Between 1968 and 1985, 16 people were brutally murdered around the foothills of Tuscany; In 2002, the death of an Italian doctor was alleged to involve an elaborate ring of Satanic cultists connected to the Society of Freemasons; and in 2011, American student Amanda Knox was acquitted of the murder of her British roommate in what was suggested to be some sort of Satanic sacrificial orgy. How are these three events connected? By an Italian prosecutor named Giuliano Mignini.
On August 21st, 1968, Antonio Lo Bianco and Barbara Locci were shot to death while making love in their car near a small town west of Florence. They were the first of 16 people to be killed in “lover’s lane” murders: young couples in cars parked in remote places, shot and stabbed to death before the woman’s body was brutally mutilated. Over time, several men were convicted and sentenced of the crimes, only to be released when the next couple was killed using the same gun. This serial killer has become known as the Monster of Florence and is responsible for some of the most famous unsolved murders in recent history.
In 1985, a month after what is now thought to be the last of the Monster’s killings, the body of Dr. Francesco Narducci was recovered from a lake near Perugia, Italy. This murder was unsolved and the case went cold until 2001 when a recording of a wiretapped conversation revealed a threatening phone call mentioning Narducci’s murder, the murder of a suspect in the Monster of Florence killings, and a secret society that had allegedly carried them both out. It was at this point that prosecutor Giuliano Mignini took up the case. He had Narducci’s body exhumed, after which he claimed that the body was not decomposed enough to be that of the doctor.
What followed was the composition of an elaborate conspiracy theory involving 20 people: Mignini claimed that they were all connected to the Society of Freemasons, and that the Monster’s killings were partially intended to provide body parts that were used in the society’s Satanic black masses. He even went so far as to target other policemen who were pursuing leads that pointed to a lone killer and undermined his own case. The result was that all 20 charges were thrown out in court, and Mignini was publicly humiliated.
Fast-forward to 2007; Amanda Knox is an American student studying abroad in Perugia. On November 1st, her British roommate Meredith Kercher is found murdered in their house. Her throat had been slit and her belongings had been taken. In a lengthy trial, Knox was convicted of the murder along with her boyfriend and a third man; Knox and her boyfriend were sentenced to 25 years in prison. One of the lead prosecutors in her case was none other than Mignini, who among other things, again tried to explain the motive for the murder as part of a Satanic orgy. This lack of credible evidence and motive was central to the verdict being overturned in 2011 after Knox had already been in an Italian prison for 4 years. Knox was allowed to return home to the United States, met by family and a huge crowd of supporters.
Unfortunately, the nightmare hasn’t ended for Knox and her boyfriend. On Tuesday, the Italian Supreme Court ruled that the case be tried again, and Knox was ordered to return to Italy. At the center of this turn of events is a legal principle known as double jeopardy, which is a procedural defense that prohibits someone for being tried for the same crime twice. This means that if a trial runs its course and a guilty verdict is not reached, whether by acquittal, mistrial, a deadlocked jury, or an overturned conviction as in Knox’s case, that person cannot be tried again for the same offense. In the United States, the principle of double jeopardy is embedded in our legal system as part of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution.
Many question the need for this protection; after all, why let someone who is clearly guilty run free just because a technicality may have led to a mistrial? This consideration, while valid, completely misrepresents the purpose of the legal system in the United States, which not to punish the guilty but to protect the innocent. Because of this, two of the major reasons for double jeopardy protection are to prevent the government from using their vastly superior resources to perpetually try someone in court until their desired verdict is reached, and to protect the credibility of legal proceedings – or in other words, to prevent the situation where “when mom says no…go ask dad.”
What does this mean for Amanda Knox? Basically, everything. She has so far maintained her innocence and refused to return to Italy. The only way she will have to stand trial now is if the United States extradites her to stand trial in Italy – something that would violate the principle of double jeopardy and is therefore something that the United States will probably not do. Ever. Unfortunately for Knox’s boyfriend, whose conviction was also overturned in 2011, he stayed in Italy and will face retrial by people like Giuliano Mignini, who are no-doubt seeking some sort of vindication after their troubled career history. And it is times like these that I am so thankful to live in a land governed by the United States Constitution.