Time of Death

[Ora della morte, pp. 55-62; translated by roteoctober]

The Corte di Assise of first level has acknowledged the difficulty of determining the time of death exactly based merely on medical criteria. As the exact data are not all available, the time span where Meredith Kercher’s death can be placed according to those criteria remains  rather wide: from 9-9.30 pm of November 1st 2007 to the early hours of November 2nd 2007. However, reconstructing the unfolding of the events, the first-level Corte di Assise concluded that it was able to establish the time of death from other evidence, particularly the harrowing scream reportedly heard by witnesses Capezzali and Monacchia exactly – according to the Court – around 11.30 pm.

Actually, witness Capezzali – as a reading of the transcription of her testimony at the hearing of 03/27/2009 clearly shows – was not able to pinpoint an exact time, since she did not look at a watch (which, as she herself has stated, she never checks), but provided only very rough estimates, having said that she went to sleep at 9-9.30 pm and that she woke up two hours later to go to the bathroom ( the two-hour time span, however, was given just because that is the time at which she usually wakes up again at night). And it was exactly at this juncture that she heard the scream, followed, after a while,  by the clatter of footsteps  on the iron stairs leading to the parking lot below and by the shuffling on the alleyway in front of the house on Via Della Pergola.

Actually the witness has stated that she did not look out of the window to see what was going on, but that she could locate the source of those noises thanks to her good knowledge of the surrounding area.

What puts the sharpness of her memories in doubt is the fact that the witness herself has claimed to have learnt that a girl had been killed in the house on Via Della Pergola during the night from some youngsters passing by her house while she was busy with housecleaning the day after: what cannot be understood is how could it be possible for this news to be learned at a time (morning of November 2nd 2007) when the crime had not yet been discovered by the Police.

Nevertheless, this Court has no real reason to doubt the reliability of this witness concerning the scream and the noises heard during the night, considering the spontaneity and confidence she showed in reporting them, but, however, wishes to draw attention to the extreme ambiguity of the reported facts as clues for determining the time of death: whether due to the loose determination of the time when she heard them, when a sharp temporal  determination would be of [utmost] relevance (half an hour more or less is anything but unimportant); or because the source of those noises is not at all certain, since Ms. Capezzali had at other times heard screams (even if not as chilling as the one heard that night) and night-time noises, being rowdiness, arguments and the comings and goings of people – as stated by the witness herself – not a rarity in that area, since it is close to a parking lot and busy with young people and “junkies”.

The Corte di Assise of first level concludes, moreover, that it can set the time of death at about 11.30 pm because what was heard by Ms Capezzali, especially the harrowing scream, would find confirmation in the statement made by witness Monacchia, who herself was also examined in the hearing of 03/27/2009.

But, in truth, the reading of the transcription of this witness’ statement does not offer any evidence to pinpoint  the time when the scream occurred at 11.30 pm rather than at 11:00 pm or even earlier.

Witness Monacchia, whose reliability is not in doubt – also because she admitted with great sincerity that she presented herself to the investigators after about a year only because repeatedly pressed by a young apprentice journalist (he is the same one who caused Quintavalle to present himself to the investigators, he too after nearly a year) – in fact, has explained that, having gone to sleep at 10 pm on November 1st, she was woken up after a certain time by two persons discussing aloud, a man and a woman, who spoke in Italian, apparently without regional accents, and she added that soon after the strong scream of a woman was heard, whose origin, however, she was unable to indicate with certainty.

The witness was not more precise about the time, she could not connect it to objective data, anyway, in her first statement, made when she first introduced herself to the investigators, she had said “…at about 11 pm” (statement recorded on 11/08/2008, used for the notification). So witness Monacchia’s declarations indeed increase instead of overcoming the ambiguity, as circumstantial evidence, of witness Capezzali’s declarations. Finally, the Corte di Assise of first level affirms that “…A confirmation of sorts of this could be the evidence given by witness Dramis, who related that she heard “running steps” around 11.30 pm that same November 1st on Via Del Melo, which is very near, almost an extension of the alleyway of the house on Via Della Pergola…”.

But the integral reading of the transcripts of the testimony (also given during the 03/27/2009 hearing) highlights elements even more uncertain than those reported by the two other witnesses. Ms. Dramis, in fact, reported that she went to sleep at about 11-11.30 pm and that she woke up later (but without being able to quantify how much later, even if she did not exclude that it could be around 11.30 pm)  because of the noise of quick footsteps, but that she was unable to pinpoint their direction nor if they had been produced by one or more persons, and she also noticed that such events are certainly not unheard of in that area.

That is why she waited for a year before presenting herself to the investigators and she did so only because pressed by a young apprentice journalist (the same one who prodded the other witnesses): the fact that such an event was not at all uncommon evidently induced her to give little weight to the matter. So we are confronted with an element of circumstantial evidence (scream and noise of steps) which is very weak because of its equivocality, the more so since it cannot even be placed with certainty in the timeline.

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This Court shares the opinion of the Corte di Assise of first level about the impossibility of establishing the time of death with more precision, inside a time span running from 9-9.30 pm on November 1st 2007 to the early hours of November 2nd 2007,  exclusively from medical criteria, but does not find that the element represented by the scream, heard by Ms. Capezzali and Ms. Monacchia, may be privileged over other evidence which would prompt one to move the time of death forward by more than an hour.

The first piece of evidence is represented by what was related by Rudy Guede to his friend Benedetti during the chat of 11/19/2007,  of which the usability in the context of these proceedings has already been discussed. Rudy Guede, in fact, confiding in his friend at a moment when he did not know that the communication was also overheard by the Police and talking about an issue (time of attack) about which he had no motive to lie, since he was admitting that he was present in that moment at the house at Via Della Pergola 7, even if denying his own responsibility, points to a time between 9 and 9:30 pm. Which, even allowing for the approximate nature of the information and for a possible error by Rudy Guede in his reading of the time, does not permit one to maintain that the attack, and then the death, occurred around 11 pm, since any error or approximate reading of time cannot entail a discrepancy of almost two hours between the time reported by Guede and the one held by the Corte di Assise of first level and based on the scream heard by Ms. Capezzali (by Capezzali and not also by Monacchia, since, in truth, as explained above, witness Monacchia did not give a sharp indication of the time when she woke up disturbed by the noise made by two persons who were arguing).

Secondly, the calls, or attempted calls, which result having been made by the cell phone belonging to Meredith Kercher (the one she used to make calls to England) deserve to be taken in consideration concerning the problem of the determination of the time of death, due to some peculiarities. These are – as stressed by Ms. Bongiorno during the discussion, but also before by the technical consultant for the Sollecito defense, Mr. Pellero – calls or attempted calls that, not having received an answer, cannot be tracked in the phone records, which record only the calls which effectively succeeded, but which have been detected from the examination of the cell phone.

Now, the last traces are as follows:

8:56 pm Meredith calls home in England but she does not receive an answer;

9:58 pm the number 901, corresponding to the answering machine, is dialed but the call is shut off before the end of the welcome message; after that, the phone immediately locks;

10:00 pm a number is dialed which corresponds to a bank (Abbey, the first number on the phone book) but no one is called, also because the mandatory prefix for foreign countries has not been composed;

10:13 pm a GPRS internet connection is recorded, lasting 9 seconds and to the Ip address, that could be related to an incoming multimedia message [MMS], which does not require human interaction, or to an access to the INTERNET, but with a duration, 9 seconds, too short to allow the use of any service, this could be explained by an involuntary connection or by a sudden interruption.

Now, it is clear that the attempt to call home was really made by Meredith Kercher since, understandably, she desired to speak with her family at the end of the day, before going to sleep. But she had no reason to try to call the other numbers: in the case of the first, 901, probably the answering machine, it would be meaningless to close the communication before entering the service, since she might as well not have called at all; the bank number (Abbey) she had no reason to dial at that hour and especially without the mandatory prefix; the last would be even more incomprehensible if dialed in order to gain access to the INTERNET, but, as noted, it could also be related to an incoming MMS.

But another oddity is that Meredith Kercher, if, as hypothesized in the ruling under appeal, she was attacked only an hour later, did not try to call her family again after a few minutes (had she done so, there would have been a trace in the cell phone).

So, Ms. Bongiorno has proposed that after the attempt to call her family, some sudden event occurred which prevented her from making another call; and this event could be nothing other than the aggression to which she was subjected. Otherwise, we could have found in the cell phone the record of the number 901, dialed at 9:58 pm but not actually the one of the bank, dialed at 10:00 pm; this allows us to reasonably hypothesize that it was another person, not accustomed to that cell phone, to dial that number, more precisely to dial the first name in the contact list, to which it was associated, perhaps in an attempt to turn off the cell phone, rather than to use it. As for the last recorded traffic registration, the one at 10:13 pm, it has already been noted that it could have been an incoming MMS, not needing any human interaction, or an attempt to access the INTERNET, likewise done by mistake presumably by someone who, unaccustomed to that cell phone, had somehow gained possession of it.

The Corte di Assise of first level did not accord any significance to those events, explaining them all as moments of relaxation during which Meredith Kercher, alone at home and already lying on the bed, would have thoughtlessly played with her cell phone and has explained the unfinished call to the answering machine as in line with the frugality that distinguished the character of Meredith Kercher, and the same for the fact of deleting the MMS without connecting to the INTERNET to open it.

This reasoning of the first-level Corte di Assise  is, however, a sheer conjecture which is not substantiated by any objective evidence and which, in any case, does not explain  why, as would have been natural, Meredith Kercher did not try to call her family again fifteen or twenty minutes after her first attempt.

But making the explanation put forth by the first-level Corte di Assise even less convincing is the consideration that that same Court in its ruling held that it was the aggressor who stripped from Meredith her trousers and her underwear, certainly her bra, which was even cut for that purpose. But is it really plausible that the young girl, having come back home with the goal of going to bed early because she was tired, having celebrated Halloween the night before, and with the thought in mind that the day after she would have had to go to class at the University (as she had said to her friend Sophie Purton), instead of undressing and going to sleep,  remained clothed, maybe lying on the bed in relaxation – as maintained by the [lower] Court  - but fully dressed, without undressing and going to sleep as had been her declared aim? Is it logical that, having the intention to go to sleep early, she instead remained dressed without doing anything for more than an hour, so as to be surprised in that state by the aggressor after 11 o’clock?

So it follows that it is more consistent with the intentions professed by the young woman and with the oddities of the above-mentioned phone calls, to hypothesize that actually the aggression, and hence the death shortly thereafter, occurred much before the time supposed by the Corte di Assise of first level: certainly not later than 10:13 pm.

The evidence and considerations explained above seem to be more relevant than those based on the scream heard by witness Capezzali, due to the ambiguity of the meaning to be attached to the scream (which in an area busy with young people and “junkies” could have also had another origin) whereas, by contrast, the evidence explained [here] presents a closer connection with the movements and the intentions of the victim in that situation.

It is also evident that if, hypothetically (and contrary to the assessment of unreliability of that witness made by this Court), one should deem reliable the statement given by witness Curatolo, the two current defendants would be completely cleared by that alone, since according to the witness at that time they were certainly in Piazza Grimana and not at the house on Via Della Pergola.

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