Arrested: November 2, 2007
Rafaele Sollecito’s case highlights the far-reaching consequences of the ShowTrial phenomenon in an increasingly connected world. In this case, Italian Rafaele Sollecito had known American Amanda Knox (a foreign exchange student) only seven days when his life was thrust into a spiral of false allegations, slander, and frenzied media coverage. The result for Sollecito was, in effect, a ShowTrial experience in his own home country—fostered by the multinational aspect of the case, and swarming media coverage plagued by embellishments and innuendo. These factors acted as an accelerant for sensationalism, public intrigue, and misinformation amidst a politically-charged backdrop.
Throughout the ordeal, Sollecito withstood police and prosecutor pressure to exonerate himself by providing false information that would have undermined Knox’s alibi. Sollecito refused to do so for sake of maintaining his integrity and honesty, even though he had only known Knox for a week before the event. As is common of the ShowTrial experience, Sollecito’s life was unexpectedly turned upside down in an instant—in this case due to his young romance with an American studying abroad—who was likewise swept-up and wrongfully accused amidst an unfortunate set of circumstances. While most people’s youthful romances may burn hot before fading into distant memories, Sollecito is forever branded by the ordeal; and it has had immeasurable and lasting ripple effects on Sollecito’s family, friends, and entire community.
Raffaele Sollecito was born and raised in Giovinazzo, Italy. He moved to Perugia, Italy in 2002 where he studied computer engineering at the University of Perugia. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree during his trial while in prison in 2008. On July 15, 2014 he graduated from Verona University with a masters degree in computer engineering. His thesis analyzed social networks and the numbers of those who favored or opposed his conviction.
On October 25, 2007 Sollecito met Amanda Knox, an American exchange student, at a classical music concert. The two had been dating only a week when Knox’s roommate, Meredith Kercher, was found murdered in her room.
“The only evidence the prosecution presented against Sollecito was a bra clasp with his DNA found in Kercher’s bedroom. However, the clasp was contaminated. “
On November 6, 2007 Sollecito was arrested, with Knox, for the murder of Meredith Kercher. A third man, Guede, was arrested and convicted in a fast track trial. Sollecito was detained in the Terni prison and charged with multi-aggravated murder, sexual assault, simulated burglary, carrying a knife, which allegedly killed Kercher, from Sollecito’s home, and theft of Kercher’s two cell phones, money, and two credit cards.
The only evidence the prosecution presented against Sollecito was a bra clasp with his DNA found in Kercher’s bedroom. However, the clasp was contaminated. It was left on the floor for forty-seven days after the murder and also contained DNA from several different people other than Kercher and Sollecito.
Despite the lack of evidence, and contamination of what little evidence they did possess, a preliminary investigation and hearing committed Sollecito to a full trial and remanded him into custody. Sollecito and Knox were tried together throughout the court proceedings. They both plead not guilty and on January 16, 2009, trial began. Six judges oversaw the trial, lead by Judge Giancarlo Massei.
Sollecito was convicted of murder, sexual assault, carrying the knife, and theft of the cell phones. He was acquitted of theft of the money and credit cards. Under Italian law, individuals are considered innocent until proven guilty. A guilty verdict is not regarded as a definitive conviction until the appeals process has been fully carried out. Therefore, Sollecito was provisionally sentenced to twenty-four years in prison, plus one year for simulated burglary, a total of twenty-five years in prison. In Judge Massei’s motivation report he alleged the motivation for the murder was due to a sex game gone wrong. He was criticized for making up hypothetical motivations that had no evidentiary basis.
In May of 2011, eleven members of the Italian parliament and all members of The People of Freedom Party issued a document, as an act of parliament, addressed to the Justice Minister Angelino Alfano. The document criticized the evidence that resulted in the guilty verdicts and extended detentions of Sollecito and Knox.
Sollecito, along with Knox, appealed the court’s decision on November 24, 2010. Judges Claudio Pratillo Hellman and Massimo Zanetti oversaw the trial. Nearly a year later, on October 3, 2011, the appellate court found Sollecito, and Knox, not guilty of murder and sexual assault. After nearly four years in prison, Sollecito and Knox were provisionally set free.
The judges emphasized in their report that a court ordered independent expert review had discredited DNA evidence that was key to the prosecution’s case. They also noted that although Knox and Sollecito’s accounts did not match completely, it did not constitute a false alibi. There was “material non-existence” of evidence to support guilty verdicts.
The prosecutor appealed the court’s ruling. On March 26, 2013 the court annulled the previous court’s decision and ordered a new trial. The judges agreed with the original court’s hypothetical theory that Kercher died during a sex game gone wrong. Judge Hellman, from the first appeals court, criticized the court for going beyond what they were supposed to do. Instead of only reviewing the points of law, the judges inappropriately evaluated the evidence.
Despite the criticism, the new trial began on September 30, 2013. In just a few months, in January of 2014, the court convicted Sollecito and sentenced him to twenty-five years in prison. He was free pending the result of an appeal to Italy’s highest court; however, he was forced to surrender his passport until the ruling from the appeal was given.
Judge Nencini oversaw the latest trial and conviction. In his motivation report he disagreed with the original court’s sex game gone wrong motive. Instead he believed Guede’s account that the murder was due to missing rent money and Kercher’s anger over Guede not flushing the toilet. Nencini stated this led Knox and Sollecito to “desire to overpower and humiliate the British girl,” and Guede’s motivation was because of “sexual instinct”. Judge Nencini accounts for the lack of DNA evidence by stating in his motivation report that Sollecito and Knox did something that has never been done before. They selectively cleaned their invisible DNA from the crime scene and purposefully left Guede’s DNA in order to pin the murder solely on him.
Sollecito submitted an appeal to Italy’s highest court. His appeal asked the court to throw out convictions based on legal and procedural mistakes that occurred during the trial such as a lack in DNA evidence and uncertainty in scientific evidence, unreliable witnesses, and reasonable doubt. Sollecito’s passport was confiscated until the verdict from his appeal was given, which was thought to be in 2016.
Sollecito and his attorneys believed that he had been judged based on his association with Amanda Knox, and that his conviction was based on guilt by association, not on the evidence. In a press conference, they requested Sollecito be judged independently from Knox.
On 27 March 2015 the court overturned previous convictions and exonerated Knox and Sollecito of the murder.