attorneys?  No. Was it one of the three prosecutors who have been doing everything they can to create a case out of contrived evidence? No.

Astoundingly, it was the Kerchers' own attorney, Francesco Maresca. The same Francesco Maresca of whom Stephanie Kercher said, “We will continue our fight with the support of our lawyer, Francesco Maresca.” If Meredith was my daughter and my attorney did what he did, I would pull the plug on the projector, and end his presentation. I might end more than his presentation. If another attorney did that, I would do my best to ensure that they never again practiced law.

Don’t think for a moment that this is an Italian legal peccadillo. This was scandalous especially in Italy. A well-known writer for one of Italy’s largest daily papers disgustedly called Maresca, “A barbarian,” after the pictures were shown. A British journalist, reporting on the case for a major television network, called the presentation, “...a disgrace.” In 25 years in the FBI, I had never seen such an abominable, disgraceful display; and for it to be at the hands of the very attorney protecting the feelings, interests and emotions of the family, as well as the “memory of Meredith,” it was inconceivable. Yes, difficult things must be shown in courts, but never without the simple decency of privacy and respect. It’s the least one can do. But apparently Maresca couldn’t come up with even the least.

Why would Maresca do this? Sadly, it’s a simple equation. For Maresca, at least, money is more important than Meredith.

Maresca is not the prosecutor. Maresca is not there to prove guilt. That is not his position in court. He is a CIVIL attorney. He is there for one reason and one reason only: Money. He is there to represent and protect the multi-million Euro judgment against Sollecito and Knox and awarded to the Kerchers.  You see, if Knox and Sollecito are exonerated (as they likely will be), the only defendant left (convicted and appeals exhausted, in fact) is indigent. Maresca has been working on this case for approximately four years, and appears to stand to lose an immense commission if the right people are not convicted. The man most of the press and public at the trial believed committed the murder; Rudy Guede is indeed indigent. Knox and her family’s finances have been decimated by a four year trial and appeal in Italy. Sollecito’s father, however, is a wealthy physician. If Knox isn’t convicted, then Sollecito isn’t convicted. And if Sollecito isn’t convicted, there is no money to award to the Kerchers. And no fees for Maresca to collect. Meredith’s dignity was simply another card to play, apparently.

In case the reader might think that this display was anything but gratuitous, realize that Maresca has no obligation, no function, no reason, no excuse for attempting to prove guilt. He is there simply to help collect Euros from “whoever” is convicted.

The graphic, obscene, desecrating photographs shown today had no evidentiary value. No legitimate purpose was served by the photographs. Nothing about the murder scene was in dispute in this session. Nothing about Meredith’s death, her condition at the time of death, or her body was in play. In short, there was no reason in the entire legal world to show detailed photographs of the violated body of his clients’ child and sister. No reason except money. The display was gratuitous, designed to horrify and shock a jury. And it horrified. And it shocked. But maybe only the conscience of decent people. Several people left the courtroom, and many were left traumatized.

In any decent courtroom in the world, (and the practice in this courtroom in the past) when photographs such as these are required for evidentiary value, the courtroom (except for the jurors and the officers of the court) is cleared--out of respect for the victim and the victim’s family. But today, these photographs weren’t required, and today, the room wasn’t cleared. 

There are many reasons that courts generally do not allow such gratuitous displays. But one of the major reasons is that unless the photos of the bodies are being used to prove a point, there is no reason to show them. It prejudices a jury for the simple fact that the lifeless body is horrifying no matter who killed the person. The tactic is simply designed to raise a rage and a desire for retribution in the minds of the jurors, and to focus their rage and need for revenge on the closest people to them: the defendants. Let alone the fact that the photo has nothing to do with whether the particular defendants are guilty or not.

I understand that the Kerchers want people to remember Meredith. I applaud this. But is this how they want people to remember her? I had a gut-wrenching experience as a young FBI Agent many years ago. Several people had been killed in the course of an incident which the FBI was investigating as murder. It was my unfortunate task to witness the autopsies of the victims and to assist the coroner in the identification of the bodies. This was complicated by their advanced state of decomposition. Truly, it was a gruesome sight. The bodies were blackish green, bloated, and reeked of the peculiar smell of decomposing human flesh. The fingers, however, were almost impossible to print because of clenched fists (due to the peculiar manner of death). Ultimately, we had to remove each finger at the second knuckle with a pair of clippers and roll it individually in black ink, which produced a fairly good fingerprint.

In the midst of this horrible task, we heard a commotion outside of the autopsy room. It was the wife of the person we were currently autopsying and she was hysterical. She had been told by her funeral director that her husband’s body was horribly disfigured and that the FBI was “cutting his fingers off.” The shock created in her a rage that needed an outlet, and she burst into the outer area of the autopsy examination room. I took a quick glance at the body, and it was truly one of the most macabre sights I had ever witnessed. I knew that if the woman made it into the room, she would never forget what she saw and it would haunt her to her grave. I ran from the autopsy room to try and intercept her, covered with gore, blood and ink. But before she got as far as me, a funeral director who was at the morgue to make a “pickup” saw the drama unfold and ran to her, catching her before I had to. She collapsed to the floor sobbing in unrelenting grief for her lost love. The funeral director comforted her as best he could and repeated several times, “This is not the way you want to remember him.”

To the Kerchers, I ask; did you approve your attorney’s actions today? If not, something must be said. Maresca went too far. You have begged that Meredith not be forgotten. Is this the way you want Meredith remembered? Unless Maresca’s actions today are addressed publicly, the questions about motivation will haunt not Maresca, but the family; the most immediate being;

“Is this really still about Meredith?”