Judge seeks probe of State Dept. in Amanda Knox case

Judge seeks probe of State Dept. in Amanda Knox case
Amanda Knox appears in court.
SEATTLE - A local judge has sent a letter to President Obama, accusing the U.S. State Department of failure to protect the rights of Seattle student Amanda Knox since her 2007 arrest in Italy after her roommate's killing.

The letter, written by King County Superior Court Judge Michael Heavey in his capacity as a private citizen, also calls on Obama to launch an executive inquiry into the State Department's entire handling of the Knox case.

Knox was arrested in November 2007, four days after the body of her roommate Meredith Kercher was found in the apartment the two shared as foreign students in Perugia. The 21-year-old Kercher was stabbed to death.

Also arrested was Raffaele Sollecito, an Italian who was Knox's boyfriend at the time of the slaying. Both were convicted of sexual assault and murder in 2009. Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison and Sollecito to 25.

Knox and Sollecito have always denied any wrongdoing.

Judge Heavey's letter to Obama cites seven violations of Knox's rights under Italian law that he says "should have set off alarms at the Embassy in Rome" since the earliest days of her arrest and incarceration.

Yet Heavey says consular officials did nothing. The seven violations, according to Heavey:

• Knox was arrested at about 5:45 a.m. after an all-night interrogation by a dozen police officers who operated in "tag-team rotation" and refused to allow Knox to get any sleep all night. The police and prosecutor then espoused a theory about a drug-fueled sex orgy gone wrong that was never supported by any evidence, Heavey says.

• Knox was denied a lawyer after she was detained, even though Italian law says a detainee is entitled to legal counsel and Knox specifically requested one.

• Italian law requires audio or video recordings to be made of all interrogations in any criminal case, yet the interrogation of Knox was not recorded. "This violation of Italian law should have set off alarm bells with consular officials," Heavey wrote.

• The Italian constitution requires an interpreter to be provided to suspects if they are not fluent in the Italian language. Amanda spoke little Italian at the time, yet was not allowed to have an interpreter, according to Heavey.

• Giuliano Mignini, the Italian prosecutor, was under investigation for abuse of office stemming from a previous murder trial when he took over the Kercher case. Yet U.S. consular officials raised no objections, says Heavey.

• In a preliminary hearing before Knox's trial, Mignini said the crime "was a sexual and sacrificial ritual in accordance with the rites of Halloween" - a groundless conjecture that equated Knox with being a witch, Heavey writes.

• The local Italian police repeatedly fed "false leaks" to the press that had no basis in fact, in violation of Italian law.

Heavey wrote to Obama that the "profoundly unjust process" has had a detrimental effect on U.S.-Italian relations.

He also points out that the maltreatment of Knox since her arrest has compelled protests from many people who have no personal stake in the case.

"Yet, our State Department, at home and abroad, knew nothing and did nothing," Heavey wrote. "The ongoing neglect of American consular officials in Rome to address this injustice sends a high-profile message - our government officials are too busy taking care of business to take care of our people."

"Mr. President ... I plead for your attention to this matter."

Judge Heavey's request for a probe comes just three weeks after a group of 11 Italian lawmakers called on the Italian justice minister to investigate the prosecutor's office in Perugia and its handling of the Kercher murder case.

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View a copy of Judge Heavey's letter to President Obama »