The Monster of Florence, by Douglas Preston with Mario Spezi

Amanda Knox, the honor student from Seattle, Washington, has been imprisoned in Perugia, Italy, since November, 2007.  This  book, The Monster of Florence, and the forthcoming movie version may be Knox’s best hope for freedom and exoneration of the charges lodged against her.

The story begins in the year 2000 when Douglas Preston, journalist and author of crime thrillers, moved with his family to a villa in the Tuscan hills.  His plan was to write a murder mystery set in Florence.  Needing information about the Italian justice system, he contacted Mario Spezi, a journalist who had covered the local crime scene for twenty years.

The Rape of the Sabine WomenThe two met in a Florence cafe.  In the course of their conversation, Preston learned that the olive grove next to his house had been, years earlier, the scene of a double murder.  On a moonless night in August, 1968, Barbara Locci and her lover were shot to death in the front seat of their car.  Over the next seventeen years, six more couples were similarly killed, the women mutilated, body parts removed and carried off.   (Thomas Harris borrowed elements of these crimes to create the fictional character of Hannibal Lecter.)  A number of men were arrested for the murders, several prosecuted, and one convicted, though his conviction was later overturned.

Preston was intrigued.  He decided to shelve his novel and collaborate with Spezi on a non-fiction book about the serial killer who preyed on couples in the hills surrounding Florence.

Almost from the beginning, the two journalists ran into trouble.  The Italian police were not happy with these amateur sleuths nor with the criticism leveled at them.   Spezi’s articles revealed shoddy police work, promising leads left unexplored, blind alleys pursued with a vengeance that bordered on obsession.  Giuliano Mignini, the public prosecutor, and his investigators fought back. They ordered phone surveillance of the two journalists, bugged Spezi’s car, searched his apartment and seized all materials relating to the book and the investigation.  Mignini brought Preston in for questioning, accused him of perjury, and threatened to throw him in jail.  He arrested Spezi and held him for three weeks.

Amanda Knox’s name appears only at the very end of the book, yet you feel her presence throughout its pages.  The man who prosecuted her for the murder of her roommate in the flat in Perugia was none other than Giuliano Mignini, the same man who earlier accused Preston and Spezi of obstruction of justice, perjury, and planting false evidence.

Tom Cruise optioned The Monster of Florence shortly after its publication.  When the option lapsed, George Clooney picked it up.  According to Variety Magazine, Clooney intends to produce and possibly star in the movie.  If the screenwriters are faithful to the Preston/Spezi book, the movie will turn the Italian justice system on its ear.

Amanda Knox has been slandered unmercifully in the Italian press, tried, convicted, and sent to prison on the most tenuous evidence imaginable.  Mignini has accused her of being part of a Satanic cult and of participating in a sex orgy.  He has reportedly lied to her, struck her across the face, abused her both mentally and physically.  When her parents dared to question his treatment of their daughter, he accused them of slander and brought a lawsuit against them.

A prosecutor who would sue the parents of the girl he almost certainly wrongfully convicted of murder, that he would sue because they spoke out against his abusive treatment of their daughter, sue when they have mortgaged their home to defend her, is a prosecutor who should be removed from office.  Mignini has been willing to trample on the rights of journalists, to harass and imprison them for doing their jobs, and ultimately let a killer go free rather than tolerate criticism of his methods and tactics.

When, in January 2010, Giuliano Mignini was convicted of abuse of office and sentenced to 16 months in prison, he should have been required to serve that 16 months, rather than have his sentence suspended.   That he was allowed to go back to work as a prosecutor is an outrage.

Amanda Knox should be freed, pending charges against Preston, if they exist, should be dropped, the ongoing harassment and prosecution of Spezi ended.  The Monster of Florence may just be the ticket to accomplish these things.


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