Florence police probe Florida woman’s slaying as expats fear repeat of Amanda Knox legal debacle


Police vowed “maximum attention” Sunday to find the killer of an American found dead in her Florence apartment as Italy’s expat community expressed hope that the case won’t turn into another Amanda Knox-style, drawn-out, headline-grabbing legal saga.

Police opened a murder investigation Saturday after 35-year-old Ashley Olsen of Summer Haven, Florida, was found dead, her neck bruised and scratched.

Authorities questioned Olsen’s boyfriend, a local artist, Saturday but said they have no suspects so far.

“What happened in Florence is getting the maximum attention to find out what it’s all about,” Italy’s police chief, Alessandro Pansa, said during an unrelated visit Sunday to Florence, the ANSA news agency reported.

Meanwhile, friends and fellow expats expressed horror at the slaying of a woman known around Florence for her beloved beagle, Scout, and said they hoped her killer would be found quickly. Flowers were left at her doorstep.

“I can’t imagine a person who would hurt her. She is a gentle, a kind, a beautiful, friendly, lovely girl and it’s an awful shock,” Amy, a friend who only gave her first name, told The Associated Press in Florence. “We’ve got a great community here of people and everyone loved her.”

Friends and other expats expressed hope that the case wouldn’t end up repeating the flawed, flip-flopping investigation into the last high-profile murder case of a foreigner living in Italy, that of Meredith Kercher.

The British student was studying in the Umbrian city of Perugia when she was found dead in 2007. Knox, Kercher’s American roommate, and her then-boyfriend were at first convicted of the murder, then acquitted, convicted again on appeal and finally acquitted for good when Italy’s supreme court last year definitively exonerated them. Another man was convicted and is serving a 16-year sentence.

“I would hope for her sake that this investigation is more clear,” said Georgette Jupe, who writes the “Girl in Florence” blog and knew Olsen casually, primarily because they both had beagles and lived near one another in Florence’s Santo Spirito neighborhood.

Social media groups for expats in Florence expressed the same sentiment, with several people posting comments about the parallel to the Kercher investigation, which was harshly criticized in both the American and British media.

“It reignites the concern of justice, different policing and judicial systems, and the different journalism styles between Italy and the U.S.,” Beth Prusiecki, an American living in Milan, told the AP in a message after posting on one of the closed Facebook groups.

U.S. media tended to portray Knox as a victim of a legal system she didn’t understand, where prosecutors can appeal acquittals. The Italian media tended to take prosecutors’ view that Knox was responsible.

Jupe said Olsen was involved in fashion and had moved a few years ago to Florence, where her father was also a professor.

Olsen’s Facebook page is full of photos of her and Scout, including on the steps of the Santo Spirito church on the lovely piazza of the same name that is the heart of the “Oltrarno” neighborhood of the Tuscan city.

“She always with her dog, always sitting on steps of Santo Spirito with friends,” Jupe said in a phone interview.

Alexandra Lawrence, a 17-year resident of Florence, said the art-filled city has long drawn creative people like Olsen, who find a ready-made expat community that is far more active and close-knit than ones in Rome or Milan.

“I think maybe because it’s such a small city, but because there are so many expats, we all eventually come across each other and run in similar circles,” said Lawrence, who teaches art history to American students on study abroad programs and gives tours.

She said she didn’t know Olsen personally, but said the first thing she thought of when she heard the news was the Knox saga.

“We’ve been through this terribly unresolved mystery with Amanda Knox,” she said in an interview. “You never want it to get to that point.”

  • Condolences to Ms. Olsen’s family. I hope the perpetrator(s) are apprehended and punished to the fullest extent of the law.

    There’s an error in the article concerning the Knox case. Cassazione, the Italian Supreme Court, did not “exonerate” Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito. The Court’s 5th Chamber ruled according to a rarely-used section of the Italian criminal code, 530 (2) “insufficient evidence….” It’s an important distinction. An acquittal does not equate to innocence. The judges placed Knox in the residence at the time of the murder (according to her own words) and ruled that she washed Kercher’s blood off her hands in the shared bathroom. Read the report.

    There is no “unresolved mytery with Amanda Knox.” Her family hired an expensive Seattle PR firm a couple of days after she was arrested. The press in the U.S. was controlled by the PR firm which also launched an immediate attack to discredit Italian investigators, its legal system and the entire country. PR has no business in a murder investigation. RIP Meredith Kercher.

    • What difference does it make that you don’t like the expression “exonerate?” The Italian Supreme Court refused to remand the case back to the trial court because they did not see possible any evidence available to take the place of the case they nullified. That is declaring the whole charge against her null and void. So even if you don’t recognize the word “exonerate” in relation to what the Italian Supreme Court did, the effect on Amanda is just the same. Her status has returned to what it was before she was falsely accused: She was innocent before, and she is still innocent.

    • There is no unresolved mystery with Amanda Knox because the evidence only point to Guede being the only murderer. The only thing that PR had to do with this whole fiasco was to point out that the case against Amanda and Raffaele was bogus. Amanda is still strapped with bankruptcy because of legal fees for this monstrosity of injustice done to her.

    • The judges only placed Amanda at the murder by opinion concerning facts that prove nothing of the sort. The Italian Supreme Court did not rule that she had washed Meredith’s blood off her hands. Read the report yourself. It doesn’t say that.

    • The judges, prosecutors, and police of this false case condemned their own reputations with the stupid opinions they used as evidence instead of real evidence. There is no way that the Italian Judiciary that used juries led by judges instead of independent citizens thinking for themselves can be expected to come up with a “true saying” concerning what happened to Meredith. The judges substituting their own made up stories for verdicts is hardly justice.

    • The “insufficient evidence” in this decision was the lack of any real evidence at all. There was nothing but stories about how the irrelevant and sometimes false facts meant anything at all. There was no evidence that the bag of clothes didn’t topple over by itself before the window was broken from the outside. There is no evidence of cleaning smudges or cleanser residue that there ever was an alleged clean-up of evidence which was also never proved to have existed. There was no evidence other than opinion that Guede had any accomplices. The DNA was completely bogus and irrelevant. The testimony was unreliable or meaningless. The time of death was not verified by anyone except by opinion of the court itself.

      Guede’s conviction “with accomplices” was simply a red herring to divert some of his well earned guilt toward Amanda and Raffaele. There is no doubt that Guede raped and murdered Meredith by himself.