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Legal Analyst and former U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey interviewed.

"This case was so sensational that a lot of rank misinformation is constantly infusing the members of the jury and at the same time there are legal rulings that say certain evidence should be considered – certain evidence should not. Whatever is out there in the press free-for-all is contaminating these members of the jury. In this country we would say, with this kind of media exposure, you could not get a fair trial. In Italy, it’s fair game. And whether or not we would consider it a fair trial."

Kendall Coffey
Legal Analyst


Aired December 4, 2009 6:11 PM


Kendall Coffey interview HLN Prime News: Amanda Knox Case


MIKE GALANOS: Okay, also joining us Kendall Coffey. Kendall, let’s get your reaction on this.

KENDALL COFFEY: Well, I agree with Anne in the sense that there are two very big differences between Italian system and ours and those differences might have accounted for the result. First of all, it only takes a majority in Italy. I think in this country, given the fact that it usurps a lot of holes in the prosecution’s evidence, I got to think you would have found a couple of jurors that would have found a reasonable doubt. Very tough in my opinion to have gotten a conviction in this country. But the other thing frankly, is all the pre-trial publicity. It’s not perfect here but judges knock themselves out to limit all of the poison that gets in front of a jury. Here it was not just free press – it was a press free-for-all. And that’s devastating to a defendant in a case like this. And I’ve got to think that contributed to the outcome.

MIKE GALANOS: Okay, Kendall and Anne. Let me start with you Kendall. So explain to the differences. What happens here on a case like this and what makes it a free-for-all there?

KENDALL COFFEY: Well, there’s no limit on the exposure of the members of the jury which includes two judges and six members of the public to reading, to hearing, to any kind of thing that might be coming their way. And we all know that while there’s mostly responsible journalists, there’s plenty of tabloids. This case was so sensational that a lot of rank misinformation is constantly infusing the members of the jury and at the same time there are legal rulings that say certain evidence should be considered – certain evidence should not. Whatever is out there in the press free-for-all is contaminating these members of the jury. In this country we would say, with this kind of media exposure, you could not get a fair trial. In Italy, it’s fair game. And whether or not we would consider it a fair trial.

MIKE GALANOS: Yeah, and everything has said that. CNN’s Paula Newman has been covering this so that attention is a huge factor here. And you have to agree on that front right? And you’ve talked about it… the attention that she… all the names the… the salacious names that she’s been called. If you’re a juror, after the day of the trial, they can read all this and watch all this coverage, right?

ANNE BREMNER: Sure and they can talk about it, read it, discuss it, get on the internet, anything they want to do. You know, we have a case that was here in the U.S., Sheppard v. Maxwell, which is the basis for the fugitive series, where pre-trial publicity alone was found to be the basis for a new trial and, of course, there’s a murder case where he was later freed but he died in the process or was acquitted. But the fact of it is, we know the pre-trial publicity can taint a case to where there can be no fairness and there was no limit to the tabloid journalism in this case and the salacious types of characterizations of Amanda Knox.

MIKE GALANOS: A couple of notes here. We’re getting this that Amanda Knox’s family is now going to move to Italy to help out with the appeals process. Kendall, let’s hit on that front. First up, what are her odds of succeeding in an appeal?

KENDALL COFFEY: Well, any appeal is tough but it’s far from hopeless because at the end of the day this is essentially a circumstantial case. There was no, of course, no eyewitnesses and no apparent motive. As far as anyone could tell, Amanda and her tragically murdered roommate got along pretty well. How does that relationship turn into this horrific crime? It isn’t to say there isn’t prosecution evidence, of course it is. And the worst part of it was probably Amanda’s own statement – a five-page statement – which as we know apparently indicated she was at the apartment the night of the crime and included an allegation falsely accusing somebody else. Now there are a lot of explanations for that and her attorneys believe that that false statement that she gave to the police authorities was pressured, was coerced or induced, but even in this country if somebody is in the target zone of a crime and what they provide is false information, there is indeed a strong inference that they had a reason to be falsely explaining whatever happened and that reason usually suggests skill. So that’s the biggest part of her problem both in the trial I think as well as on any future appeal.

MIKE GALANOS: Okay, we are getting more word on this that Amanda Knox has been sentenced to 26 years in prison. She had faced life in prison. So 26 years. And your thoughts on that?

ANNE BREMNER: Well, I thought that was the only good news in this verdict, because the jury decides the guilt or innocence of the accused and also the sentence and the prosecution had asked for 100 years or life sentence for her and the jury gave considerably less. It makes me wonder if this was some kind of a compromise. Of course, the judges are involved in the verdict as well. But the appeal – the conventional wisdom in Italy – on appeal defendants can fair better on appeal in Italy. That’s the opposite of the United States where appeals generally are not as successful as trials for defendants.

MIKE GALANOS: Okay, we’re getting word now the judge will have nothing to do with the appeal. I want to make that clear and the former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito he’s getting 25 years in all of this. Anne, as you look at this case, did we ever get a definitive what happened that night? Did any of the three who were accused, that was the person Rudy Guede who wanted a speedy trial, ended up with 30 years, did anybody ever tell the story of the way it went down of the three?

ANNE BREMNER: Well, we heard from Amanda and Raffaele that they were at Raffaele’s home at the time of the murder. We heard from Rudy Guede that he said he wasn’t there but then he later said that he had sex with Meredith. He had his ear phones on, he was in the bathroom when someone else supposedly killed her. So that’s what we have and of course he fled and was convicted because his DNA and other evidence was all over that room and on her. So that’s what we heard about the facts. What we heard about the evidence and the lack of it is a whole other story.

MIKE GALANOS: And just to make it clear that Anne – you are the spokesperson for the Knox family in the Seattle area? Is that correct?

ANNE BREMNER: I’m the spokesperson for the friends of Amanda Knox, a group that came in a year after the charges to try and help with the media and try to turn that supertanker of salacious and false information in the media around, or at least to show that there’s two sides to this story in the media.

MIKE GALANOS: Okay, I just want to make that clear for everybody. Kendall, as we look at this case – the evidence of this case – one thing that we look at is that the prosecution said that Amanda Knox’s DNA was on the knife which was the murder weapon and the defense disputes that. Do you think the prosecution did a good job on that front with that type of evidence?

KENDALL COFFEY: Well, I think the prosecution made absolutely the most of what they had. They had just little bits of DNA evidence here and there. They combined that with obviously what we talked about before which was Amanda’s false statement. That’s a big problem. And the circumstances that included that there was really no other clear theory of how this horrible crime happened. So you add up a little bit of this, a little bit of that, you get the big lie that apparently Amanda told perhaps because she was coerced, perhaps because she was under pressure, who knows. But they put what I would call a not-terribly strong case together with pieces of this, pieces of that, and that’s why I think it’s going to be wide open on appeal.

MIKE GALANOS: Okay, Anne we talked a lot about the attention this case has received and the bad press, let’s face it, that Amanda Knox has received as well. What did she say or do besides being in the vicinity of this crime? Let’s say that. But what else – did she say anything - her actions in court - that could have led to some of the titles and labels she got as this went on?

ANNE BREMNER: Well, you know they said at the time the fact that she smiled, the fact that she was friendly, the fact in court that she would smile, they looked at what she wore. So those were things that were taken against her in Italy and some of the things she said – she was questions for over 40 hours overnight without an Italian interpreter. Her Italian was to the extent she could say things words at the train station back then now she’s fluent two years later having been imprisoned. But that there has been a lot of commentary in the press about every little move she makes. And whether or not she’s coquettish or whether she’s serious. Whether she’s flighty, you know, or whether she’s somebody that’s just a little naïve. And there’s been these two sides of Amanda Knox. And you know this whole thing has been kind of a 50-50 – where’s this case going to go because she’s viewed one way in Italy and, you know, really one way here. And this jury kind of came down the middle, they found guilt but then they came down with a far lesser sentence.

MIKE GALANOS: Got you. Kendall, another thing that we had pointed out and talked about was possible motive – that Amanda Knox hated her roommate, Meredith Kercher. Did the prosecution prove that through this?

KENDALL COFFEY: I don’t think they did. They really relied on, as I said, a lot of circumstances and a lot of inferences. I don’t think there was a clear motive, certainly nothing even close to this kind of a savage crime. I want to come back to what Anne was talking about because somebody’s courtroom behavior gets a lot more attention in terms of a fact finder - somebody’s deciding guilt or innocence - than it should. I mean whether she wore tee-shirts, whether her family came in and came out and didn’t respect all the decorum in Italian judicial system. So what, Mike, what does that have to do with whether somebody actually committed a horrible crime and one of the realities is that when you take a young college girl or college guy, put them in a horrible environment and being in an Italian prison, is an absolute miserable experience. It affects their behavior. They’re not going to behave in a way that you might expect them to do because every day and night of their life is a nightmare and that is one of the things that get a lot of attention from the press – sometimes too much attention from judges and jurors – but at the end of the day the evidence should be what happened that night not how did she conduct herself in the court.

MIKE GALANOS: Okay, recapping American college student Amanda Knox found guilty on all charges in the murder of her roommate, her British roommate, Meredith Kercher. This happened back in November of 2007. Amanda Knox sentenced to 26 years. Her family is moving to Italy to appeal.