Blenheim mother murdered autistic daughter after tolerating years of abuse

Donella Knox is sentenced for murder at the High Court sitting in Blenheim.
DEREK FLYNN/FAIRFAX NZ

Donella Knox is sentenced for murder at the High Court sitting in Blenheim.

The murder of an autistic woman by her mother was "part mercy killing, part self defence", a court has heard.

Blenheim woman Donella Knox, 48, admitted murdering her 21-year-old daughter Ruby on May 16, 2016 in what Justice Joe Williams described as a "once-in-a-generation case".

Knox was jailed for four years on December 16, 2016 but strict suppression orders during the appeal period prevented media from publishing the details of her daughter's death.

Justice Joe Williams sentences Donella Knox in December.
DEREK FLYNN/FAIRFAX NZ

Justice Joe Williams sentences Donella Knox in December.

On Friday, the Crown solicitor decided not to appeal the decision, allowing the details of Ruby's death to be publicly revealed.

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Donella Knox details struggles of caring for her autistic daughter

According to the police summary of facts, Knox was at home in Blenheim with Ruby on May 16.

Ruby Knox, left, with her mother Donella, the week before Ruby was killed.
SELINA POWELL/FAIRFAX NZ

Ruby Knox, left, with her mother Donella, the week before Ruby was killed.

She used 20 respiradone​ pills to sedate Ruby before putting her hands over her mouth and nose until she died.

Knox then went to the police station in Blenheim and made a full confession.

She was arrested, charged and taken into custody.

Police guard Donella Knox's home the morning after Ruby's body was found.
DEREK FLYNN/FAIRFAX NZ

Police guard Donella Knox's home the morning after Ruby's body was found.

Knox pleaded not guilty in September, but changed her plea to guilty two months later. 

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At her sentencing at the High Court in Blenheim, Justice Williams said he would consider the nature of Knox's relationship with Ruby and how her perception of Ruby's treatment and care had affected her mental state.

Ruby was diagnosed with severe autism spectrum disorder when she was an infant.

Donella Knox stands in the dock to hear her sentence read.
DEREK FLYNN/FAIRFAX NZ

Donella Knox stands in the dock to hear her sentence read.

She was unable to speak and had chronic behavioural difficulties and sometimes hurt herself or other people.

She also had a severe intellectual disability, spina bifida​, complications from a spinal rod surgery, gastro-oesophageal reflux, hemorrhoids, incontinence and hip pain, Justice Williams said.

As Ruby became older, she became stronger and it was more difficult to look after her.

Knox cared for Ruby full-time with support from respite carers and medical specialists.

Submissions from people who knew Knox personally or professionally said she cared for Ruby "unconditionally and unselfishly".

"You were her tireless advocate and refused to give up, refused to take no for an answer," Justice Williams said.

When Ruby turned 20, she could no longer be seen by the pediatric team, could not attend school and respite workers were not always able to handle her.

Ruby's general practitioner, who saw her more than 150 times, likened her relationship with Knox to that of an abusive partner, Justice Williams said.

"Your care was met with repeated violence. You told [the GP] you tolerate this because you know Ruby did not understand or intend to do what she did.

"His most vivid memory of you, Ms Knox, is of a mother who cared for her daughter, but was constantly physically and mentally exhausted."

In the months before Ruby's death, Knox noticed Ruby's behaviour change and became convinced she was in great pain.

She felt "brushed off" by doctors at Wairau Hospital, in Blenheim, Justice Williams said.

Knox took Ruby to Auckland's Starship Children's Hospital in February last year and surgeons agreed Ruby was in pain, anaesthetising​ her to perform assessments.

They described Knox as "tearful and completely stressed out".

Staff members at Wairau Hospital became concerned Knox would hurt Ruby, Justice Williams said.

Knox told a hospital social worker she did not want any more help.

"You're just one of them, I don't know who to trust. I'm done talking, we are fine thank you," Knox told the social worker.

On the day of Ruby's death, Knox received a letter from doctors confirming they could not find the source of Ruby's pain.

"It seems this letter was a trigger for your decision to take Ruby's life. You told the probation officer that when you read the letter, a feeling came over you, that this has to stop," Justice Williams said.

The case was part mercy killing and part self defence, Justice Williams said.

"I think it is right to call your relationship abusive. Not in the usual sense, but because you were tied emotionally to her.

"She restricted your social contact with others and any wider career or life ambition you might have had.

"There is no doubt a term of imprisonment is required to mark the fact you took a vulnerable life, whatever the circumstances."

The crown proposed a sentence of eight to 10 years in prison, but the defence argued for two to six.

Justice Williams gave a discount for good character and the minimal possibility of future offending.

Knox was sentenced to four years' imprisonment.

 - The Marlborough Express

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