King County Superior Court Judge Michael Heavey, who became a staunch defender of Amanda Knox from the bench, says in Yakima that he was willing to break a few rules in order to see justice served.
Standing in front of a large crowd at the Yakima Convention Center, he told Downtown Rotary members Thursday how he was compelled to support what he considered to be the wrongfully convicted murder suspect Knox from his Superior Court office, and that despite allegations of misconduct for doing so, he did the right thing.
"I always felt and still feel this way, is that I did the right thing - imperfect at times - but still the right thing," he said.
Knox, now 26, made national headlines when she and her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were accused of cutting the throat of her roommate, Meredith Kercher, in Italy where she was a student. After serving four years - she was sentenced to 26 years, while he was sentenced to 25 years - their convictions were overturned Oct. 3, 2011.
Heavey was admonished by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct for using his office to advocate for Knox, sending letters on her behalf to political leaders and the Italian embassy. After his support was echoed by U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and Donald Trump, the Italian embassy began looking into the matter and a new judge eventually was appointed to preside over the case.
But last week, Heavey was more interested in discussing why he believes Knox, his daughter's friend, is innocent rather than taking credit for his role in bringing problems in the case to light.
"I'm here today to prove to you that Amanda Knox is 100 percent innocent," he told the crowd that included an Italian reporter who followed the case and an English physician who worked on the case. "I'm going to tell you things that were not reported, that were not heard."
He said the case against Knox didn't make sense. He said his daughter described Knox as "a genuinely nice person. I know she does not have a mean bone in her body." He said Kercher was found sexually assaulted with her throat cut in her apartment. Police followed the theory that it was the work of Knox and her boyfriend.
Police believed the story of the actual murderer, Rudy Guede. DNA evidence and his blood put him at the scene. But he told police that he had come into the apartment and saw Kercher bleeding and then a man carrying a knife ran past him and cut his hand.
"Why didn't he call the police?" Heavey asked. "He didn't have an answer." Knox was coerced into giving testimony authorities wanted to hear, said Heavey, who served in Vietnam as part of a group working with prisoners of war, who were often brutally interrogated by the North Vietnamese.
"What I learned about interrogation is that it's not necessarily the truth that people tell when put under certain pressure, but what the interrogator wants to hear,"
Heavey said evidence against Guede was overwhelming, and that police, the prosecutor and judge didn't think it was important to test a semen stain found on a pillow case at the scene.
"I would suggest that the person who left this stain is the killer," he said. "That's his signature." Guede eventually admitted to going home to wash after the murder, and then going to a dance club to establish an alibi.
Heavey said four computer hard drives containing potential evidence were destroyed by authorities, and that Knox was demonized by the media before going to trial.
He showed an Italian newspaper headline that read "Case Closed" that was published at the time Knox and her boyfriend were arrested.
"By the time Amanda Knox went to trial, this genuinely nice person who doesn't have a mean bone in her body was already hated by the Italian people," he said. "It's literally a witch trial that would have taken place hundreds of years ago, but it happened right in front of our eyes."
Heavey gave a few scenarios as to why authorities tried to pin the murder on Knox and her boyfriend. They range from trying to save face to suspicion that Guede was an informant. "It's all speculation," Heavey said.
The mishandling of the case doesn't lead to a conclusion the legal system in Italy is corrupt but rather sheds light on corrupt individuals, he said.
"Wrongful convictions happen all over the world," he said. "What it boils down to is prosecutors and police are not immune to being psychopaths."
And as far as Knox goes, "she should be honored for the strength she displayed those four years," he said.