Giulia Bongiorno has defended a prime minister and a football star. But it was in representing a 31-year-old computer science graduate named Raffaele Sollecito that solidified the former rightwing politician’s reputation as one of Italy’s most formidable defence attorneys.
On Friday night Bongiorno, 49, was temporarily stunned by the news that the high court had thrown out all the charges against both her client and his former girlfriend, Amanda Knox, in the murder trial of Meredith Kercher. Hours earlier, she had forcefully argued that Sollecito was an innocent – even harmless – young man who had been caught up in circumstances that were larger than him, much like Forrest Gump.
The speech lasted nearly two hours, even though lawyers were supposed to have limited their arguments in the court of cassation to 20 minutes.
When she arrived in court that morning she criticised prosecutors for bringing the case, saying they had convoluted a story out of cherrypicked facts in order to satisfy their version of events. “If you take the Bible and divide it into many parts, you can put together a pornographic book from its pieces,” she told a throng of journalists. It was a retort to a prosecutor’s earlier claim that all of the pieces in the British university student’s murder fitted together as if in a photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson.
It was not the first high-profile case for Bongiorno. The attorney became famous for her defence of Giulio Andreotti, the former Italian prime minister who was found guilty in 2002 of complicity in a mafia-linked hit against a journalist, Mino Pecorelli, in 1979. Andreotti was eventually acquitted of all charges.
Bongiorno is also known as a staunch advocate of women, including working on behalf of the victims of domestic violence.
In 2008, when Silvio Berlusconi became prime minister again after a sweeping victory by his conservative Forza Italia party, Bongiorno was considered a possible candidate for justice minister. But she did not shy away from criticising the former PM following revelations about his infamous “bunga-bunga” sex parties.
“It is not the wild parties we are against,” she said during a 2011 protest against Berlusconi. “It is their use as a selection process that we oppose.” It was a reference to the billionaire’s promotion of models in his government.
Bongiorno did suffer one significant defeat. She failed to save Francesco Totti, the Roma footballer, from a three-game suspension after he was seen spitting on a midfielder in 2004.