Filed under: sexual assault

Guede, Knox, Sollecito May Finally Face Charges in Kercher Murder

UPDATE, 7/14/08

I received a message from Chris Mellas that clarified the “Mr Anonymous” message below. Chris Mellas did not send the message — that much is clear from the message he did send tonight. He doesn’t seem to realize that I sometimes shed a journalistic stance in this blog and express subjective opinions, but overall his message was well-considered and clearly explained some things. In short, he had no idea I’d received such a note. As I surmised — and I could have made this even more clear than I did — someone who thought they were perhaps doing Amanda Knox and her family a favor did the opposite. I will make amendments to this post later today. I’d do it now, but it’s simply very late and I’m not at my best. I wanted Mr. Mellas and readers who followed this post to know that I’d received some clarification. I owe it to Mr. Mellas to acknowledge that, and I appreciate him taking the time to write to me. I’d write him back personally, but the same caveat about me being tired and not good for more than this paragraph applies there, too.

Original blog post

From The Seattle Times/AP: Prosecutors in Perugia, Italy are formally requesting that Ivory Coast native Rudy Hermann Guede, Seattleite Amanda Knox and Italian student Raffaele Sollecito be sent to trial for the murder of Meredith Kercher in November, 2007. The trio may also be formally charged with “sexual violence” and theft.

Now that these indictments have been requested, a judge will decide on granting the prosecutor’s request. If the decision is against the defense, the trio will be ordered to stand trial. Hearings may begin in September.

The Italian prosecutors believe Guede, Knox and Sollecito participated in strangling and stabbing Meredith Kercher. The Associated Press has reported that court documents state that Guede “engaged in sexual violence” against the victim, and was assisted by Knox and Sollecito.

Prosecutors believe Knox and Sollecito later tried to cover everyones’ tracks by making it look as though the residence Kercher shared with Knox and two other women was burglarized.

I dread writing any more about this case. But I feel somehow obligated, in spite of the fact that the people who want to talk about it online often seem to come a little unhinged about the whole thing. For example, Amanda Knox’s stepfather, Chris Mellas, owns his own ISP — it shows up in web statistics as “Chris Mellas.” Either Mellas or a co-worker, or both, have been all over blog comments and related message board discussions every day, sometimes all day long, for months. And while I’ve asked other commenters to be civil with Mr. Mellas in the past, they aren’t.

Then again, neither is he. For instance, I recently received this message, from “Mr Anonymous,” with a fake e-mail address:

I have seen several messages on your TC Message blog that covers the Meredith Kercher murder.

I intend to make more information available to the appropriate people that such slanderous remarks are being made and/or implied on your site in hopes that their on going action against other media outlets will include yours. Those who reside in specific locations who continue to make slanderous remarks apparently believe that they are protected based on the form of your blog. Apparently they find this to be an untruth.

I will further support any action taken against such remarks. Steve Huff has allowed this site to carry on without regard to proper oversight which he as well as his moderators will be held liable.

First, I have no idea what a “TC Message blog” is, but I’m pretty sure the writer meant the The True Crime Weblog Message Board, which in spite of its generic name really seems only devoted to discussion of the murder of Meredith Kercher. It’s also not a weblog at all, but a message board. The difference between a blog and a message board are pretty clear to anyone who has been using the Internet for a while. At least I thought so.

Second, the writer should have written “libelous” if they wanted to be clearly understood, not slanderous. That said, the very savvy admin of that board — I set it up and am still an administrator, but she handles the day-to-day, for which I am eternally grateful — Skeptical Bystander, is acutely aware of libelous language and what constitutes a libelous remark online, and she’s worked mighty hard to delete any posts that might be taken as libelous off that board. From what I’ve seen, she has succeeded. (I set the board up with the Kercher murder case in mind. I got really tired of open threads about it — you can’t “close” a Haloscan-hosted comment thread without hiding all the previous comments.)

Third, it’s rather pointless to try and be “Mr Anonymous” in a contact form submission if your IP address tracks back to this:

CustName: CHRIS MELLAS
Address: [Redacted] 108TH AVENUE NORTHEAST SUITE [Redacted]
City: BELLEVUE
StateProv: WA
PostalCode: 98004
Country: US
RegDate: 2005-11-30
Updated: 2005-11-30

Anonymous, vague threats just make you look sneaky, Mr. Mellas. If someone else sent that message without your knowledge, you should have a talk with them. If you or anyone else in Amanda Knox’s circle of family and friends are truly concerned about her plight (and I am sure you are), you might want to reconsider moves like that, in general. I think it’s loathsome that something like PR ever enters the equation in cases like this, but it does. Yammering, snarking, arguing, and threatening online is bad PR. The way that “anonymous” message was written in general was bad PR. I sure as hell would not want the IP address on something borderline incoherent like the message quoted above to track back to an ISP with my name on it.

Then again, I’m still flummoxed that people bother with online discussions at all, but I’m the blogger who generally doesn’t like blogs anymore and rarely takes them too seriously, so what do I know?

Here’s the funny thing about me calling out Mr. Mellas or one of his associates above: I haven’t been solidly plunked down in the “Amanda did it” camp for quite some time. When I wrote this article for Radar Magazine I wasn’t too sure about Amanda. By the time I was done with the article and the blog entries I wrote around the same time, I was pretty damned suspicious. The fact is, Amanda Knox does seem unbalanced, possibly mentally ill. Rudy Guede comes across as just plain nuts, and Sollecito, of the three, comes across as the most cold and calculating. But none of those things make them killers.

I believe the intense focus on the pretty college girl from Seattle has been unbalanced and overheated. It started with the British tabs and Italian papers going bananas over her made-for-a true-crime TV movie web persona: Foxy Knoxy, Amanda’s own screen name, self-chosen, was like a gift to the tabloid editors in London. Saved them the trouble of coming up with something similar on their own (and make no mistake — given time, they would have come up with something very close to that nickname). Amanda’s strange, over-written short stories in her blog dug the hole deeper, even though taken in context there’s nothing really that strange about them.

Basically, in the 8 months since Meredith Kercher was brutally murdered in her room in Perugia, all sense of direction in the media coverage of the case has been lost. Even a prominent newsmagazine I have worked with in the past did a piece about Knox that seemed heavily skewed in favor of the argument that Knox has been railroaded. The thing was, they made a pretty convincing case — enough for me to wonder.

So here’s where I stand: I have no idea what happened that night in Perugia. At the moment, I feel the possibilities are too many to list here. This is a reasonable question: has Amanda Knox been unfairly singled out in the coverage of this case? My answer is yes. Also reasonable: do the allegations of orgies, of sexual violence, play a role in the public interest in the Kercher murder? I certainly think so. To me, that automatically knocks all media coverage of the case off-balance. And it will never be balanced again (if that was even possible in the first place).

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating — I have no idea if I will write about this again. I don’t like the contentiousness that pops up in the comments (which is saying something, considering just how contentious comments can truly get on this blog in general), I don’t like the sneaky crap I detailed above. I’ll put it this way — I may not write more blog entries here about the still-mysterious and horrifying murder of Meredith Kercher. Frankly, it’s the kind of case that could consume both me and blog space — space I could devote to talking about other crimes of interest.

From here on out, I’ll consider doing paid writing about the case, but that will likely be it. I do admit I’d be interested in following events as they unfold if and when this goes to trial. “Circus” may be far too weak a word to describe that kind of media frenzy.

Comments are always welcome, but you can also just go register for the True Crime Weblog Message Board and post your thoughts, opinions, and ideas there — you have more room to format text and just pontificate in general, there.

And to Chris Mellas or his “friend” (quotes intended, since I don’t think any friend who would send such a note was actually doing Mellas a favor) — if you have a problem with any post on that message board, it’s really simple: send me a link, quote the offensive portion, and ask for it to be removed. If it meets the definition of libel, it will damn sure be gone. If any posters are repeat offenders, they will be banned. That goes for comments on this post as well.

The Fall of Carmine Baffa *UPDATED*

SEE UPDATE AT BOTTOM OF ENTRY.

Carmine Edmund Baffa, 52, ran seminars across the country, stalking through starry-eyed crowds hanging on his every word, wearing a headset mic as he instructed others on how they could achieve “life improvement.” Baffa was all about “Human Performance Engineering.” He tacked Ph.D. at the end of his name, and apparently, plenty of people bought into what Baffa was selling.

Baffa, a resident of Lawrenceville, GA, was arrested April 9 and is in the Gwinnett County Jail, charged with raping two teen girls, aged 13 and 19. While local Atlanta media has referenced “two separate incidents,” Baffa’s charge sheet, available online as of April 17, shows multiple charges. They include aggravated sexual battery, aggravated child molestation, and rape.

While Baffa traveled nationwide for seminars, his alleged crimes occurred in a private setting at his Georgia residence. The victims told police that they were raped during therapy sessions. Though Baffa was supposedly a hypnotist, his alleged victims were not under any kind of hypnotic spell. Police believe Baffa committed rape as part of furthering the patients’ “treatment.”

Gwinnett County Police Department spokeswoman Cpl. Illana Spellman told local reporters that adults being treated by Baffa “[S]aid they knew what was going on, but were convinced that it would help their treatment.”

Spellman also said that legitimate therapists referred patients to Baffa, who presented himself as a psychotherapist. In reality, Carmine Baffa was “not a licensed therapist” in any way, according to Cpl. Spellman.

For his “Mindsight” seminars, Baffa traveled to Chicago and Los Angeles in addition to holding seminars in the Atlanta area.

Baffa’s website, Carmine.net, appeared to be “under construction,” but at one time it contained a great deal of writing by Baffa, some of it quite creepy in light of the recent charges against him. He’d posted many of the articles as responses to various discussions in Usenet groups, message boards that have been online in one form or another since the 1980s. Some were still online as of April 17, 2008, but it looked as though any links to the writing from the main page of Baffa’s website had been severed.

One “Internet Response From Carmine Baffa, Creator of Human Performance Engineering,” was titled, “NLP and Sex.” NLP referred to “neuro-linguistic programming.” Wikipedia described NLP as “an interpersonal communication model and an alternative approach to psychotherapy” that was “based on the subjective study of language, communication and personal change.”

In “NLP and Sex,” Baffa wrote the following:

This, by far, is one of my favorite subjects. At least that’s the way I feel today. I often wonder about how so many people could experience anything other than wanton desire that moves toward passionate sexual arousal. My question has been the opposite. How do I turn it off?

Of course, the results of having internalized the skills of NLP has only added to my misery. Now, not only do I live in a state of heightened sexual arousal, it has become very contagious. Or is that contiguous, as the feelings have connected to everything else. I can’t go anywhere without profoundly eliciting in those I come into contact with deeply felt arousal and attraction…

Baffa paused the slithery digression into his “heightened sexual arousal” to explain some things:

Putting the fun aside for a moment, let me seriously answer your question. First, you learn, in so far, the entire skill set called NLP, then you elicit anything you want, period…

Later, Baffa expanded on what NLP had done for him when it came to getting “anything” he wanted:

For me, the process of learning NLP/DHE(TM) has been an adventure. One that has enhanced every single area of my entire world. Life for me is fantastic! I continue having the ongoing experience of being able to do what ever I want to do. I only work an average of three hours a day while making as much money as I want to. I am involved in the most enjoyable, caring, fun, loving, dynamic, pleasurable, intimate relationship imaginable. I do what I want, learn what I want, go where I want, get what I want, experience what I want to experience – always! In fact, my life while awake is far better than any dream I have ever had. And since I only need about three hours of sleep in every twenty-four hour period, I have plenty of time to enjoy it all.

Why stop at just sexual arousal and attraction when you could live all of your dreams? Every single one of them!

Carmine Baffa’s words described an ideal existence for a predatory, antisocial personality — little to no work and constant self-satisfaction. In light of the charges against him, his words about neuro-linguistic programming and sex induce some queasiness. The message — for it was originally posted in a newsgroup that by and large loathed him — seemed to hint that he’d been doing what he wanted for some time.

A similar “Internet Response” from Baffa addressed “Kids Learning NLP.” Baffa wrote:

Pretty much as a rule, when people have attended one of my trainings their children were always invited for free. I have had children ages seven to over sixty attend trainings.

As I think about it, when there were children in the trainings, they always wound up becoming my assistants. It was as if they were learning the information by osmosis…

Baffa is now charged with multiple counts of child molestation, so there was no small amount of irony in a later part of the same “Response”:

Some of the side effects, if you will, that have materialized through the children who have attended these trainings are: 1. the automatic ability to effectively calibrate how far a particular person can be trusted, 2. accelerated learning abilities – where actual study time was cut to a fraction while comprehension increased (not only that, but how they were able to usefully utilize what they were comprehending was uncanny), 3. the automatic ability to make better decisions about the choices that were offered to them in all contexts…

If the charges against Baffa are true, those children who learned how to “calibrate” a level of trust for another through NLP should have run screaming from the seminar leader himself.

Because Baffa traveled a great deal and had other potentially vulnerable patients, anyone with more information about the phony therapist and alleged rapist should Gwinnett County investigator Diane King at 770-513-5356.

I’ve started a thread about this case here.

Additional links:

Carmine Baffa was also a freelance videographer with a full set of camera equipment.

One of Baffa’s confirmed e-mail addresses led to this private MySpace:

http://www.myspace.com/100740839

Note the age given on the profile. Baffa is 52. Public records indicated a marriage in Texas to a woman in her thirties in 2001, but she would be approaching 40 now.

Other blogs: The Dreamin’ Demon has a post up about Baffa.

UPDATE, 6:18 p.m. ET

Carmine Baffa’s birth date, according to the list of inmates currently in the Gwinnett County Detention Center (he was first on the list as of 4/17), is 02/15/1956.

In Broward County, Florida court records, partially available online, there was a felony case involving a defendant named Carmine Baffa from October, 1985. That Carmine Baffa’s birthdate was 02/15/1955. The charge was for “dealing in stolen property.” The case’s status read “disposition entered.” Here’s how the Broward County Courts website explains that status:

Case and count status of “disposition entered” signifies that although either a Court ruled on or disposed of the underlying case or count, or it was otherwise disposed of by operation of law, it nonetheless allows for the possibility that there may still be other actions or matters pending or due on or related to that case or count, including but not limited to, fine, fee or cost payments due; probation, restitution or special conditions pending; attorney’s fees motions pending; defendant declared unable to stand trial and committed to a hospital; appeals pending; and others…

This post may be updated and revised.

(The video below was another promotional video Baffa posted on his website. He titled it “Changing Personal History.” Something he’d probably like to do right now.)

Web Exclusive on the Murder of Meredith Kercher at RADAR Online *UPDATED*

I’m excited to let readers of The True Crime Weblog know that RADAR has published a web exclusive by me on the investigation into the murder of British student Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy. I first covered that still-unfolding story here, and it has proven one of my most popular blog entries (1,644 comments and counting) in quite some time.

This will explain why there have been no more blog entries, though:

Sex, Lies, and Videotape: Inside the Amanda Knox Murder Investigation.

The article is an overview of the case so far. If you like it, you should know it was subject to some excellent editing and thorough fact-checking along the way, so I can’t take credit for the best parts of the piece.

Go check it out and leave a comment there, if you have something to say.

UPDATE, 11/20/07

Add to the above this bit posted on RADAR’s “Fresh Intelligence” about the arrest of Rudy Hermann (Guede), the most recent suspect added to the investigation into the Kercher murder.

The Times Online had updated their article with info about Rudy on YouTube by 8 p.m. ET yesterday, but the post I submitted to RADAR was sent in several hours before the Times updated their article.

I’ve also added Rudy’s crazy, disturbing “vampire/alien” video to my own YouTube account.

There’s a weird symmetry to Rudy’s and Amanda Knox’s YouTube accounts. Both posted one video only, and in both instances, the video was embarrassing and seemingly pointless.

**********

Another post by me is up on “Fresh Intelligence” this morning. It’s not related to the story above at all. No, this one is about — of all people — Bill Nye the Science Guy.

It’s one of the stranger stories you’ll read today…

An Alleged American Murderess in Italy *UPDATED*

NEW: Read my article for Radar on this case, published online today, November 19, 2007: “Sex, Lies, and Videotape: Inside the Amanda Knox murder investigation.

****


THIS ENTRY HAS BEEN UPDATED, INCLUDING LINKS TO MIRRORS OF AMANDA KNOX’S MYSPACE PAGES.

(For the title of this post, a hat-tip goes to the inimitable Yankee Bob.)

Someone had slit Meredith Kercher’s throat, possibly with a pen knife. The pretty, dark-haired 21-year-old British woman was supposed to be in a safe place. She was in Perugia, Italy studying in the third year of her 4-year European studies degree, to be acquired through the University of Leeds in the UK.

But on the morning of November 2, 2007, Meredith lay dead on her bed, covered by a duvet.

Police found a broken window, but the door to Meredith’s room was locked and no valuables had been taken.

Meredith lived in a charming little white house on the Viale Sant’Antonio with three roommates, two Italians and an American woman, 20-year-old Seattle resident Amanda Marie Knox.

Knox and her boyfriend, 24-year-old Raffaele Sollecito, reported the homicide to authorities. Photos published in various British papers showed the gamine Knox looking pale and serious as she spoke with detectives.

The British tabloids screamed of a maniac on the loose in Perugia, and Italian papers delved into the tawdry side of the crime, speculating that there was a sexual motivation behind the murder.

A break came in the case today.

Amanda Marie Knox, a former barista who had ambitions of becoming an author, confessed to playing a role in an assault and murder of her friend and roommate. Arrested along with Amanda were her boyfriend Raffaele, and the man who owned the bar where Amanda waited tables, 37-year-old Congolese national Patrick Lumumba (the Times Online reported that Lumumba claimed he was the grandchild of the first elected Prime Minister of Congo, Patrice Lumumba).

Italian police believe the motivation for the attack on Meredith Kercher was sexual. They think Meredith fought her attackers, and this led to the young woman’s murder. She had no intention of having an orgy with anyone.

News outlets like London’s Mail have learned from publications like The True Crime Weblog. Their long article about accused killer Amanda Marie Knox’s MySpace presence can be read here: “Foxy Knoxy: Inside the twisted world of murdered Meredith’s flatmate.”

Journalists Colin Fernandez and Beth Hale delved into the fiction Amanda posted to her MySpace blog as well as all the typical info MySpace profile owners list on their pages. [Edit: Amanda Knox’s profiles have all been made private or deleted.] Because authorities outside the U.S. sometimes take the personal web pages of accused criminals off-line — and friends or family members frequently take them down, mirrors of each page have been made. A mirror is just a facsimile of the original. Many links will be broken, but some have been edited to refer back to either this post or the other mirrored pages:

The True Crime Weblog has Amanda’s lone YouTube video. It is one of those ill-advised things many young people tend to post to that site — about 32 seconds of Amanda with several male friends. She appears to be extremely drunk, but is insisting in the video that she’s had just “One and a HALF” shots of some unnamed drink. Language warning: one of the guys in the video says “dirty f*ckers” at the end:

The strangest thing about the video is that it could be any bunch of 19 or 20-year-olds drinking in a kitchen anywhere. Save that the center of the short bit has been accused now of taking part in a lewd and bloody scenario, one that would be more easily explained were it not for her gender, and her demonstrable intellect.

Watching Amanda laugh on the video as she insists she isn’t drunk underscores the strangeness of the accusations against her. It is likely that she is literally thousands of miles from the place where that video was made tonight, as she sits behind bars in Italy. It is also certain that those who know Amanda are thinking the allegations against her — which prompted Italian police to declare the Kercher murder “case closed” — are many more thousands of miles from the Foxy Knoxy they know.

This entry will be updated and revised.

As always, any tips about this case are welcome.

If you’re a member of Digg, Digg this story.

An additional link from the Times Online: “Meredith Kercher ‘killed after refusing orgy.‘”

UPDATE 1, 2:09 p.m. ET, 11/07/07

The Mirror published an article containing some statements from Amanda Knox today, titled, “Accused girl ‘heard Meredith’s screams’.”

Amanda made several statements about Meredith Kercher’s murder and her interactions with both her boyfriend and her boss, Patrick. Read one way, her statements appear to be in conflict with one another and with some things she wrote in her MySpace blog.

From the Mirror:

“I want to tell you what happened because it’s left me really shocked and I am really scared of Patrick. I met him on the evening of 1 November (when Meredith died).”

Then she described how on Monday she had met Patrick outside the University for Foreigners in Perugia where both she and Meredith studied.

She told police: “I met Patrick on the morning of November 5th, he was asking me questions. He wanted to know what I had told the police, he wanted to know if I wanted to talk to journalists so I could find out what was known about Meredith’s death.”

The first statement is confusing. Was Amanda saying she’d only just met Patrick Lumumba on the 1st? Because her blog would imply otherwise. In an entry posted on October 15, Amanda wrote:

Speaking of working, I’ve been working everynight (except for monday night) from 10pm to 230am at a bar called Le Chic. Its a really small place owned by this man from the congo. his name is patrick…

It is hard to understand why a young woman might know about the murder of a housemate and lie about it at all. Unless police in this case are correct, and Amanda was a participant in Meredith’s murder and any attempts to cover up what really happened afterwards

Readers have made sympathetic comments already on this post about Amanda, but I have hesitated to be too sympathetic, and I’ve also hesitated to be damning in what I write. But something is wrong here.

Is that something reflected in Amanda’s fiction? Judge for yourself. Both stories found in her MySpace blog touch on themes of sexual violence. If Amanda Knox were not accused of taking part in a sexually violent murder, few would think twice about her fiction. There are people out there writing Harry Potter fan fiction conjuring up much more disturbing scenarios than anything Amanda wrote.

In context, though… you have to wonder. And from the boot of Italy through the United Kingdom all the way over to Seattle, WA, there are plenty of people wondering about Amanda Knox now, and how she ended up entangled in such a grim and gruesome murder.