Own evidence seals fate

GUILTY: Clayton Weatherston's narcissism was evident at times during his murder trial.
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/The Press
GUILTY: Clayton Weatherston's narcissism was evident at times during his murder trial.

In one of New Zealand's most horrific crimes, Otago University academic Clayton Weatherston stabbed former girlfriend Sophie Elliott 216 times in a frenzied attack. He had an apparently normal Kiwi upbringing, so what turned this intelligent, popular man into a killer?

When Clayton Weatherston held a party to celebrate his graduation, plenty of people attended.

He invited the vice-chancellor. People wanted to celebrate with him.

"I liked Clayton a great deal. He was a good person. We socialised; we even did the rail trail together. We were friends," Associate Professor Paul Hansen said at last year's depositions hearing.

People looked up to Weatherston for his academic ability. He was a leader in his field and had a bright future.

He was the youngest of a family liked and respected in their Dunedin community.

But he also had a dark side. He put people down, was violent with at least one former girlfriend and showed signs of what psychiatric experts would call "grossly narcissistic" behaviour.

The Health Ministry's national director of mental health, Dr David Chaplow, told the trial that Weatherston's narcissism manifested itself when he was frustrated, spurned or threatened. "It is not always operative, and he does have many positive attributes as well."

The different faces of 33-year-old Weatherston the helpful economics supervisor, the arrogant intellectual, the obsessive boyfriend illustrated the great riddle of this trial. How could an apparently bright and sane man take a knife and stab and mutilate former girlfriend Sophie Elliott, 22, in the bedroom of her Dunedin home on January 9 last year?

Was there anything in his background that could have explained such murderous rage?

The Weatherston family Yuleen and Roger Weatherston and their children, Angela, Gareth and Clayton are well-known in the Dunedin suburb of Green Island.

Gareth is chairman of the the Green Island Rugby Club, Roger is a self-employed industrial electrician and Yuleen was until recently on the switchboard at the Otago Polytechnic.

Yuleen Weatherston told a psychiatrist who testified at the trial that her household was "easy and happy".

She said her son never showed any inclination towards anger but was "anxious and found any new activity or change, such as starting school or leaving home, stressful".

At Green Island Primary School, Weatherston quickly became, in his own words, "a big fish in a small pond". He was reading at the level of a 12 to 14-year-old at age six.

"He was a brainy little prick at school," a classroom contemporary recalls.

Another classmate, Dean Moeahu, recalls Weatherston getting stuck into sports.

"If there was any team sports being played, he would get involved," Moeahu says. "He was a nice guy."

Young Weatherston played on the wing for his club rugby team and helped it to a five-year unbeaten streak with a points-scoring record that he boasted to court saw it concede just 38 points against 1900 scored.

Yuleen Weatherston said her son enjoyed a good circle of friends, from his rugby team in particular.

He had problems, such as bedwetting as a child. Another was his poor eyesight, an affliction he detailed in court down to the exact day, November 6, 1987. In a form one maths class quiz, he suffered the indignity, for him, of a mere 14 out of 20 correct after writing the questions down wrongly.

In front of the class, the teacher said to him: "Are you blind?" When Weatherston went to an optometrist he was told that by the time he was 19 he would not be able to see what was on a plate in front of him.

Weatherston says he did not want to wear the glasses he was given.

"I was terrified of being teased. Now glasses are fashionable. Back then it was a source of differentiation and possibly derision from other people," he told the court.

Another fellow pupil, who does not wish to be named,  says he found Weatherston an "awkward sort of person".

He saw what were perhaps the first glimpses of Weatherston's darker side. "He snapped at other kids. He sort of every now and then threw a spastic and buggered off," he says.

Weatherston's obsessiveness and arrogance started to show as he approached the end of high school. He worked furiously to try to reach the high standards he had set for himself, letting extra-curricular activities slide as he aimed for the best academic results. He got them, winning dux of the school and finishing top of his year in all but one subject. But it was not enough.

"I was extremely disappointed with my external examination performance, and part of that I think was created by anxiety," Weatherston said.

The tone was set. Extreme anxiety before exams and an obsession to achieve perfect grades would become a hallmark of his 13-year university career.

After an unsuccessful first stint at Otago University at the start of 1994 he found it overwhelming and says he felt no sense of motivation Weatherston returned in the middle of the year for a business statistics paper.

He achieved perfect internal assessment marks. When it came time to sit the exam at the end of the semester, however, he was a wreck. He was throwing up, and he got a medical certificate to allow him to sit a special exam the next year.

"I just put a lot of pressure on myself. It was a pretty straightforward course and I was over-analysing it," Weatherston said.

A feature of his university career would be an inclination to pull out of a paper if he thought he would get anything less than an A-plus grade. It is understood Weatherston pulled out of one paper two years in a row when on both occasions he would easily have achieved an A or an A minus. It was only on the third occasion that he saw the paper through, gaining another of his 25 A-plus grades.

While he was notching up A-pluses in some papers, Weatherston dropped out of others.

In an accounting paper, he "threw the towel in".

"They were challenging because they weren't challenging. It's the ordeal of having high expectations," he said.

Things improved through 1996 and 1997, but Weatherston moved at a snail's pace, finally achieving his Bachelor of Commerce in 2000.

"I had to fight my way through an undergraduate degree ... the toughest thing for me was getting an undergraduate degree," he said. "The further on you get, the easier it gets because it's more technical and specialised."

There was more stress in 1998. On July 20 of that year, Weatherston visited Dr Stuart McMain at the university's student health centre for the first time. They discussed his anxiety, and how he was fragile in the face of a challenge. One month later, on August 20, the problem was that his girlfriend of four years was moving to Auckland.

"There was a lot of pressure on me to make a decision as to whether to leave Dunedin and follow her," Weatherston said.

Around this time, Weatherston started taking fluoxetine hydrochloride (Prozac).

He was becoming a feature of the economics department, having started independent research for a postgraduate diploma at the end of 1999.

In 2002, one of his dissertations yielded the solitary grade on his academic transcript which is not an A plus. It was a mere A. It is this mark, Weatherston says, that defines his academic transcript. "I cried in front of the secretary," Weatherston said. "For me, it was the best piece of work that I had done in the whole degree."

In a second dissertation, his narcissism slipped on to the first page. "As I finish this dissertation there are a few people I would like to thank," Weatherston wrote. "Firstly, myself, for completing this project after a very testing year."

Next to be thanked was Professor Dorian Owen, who was Weatherston's supervisor and closest academic confidant from 2001. Owen, who co-authored papers with Weatherston in 2004 and 2006, says he found Weatherston "fine to get along with".

"He was relatively laid-back and had a reasonable sense of humour," Owen told the court.

Yuleen Weatherston believes her son's health never recovered after a bout of glandular fever in 2003. Weatherston worked for about nine months at the Treasury in Wellington, but returned to Dunedin earlier than expected because of the illness.

"Over the next few years he appeared to fluctuate in terms of his energy and mood," Yuleen Weatherston told Associate Professor Philip Brinded.

Weatherston was now on Prozac.

"I came to have it on a regular basis, which is one tablet every morning, pretty much every morning," he said. (In the three days before he killed Elliott, Weatherston says he upped his dose to three tablets each day.)

In May 2004, he began a new relationship. The woman, who has name suppression, was on the stand for three days at the trial. More than anyone else, she saw both sides of Weatherston's personality.

Weatherston was generous to her, shouldering more than his share of the bills when they lived together in 2006.

"He had a loving, generous side and a nasty and mean demenour on the other," she said. "The private side was a fairly insecure person and someone who could be very mean and someone that got very worked up very easily and wouldn't be able to get over those things."

Late in 2006, Weatherston lost it with her, kicking her and jumping on her, causing her nose to bleed. Weatherston told the court he believed he could have killed her in the incident.

The woman also found out how quickly Weatherston could swing to extremes of mood. After they had parted but remained friends, she accidentally sent him a romantic text message meant for someone else.

Weatherston again lost it, this time ranting and slamming the car door. "He told me that he never wanted to have anything to do with me again. He was absolutely disgusted with me," the woman said.

Next thing, he was back asking her to come to his office to reconcile.

"When I got up there he was bawling, very upset, crying," she said. "He said to me, `You know I love you and I've made such a mess of things'. He basically said to me, `My life's a bit of a mess and I know I've messed up'."

By July 2007, Weatherston's relationship with Elliott was progressing. He reckoned Elliott quickly became obsessed with him, and "was flattered by it".

He was living alone in the flat he had bought for $200,000 in October 2005. Scholarship money for his PhD studies was running out. He says he was feeling lonely and he was anxious to secure a lectureship position that had become available in the economics department.

A former friend says Weatherston "built an empire" around himself during 2007 "where he was the king".

"His whole circle of friends was based around relatively newish PhD students," the former friend said. "Most of them were from overseas and he was someone who had lived in Dunedin all of his life and knew the department and the university well. He was very good at looking after some of the PhD students. I think he genuinely enjoyed helping people like that."

Sarah Forbes, a postgraduate marketing student who had just arrived in Dunedin and knew no-one, was one who benefited.

"In the summer time, Dunedin is basically vacant of students, so when you're new to it you don't really have any people who are friends," Forbes told the court. "They were all good enough to take me in."

She was with scores of others at Weatherston's pre-graduation party at Pequeno, a hip Dunedin bar on December 13, 2007.

Weatherston had submitted his PhD more hurriedly than he had wanted to, but he graduated, becoming Dr Weatherston before Christmas. This was one of many happy occasions around that time and it seems that it was only in the regular bust-ups with Elliott that his darker side was visible.

Yuleen Weatherston noticed her son often reported feeling unwell in the weeks before the killing.

"He was complaining of feeling tired all the time and had stopped his physical activity, in particular aerobics," she told a psychiatric expert.

On December 27, Weatherston raged in what was a final warning of what was to come. Elliott wrote in her diary that he had assaulted her and shouted that he wished her dead.

"Lord, I hardly know where to start. Clayton assaulted me," she wrote. "When I went to leave he went absolutely psycho (no exaggeration at all, I assure you). He told me I'm a f...... horrible person, everyone hates me, I'm f...... ugly, he has never liked me etc, while pinning me down with his entire body on his bed."

Elliott wrote that Weatherston had put his forearm across her throat and put his hand over her mouth to stop people from hearing her yelling at him to get off her. "I confess I was very scared and panicky. I've never had a guy use his weight against me like that ... I knew he was furious and extremely unreasonable," she wrote.

Weatherston accepts he held Elliott down on his bed and shouted at her that he wished a plane she was on had crashed. But he has an account which reflects less critically on himself and not well on her.

By January 7 last year, Weatherston was in overdrive and Elliott seems to have been unwittingly ramping up his gears.

She visited him at his office to give him a cheque for a window she had damaged at his flat. Elliott wound up becoming physically aggressive with him, saying "now we're even".

Weatherston spent all day on January 8 venting to a series of friends about Elliott.

But at a friend's barbecue that night "he seemed fairly normal", a friend who was there said.

"He showed up with the new girl he was seeing and everything seemed fine."

That night, his mother reported that her son "sounded low in mood". He says he was awake for most of the night. By the morning, his birthday, Weatherston had swallowed another three Prozac tablets and gone to work.

Forbes had coffee with him before noon.

"Clayton talked about his family. He talked about the interview for the lecturing position. He talked about his birthday plans and how he was looking forward to that evening," she said. "We were going to catch up and have drinks and go to karaoke. That's what he wanted to do with his friends." Forbes said she brought up the subject of Elliott, asking if he had heard from her.

"He just said `no, no' and changed the subject."

Elliott was on his mind, however. At 11.37am he looked at photos of Elliott on her Facebook page.

He says he went to Elliott's home simply to return gifts and say goodbye before she moved to Wellington the next day.

The trouble started in her bedroom when, he says, Elliott insulted his mother and attacked him with a pair of scissors, knocking his glasses off. He could recall practically nothing of his frenzied response.

The other scenario is that Weatherston's dark side was dominant from at least the moment he left his university office.

The Crown said he sat in Elliott's bedroom without saying a word. When he came back from the bathroom, he killed her.

He brutally stabbed her with a kitchen knife he had brought with him in his laptop bag and then mutilated her lifeless body with a pair of scissors.

After listening to Weatherston's testimony at the trial, Chaplow said it had reinforced his view that Weatherston had features of anxiety disorder and personality features of narcissism and obsessionality.

But he had "suffered no disease of the mind" at the time of the killing.

Weatherston's mother, Elliott and another former girlfriend had all noted a common trait, Chaplow said.

"In spite of good advice from many quarters, he was unable to let go, wanting to have the last word, make his point by humiliation, and so we had the final tragedy," he said.

There was no good verdict for Weatherston no ending other than a miserable one.

Anything about him that was once redeeming is gone, drowned in a bloody pool of disgrace.

"In my work situation, guys talk about it quite a bit. It seems to be a recurring subject at smoko," Moeahu says. "They don't support him at all."

A source at Otago University says Weatherston's performance and Elliott's loss are talked about a lot.

"There's no sympathy for him whatsoever, especially the way he has carried on."

It is understood officers at the Christchurch prison where Weatherston has been held are keen to see the back of him. He was not allowed access to a computer to prepare notes for the trial.

His defence counsel, Judith Ablett-Kerr, QC, admitted that his lack of remorse was not endearing.

During his five days on the stand, Weatherston said he believed Elliott had a contrived legacy.

"And clearly I'm not Sophie's biggest fan because of the relationship, and in my view she is an attempted murderer or [had committed] an attempted assault," he said.

Elliott had been portrayed in a different light compared with his own experiences, he said.

"That's just the way it is. Clearly, in this position that I am in, society moves forward, but I was at that point a little bit frustrated indeed."

If he had lost any semblance of empathy, Weatherston had obviously not lost his powers of perception.

"This is a rough ride and its not looking like getting any easier," he wrote from prison days after the killing.

"Am expecting a lot of ill will."

The Press