Sophie Elliott killing: Weatherston 'calm, collected'

ACCUSED: Clayton Weatherston stands in dock at the start of his trial for the murder of Dunedin woman Sophie Elliott.
ACCUSED: Clayton Weatherston stands in dock at the start of his trial for the murder of Dunedin woman Sophie Elliott.

Clayton Robert Weatherston set about killing and disfiguring Sophie Elliott "in a calm and collected manner", the Crown said as it opened the murder case against him in the High Court at Christchurch today.

Crown prosecutor Marie Grills said 33-year-old Weatherston took the knife with him when he visited 22-year-old Miss Elliott's Dunedin home on January 9, 2008.

The knife was found broken and covered in blood after the attack in which Miss Elliott was stabbed or cut 216 times. A pair of scissors was also found bent and bloodstained in the room.

VICTIM: Sophie Elliott.
VICTIM: Sophie Elliott.

Weatherston, Miss Elliott's former boyfriend and her lecturer at Otago University, today pleaded not guilty to her murder but said he was guilty of manslaughter when the charge was read to him on the first day of the three-week trial before Justice Judith Potter and a jury.

The defence had signalled that there would be "a partial defence of provocation", Justice Potter told the jury.

Mrs Grills said: "It is the Crown case that the accused, for whatever reason, decided to kill and disfigure Sophie Elliott and he did so in a calm and collected manner, with a significant degree of premeditation."

Grills detailed clusters of wounds found on Elliott's body.

Her nose had been cut off in a symmetrical fashion, and chunks of her hair cut off. There were clusters of wounds, up to 45 in number, on other sensitive parts of her body.

"The Crown says it is no coincidence that some of the clusters of wounds relate to areas of physical beauty," Grills said.

The blade of a kitchen knife was found in Elliott's bedroom, removed from its handle.

A bent and blood-stained pair of scissors was also found. The Crown says Weatherston used scissors in his attack.

The defence case includes evidence that Elliott attacked Weatherston with a pair of scissors.

The blade, handle and scissors were among items passed up in evidence as the trial proceeded this morning.

Grills told of police arriving at the house seven minutes after the 111 call by Sophie Elliott's mother who had tried to force her way into the bedroom during the attack and saw Weatherston stabbing her daughter.

Weatherston was in the room and the first police officer to arrive asked him what he had done.

Weatherston replied in a calm, normal tone, "I killed her."

The officer formally warned him and then asked him why.

Weatherston replied: "The emotional pain that she has caused me over the past year."

Weatherston was found to have minor cuts on his neck and face.

Mrs Grills told the court that the pair had been in a relationship for about six months and she outlined an earlier violent incident. The relationship had ended by December, the month before the attack took place.

Weatherston had wished her dead because he believed she had ruined his chances of getting a permanent lecturer's position he had applied for at the university.

She rejected the defence's claim of provocation, which would require Weatherston to have been deprived of the power of self-control to commit the crime.

"The Crown says there were no words or acts that amounted to provocation. Nor was there any loss of self-control by the accused," she said.

Lead counsel for Weatherston, Judith Ablett-Kerr, opened the case for the defence and argued that manslaughter is the proper charge for her client.

"We all know who committed this act, and that is the accused, Dr Clayton Weatherston. The issue for you in this trial is was Dr Weatherston a cold blooded killer or was he a man who, as a result of provocation had lost the power of self control when he committed this terrible act, because it is a terrible act."

Ablett-Kerr said the defence would say Sophie Elliott had attacked Weatherston with a pair of scissors in the bedroom and he responded, losing self control.

Weatherston had a unique personality which made him ill-equipped to deal with the relationship he had with Elliott.

The jury would have to focus on the behavioural characteristics of both persons, she said.

"Please listen to the evidence because that is the only thing upon which you may base your verdict," Ablett-Kerr said.

The trial is hearing from the first Crown witness, Detective Amanda Kathryn Scott. Exhibits, including the kitchen knife allegedly used in the attack and a pair of scissors, are being entered.

In opening remarks, Justice Potter said the partial defence of provocation was "complex".

It may reduce a verdict of guilty of murder to one of guilty of manslaughter, Justice Potter said.

The Crown would have to prove Weatherston acted without provocation, she said.

Earlier, Weatherston - dressed in a sharp suit and dark blue tie - pleaded not guilty to the charge of murder but guilty of manslaughter.

A jury of eight men and four women was empanelled for a trial which is expected to last three weeks.

- The Press with NZPA