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American Found Guilty of Murder in Italian Court; Job Loss Slows

Aired December 4, 2009 - 18:00   ET


ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: And so you have the 2010, California marriage protection act, safeguarding marriage from the evils of divorce. Now to actually get this on the ballot in California, you need something like 694,000 signatures, not realistic, thought Marcotte when he filed the paperwork. But that was before 20,000 people joined this Facebook group that he's running, thousands volunteered to gather signatures online. And demand for his T-shirts became such that the regional supplier ran out of the color blue.

Now, Marcotte says he's going to make a legitimate run at this. Standing in his way might be people who don't get the satire. Marcotte says he's getting a ton of hate mail from people on the left who actually think he's serious -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Abbi, thanks very much for that -- Abbi Tatton reporting.

And happening now, we're awaiting the verdict in a sensational murder trial, an American college exchange student charged with killing her roommate. We're going to bring you the fate of 22-year- old Amanda Knox. We're standing by for live coverage in Italy.

Also, a new dip in the jobless rate gives President Obama something positive to say about the U.S. economy. But it's also giving Democrats and Republicans something new to bicker about -- this hour, how bailout money may be used to create jobs.

And getting to the truth about global warming. A United Nations panel calls for an investigation into those leaked e-mails that are fueling lots of skepticism about climate change right now.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But, first, we're following breaking news out of central Russia right now. Take a look at this. We have got some live pictures coming in. These are the first pictures we're getting after an explosion ripped through a nightclub not far from Moscow, a few hundred miles away. Those pictures should be coming in.

State-run television reports, more than 100 people are dead.

Let's get the latest from CNN producer Max Tkachenko. He's on the phone joining us right now.

Max, what do we know about this? MAX TKACHENKO, CNN PRODUCER: Well, Wolf, I just got off the phone with the representative of the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry.

And their figures are 76 killed and 114 injured. Now, Russian state TV, however, reports that the number of killed exceeded 100 and dozens were wounded. The blast took place at a nightclub in the Russian city of Perm, which is about 950 miles east of Moscow.

And the nightclub is called Lame Horse. They were apparently some -- some party was going on there involving more than 200 people. And the preliminary theory behind this blast is what the Emergency Ministry calls the unsanctioned use of pyrotechnical devices, in other words, the misuse or mishandling of fireworks.

That is believed to have caused the powerful explosion in that nightclub. Now, Russian state TV also reported that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has ordered a plane to be sent to the city of Perm with doctors with emergency workers to handle the situation.

And that's basically all we know at this point about what had happened in the city of Perm -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A horrible situation there. We will stay in touch with you, Max. Thanks very much.

There's another developing story, breaking news happening in Italy right now involving Amanda Knox, that college exchange student now on trial for murdering her roommate.

Paula Newton is on the scene for us not far from Florence, where this trial is taking place.

There have been some important developments over the past few moments, Paula. What are we learning?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that Amanda Knox's family has gone into the courthouse right now. But what a scene out here, Wolf.

You know, there are so many members of the media right now trying to get into the courtroom. There are dozens of lawyers. Time is slipping, but we still do expect a verdict within the hour here in the Amanda Knox trial. It will just take a while for everyone to pile into this courtroom.

BLITZER: So, so we did expect, momentarily, really, within this hour to get that verdict, Paula. Just a matter of the logistics, getting everyone who supposed to be in the courtroom in there, is that what we're waiting for?

NEWTON: Absolutely.

And if you speak to members of Amanda Knox's defense team, this is one of the things that they say hasn't happened through this trial. Due process hasn't been possible, really, because of all these delays. I have yet to attend a session in there that has actually started on time. And this is what you're seeing happen again through here. But I do believe as I see more people entering much more swiftly into the courtroom, and as I said Amanda Knox's parents already in, we do expect a verdict within the hour.

BLITZER: We will have coverage for our viewers. We will get back to you, Paula. We have our legal analyst Lisa Bloom and others standing by as well. We will get back to Italy as soon as we have that verdict. Get ready for that.

Meanwhile, here in the United States, it's the most upbeat unemployment report since the recession started two years ago. But it's not upbeat enough if you're still out of work. And millions of Americans are in fact still out of work, 15 million or so.

The October jobless rate, though, of 10.2 percent did drop 0.2 percent last month to 10 percent. The report helped push up some stock prices. The Dow Jones industrials ended the day 22 points higher.

President Obama talking about jobs in Pennsylvania, struggled to find the right balance of optimism and caution.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So as we come to the end of this very tough year, I want to do something I haven't had a chance to do that often during my first year in office. And that is to share some modestly encouraging news on our economy.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: So, anyone who views today's report as a cause for celebration really is out of touch with the American people.


BLITZER: Now, let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, and our congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar, to help us better appreciate what's going on.

He acknowledged, the president today, that a lot more work needs to be done.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He did, but I just got off the phone with a top White House aide who said, look, think about where we were at the beginning of the year, when we were losing 700,000 to 800,000 jobs a month. Now we're very close to sort of evening this out.

But, having said that, this aide and others immediately say we have got to turn it around. You can't just have it be less bad than it was at the beginning of the year. At some point, they need job growth.

And that is why I'm being told by two officials close to the process the president is now leaning toward supporting a congressional Democratic plan to tap some unused TARP funds, the bailout funds that have not been used, to come up with a jobs package on the Hill.

He's under great pressure from his fellow Democrats. They're on the ballot in November of 2010 in the midterm elections, and they know that if unemployment is still awful next November, they're going to pay for it at the polls. They're desperate for a jobs package. And that the president is now leaning towards supporting this.

BLITZER: It's a nuance, though, but it may be a significant one. Does he want to use the unused TARP money, or the TARP money that's given back to the U.S. Treasury by some of those bailed-out financial institutions?

HENRY: They're still working it out, but what I'm hearing is, he's leaning towards using what has been allocated, but untapped in bailout funds. Why is this significant?

It's because the president has been under great pressure, charges by Republicans on the Hill that he's increased federal spending so much in his first year in office. They want to find something that's not going to add to the debt, not add to that $14 trillion of debt.

So, if you tap some of these unused TARP funds, they are already sort of on the books, if you will, but have not actually been cashed. That's why it's significant. He wants to do something that's not more deficit spending.

BLITZER: We know, Brianna, the Democrats on the Hill, including Nancy Pelosi, they would love to use some of this money. What do they want to use it for?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're talking about $70 billion, according to a Democratic leadership aide, Wolf. And they want to spend it on a few different areas, the first being infrastructure spending.

We're talking about highways, school construction, wastewater treatment. And they also want to focus it on direct lending to small businesses.

You have heard economists say credit is the oxygen for these small businesses and it's still very hard to come by at this point. So, that's the second thing. And they also want to spend some of this bank bailout money on helping out cash-strapped states, particularly a Democratic leadership aide told me making sure that those states can keep police officers, firefighters and teachers paid so that they don't have to be laid off by their localities.

BLITZER: Republicans don't like this idea. Eric Cantor, the minority whip, he was here in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday, and he said this is a bad idea.

KEILAR: They didn't like it yesterday; they still don't like it today for sure. In fact, as soon as it became clear today that President Obama was open to this idea of using bank bailout money, the paper really just started to fly. Eric Cantor, of course, the number- two Republican in the House who you just mentioned said that TARP funds should not become a slush fund for the political whims of Washington.

And the New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg who was the Republican point person when it came to negotiating the bailout funds, he said it was not designed to be used like rainy day cash to throw around at any problem.

So, generally speaking, very opposed to the idea -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. So, what is next for the president, Ed?

HENRY: Going to give a big speech here in Washington Tuesday, lay out more of the details of what he wants to do on a jobs bill.

And what is significant about that is, he's supposed to go to Oslo, Norway, as you know, right after that to collect the Nobel Peace Prize. A pattern is emerging. This week, the president gave this speech at West Point about Afghanistan, then, within two days, was back at the White House, had the jobs summit, then went to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania -- Allentown, Pennsylvania, rather, today to talk about jobs.

Next week he's going to be going overseas, but before that, wants to give this speech. He realizes he needs to show people I feel your pain, sort of like the Bill Clinton days. He can't be just flying around the world, the most traveled international president in his first year. He's got to also before he heads out overseas talk about jobs.

BLITZER: Does he feel all that comfortable going to collect that Nobel Peace Prize? I know that he originally said he didn't think he was necessarily deserving of it. But he's going to go. I assume he's not going to cancel that.

HENRY: He's going to go. He knows it's difficult. When he was in China, he was asked that at a town hall meeting by a Chinese student. Do you feel more pressure now to accomplish more?

And he said, look, when I start feeling bad about myself, feeling more pressure, my wife, the first lady, says, you chose this job. You made your bed. Sleep in it.

He's got to live it with now.

BLITZER: Ed Henry, Brianna Keilar, guys, thanks very much.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: There has been a verdict in the case of Amanda Knox, that college student who is on trial for allegedly killing her college roommate in Italy.

Paula Newton is on the scene for us. Paula, what do we know? NEWTON: Guilty on all counts, Wolf, for Amanda Knox and her former lover, Raffaele Sollecito. We don't know more than that right now. Again the Italian legal process in terms of getting into motivations or what factored in this verdict, we will not know in fact for days, maybe even weeks.

All they do during this stage is read out the verdict. Because I'm out here speaking to you, I'm awaiting reaction, but you can imagine what must have been the reaction. And speaking to the family in the last few days, Wolf, really, they had prepared for the worst. They said that they were prepared to move here to Italy. And that's what they will do now to go through what will be a very lengthy appeals process.

I have to tell you, though, Wolf, looking at these two young people in court, they really seemed at the end of their rope for a very long period of time. And I can't imagine what they're going through right now. And again, Wolf, as I said, throughout this entire trial, sometimes I feel and many of us feel that the case of Meredith Kercher, the woman who was actually murdered, has really been lost in all this.

Her family seemed convinced from the prosecution's argument they were sure that Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were responsible for their daughter's death. We do expect a statement from both families very shortly -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's go through these counts, Paula.

The first count murder, second count, possession of a weapon, supposedly the knife, third count, sexual assault, fourth count, theft, supposedly of money from Kercher, fifth count, interfering with a crime scene, and the sixth count, defamation.

And as you say she's now been found guilty on all six of these counts?

NEWTON: Absolutely. That's my information from inside the courtroom. The prosecutor last week had asked for a 30-year life sentence. We won't hear about sentencing for a while now.

But she, Amanda Knox, and Raffaele Sollecito now facing life in prison.

BLITZER: So, did you say 30 years or a life sentence? What is she facing?

NEWTON: Thirty years is a life sentence here in Italy. Anything like parole is decided later on. Again, that's what the prosecution asked for. We're not sure what the sentence will be in the end. We're still awaiting word whether or not the sentence will be coming through in the next few minutes.

There is a lot of action I can tell you now coming out of the courtroom. Again, I can tell you that in that courtroom right now, there will be a lot of commotion. I have seen Amanda Knox collapse before in the courtroom. The people around her do allow her to get some comfort from her family.

But I am not sure exactly what happened in court and still awaiting information, but Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito guilty on all counts, Wolf. And really the kind of picture that the prosecution painted was one of extreme sexual violence.

BLITZER: Raffaele Sollecito her boyfriend. She is 22 years old -- 30 years, that would bring her up to the age of 52.

Lisa Bloom is our CNN legal analyst who's watching all of this.

Lisa, I think you're surprised, but maybe you're not. Tell our viewers what you think about this guilty on all six counts.

LISA BLOOM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I'm never surprised when a criminal trial ends in guilty, Wolf, because about 95 percent of them do here in the U.S. And probably the vast majority in Italy do as well.

Juries tend to side with prosecutors. They tend to look at evidence and look at somebody sitting at the table and being on trial and tend to find them guilty far more often than not.

But having said that, in this case, I didn't see the evidence as being there beyond a reasonable doubt. I saw the theory against Amanda Knox as preposterous, frankly. And when there's a preposterous theory, anything is possible. But you need more DNA evidence, more forensic evidence, in my view, to put the case away.

I didn't see that in this case. I saw a lot of shaky evidence. I saw a lot of real lack of physical evidence linking Amanda Knox to this crime scene, a lack of a motive. She did have some unusual behaviors. She did cartwheels at the police stations when she was called in. She gave inconsistent statements. I'm sure that that hurt her.

BLITZER: Stand by for a second, because we're getting some new information. I want to go back to Paula Newton. She's outside the courtroom right now.

Paula, what are you picking up?

NEWTON: Twenty-six years, Amanda Knox sentenced to 26 years, her former boyfriend sentenced to 25 years in prison.

You know, Wolf, members of prosecution have just come out of the courtroom. There was a round of applause for them. There is no question that some people here in Perugia believe that these two people committed this crime. And they believe that this is justice served -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is there an appeal process available to her?

NEWTON: Absolutely, Wolf.

And everyone is already prepared for this. As I said before, the family was preparing for the worst. Now, an appeals process cannot happen until we get the official ruling in writing, and then after that the whole process begins. I was speaking to the prosecutor earlier today. He says that an appeal would probably begin end of summer, so you're talking anywhere from six to eight months.

He says he will most likely not have anything to do with the appeal. He is an exhausted man. And, at this point in time, Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito say they of course will appeal and this case will continue.

As I said, Amanda Knox's family prepared for this in a way and deciding that they will move here to Perugia to continue to contest this verdict and prove that their daughter is innocent.

BLITZER: Stand by, Paula, because I know you're getting more information on what exactly happened inside.

But let me go back to our legal analyst, Lisa Bloom.

Lisa 26 years. She's 22 years old. That's a long time to spend in jail right now, assuming the appeals process doesn't work out for her.

BLOOM: It is.

And, Wolf, ironically, many Americans criticized the Italian in following this case, but that is a far lighter sentence than most states in the United States would impose on a first-degree murder conviction. Italy of course does not have the death penalty. So, that was never at issue.

But most states in the U.S., she would get life in prison without the possibility of parole or life with the possibility of parole. But it would be far longer than a 26-year determinate sentence that she's gotten in this case.

BLITZER: The appeals process, I don't know how familiar you are, Lisa, with the appeals process in Italy, but I assume if it's anything like the appeals process here in the United States, it's going to be really hard for an appeals process to reverse that decision, but maybe you know more about this than I do.

BLOOM: Well, I'm not overly familiar, to be honest, with the appeals process in Italy. But I think she does have a chance to present her side and to argue that the evidence was weak, to argue that some expert witnesses that she wanted to bring into this case that were excluded by the trial court judge should have been brought in and that some of the rulings made by the trial court judge were inappropriate.

BLITZER: Stand by, Lisa. I want to get back to you.

Paula Newton is getting more information.

But Judy Bachrach is here from "Vanity Fair" magazine.

Judy, you have done a lot of reporting on this case. What do you think about this decision?

JUDY BACHRACH, "VANITY FAIR": It didn't surprise me at all. This was a very carefully choreographed trial. Everybody knew from the beginning that the prosecutor had it in for Amanda Knox, that the charges are pretty much trumped-up. There was no motive for her to kill her roommate.

The defense wasn't even allowed to produce evidence with their own DNA experts. So, from the beginning, this was carefully choreographed. They wanted to find her guilty. They have kept her in jail for two years even before trial, and they did find her guilty. This is the way Italian justice is done. You're accused, you're guilty.

BLITZER: So, you have to prove you're innocent...

BACHRACH: That is correct.

BLITZER: ... as opposed to putting the onus of the burden -- a lot of people have said that about the Italian system. If the prosecution goes ahead and charges you, the burden is really on you and your defense attorneys to prove that you're innocent, as opposed to the burden on the prosecution.

BACHRACH: That is true. Also, the prosecution...


BLITZER: Take a look at these pictures, by the way. Those are some pictures of people coming out.

But go ahead and talk.

BACHRACH: The prosecutor, Mignini, had it in for her because he didn't like the way she conducted her life. He didn't like the fact that she had a lover. He didn't like the fact that had condoms were found in her purse.

She basically has been convicted on her social life and on the fact that she took drugs. There isn't an ounce of real hard evidence against her. And all of Italy should be ashamed, actually.

BLITZER: Well, that's a shocking statement.

But let me let Lisa Bloom weigh in on that.

Lisa, you just heard what Judy said. I want you to react.

BLOOM: Well, I don't see any evidence that she's being prosecuted because she had a sexual relationship with an Italian man or that she smoked marijuana.

BACHRACH: He brought it up at trial in his summation.


BLITZER: Who, the prosecutor?


BLOOM: Well, OK, but the argument in this case...


BACHRACH: He brought up...


BACHRACH: ... wild sex.


BACHRACH: It's stuff that no American court would tolerate, not for an instant, certainly not during a seven-hour summation about her lifestyle?


BLOOM: If I may, I have actually watched hundreds of American murder trials, and evidence about drug use and sexual activity does regularly come in, especially when the prosecution's theory as here is this was a drug-fueled sex game.

I'm not saying the outcome is appropriate. I agree with you that I think she should have been found not guilty, based on my review of the evidence. But I think making those arguments is not necessarily inappropriate in the context of what the charges are.

BACHRACH: Well, the fact is, I interviewed Mignini, and I interviewed a lot of people connected to the trial. So, I know how he thinks and I know what exactly went on, because I was in Italy, and I was in Perugia, which is a very small town with a big drug problem.


BACHRACH: They did not like Amanda Knox because she smoked marijuana. They didn't like her because of her sex life. And they made no bones about it.

At every instance, the police, the prosecutors, the police showed us her sex life, talked about her sex life, stuff that had nothing to do with whether she murdered a person or not. And they never showed any motive for the murder. In fact, they kept changing the motive for the murder.

BLITZER: They kept saying that she hated her roommate.

BACHRACH: First, they said it was an orgy gone wrong. Then they said, well, maybe it wasn't totally an orgy. Maybe she just hated her roommate. In other words, they really don't know.

BLITZER: I want both of you to stand by.

Paula Newton is on the scene for us right now.

Paula, what's happening right now?

NEWTON: Right now, Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito being led away from the court. They will go right back to the prison just outside here of Perugia from where they came.

They certainly hoped that they would be free to just go back to prison, do some paperwork, and get on with their lives. That's not going to happen.

You know, Amanda Knox's parents said they wanted her home for Christmas. Right now, they're going to be starting to talk about visitation rights for Christmas.

Wolf, in listening to your two analysts, I have to say that there's a lot of confusion on both ends -- not from the analysts, of course, but just from the situation going on here on the ground.

Earlier today, in the prosecutor's office, I looked at some -- a video that they had. It almost was a 3-D representation of what they believe happened in those rooms. It looked like something out of Laura Croft. We're hoping to get access to it later on.

In the middle of this thing that really did look like a video game, they continually pulled up autopsy pictures from the real crime. It was really horrific stuff.

Wolf, when the jury looked at that, they were riveted, they were glued. And I have to say that, no matter what went on, that jury certainly probably did depend on that 23-minute video interpretation from the prosecution to make a lot of the links that the prosecution wanted them to make.

On the other side of the argument, just to put this into context, Amanda Knox did say that she did lie in the first few days. She gave perhaps what are very valid reasons as to why she lied. But she did have contradictory stories.

And then again, and then again, Amanda Knox's family saying, look, there really is no physical evidence to tie our daughter, to tie her ex-boyfriend to this crime -- Wolf.

BACHRACH: She was also slapped around in jail and interrogated for 14 hours at a stretch during a period of three days. And at the end of it, she said, well, maybe this happened, and maybe -- I read the transcripts. I read them in Italian and I read them in English. I have lived in Italy four-and-a-half years.

I know what happened. She was kept awake day and night. She was slapped around in jail. She told her parents about that right away in testimony recorded by the cops secretly, which I read.

So, this girl was slapped around. She was at the time 19 or 20. She was young, she was scared, she was willing to admit anything. BLITZER: Another individual already has been convicted of participating in this murder. And he's serving, what, 30 years right now.

BACHRACH: And his prints are the only prints found at the murder scene. Hers are not.

What did the original judges who looked at the evidence say? They said Amanda had gone around her apartment and carefully erased all of her fingerprints, but nobody else's.

How a person is supposed to do that, I don't know. You don't know where you have put your fingerprints. You have no idea what you did during the last four days.

BLITZER: We see a van leaving that courthouse right now, a couple of them. We believe that Amanda Knox and her boyfriend may -- may be inside one of those vans being moved back to the prison, Raffaele Sollecito, but we don't know that for sure.

Paula, do you know who's in these vans?

NEWTON: Usually, when those vans have emerged, yes, they have carried Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito.

We have just heard applause break out again, Wolf, from people who are closer to those vans. That might indicate that they are in there. But that has been how they have been brought in and our of the courtroom before.

They are on their way to what is another very long legal process for them. As I have been saying about the emotion outside this courtroom -- and we have been hearing from our guests -- people are polarized about this.

A lot of it has to do with where you come, what your legal background is, what your nationality is, perhaps even what your age is, some really interesting personal interpretations.

If we go back to the prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, who I have spent some time with, he himself has been indicted and is facing trial for obstruction of justice. And yet at the same time many people here suggest that, look, that did not affect the way he prosecuted this case.

I can tell you, Wolf, his own wife has taken an interest in this. He has three daughters around Amanda's age. And he said that if he -- if it was believed that he was putting two young people, innocent young people in jail, that is -- here they go, Wolf. We're just going to bring you this picture.

BLITZER: Hold on a second. Those are the vans carrying these two -- I guess we can call them now convicted murderers, to -- back to their prison, Amanda Knox and her boyfriend. They have now both been convicted of murdering this British exchange student, the roommate of Amanda Knox. I want everyone to stand by.

Judy, you wanted to make a point?

Judy Bachrach is here with us from "Vanity Fair," who's done a lot of reporting on this case.

What was the point you want to make?

BACHRACH: The prosecutor is famous for having thrown an Italian journalist into jail for three months into isolation because the journalist had the temerity to accuse him of mishandling another murder case. So, for that, the guy goes to jail for three months So, we know what kind of prosecutor this is.

BLITZER: I want to bring in Anne Bremner. She's on the phone for us. She's an attorney, and has been involved in Amanda Knox's legal defense.

Anne, tell us what you think about this decision, this verdict.

ANNE BREMNER, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I represent the Friends of Amanda Knox, which is a group that has tried to turn this supertanker of misinformation and salacious leaks about Amanda Knox around.

We got involved about a year after she was charged. And I have to say that, given the lack of evidence in this case, given the fact that the prosecutor is indicted himself for abuse of process, and given the salacious media, "Foxy Knoxy," the she-devil from Seattle, the angel face, that it's a devastating verdict, I'm sure, to her family, but one that could be almost seen as inevitable, given the way this was going.

But I was hopeful at the end of the day that there was a chance of acquittal.

BLITZER: And obviously that did not happen.

Stand by, Anne, for a moment.

Paula, we're getting some more information about what happened inside the courtroom from our producers who were inside. Do you have this information with you, Paula?

NEWTON: Yes. Now we are getting more information.

If you guys can fit -- we have the panel of the jurists that come up. There are six from the public, two professionals. Dispassionately, the judge looks down, reads the verdict. The jury is not looking directly at either of the defendants.

Amanda, upon hearing this, breaks down and starts sobbing in her chair. It is quite a scene, apparently, in there, Amanda dressed, as she has been, quite demurely for the last few days, in a green jacket, her hair all pulled back, which kind of makes the scene more austere. You could see her apparently visibly slouching in her chair. Interesting here, what they have also been ordered to do, Wolf, is pay five million euros, about $7.5 million, together, the two convicted murderers now, to the family of Meredith Kercher.

And the reason that Meredith Kercher's family has imposed this, if they were convicted, is that they do not want these two people to be able to profit from their crimes in any way. So, that -- the conviction, along with that penalty to pay that money, will stay with them for years to come -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And they're also ordered to pay 40,000 euros -- that's about $60,000 -- to the individual they are convicted of now of defamation.

To a lot of Americans, Judy, this is going to be a shock.

BACHRACH: Yes. I was going to say Italy is a wonderful place to live. As I say, I lived there four-and-a-half years and speak Italian, and it's a wonderful place to visit.

But do not get into trouble there, because you will be considered guilty right away of whatever you're accused of with however little evidence, unless, of course, your name is Prime Minister Berlusconi, in which case you can get away with anything you want.

BLITZER: What is your theory on who killed the Kercher woman?

BACHRACH: Well, we already know that Rudy Guede the (INAUDIBLE) who's in jail for the crime, that his fingerprints were all over the place.

BLITZER: So, do you believe he did it by himself?

BACHRACH: His -- very likely, yes, absolutely.

BLITZER: So, why would -- what would be the incentive for the Italian prosecution to bring in these other two young people if they have already got one conviction already, someone they believed murdered her?

BACHRACH: That was not the order in which things happened.

They first grabbed Amanda, because they didn't like the way -- and her boyfriend, Rudy -- sorry, Raffaele -- and because they didn't like the way Amanda behaved right after roommate was killed.

Amanda went into a lingerie store with her boyfriend, talked about having wild sex with him the next night or two nights later, and they bought panties together. And that was captured on closed-circuit TV. And it was played and replayed before all of Italy every hour on the hour.

And Italians were deeply shocked by this. And they figured, anybody who's so hard-hearted as to go out and buy undies with her boyfriend is capable of anything. BLITZER: Let me bring back Lisa Bloom.

Lisa, you hear Judy Bachrach make a pretty case there that there's been a very, very serious violation of justice in Italy right now. She's done a lot of reporting, as she says, over these past several years on this case. I want you to weigh in.

BLOOM: Well, I agree.

I believe, based on my review of the evidence, that the evidence was not sufficient beyond a reasonable doubt to convict Amanda Knox.

BLITZER: But is that the standard in Italy, beyond a reasonable doubt, as it is here in the United States?

BLOOM: To be honest, I get conflicting reports (AUDIO GAP).

BLITZER: I think we just lost Lisa, but we're going to re- establish that connection.

Let me ask Anne Bremner, who's an attorney who's been trying to help Amanda Knox, what is the standard in Italy, based on what you know, Anne?

BREMNER: Well, they say it's beyond a reasonable doubt, Wolf. But I, like Lisa, have heard conflicting reports. And -- and the jury does not have to be unanimous. They're not sequestered and they really are governed by the judges that sit with them on the panel. And they're not even selected by the parties. They're not questioned in advance, like we have the right to do here, so nothing is really know about them. Two are professionals, as has been stated.

So an entirely different system, in a case where there was, as I have always said, no evidence to link Amanda Knox. The one guy that did it, it was your standard type of a robbery -- I hate to use the word standard, but it was a one man, attempted rape, attempted robbery, where all of the evidence pointed to the person who's been convicted and been sentenced...

BLITZER: So do...

BREMNER: ...before today.

BLITZER: Do you have an explanation of why, if it was so compelling against this one individual already convicted, now serving a 30 years sentence for murdering this young woman, why the prosecution decided to go after these other two young people?

BREMNER: You know, it's like we say in the US, beware the rush to justice -- or to judgment. And what we've just been talking about, that the whole thing about the underwear. They called her No Knicks Knoxy, Foxy Knoxy; some of the things on her MySpace page; did she smile inappropriately?

And that was greatly offensive, apparently, to the Italian people. And I think it's been a matter of honor with the prosecutor of going forward, once he said, in the first instance, that this was a sex slaying -- he later said that it was a ritualistic slaying. Now, and at the end of the day, at the end of the case, he said it was because she didn't like Meredith. But throughout, the constant has been there was no physical evidence to connect her. The knife didn't match. It didn't match the wounds. It didn't match an imprint in the bed of the knife. The DNA was not sufficient to -- to even measure, with respect to Meredith and didn't match, in any event. Amanda didn't confess. There was not one scintilla of evidence of in that room -- no hair, no fiber, no fingerprint and yet there's a conviction in the case.

BLITZER: Anne, hold on one second, because I want Judy just to -- to weigh in and then I'm going to go back to Lisa for a moment.

As we watch the scene outside the courtroom in Italy, Amanda Knox convicted and sentenced to 26 years in prison for killing her roommate in -- in Italy. The -- the individual who has already been convicted and serving a 30 year sentence, the -- the African who was visiting...


BLITZER: in Italy at the time.

But didn't he testify against Amanda Knox?

JUDY BACHRACH, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "VANITY FAIR": Well, interestingly, I read his testimony, in Italian, with -- which was the testimony he gave maybe a month after being imprisoned. And he told Mignini, the prosecutor, he said, I don't know Amanda Knox. I met her once across the room and I never spoke to her. And she has a bad reputation and I didn't want to talk to her.

BLITZER: So he never implicated her?

BACHRACH: After a few more months with Mignini, he was willing to say anything on Earth. And all of a sudden, hey, I know her. I was in it with her. We killed this poor girl together.

In other words, first he told one story, then he told another story. He was probably promised something in return. But he's not a person of honesty and integrity, whom you can trust on any story.

I want to say one more thing and that is about the animated film shown by the prosecutor just recently, maybe yesterday, to the jury. The prosecutor had an animated version of Amanda killing her roommate. So they should show this totally trumped up animated movie that the prosecutor made to the jurors and then show the dead body of the roommate at the very end -- the massacred, bloody body.

So, I mean, this is the kind of stuff you would not be allowed to show in an American courtroom during the summation -- this invented scenario.

BLITZER: All right. Hold on a second, because we just got a statement in from Amanda Knox's family. And let me read it to our viewers as we're watching these pictures coming in from Italy: "We are extremely disappointed in the verdict rendered today against our daughter. While we always knew this was a possibility, we find it difficult to accept this verdict when we know that she is innocent and that the prosecution has failed to explain why there was no evidence of Amanda in the room where Meredith was so horribly and tragically murdered. It appears clear to us that the attacks on Amanda's character in much of the media and by the prosecution had a significant impact on the judges and jurors and apparently overshadowed the lack of evidence in the prosecution's case against her."

The statement goes on to say they will immediately begin the process of appealing this verdict. "Amanda is innocent," they say in the statement, "and we will continue to fight for her freedom."

Anne Bremner is one of the attorneys who's been trying to help this family.

Anne, this appeals process, give us your assessment -- I assume you've done some research into how it now unfolds.

BREMNER: Well, I -- I represent the Friends of Amanda Knox here. And the family, of course, has lawyers for Amanda in Italy.

But the conventional wisdom in Italy is that the appellate process, you're going to fare better as the accused, like has been stated, which is the opposite of our system. It just gets worse for the accused as you go up on appeals.

But they're -- they're -- they're going to be able to look at evidence again on appeal, whereas here, we look more at more finite legal issues.

And it's like the saying, never, never, never quit. They're not going to quit. Their daughter, they believe, is innocent. And she's been in a horrific situation with an onslaught of negative media, a prosecutor, like I said, who's been under indictment. And even Rudy Guede was no -- captured on Skype saying that Amanda Knox wasn't even there.

And then finally, Wolf, these civil cases were tried with the criminal case, so that the damages to Meredith's family were vetted during the criminal case, saying what a horrible thing they've been through. They were asking for money damages. The bar owner also sued -- and even the owner of the home -- for damages. So there were, intermixed within this criminal case all kinds of other information...

BLITZER: All right.

BREMNER: ...and claims. And then finally the character evidence was in this country would never have come in and was so damaging and false.

BLITZER: Let's go to Paula Newton.

She's in Italy watching all of this unfold -- Paula, you're getting more information. PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, reactions really coming in. The prosecution really saying that they have been confident all along. But again, Wolf, we brought up a lot of different issues on both sides of the coin. And not to forget the family of Meredith Kercher, who we believe will at least release a statement. They do believe justice has been served here, Wolf.

And what has been so interesting throughout this case has been to see the way the influence of Meredith Kercher's friends, who observed Amanda Knox in the hours and days after -- the influence that they have had not just on this case, but on Meredith Kercher's family and how they came to suspect that Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend had anything to do with this.

You know, again, it has been a difficult case for everyone involved. Amanda Knox's family, though, Wolf, prepared -- prepared with that statement, prepared to move here to Perugia, as we were just discussing. They hope to bring all of the contradictory evidence together in an appeal, Wolf, to make this point. Sometimes appeals here aren't necessarily overturned, but certainly sentences sometimes, because of extenuating circumstances, are reduced and reduced by a grand -- a great margin. That will be -- they will obviously try to get the -- the conviction overturned.

But at the end of the day, she may still be able to spend a lot less time in prison. And her family is obviously, though, hopeful that through this appeals process, the people will look at the lack of physical evidence and say there's no way that she murdered this woman.

BLITZER: Do we expect the parents to come before the cameras in the coming minutes -- Paula?

NEWTON: Yes, OK. So what happened here, Wolf, is we were all set up in a hotel room just a short walk from here. They said they would definitely show up if their daughter was acquitted.

What they were not sure of is that if she was found guilty, what they would do. They have released this statement. We believe that means they are going to have some private time and perhaps we'll be able to speak to them tomorrow. Wolf, they know that it's important for them to continue to con -- to speak out against this conviction if they have any hope of finally getting their daughter home to them.

BLITZER: All right. Paula Newton, stand by, because we're going to continue to check in with you.

We're watching the story unfold -- Amanda Knox convicted, together with her boyfriend, in the knifing death of a British exchange student.

We'll stay on top of this story and get you all the day's other news, as well.

Larry King is going to have much more on this coming up at 9:00 p.m. Eastern later tonight on this Amanda Knox verdict -- guilty on all counts. Stay with us. We'll continue our coverage right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Just to restate the verdict that just came out of Italy, Amanda Knox, the 22-year-old college exchange student in Italy, has been convicted in the knifing death of a British exchange student, Meredith Kercher. Her boyfriend also convicted, Raffaele Sollecito convicted. They're both facing 26 years in prison as a result of this verdict.

They are both going to appeal, though.

At the same time, let's go back to Paula Newton.

She's on the scene getting for information outside the courtroom. We'll check with her shortly.

But let's check out some other important news that's been happening here in the United States during the course of this day.

A brand new poll showing that the American people are, for the most part, rallying behind the president's new war strategy in Afghanistan. But if you think that's helping his job approval rating, guess again. It's dropped below 50 percent for the first time in our survey.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, has been punching all these numbers for us. It's an important story -- the economy, the war in Afghanistan. These are the two big issues facing the president right now.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Important and really interesting numbers for the president. Basically, it shakes down like this. His powers of persuasion are intact, but the wear and tear of a year long recession is more powerful.


CROWLEY (voice-over): Trouble on the home front the eating into his political capital, but the president's hard sell on Afghanistan did the job.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by Al Qaeda.

CROWLEY: The latest CNN poll found that a majority of Americans still oppose the war in Afghanistan, but 62 percent favor the president's plan to send 30,000 more troops there. Thirty-six percent are opposed.

In the good news/bad news country for the president... OBAMA: These additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.

CROWLEY: Two thirds of

Americans favor the president's exit plan from Afghanistan, but 59 think it was a bad idea to announce it.

Despite his success in gathering public reinforcement for more troops in Afghanistan, the president's overall approval rating has fallen below 50 percent for the first time in a CNN poll. The latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll numbers show 48 percent of Americans approve of the way he's handling his job. That is a 7 point drop in less than three weeks.

Partially fuelling this dissent is this -- just 36 percent of whites who never attended college approve of the way the president is handling his jobs -- an 18 percent drop in persons who are most likely to work in mining, construction and manufacturing -- the three hardest hit areas of the recession.

With his numbers so far into the positives on Afghanistan policy, it is abundantly clear what's dragging down the president -- jobs, jobs, jobs. It is not a wonder he was in Allentown, Pennsylvania today.

OBAMA: Americans who have been desperately looking for work for months -- some of them maybe for a year or longer -- they can't wait and we won't wait. We need to do everything we can right now to get our businesses hiring again.

CROWLEY: The president is promising to send new jobs initiatives to Congress next week.


CROWLEY: Beyond the urgency of getting jobs to desperate people, there is a political urgency, too. The president can afford to take a hit over high unemployment, but Congressional Democrats cannot. A third of U.S. Senate seats and all of the House seats are up for re- election in 2010. And a 10.2 percent unemployment rate in the new year is just no place to start an election.

BLITZER: And even if just went down to 10 percent. That's not a big -- a huge difference...


BLITZER: ...for Democrats who are very nervous maybe.

CROWLEY: No, absolutely. And that's why you are hearing most of the push for new jobs programs -- more money to create more jobs is coming from Capitol Hill. And you hear the president beginning to agree with that. BLITZER: Yes. Good point, Candy.

Thanks very much, Candy Crowley.

A government official says he's being fired for speaking his mind.

Just ahead, his future and his fears about holding civilian trials for 9/11 suspects.


BLITZER: Amanda Knox convicted in that murder trial in Italy. The 22-year-old sentenced to 26 years in prison.

Let's go back to Paula Newton.

She's outside the courtroom, where it's still pretty tumultuous, we see over there. We're getting lots of reaction -- Paula, what's the latest?

NEWTON: Absolutely. Meredith Kercher family saying that they do believe this is a just verdict. Their family lawyer saying that they will go on the record tomorrow morning.

But they're saying say that they do this is an absence of malice, recognizing, of course, the tender ages of everyone involved. At the same time, though, they do believe that the -- the people who murdered their daughter have been brought to justice.

Wolf, also very sad, Deanna Knox, who is Amanda Knox's sister, passed by in front of me. She looked completely shell-shocked and was led away. We tried to get her to come over to get some of her reaction, but, of course, you can imagine what she's going through right now. She's spoken out quite passionately about the fact that she still believes that her sister is innocent and how deeply she believes that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And the family, they're -- they say they're going to stay there for the time being, maybe for a long time, maybe for years, as long as their daughter is in jail and this appeals process goes forward.

NEWTON: Absolutely. They told me that a few weeks ago when I was speaking to them. They are finding an apartment here in Perugia and they continue to press this case. And this is the point. While they were hoping for the best, Wolf, in this town, people have said they were expecting a guilty verdict. The Knox family prepared for that guilty verdict tonight.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to check back with you, Paula.

Thanks very much.

We're getting some new information that we're checking out right now -- we'll get it to you shortly -- on Tom Brokaw, the NBC News anchor and his wife. They were in a car accident. We'll get that information for you. They're all -- all right. Unfortunately, someone else, apparently, is not. We'll get the information and we'll share it with you right after this.


BLITZER: We're just getting this information in. The former NBC News anchor, Tom Brokaw, and his wife Meredith, they were involved in a three vehicle car accident in New York today. They are OK, but the woman driving an SUV who was involved in the collision, unfortunately, was thrown from her vehicle and killed.

We're getting this information. The Brokaws, as I say, are OK. They've issued a statement saying -- through a publicist: "Tom and Meredith are greatly saddened by this loss of life."

A very sad story in New York -- Tom Brokaw and his wife in this accident. They're OK, but one in -- one person driving an SUV was thrown from the vehicle and killed. It happened on the Buckner Expressway in New York.

Other news we're following essentially involved someone who was fired.

What was told to a top foreign policy researcher for Congress was that he was fired for, what, openly speaking his mind?

Let's get some details from CNN's Brian Todd.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): Morris Davis calls the government agency where he works a national treasure. But he says his bosses now want to fire him and that he'll be out of a job before Christmas just for stating his opinion on something.

COL. MORRIS DAVIS (RET.), CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE: I mean it's like having the breath knocked out of you. It's -- it's disappointing.

TODD: Davis is with the Congressional Research Service, an arm of the Library of Congress, which is supposed to give objective information to Congressmen. Davis was also the lead prosecutor for military commissions for Guantanamo detainees before he joined CRS. Last month, he wrote pieces for "The Washington Post" and "The Wall Street Journal" critical of the commissions and of the Obama administration's move to try some detainees in civilian courts. A quote in the "Journal": "A decision to use both legal settings is a mistake. It will establish a dangerous legal double standard."

After that was published, his bosses told him he'd have to go.

The reason?

DAVIS: That I had violated a policy by writing an article on a -- a matter of public interest that some in Congress may take as a partisan expression of a -- a view on an issue that was pending before Congress.

TODD: Davis, with the help of the ACLU, is now threatening to sue the Congressional Research Service if they go ahead with his firing, claiming they're violating his right to free speech.

Davis says he's gotten permission from CRS in the past to speak out at public forums on these issues. And he sent us Library of Congress regulations saying: "Employees are encouraged to engage in teaching, lecturing or writing on subjects unrelated to the Library and to the staff member's official duties and as long as they're given on an employee's own time and are disassociated with their employers."

Davis says his writings were unrelated to his job, that another arm of CRS handles legal matters. Still...

(on camera): It does come under the purview of the Congressional Research Service.

DAVIS: Right.

TODD: So couldn't that service kind of be thought of as painting some kind of a partisan or a opinionated version of an issue overall.

And wouldn't that be a problem?

DAVIS: Well, again, I think it depends on, is it reasonable for Congress to expect that they have 695 cloistered people who give up the First Amendment right to express an opinion on anything, because literally any topic is of interest to Congress. So we'd be precluded from ever speaking on any issue.


TODD: Contacted by CNN, the Congressional Research Service would not comment on any permission given to Davis for previous engagements or on their regulations. They would not go on camera. They gave us this statement: "As a matter of professional courtesy and out of respect for the confidentiality of individuals, CRS will not comment on personnel related matters."

Important to note, although Davis had previously sought permission from his bosses to speak at public forums, he did not seek permission to write these articles. He says he didn't think he needed to because he thought he was following their regulations. He issued no disclaimers, Wolf, for those articles, saying that his views did not represent those of CRS. He didn't even indicate that he worked at CRS.

BLITZER: So, in -- in that little description of him, when he wrote that article in "The Wall Street Journal," there was no reference saying...


BLITZER: ...that these are his views, not necessarily the views... TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: ...of the...

TODD: No ref...

BLITZER: ...Congressional Research Service?

TODD: No reference to him even working at CRS.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much for that.

So what -- so he stays in his job for the time being or has he already been released?

TODD: He is in the job until December 21st, but there's pending litigation to try to force CRS to keep him.

BLITZER: All right, we'll stay on top of this story.

Thanks very much.

Let's check in quickly with Brooke Baldwin.

She's monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Brooke, what's going on?

BALDWIN: All right, Wolf. Let's talk snow here. A snow day in Houston, Texas.

Can you believe it here?

A rare winter storm swept over much of the Southeast Texas area today. Take a look at the pretty stuff, I guess, unless you're driving on it. It's the earliest snow in Houston's history and only the fourth time it's snowed there in the past 15 years. Accumulations of up to four inches were reported just south of the city. And a winter storm warning is in effect for a couple more hours. By the way, a freeze warning is still in place through 9:00 p.m. -- that is local time -- or, rather, 9:00 a.m. local time tomorrow morning.

And Roman Polanski -- he has been released now from custody in Switzerland and placed under house arrest. The film director is now confined in his Swiss chalet. The house is outfitted with an electronic monitoring system and Polanski must wear a bracelet that tracks his every movement. Swiss police say the filmmaker is there pending extradition here to the U.S. He was arrested back in September on a U.S. warrant stemming from a sexual encounter with a 13-year-old girl three decades ago.

And that's a look at some of the stories we've been following for you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brooke, thanks very much.

Have a great weekend, indeed. I'm Wolf Blitzer here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Don't forget tomorrow, at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, THE SITUATION ROOM will have all the latest developments.

Thanks very much for watching.

Up next, "CNN TONIGHT."