From time to time, we hear that Italy’s prosecutors are about to investigate the authors of the independent report on DNA and blood evidence that was instrumental in freeing Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito.
That would be shooting the messenger. How familiar; how Russian! The report by Dr. Carla Vecchiotti and Dr. Stefano Conti pointed out 54 errors and irregularities in handling and testing of biological material by the central police laboratory in Rome. One would think the lab should come under scrutiny – but it’s the professors who are suspected of wrongdoing instead.
Let’s be clear on this: Dr. Vecchiotti, who authored the DNA-related part of the report, was perfectly qualified for the task. Her CV in English and Italian can be found easily on the web. She is director of the forensic genetics laboratory at the Sapienza. Her teaching focus is spot on: laboratory techniques, forensic medicine and haemotology, forensic laboratory and a few others. (Implying she knows all the controversial issues in forensic DNA testing.) She has 30 years of experience in research and teaching, mostly related to identification by means of DNA and blood analysis, mostly at the Sapienza university of Rome, which is where she received her MD and an additional degree in forensic medicine. She lists 30 articles and 5 textbooks she wrote or co-authored in 1994-2011.
Now let us turn to the “scientific police” laboratory in Rome. The person at the lab who performed DNA testing and much of the sample collection in the Knox-Sollecito case is Patrizia Stefanoni. Her name does not pop up in academic contexts in Google searches, but for all I know, she did not have as much as a doctoral degree either in 2007, when she did the testing, nor in 2011, when she tried to disprove Conti & Vecchiotti and even threatened them with prosecution for calumny of some sort. She was styled a Doctor (“dottoressa”) out of courtesy and custom. However in 2007 she was essentially a lab technician with a few years of experience and no advanced degree in her field. Her boss, Dr. Renato Biondo, who covered up for her during the 2009 trial as a witness for the prosecution – saying there had been no case of contamination in his lab for years (read: “we had not even thought of it”) – does not seem to be nearly as distinguished a researcher as Dr. Vecchiotti. So there.