Claudio Pratillo Hellmann: “Even the judges are lynching me for acquitting Amanda and Raffaele”

The man who in 2011 presided over the Court of Appeal in Perugia which acquitted Amanda and Raffaele speaks; in retirement since then.

by Meo Ponte, March 30, 2015


Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito’s acquittal by the Supreme Court?

Hellmann: It’s not just the satisfaction for the implicit recognition of the validity of the verdict announced at its time by the Court that I presided over, but more than anything it’s the end of a great suffering. For three and a half years I’ve suffered for the fate of two youths that I believed innocent and who risked to undergo a very harsh punishment for a crime that they hadn’t committed.

Question: How come you left the judiciary right after that verdict?

Hellmann: I was practically forced to. Our decision was received with reactions of contempt. I can still remember the whistling and the shouting by a claque that had gathered outside the Court house on the evening of the verdict. From the next day I felt surrounded by a growing hostility. In the bars of Perugia they were saying I had sold out to the Americans, that I had yielded to the pressures of the CIA. Tall tales, of course, but what hit me more than the defamatory lynching that lasted years, was the reaction of colleagues in the judiciary. Nearly all of them stopped greeting me. In particular those who in various roles had been involved in the case. I realized that my Court had been a lone voice in a Courthouse where all the judges, starting with the GUP (Judge of the Preliminary hearing) up to those of various review courts, while criticizing the investigation, had endorsed the charges. In addition I had good possibilities of becoming the President of the Tribunal and naturally that position was assigned to another colleague who certainly was very worthy but I had some suspicion that it was a retaliation. So, six months after the sentence I decided to retire.

Question: What convinced you of Amanda and Raffaele’s innocence?

Hellmann: The fact that the investigation was completely flawed and for me wrong from the very start. So much so that initially Patrick Lumumba was arrested who then was found to be completely uninvolved in the events, becoming an injured party. I remember that my colleague Massimo Zanetti who presided over the Court with me opened by stating that the only thing that was certain was the death of Meredith Kercher. We ordered the expert appraisals that had not been done during the first trial and the contamination of the scientific proofs appeared in all its evidence. It was obvious that the knife seized from Raffaele Sollecito’s house wasn’t the murder weapon, the blade was not compatible with the wound. In addition I kept asking myself why there absolutely had to be three people to have murdered Meredith and why the possibility that it could have been only Rudy Guede was discarded from the outset.

Question: The only one now to have been convicted for the murder…

Hellmann: And above all else the only one who really knows what happened that night in via della Pergola and who was with him, if there was anyone [with him]. We tried to make him say something but when he came to our courtroom, when asked the precise question of whether he recognized Amanda and Raffaele he responded vaguely that he had always thought that they were the murderers. And it always surprised me the respect that he was given despite being the only one whose presence at the scene of the crime was not in question

Question: What did you feel when the Supreme Court annulled the acquittals?

Hellmann: Dismay, more than anything. My Court had tried to really understand who had murdered Meredith, without letting ourselves get entrapped by prejudice or by preconceived ideas. We had acquitted those two youths because the trial had demonstrated that there was no proof of their participation in the crime. Naturally that decision rekindled the defamatory campaign against me and the rumors circulated again that I had been recruited by the United States to free Amanda.

Question: And when the second Appeal trial in Florence convicted them both again?

Hellmann: I was perplexed. I couldn’t understand how they could have done it given that during the trial nothing new emerged. They had changed the motive but it was still just a supposition and not a verified fact. They had also ordered a scientific expert appraisal on the knife that substantially had the same conclusion as ours. I ask myself again how did they manage to arrive at a verdict of conviction.