Amanda Knox: A Cautionary Tale for Prosecutors and Interrogators

Whether or not you believe Amanda Knox is innocent, her case raises a few difficult questions. How ought the police and interrogators to treat suspects?

As we saw in the Chris Watts case, Coder and Lee adapted their style to fit in with his. They spoke his language, came down to his level, and sat with him for hours while valuable evidence dissolved in a tank and decayed in the ground. It suited Watts that the interrogation lasted a long time and went nowhere. But it also suited the cops that they had someone in the cubicle, talking casually and openly, while a big team were out in the field gathering intel. This included knowledge about Kessinger, and confirmation that Watts had been cheating on his wife and brazenly lying to Coder, even trying to beat a polygraph test.

If the Watts case went to trial, it’s possible, even plausible, that an expert defense lawyer could have argued – successfully – that he confessed not only under duress, but under false pretenses.

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We know the scenario that Shan’ann killed the girls wasn’t something that happened, it wasn’t what Watts believed, it wasn’t even what the FBI or CBI believed. It was just a ploy to let him off the hook so he could give them some intel they could use. That part worked.

In a scenario of a disappearance, where time is also of the essence, this sort of skulduggery is likely necessary. The cops didn’t know they were dealing with a triple homicide until Watts let on that all three – Shan’ann, Bella and Celeste – were dead.

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It’s also part of the stock and trade of criminal cases that the folks involved are thieves, murderers and liars. They’re habitual deceivers. Are interrogators really expected to be completely honest and completely straightforward when criminals never are?

These ploys may work in the interrogation room but what happens in a criminal case?

The Jodi Arias case is an example of how aggressive a prosecutor felt he needed to be in court trying to extract information from a a slippery slimebag on the stand.

In the clip below, Amanda Knox and Jens Soering seem to be making the case that as young people they should have been interrogated by young people. Or one on one. Or not for hours at a time. Imagine if we applied these guidelines to police interrogations everywhere, everyday.

How should a suspect be interrogated? For one hour at a time, or two? Is three hours in one day too much? If the police feel they have grounds, why shouldn’t they interrogate for hours until the suspect cracks?

We saw with Watts he wasn’t deprived of food or water, in fact bottles of water are seen in the room throughout. He was Mirandized, and though the idea of legal representation came up, he clearly elected not to speak with a lawyer. Had he been questioned more aggressively, would he have exercised that option? Had he been questioned less aggressively, or over a greater length of time, would he have exercised that option?

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The danger in being too soft – in interrogations – is precisely that the suspect has the opportunity to buy time, fine-tune their story and find out what the cops know, and don’t know.

In true crime, time is always against the investigators while favoring the criminal. The criminal is carefully, deceptively, duplicitously play acting…the nonchalance is invariably an act to hide the fact of who’s really holding all the cards and guarding all the exits. It may feel the other way round, it may look the other way round, but it’s not.

Unless the suspect is innocent.

Court allows Amanda Knox to sue Italy for trial ‘abuses’

European court orders Italy to pay Amanda Knox damages

Amanda Knox’s parents sued by Italian police over abuse claims

2 thoughts on “Amanda Knox: A Cautionary Tale for Prosecutors and Interrogators

  1. I am familiar with Jens’ case (weirdly he reminds me of Raffaele and she of Elizabeth) and I’m not convinced that he’s innocent but I think he makes a fair point. I don’t think there should be a hard and fast rule about someone’s age, but I understand why they would have felt intimidated, particularly in a second language.

    Something I’ve been thinking about lately and sort of the inverse of that power dynamic is when a cop does something wrong. In the news right now there’s that story about a cop who was off-duty and he shot three people inside Costco killing a man and shooting his parents. He was sent to the hospital and released and they are releasing public comments that he “was pushed”; he says knocked out. If he had literally any other job people would be PISSED and at least want to see evidence. But just because it’s a cop most of the comments are like “well it’s good he’ll be getting paid while he’s suspended and they look into it-he’s still an officer.” “He obviously feared for his life and the other two people were just in the way of the bullets.” And, mostly, “innocent until proven guilty.” No one ever constantly says that in other cases. It’s fascinating how if he just had a different job, a teacher-the narrative would be he’s in jail, just another mass shooting, he’d be assumed to have “snapped”.

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  2. Ah, the Jodi Arias case. I watched that intently, as I did with Casey Anthony. I remember throughout Anthony’s trial, she was meant to take the stand, and at the last moment the defense decided against it. Best move she ever made, and one of the few smart ones, as she would’ve been torn apart. Baez is still to this day a joke of an attorney, Mason was without a doubt the brains behind the operation. I remember Baez getting objections left and right for his questions during cross, and told numerous times to rephrase. Ive seen better cross exams from a 2L in mock trial.

    Chris’s first mistake (when interacting with law enforcement, that is) was talking to police sans representation by a licensed attorney. Doesn’t matter if you’re innocent or guilty, the police aren’t your friends, no matter how many times they tell you differently. As I was reading your post Nick, all I could think of was the “good cop, bad cop” routine often used. As for how long you can be interrogated, there isn’t a set time limit but I believe there should be. Obviously withholding food, water, sleep etc.. for an extended period of time gives the defense attorney grounds to argue coercion, and if a judge agrees, the state loses all evidence obtained during that session. Amanda Knox’s interrogators had their minds made up (IMO) before they even spoke to her, and alot odd the tactics they used during the interrogation would’ve caused an uproar had it happened in America. As for her guilt or innocence, I’ll respectfully decline to give my opinion on that one.

    I still wish this would’ve went to trial, as I personally feel there’s so much missing from the Watts case. While Ive never been in his shoes, I will say that if you’ve been beaten down long enough, there does come a time where you stop caring, and I feel, in part that is something that happened in this case. Incarceration or not, at the end of the day he was still relieved of his marriage, and from where Im sitting, it appears that was what counted to Mr. Watts.

    Great write up, Nick.

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