A group of NXIVM members have enlisted the help of Amanda Knox — an American woman who was convicted for a 2007 murder but ultimately exonerated — in a bid to help the group’s leader, Keith Raniere.
In mid-June of 2019, Raniere was found guilty on seven charges by a jury, including two counts of sex trafficking, racketeering and forced labour conspiracy, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of New York. Other charges include attempted sex trafficking, wire fraud conspiracy and racketeering conspiracy.
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The jury took less than five hours to deliberate after a trial that lasted around six weeks. The trial featured some disturbing details, including stories of Raniere and NXIVM members “branding” women near their genitals to mark them as part of the so-called “sex cult.”
Now, according to an Albany Times Union report, Knox, 30, has confirmed that she was approached by NXIVM members to sign a petition to aid Raniere. The petition demands prosecutors answer questions about alleged tampering with the jury, evidence and witnesses in Raniere’s case.
Knox confirmed her involvement to the Times Union via email, saying she signed the petition to help ensure a legitimate judicial process. She spent four years in an Italian prison before her 2011 acquittal for the murder of British student Meredith Kercher.
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“I was contacted by some former members of NXIVM who claim that Mr. Raniere has been wrongfully convicted, and that the story being told in the media is wrong,” she said to the outlet. “I personally do not know enough about the case to make any judgments about whether his conviction is wrongful or not.
“These supporters of Mr. Raniere asked me to sign a petition asking the prosecutors in the case to affirm some principles of prosecutorial conduct that any prosecutor should be able to affirm, such as not engaging in perjury, not tampering with evidence, and not threatening witnesses,” she said. “I signed the petition because violation of these practices would constitute prosecutorial misconduct, regardless of Mr. Raniere’s guilt or innocence.”
The lawyer for NXIVM’s alleged victims, Neil Glazer, sees the petition as meritless and a last-ditch effort to save Raniere from a life in jail while keeping a semblance of the group intact.
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“It’s absurd in so many ways that I don’t know where to begin,” he told the Times Union. “I’ve never seen anything like this bizarre document in all my years of legal practice. This is nothing more than a publicity stunt, orchestrated by Raniere to throw up smoke and mirrors and to peddle conspiracy theories to keep his remaining disciples in the fold.”
The Times Union lists other signatories of the petition, including Valentino Dixon, a Buffalo, N.Y., man who spent 27 years in prison after being wrongly convicted for murder, and Diana Davison, the leader of Vancouver nonprofit The Lighthouse Project, which offers free assistance to the falsely accused.
Existing NXIVM members also plan to launch a podcast, hold an event they describe as a $35,000 “Innocence Challenge” and gather further signatures on the petition to help Raniere.
Raniere, now 60, is due to be sentenced on Oct. 27, which could see him facing life imprisonment.
NXIVM adherents included TV actor Allison Mack, best known for her role as a friend of a young Superman in the series Smallville, and Seagram’s liquor fortune heiress, Clare Bronfman.
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Mack and Bronfman, who were named as defendants with Raniere in a federal indictment, pleaded guilty before they could go to trial with him. They didn’t testify, leaving a co-operating member of his inner circle and three victims from the secret sorority as the key witnesses.
The co-operator described how female “masters” forced “slaves” for Raniere to give up “collateral” — nude photos and other material that would ruin them if ever made public – to keep them in line.
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One of the victims, whose name was withheld to protect her privacy, described being confined to a bedroom for more than 700 days on orders from Raniere as punishment for showing interest in another man. Another explained how Raniere lured her to a home when she was blindfolded and bound to a table so that another woman could perform a sex act on her, and the third recounted making up an excuse to leave the community so she could avoid completing an assignment from her “master” — Mack — to “seduce” Raniere.
Marc Agnifilo, the defence attorney during the trial, sought to point jurors to evidence of text and other messages between Raniere and the woman he said showed they had caring relationships that ended with “no hard feelings.” And since the group never released any of the collateral, “Where’s the extortion?” he asked.
But with the victims’ stories of abuse at the hands of Raniere, Assistant U.S. Attorney Moira Penza said, “a light has been shown into the darkness and the defendant’s crimes have been exposed.”
—With files from the Associated Press
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