by Andrew Crisp
Dr. Greg Hampikian, Boise State professor and director of the Idaho Innocence Project, took the stage at the university's Student Union Building today to speak about his organization's role in the acquittal of Amanda Knox. News outlets around the world reported on the Italian murder trial.
“My introduction to this case was through the British tabloids,” Hampikian told the audience. “I never expected to work on it for three and a half years.”
Italian prosecutors originally convicted Knox and boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito for the 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher, Knox’s then-roommate. The DNA evidence analyzed by IIP pointed to a different suspect: a drifter named Rudy Guede.
The IIP uses DNA, found in every human cell, to paint the picture of a crime scene. Using a component from toothpaste and another from a meat tenderizer, the bulk of cellular residue can be cut away to extract the DNA. With a small amount of DNA, a person can be linked to the evidence.
“We can amplify your entire genome from a single cell, and it takes about 90 minutes,” said Hampikian.
His lecture admits that science can do some wonderful things, but he also talked about how bad science can lead to the wrong conclusions.
“Truth comes from science, and the story of how this crime was committed does not fit the evidence,” said Hampikian.
He attributed it to an overzealous Italian prosecutor, anxious to link evidence from the Perugia apartment to Knox and Sollecito. Hampikian showed the audience readouts of the amount of DNA found on a knife from Sollecito’s apartment, where Kercher had allegedly never been. The prosecution claimed Kercher's DNA showed up on the knife.
“They go to Amanda Knox’s boyfriend’s house down the road. ... They open the kitchen drawer and take one kitchen knife,” said Hampikian of the prosecution. “They aren’t able to say why they took that.”
Hampikian said this wasn’t surprising. DNA residue isn’t like fingerprints. It doesn’t smudge, and it’s easy to transfer.
In a mock investigation of a Boise State office, Hampikian and his research team collected soda cans from five different employees—and with the same gloves—handled five different freshly unwrapped knives. They found that when they set their instruments to look for even trace amounts of DNA, they found a link.
In short, the Italian prosecutors drilled down the minutia of DNA residue for the goal they wanted.
Instead, Hampikian and the defense found DNA from Guede in massive quantities on Kercher’s personal possessions, inside her vagina, and in a bathroom of the apartment. No murder weapon was ever found.