"Who's done the scientific studies to show what is normal behavior?" That's the question Greg Hampikian, director of the Idaho Innocence Project, asks in light of the Amanda Knox guilty verdict. Knox was excoriated by Italian cops during her trial for her supposedly "strange attitude" after her roommate's death, as demonstrated by making out with her boyfriend and doing a cartwheel in the police station.
But Hampikian, who examined the evidence in the case and found it sorely lacking (see his pdf report), notes that people behave differently to horrific events. "Just look at what happened at the World Trade (Center) towers," he says. "Some panicked. Some prayed. Some went to their deaths trying to help others. Some calmly walked outside. Some people cannot stand the sight of blood, and others have no problem with it...Who is odd?"
It's impossible to say, which is why he says studies have repeatedly shown that cops' "gut feeling" about a case based on purportedly suspicious behavior often turns out to be "junk." (See this pdf research paper about law enforcement's inability to accurately assess guilt during questioning.) Yet that doesn't stop such behavior from being cited as evidence--and not just in Italian courts.
As Hampikian points out, you need look no further than another notorious local case he is working on: that of Sebastian Burns and Atif Rafay, convicted of the 1994 murder of Rafay's parents and sister in their Bellevue home. In an interview last year with Seattle Weekly for a cover story on the case, Bellevue police detective Bob Thompson argued passionately that the young men are guilty despite the Innocence Project's championing of their appeal, which is ongoing. Why was he so sure? He cited their "strange" behavior, including checking out a Chevy Chase comedy the night of the murder.
It's an argument straight out of Albert Camus's classic novel The Stranger, about an accused murderer who is condemned, mainly, for failing to cry at his mother's funeral. tried for his mother's murder because he didn't cry at her funeral. Many of us read that plot in high school or college as an absurdity written to make a broader point about normalcy. Now we know how realistic it is.