The prosecutor knows better, huh?

On January 8, 2015, The Guardian ran Tobias Jones’ account of the Yara Gambirasio case. In December 2015, the story opened the paper’s list of 15 top long reads of the year. The Guardian followed up with two more stories on the case, in July 2015 and July 2016, both by Rosie Scammell. Googling the paper’s website for the name of the victim and the man convicted of her murder produces no more stories apart from these three.

Jones does a good job introducing the reader to the Bergamese tragicomedy: the search for a 13-year-old girl’s killer turning up evidence of past cuckoldry. However, once he has a suspect, Jones accepts the prosecution’s claims – such as “circumstantial evidence” – as fact, not bothering to cast a critical eye on them. That’s understandable – it would interfere with the narrative – and unsurprising. In my experience as a reader, British journalists often treat Italian prosecutors and judges with mystical deference, reserving their scorn for the American justice system.

When his long report went into print, Jones was probably unaware of the defense’s principal argument. Massimo Bossetti was identified as the suspect and later convicted of murder as a consequence of a single finding: his nuclear DNA on the victim’s underwear. The sample was reportedly large enough – of “outstandingly good quality.” However, Bossetti’s mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) was not found; instead, someone else’s mtDNA – neither Bossetti’s or Yara’s – was detected in the sample. This is an anomaly that calls into question the DNA test result if left unexplained. The courts have so far brushed it aside as irrelevant. There are a few other oddities as well. Luca Cheli’s site has more information; I also recommend this thread at Injustice Anywhere.

Neither of The Guardian‘s two follow-up reports mentioned these anomalies. Rosie Scammell wrote simply that Bossetti’s “DNA had been found on Gambirasio’s body and fibres from his van were on her clothes.” The second claim defies belief because fiber identification techniques are not so advanced as to trace a sample to any particular vehicle. According to the National Research Council’s 2009 report,

Fiber examiners agree… that fiber evidence can be used only to associate a given fiber with a class of fibers.

… a “match” means only that the fibers could have come from the same type of garment, carpet, or furniture; it can provide only class evidence.

But the story cannot stand another twist. Tobias Jones’ tale had it all – a dark core (a 13-year-old girl was found dead), tabloid goodness (revelations of adultery), and a story of perseverance rewarded (a single mother launching a massive investigation that eventually pinpoints the culprit). Admitting a fatal mix-up in a police lab would ruin the ending, although it would fit well in a treatise on the vanity of human endeavor.

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