“Innocent” Amanda Knox to talk about her “Trial by Media”

It’s a good thing the mainstream media has amnesia. I just caught CNN doing their “analysis” of Knox, and according to their feature Knox was treated harshly in the press. It’s because of the media – so her story goes – that Knox ended up in an Italian prison.

Which media? The Italian media? The American media? The British media? All media?

Let’s do a memory check on this idea that the media were biased.

It was Knox’s father Curt who hired spin doctor David Marriott, of Gogerty Marriot Public relations Inc, just 9 days after Knox’s arrest. Following Knox’s “exoneration”, her father called this move – to hire a PR expert – the “smartest move he ever did…”

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It doesn’t take a genius to see that PR [which is positive press paid for and organized to a particular end] actually did Amanda Knox a great service. Over time it exerted more and more pressure on Italy, then leverage. Even President Trump saw Knox come onto his radar in 2011, and he couldn’t resist tweeting his support.

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Since then, Trump appears to have had a change of heart, however.

Knox ultimately sold the story of how she didn’t murder her roommate, Meredith Kercher, for a record sum. In 2012 the Telegraph reported on the book deal being worth $4 million. Her boyfriend and co-accused, Raffaele Sollecito made an estimated $1 million from television appearances and got his own book deal as well.

So if the press was so negative and incriminating, if Amanda Knox was made into a villain and a victim, how come Amanda Knox today is free, employed, in love and living happily ever after?

More: Why Amanda Knox Is Completely Innocent And The Italian Justice System Is Utterly Insane – Business Insider

Amanda Knox on Life After Wrongful Conviction – Rolling Stone

Amanda Knox: I am innocent – BBC

Amanda Knox: Guilty or innocent, five reasons why – The Telegraph

Of course one area where the media and social media has been less than friendly to Knox – or Sollecito – has been over their jabs and jokes, in pretty bad taste, in terms of the real victim in this case.

Amanda Knox’s murder joke riles up Instagram – AOL

Amanda Knox JOKES about Meredith Kercher trial as she shares ‘murder mystery’ party photos – The Express

FACEBOOK FURY  Raffaele Sollecito denies making sick Facebook jokes about Meredith Kercher’s murder two years after he was cleared of killing – The Sun

Ironically, minutes and hours after the murder, this was exactly the accusation made against Knox by other witnesses at the police station, and the police themselves. It all seemed like a joke to them, and at one point, Knox seemed to be doing cartwheels and gymnastics in the hallways while waiting to be interrogated, much as Jodi Arias once had…

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CRIMECON: Nancy Grace explains why the slaughter of a Colorado family captured America’s Attention

Nancy Grace is right. In order to study a case, to really get to grips with it, you have to spend a lot of time reading, listening and thinking.

When asked her opinion on the Watts case Nancy answered:

“He had it all,” she said. “He had this gorgeous wife, Shanann. He’s got the children, Bella and Celeste, beautiful. They always wanted a boy. They’re having baby Nico. He’s on the way. Beautiful home.”

She noted from the outside it looked perfect.

“It looked like a postcard,” she said. “It was perfect. When you look at somebody like Chris Watts in court, this picture perfect setting, it’s hard. It’s like the mind is tricking the eye. You’re seeing one thing but the evidence tells you something different, that he in fact is a cold-blooded killer who killed his own children, so I think that’s the fascination. It’s like trying to put together a Rubik’s Cube. You can’t sort it out in your head.”

All of that may be true, but all of that is the surface layer stuff, the optics,the artifice, the superficial.

I get what she’s saying that one can’t put the dichotomy, the duality together, but given enough analysis and thought, we can figure it out, and arguably TCRS already has. In the first Rocket Science book, published in September 2018, only weeks after the crime, we were already looking at a different portrait of the Watts family.

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To understand these crimes and these case we have to get away from projection and transference. We have to stop imposing ourselves onto these cases. We have to let the cases and criminals speak for themselves.

Chris Watts explains what made him snap

There’s a weird admission here that when Watts wasn’t home, it was almost like he “forgot” he was a father. He says since there were no reminders around him [at Kessinger’s house] it was easy to forget who he was.

It reminds me of a scene in the movie The Hours, where a housewife is baking a cake for her husband’s birthday, “to show him that we love him.” Her son, standing in the kitchen, asks her: “Otherwise [without the cake] he wouldn’t know we love him…?”

Packham: A Reference Case that sheds more light on Chris Watts

A regular reader of this blog and my books recently asked if I was aware of the current coverage of the Zahau case. My response was something long the lines of needing to maintain a single-minded focus on the Watts case.  Consistent laser focus and concentrated attention is necessary, naturally, in true crime.

Focus is vital to penetrate the many layers of deceit and misdirection, and figuring out who people really are when they’re purposefully hiding who they are, takes time and effort. But we have to be careful. There’s focus and there’s also the danger of becoming one-track minded. When we’re one-track minded we’re in our own echo chamber and nothing new gets in. When that happens we as individuals, and as a group apparently sharing the same ideas, risk taking the bus to Abeline.

This is where Intertextuality comes in. It’s an incredibly valuable tool in true crime, and useful in criminal trials where – come sentencing – lawyers argue how previous cases were decided on, or how previous felons in similar scenarios were dealt with. Intertextuality is a highway to insights. Through other cases we have a better idea of who and what we are dealing with.

The first time I was truly shaken by the insights of Intertextuality occurred in early June 2018, during the Jason Rohde trial. At the time I’d written about the Zahau case, and so the unusual scenario of a murder staged as a suicide was still fresh in my mind. Sitting in court watching Rohde, listening to the autopsy findings, seeing the crime scene pictures projected in court, and listening to him testify, I saw many of the patterns I’d noticed in the Zahau case come rushing back. In fact I was so transported by these insights I was moved to do something I wouldn’t normally do. During a recess I boldly approached the prosecutor, briefly introduced myself and communicated my intuitions. He wasn’t very receptive. Not at first.

I’m not sure how many people like to be approached like that and told how to do their jobs. A prosecutor instinctively shoots holes into people. So I felt a little like that on Day 1, but as the trial wore on we communicated more often and soon, some of my ideas were floated in court. When the judge delivered her judgment in late February 2019, some artifacts of those ideas were still circulating.

Watts + Packham

In the Watts case it’s easy to get stuck on the idea that Watts didn’t have a plan, and hence, didn’t have an explanation for what happened to Shan’ann. Conversely, if he didn’t have a good explanation, he couldn’t have a good plan. This is circular reasoning, and within the confines of the circle, yes it’s fairly compelling. When we look at the larger ecosystem of the Watts case, the mistress, the pregnancy, the finances, the evidence, the notion that Watts randomly and impulsively committed triple murder becomes absurd.

It’s tempting to conflate Watts’ social awkwardness and introversion with stupidity and lack of guile. What’s really going on is the opposite. His social awkwardness makes him more internalized, which makes him a thinker, a plot, a planner. He likes to be under the radar.

Watts himself said he had to think carefully about what he said to Shan’ann. He had to plan his answers.

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Over the course of a marriage, where one individual can’t be who they really are, they practice their deceits and soon misdirection becomes second nature. As the deceits become more elaborate, such as an affair, so does the strategy, plotting and planning around it. The affair is the first thing “he gets away with” and this gives him confidence that he’s good at getting away with things. But he has to become more sophisticated and so a plot is hatched. And with enough arrogance and frustration, mendacity graduates into murder.

When we look at Packham, we see a wealthy individual, and an intelligent businessman. Nothing like Chris Watts, right? Actually, besides the money, they’re not so very different.

Packham had been married to his wife for almost thirty one years, but the couple had been having marital problems because of his infidelities, before her disappearance on February 22, last year. She did not arrive for work at the usual time of 7.30am and her body was later found in the boot of her burnt-out BMW near the Diep River train station.

Steyn rejected Packham’s version that she could have been the victim of a random hijacking and instead found that Packham was “a crafty deceiver”, agreeing with the State that his conduct was “incomprehensible” and had been indicative of guilt. – The Citizen

Like the Watts Family Murders, Packham’s wife was made to disappear. But unlike the Watts Family Murders, Gill Packham’s disappearance wasn’t “invisible”. Instead of oil tanks her remains were burnt inside her vehicle near a train station in a derelict suburb far from their lush mansion in Constantia. The incineration of the vehicle was meant to conceal the blunt force injuries to her head, but also to destroy possible DNA evidence linking Packham to his wife’s corpse.

On paper, Packham’s explanation isn’t bad. Packham suggested that his wife had come to grief as a result of a random hijacking. This is fairly common in Cape Town, so why not? Well, one reason is hijackers seldom burn the vehicles they target. In this case it was a BMW, so why would a hijacker burn the vehicle and not just take it? Packham didn’t think it through because he didn’t think he needed to. Who knows the motives of random hijackers…?

We may look at that kind of simplistic thinking as daft, but we’re not seeing the full picture. We don’t know the underlying drivers and dynamics, and we don’t know about Packham’s relationships with others, including his children. [The same applies to Rohde].

Interestingly in both the Rohde trial and the Packham trial, the daughters of the accused immediately forgave their fathers, and despite the convictions for the murders of their mothers [respectively], they didn’t want their fathers to be sentenced too harshly.

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In the Watts case we see the same expression of clemency and forgiveness not only from his own parents, but from the Rzuceks as well. It’s as if he did the calculations beforehand and figured if they found out, they’d let him get away with it.

And what about the lack of remorse? Packham and Rohde also showed no remorse, but interestingly Rohde, when confronted with this, indicated that showing remorse would look like admitting guilt.

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Guilty murderers don’t seem to realize that even an innocent defendant would be concerned and traumatized by the death of someone so close to them, besides being emotional about being “wrongly implicated” in a crime. Instead the lack of emotion is meant to convey blamelessness. It works only in the mind of the one who is to blame, but it can work in the minds of those close to them as well.

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He had not once mentioned that he missed his wife or felt sympathy for his children’s loss, and instead displayed a “dismissive attitude” in court that lacked empathy. Judge Steyn said Packham had not divulged a motive, but it appeared he killed his wife out of “anger and frustration”.

Of course once again we have a case where after all is said and done, the guilty man is convicted, but no one can say why.  The crime is ultimately dismissed as a crime executed in anger. He’s angry but he’s a sociopath who shows no remorse. Really? Is he? Was it random frustration on a random day or was it cold, premeditated and merciless?

Which is worse?

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“I think he’s a sociopath with absolutely no remorse.”- Catherine Townsend, Private Investigator and Investigation Discovery Expert

Sometimes – especially on social media – I encounter members of the public all saying the same thing at the same time. Sometimes they’ll be saying with absolute confidence that Chris Watts is a monster, then it’s that he’s a narcissist, then a sociopath.

Typically this follows a Dr. Phil Show, a documentary, or when some expert appears on HLN. If everyone is saying the same thing, and thinking the same thing, and repeating the same thing, it’s no wonder the mainstream never figures out so many of these cases.

Can anyone say why this crime happened? Can anyone reconcile the evidence to the psychology to the family dynamics, forwards and backwards, cross-ways, making sure everything lines up?

Because the sociopathic, monster and narcissism labels only fit the crime itself. What about the rest?

While in the clip below Townsend is broadly correct, there are clear sociopathic traits in the aftermath of this crime, were they present before? If Watts was a despicable, heartless narcissist, why did everyone like him up until the moment of the crime? And if he’s a sociopath with no remorse, why did he start acting cold to Shan’ann and the kids. Why did they pick up on him being distant and standoffish?

How can you become cold and distant if you weren’t warm and affectionate to begin with? So a more complete picture is that as Watts became more ensconced in an affair, he began to act less affectionate. But that’s not sociopathy, that’s normal!

Now I want to briefly illustrate why this kind of labeling is simplistic and reductionist, and how it actually prevents us from figuring out cases like this, rather than helping us.

Before we get to that, watch this clip.

So in the clip Townsend plucks the low-hanging fruit and on the face of it it seems pretty straightforward.

Watts just wanted out of his marriage, he wanted to be single, and he just saw his family as things he wanted to get rid of…

But under that face, under the sur-face – which is why we talk of the TWO FACE-dness of Chris Watts – it’s not nearly so simple. He didn’t just want to be single, he wanted to be with Kessinger. He didn’t want to be on his own because he spent every night – when his family was away – with Kessinger.

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So the narrative you’re getting from these experts, and these episodes, is derived from the truth, but how much time have these experts really spent studying the case? Is it the only case on their desk, or is it one of many, and is this one of many appearances on one of many shows?

The notion that Watts just saw his family as things he wanted to get rid of is a tempting thought. It makes absolute sense retrospectively, but as soon as we park the wheelbarrow beside the retrospective aspect of true crime, all there is to excavate is the dirt from the crime scene and the aftermath. Believe it or not there is another side – another face – to this story, it’s the long backstory and run up that leads to the crime itself. How long was this phase? Moments? Seconds? Minutes? Months? Or a lifetime in the making?

Chris Watts didn’t treat his wife or his kids, or anyone, as things, prior to the murders. So does the crime make him a sociopath retrospectively, or was he always one, he was simply hiding it?

And it’s because we’re hitching the wagon to a pair of horses named Sociopath and Saw his family as Things, that we’re prevented from seeing how this crime actually played out. Because in reality, Watts didn’t see his family as things, he loved them, and then he didn’t love them, and then yes he did want to get rid of them. The story is that he did so violently and heartlessly. The position of TCRS is that the murders of the children weren’t violent, and even Shan’ann’s murder – though more violent and physical – isn’t the way it’s been portrayed.

I know what you’re thinking. How do you commit a murder without aggression, without violence? But there are ways. We see it in true crime all the time. And if we weren’t focused on labels and making things so simple, we might see how things are more subtle.

TCRS assessment of DEATH AT THE MANSION [Part 1 of 2]

Where a crime is covered up there’s always an absence of evidence.

The absence of evidence is evidence.

After the first two episodes [with two to go], it may be too quick to criticize [or compliment] Oxygen’s documentary on Rebecca Zahau – Death at the Mansion.  But based on what I’ve seen I do have a few comments. We’ll see if any of these issues are brought up or resolved in the final two episodes.

I don’t know whether the producers of some of these shows go to some lengths to do a sort of true crime cocktease [pardon the term], but it sure feels that way sometimes.  They don’t want to seem too biased in the beginning, but then…when do they nail their colors to the mast?

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There are a few cases out there that don’t require one to be a Rocket Scientist to see the basic mechanism. I’m not saying the Zahau case is a simple case, but to dedicate the first half of their documentary so far to a game of “on the one hand X” but “on the other hand Y” tends to get a little tedious. After two episodes it still feels like an about even score on both sides, and that’s not good.

A decent investigation finds its feet fairly early on, not prematurely of course, but it develops a theory and then over time, assimilating the evidence but keeping an open mind, it fine-tunes and tightens the screws. But we don’t see that here, we simply see more information adding to the tension, more exculpatory evidence versus more incalpatory evidence, and the viewer is left – intentionally – with what ultimately amounts to a middle-of-the-road neither-here–nor-there analysis.

In many of these documentaries we see the same thing. They bring in a revolving door of experts and yet they never quite seem able to choose which side of the fence they want to be on. This is no accident, of course, but from the purview of an authentic investigation, it’s kinda sucky isn’t it?

I get it. To be too on-the-chin where a suspect hasn’t been convicted, where the police case and will to prosecute is weak is risky. To be too explicit about where you’re driving at when huge sums of money [massive resources] are available for litigation if a narrative oversteps the line, is dangerous and bad for business for any media player.

But there is a way to point fingers at evidence that’s a deeper dive than the light vanilla analysis we see. We see so many TV shows giving the appearance of investigations.  If you’re going to investigate a case, investigate it. Forget about bias, don’t pretend to forget about it. What do I mean?

Both images above appear – fleetingly – in the documentary, but thus far neither the balcony floor nor the railing have been discussed in any detail. The image on the left depicts a few toe impressions and a single boot impression in the thick grime and dirt of the balcony.

In their online coverage, Oxygen rightly notes that the boot print was traced to a responding officer. Now although they’ve recreated how a knot could be self-tied, and gone to speak to some “experts” in bondage, why not take it further and try to recreate stepping into the dirt on the balcony and leaving as few toe prints as Rebecca did. That’s the first part of the equation.

The second part is the railing itself. The black, wrought iron railing was 36 inches high, or 0.91 meters. In the image on the right above, there’s very little dirt rubbed away off the surface of the railing. Rebecca was short, 5 feet 3 inches [1.6 meters] and if her legs were bound as well her hands, she would have bent over the railing and smudged the dirt off as she toppled over. Also, her hands and clothing should contain traces of the same grime.

During the civil trial a forensic kinesiologist [James Kent] made the same observation. Kent stated:

“She would have to fall forward onto the railing. She wouldn’t go over because her center of gravity is below the railing.”

More on this topic: Zahau could not have tipped herself over balcony in suicide, expert testfies – SanDiegoTribune

Jurors Hear Evidence in Coronado Mansion Mysterious Death – NBC San Diego

Here’s a closer view. Notice even where the rope is in its final position, the grime seems undisturbed. There is a small area on the far left which is about the size of a hand or a few fingers. But it’s hard to imagine someone short stepped over the railing.

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The alternative is that she placed her feet on the metal latticework below, leaned over and then slipped off. But then we should see indentations or grime rubbed off on the latticework.

I would also like to see the view neighbors might have of that balcony, and the line of sight angles onto it. This is somewhat visible in aerial photos, but there are almost no photos taken from the balcony itself showing line of sight to the neighbors while standing on the balcony, and from neighbors to the balcony. This is important because if she was murdered, the murderer wouldn’t want to be seen out in the open.

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The absence of smudge marks or prints on the floor and railing suggest Zahau may have been tossed over the railing, rather than dropped. This may be why her killer felt so many knots were necessitated, and the reinforcing use of the bed post to “anchor” her fall – all so he could remain out of sight. And if that’s the case, did her body swing back and damage the cactus below?

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If it was a suicide, why not simply tie the rope to the balcony? Why this complicated apparatus?

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The other aspect that I thought was both strong and weak was the input from the criminal psychologist at the end of episode two. The expert provided a little nugget of insight that Rebecca was a disciplined, mentally strong and stable person. This goes against the idea of a spontaneous act. I’m not sure one needs to be an expert to see that, but it’s nevertheless a valid point.

Hickey mentions investigating many cases over the years and never seeing a situation like this – with a woman taking off all her clothes and then supposedly committing suicide. I have. The Rohde case. That was also case involving a multimillionaire, staged to look like a suicide.

Handyman shows how he released naked Susan Rohde from curling iron cord

My tears fell on Susan Rohde’s naked breasts‚ says ex-priest

Susan Rohde’s ‘overstaged suicide was grotesque’

One of the strongest elements in the first two episodes, besides the 911 call from Xena [where Rebecca can be heard whimpering in the background] is the input from the Crime Scene Analyst, or CSA.

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The expert describes the coarse, abrasive language and style of the black brushstrokes against the door. The expert suggests that the original intention – if it was murder – wasn’t to commit murder, but something else. And then that something else had to be covered in a rushed, haphazard and spontaneous manner. sd-pg-day-18-civil-trial-wrongful-death-rebecc-006

The final two episodes of DEATH AT THE MANSION are on June 15th [Seeking Justice for Rebecca] and June 22nd [Final Theories].