Clayton Weatherston guilty of Sophie Elliott's murder

BY JOHN HARTEVELT
Last updated 13:06 22/07/2009
RELIEVED: Gil and Lesley Elliott outside the High Court in Christchurch this morning after Clayton Weatherston was found guilty of the murder of their daughter.
DEAN KOZANIC/The Press
CLAYTON WEATHERSTON: Stabbed Sophie Elliott over 200 times.
Sophie Elliott
LIFE CUT SHORT: Sophie Elliott had planned to move to Wellington to start a new job before she was stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend Clayton Weatherston.
Sophie Elliott's grandmother
PETER MEECHAM/The Press Zoom
The grandmother of Sophie Elliott is comforted by Garth McVicar from the Sensible Sentencing Trust outside the Christchurch High Court after Clayton Weatherston was found guilty by the jury of murdering Sophie Elliott.

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Clayton Weatherston has been found guilty of the murder of Sophie Elliott.

The jury returned its verdict about 11.20am at the High Court in Christchurch.

The verdict was greeted with sighs of relief and joy from the public gallery.

"You're guilty," an Elliott supporter said from the public gallery.

Lesley Elliott, Sophie's mother, broke down immediately when the verdict was delivered.

She embraced with her husband Gil Elliott and then, surprisingly, with defence counsel Judith Ablett-Kerr QC.

Weatherston betrayed little emotion in the dock, twitching his face somewhat when the verdict came down.

Weatherston will be sentenced on September 15.

 Outside the Christchurch courthouse today Gil Elliott said the provocation defence should no longer be an option.

"I think there are people who will back us on that," he said.

In comments to The Press before the verdict was delivered the family said the five week trial had been "painful".

"It has not been easy to sit daily in court and listen, not only to graphic forensic evidence, but also to distortions and embellishments of the truth about Sophie and her life," the family said in a statement.

Elliott's brother Chris said there was "nothing about the legal process designed to make it any easier on victims."

"We have had no choice but to sit and watch it unfold and hope for the best, whilst he is allowed to talk and pass notes to his legal team any time he wants," Elliott said.

"Our lives will never be the same, but we are fortunate to have the unwavering support of family and friends. They have been our strength."

Weatherston had pleaded guilty to Elliott's manslaughter but not guilty of murder.

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He admitted stabbing her 216 times in an attack in the bedroom of her Dunedin home on January 9 last year.

Weatherston said he was provoked by the emotional pain of a tumultuous six month relationship with Elliott and because she had attacked him with a pair of scissors.

Weatherston, 33, was a research fellow at Otago University. He lectured a paper that Elliott, 22, took in 2007.

TRAUMATIC FOR ALL

A source said the trial had been"very traumatic for a lot of people" at the university's economics department.

"Most people knew both the victim and Clayton," the source said.

"It hasn't been pleasant. You can notice the change in people that haven't been the same since.

"There has been a lot of people in shock."

Old school mates of Weatherston said he had to"serve his time."

Dean Moeahu, who went to Dunedin's Green Island School and Kaikorai Valley High School with Weatherston, told The Press there was no support for him.

"He definitely has to serve his time," Moeahu said.

"From my point of view, I think it was sad for the fact of the parents having to go through the whole trial when it's pretty clear cut."

Another former school mate, who did not want to be named, said there was a lot of sympathy for Weatherston's family.

"You speak to anyone in Green Island, everyone feels very sorry for the whole family, they're devastated and I don't blame them," the man said.

'PERVERSE OPPORTUNITY'

Women's Refuge chief executive Heather Henare joined Mr Elliott in calling for the provocation defence to be reviewed.

"Because of the way the defence was run, this trial became a perverse opportunity for a killer to continue to persecute his victim and her family after her death.

"The provocation defence is based on absolutely archaic notions about violence. Once upon a time, society accepted that an affront to male privilege or dignity was a reasonable excuse to fly into a homicidal rage.

"This trial turned justice inside out. The killer became the victim and Sophie Elliott was portrayed to us all as he chose to describe her. Unfortunately for Clayton Weatherston the jury didn't buy it and nor did the hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who watched him giggling on their televisions."

Ms Henare said she had been "horrified to hear" Miss Elliott's mother described as an unreliable witness and expressed sympathy for what her family had endured.

"I believe there will be a strong and justifiably angry reaction to the way this trial proceeded. New Zealanders hearing so many of the details and seeing Weatherston taking the stand will have been absolutely dumbfounded that this remorseless killer has had a platform for his justifications and excuses - televised and thoroughly reported by the media."

Counselling agency Relationship Services said the case was a reminder that extreme partner violence could occur in all sectors of society and was not restricted to couples who lived together.

"This is a well educated, articulate man who has resorted to violence on a number of occasions in response to relationship pressures," national practice manager Cary Hayward said.

The agency said people who knew someone at risk from a partner should encourage that person to seek help.

Warning signs in a relationship include possessiveness, jealousy, stalking and controlling behaviour.

"People need to be aware these are not part of a normal, healthy relationship and should take action."

- with NZPA

- The Press

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