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From the monthly archives: "April 2014"
Judge Alessandro Nencini reads verdict in Kox-Sollecito retrial.

Judge Alessandro Nencini reads verdict in Kox-Sollecito retrial.

There is a concept in philosophy known as “Occam’s razor,” which posits that among competing theories or hypotheses, the one requiring the fewest assumptions generally makes the most sense. Another way of stating it is that the simplest theory should be employed until, or unless, that hypothesis can be replaced by one that encompasses greater and deeper explanation. The “razor” refers to “shaving away” layers of complexity.

The great Bertrand Russell’s interpretation was “Whenever possible, substitute constructions out of known entities for inferences to unknown entities.”

Of late, we have seen no greater violation of the Occam’s razor principle in the field of criminal justice than the investigation and prosecution of the 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy. And yesterday’s release of Florence appeals Judge Alessandro Nencini’s “Motivation Document” on the January 30, 2014 re-conviction of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito (after initial conviction, appeals acquittal, and Supreme Court rejection of the acquittal) only confirms this violation.

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Meredith Kercher & Amanda Knox

Meredith Kercher & Amanda Knox

So the Italian court in Florence that heard the Supreme Court-directed appeals case against American Amanda Knox and Italian Raffaele Sollecito in the 2007 murder of British Meredith Kercher has finally released the “motivation document” for its reversal of their acquittal and reinstatement of the original guilty verdict.

It turns out the prosecution’s original theory of the case was way off. It wasn’t a satanic ritual murder after all. And it turns out the prosecution’s subsequent theory of the case was just as way off. It wasn’t a sex orgy gone bad, either.

It turns out that the murder was all about Amanda letting Rudy Guede take a dump in the bathroom they shared but did not make him flush the toilet after himself.

And it took the court almost 400 pages to lay out this bizarre confabulation. It would be comical if it weren’t so tragic.

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Byron Smith

Byron Smith

In Minnesota, a 65-year-old man named Byron Smith, of Little Falls, is currently on trial for first-degree murder. The charge: he killed Haile Kifer, 18, and her 17-year-old friend Nick Brady on Thanksgiving Day 2012, after they broke into his home.

Our friend and correspondent Starlette McDaniel asked us on Facebook: “Do you have any opinions on this case?”

Yes, we do, and they’re decidedly mixed.

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Patrick Steward & John Douglas

Patrick Stewart & John Douglas

Writing about William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday yesterday put me in mind of the time  more than fifteen years ago when Patrick Stewart came to Washington to play Othello at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. I had met Patrick when I was filming my documentary Discovering Hamlet in England, and we soon became good friends. Patrick narrated that film, then I asked him to narrate the PBS-Nova program Mind of a Serial Killer, during which production I met John Douglas.

One of the most accomplished actors of his generation, the classically trained Stewart is a veteran of the Royal Shakespeare Company and has always been a rigorous explorer of character and motivation. Many people have said that the classical gravitas he lent to the character of Captain Jean Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation was one of the elements that made the series so successful. So when Othello rehearsals began, Patrick called me and asked what insights my study of criminal investigative analysis might offer as he developed his approach to the title role.

I suggested getting him together with John Douglas, and that’s where the Othello murder case began.

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William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

Today marks the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare, the greatest creative genius who ever lived. There is virtually nothing to say about the human condition,  of good, evil, love, hate, honor, jealousy, motive, prejudice, conspiracy, courage, cowardice, rationality, madness, homicide, suicide, fairness, injustice, innocence, guilt, evidence – in other words, all of the things that concern us in criminal justice and every other field of endeavor – that Shakespeare did not say first, and better.

I do not think it is an exaggeration to agree with Yale Professor Harold Bloom that our modern concept of ourselves as human beings derives directly from Shakespeare.

Inscribed above the door at the west end of the Great Hall of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. is a four-line testimonial from the 19th and early 20th century American poet and literary critic William Winter, that speaks as eloquently as any I have seen:

“There is not anything of human trial
That ever love deplored or sorrow knew,
No glad fulfilment and no sad denial,
Beyond the pictured truth that Shakespeare drew.”

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