When a judge is more dangerous than a mafioso

Diego Gambetta, a professor of sociology at Oxford and the author of Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate, explains his findings:

An unexpected result of my research on the mafia was to find out that mafiosi are quite incompetent at doing anything… Mafiosi are good at intimidation and stick to it…. They let the professionals and the entrepreneurs take care of the actual business operations.

If only Italian judges followed this example and stuck to their legal business, leaving science to scientists. But they just won’t, for they think they aren’t like those Mafiosi – wishfully.

Alessandro Nencini is a prominent member of the so-called Magistratura Democratica, a union of “progressive” Italian judges and prosecutors, also called “red judges” by their opponents. As a progressive, one would expect judge Nencini to take science seriously. During the 2013-14 retrial of Amanda Knox (in absentia) and Raffaele Sollecito, Nencini freely admitted he was ignorant about DNA. In which case, why not leave it to the experts?

Indeed, one of Italy’s leading forensic DNA professionals, Prof. Carla Vecchiotti of La Sapienza, who had dedicated her 30-year career almost solely to forensic identification – of which DNA is the principal tool – coauthored the 2011 report that exposed the state’s DNA tests in this case as scientifically invalid.

Nencini could also turn to the distinguished defense experts: Adriano Tagliabracci, the author of the textbook, An Introduction to Forensic Genetics, or perhaps Carlo Torre with his 40 years of experience in forensics at the University of Turin, or Prof. Sarah Gino with her excellent, and relevant CV (pdf). Even the prosecution’s experts – the non-PhD lab technicial Patricia Stefanoni, the non-forensic geneticist Giuseppe Novelli, the head of a paternity test lab Francesca Torricelli – for all their lack of relevant qualifications, might still explain the basics of DNA to the judge.

Instead, judge Nencini chose to argue with Prof. Vecchiotti on his own. She made it clear that the presence of at least two more male contributors besides Sollecito and the victim’s boyfriend on the victim’s bra clasp is direct evidence of contamination – in addition to the investigators’ dirty gloves and booties and the bra being kicked around the crime scene and mysteriously ignored for 46 days from the initial search to its belated recovery. The learned judge writes:

But the matter important to the trial is not constituted by the presence of other contributors in the mixed DNA trace extracted from the bra clasp donned by Meredith Kercher the evening she was killed, but by the presence of Raffaele Sollecito’s DNA.

Well, of course it’s a very important matter because when you find DNA that wasn’t supposed to be there – these extra people – you wonder why, and immediately suspect contamination. (I believe all those DNA tests should have been thrown out, as they would have been in the UK or the US, since the investigators and the lab technician violated multiple rules of evidence collection and testing.) But Nencini ignores that, notes that the victim was a normalissima, most ordinary girl who was involved with her male housemate – so presumably with no other males – and continues:

This can hence make believable that on the bra clasp a trace could have been also left by the girl’s boyfriend; as it is reasonable to believe that some DNA could have been deposited by some female friend [amica] of the girl who touched the clasp.

This is a veritable masterpiece of judicial thought. Not just because the judge lets his imagination run wild, although that, too.

Primarily because Prof. Vecchiotti talked about contributors to the Y-haplotype profile.

Women don’t have Y-chromosomes, judge. There’s a rare condition when they do, but one in a million or two is as good as non-existent.

You should have learned from the Mafiosi, judge. But you seem to think that the Mafia that you belong to – the judicial clique – is the smartest of all. It has surely consolidated lots of power. When you were a prosecutor, didn’t you open a case against Berlusconi for calling your caste “cancer”? I don’t know if it was just peacockery on your part, but think about the message for a moment, not the speaker. He has resigned; you have metastasized.

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