Clayton Weatherston jailed for minimum 18 years

Last updated 14:51 15/09/2009
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.

Clayton Weatherston sentenced

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Weatherston sentencing reflects lack of remorse: Women's Refuge

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Clayton Weatherston's lack of remorse for the shocking murder of his ex-girlfriend was reflected in the judge's comments at his sentencing today, Women's Refuge says.

Clayton Weatherston has been jailed for 18 years minimum non-parole in prison for Sophie Elliott's murder on January 9 last year.

The sentence equates to one month for each of the 216 wounds he inflicted on the Dunedin woman.

Sentencing him at the High Court in Christchurch, Justice Judith Potter said Weatherston's crime had an impact on the whole of the New Zealand community.

"Sophie Elliott's death was a tragedy in every sense of the word," she said.

She noted medical evidence that excess medication taken by Weatherston would have played a part, leading to decreased sleep and irritability. There was no evidence of major mental illness.

She seriously doubted that his personality disorder contributed to diminished intellectual capacity at the time of the offending, but it may have contributed to a diminished understanding of the crime.

National Collective of Independent Women's Refuges chief executive Heather Henare said Justice Potter's comments sent a message that violence was unacceptable and inexcusable.

"In this trial, we saw the defendant on the stand and we all saw, as the jury did, that he felt justified in his actions and sought to blame his victim," Ms Henare said.

"No sentence could ever return Sophie Elliott to her family, but we do we feel the judge's statements go some way towards acknowledging their loss."

Ms Henare said Justice Potter's dismissal of Weatherston's defence argument on the grounds of his mental condition was particularly heartening.

"Weatherston's tactics and refusal to take responsibility for his actions were not unusual, but were a classic example of the justifications used by perpetrators of violence every day," she said.

"Of course, this was a particularly horrific killing, but what was really unusual about this case was that Clayton Weatherston took the stand. The jury, and indeed the whole country, witnessed his self-righteous lack of remorse."

Ms Henare said on average, 14 women were killed every year at the hands of their partners, or ex-partners.

"We cannot let this go on. It is time to really invest in change. New Zealand just cannot afford the social and economic cost of domestic violence any more," she said.

"As a country, we must recognise the urgency of this issue and strive for the elimination of violence towards our women, our children and our families."

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NO SENTENCE ENOUGH

No sentence for the murderer of Sophie Elliott will ever be enough, friends and family say.

Sophie's father Gil said the verdict was realistic, but could never be enough to compensate for their loss.

"I wouldn't have minded more, it should have been more,'' he said.

"It could have been 25 years, but 18 is better than 12.''

A close friend of Lesley Elliott, Noelene Oliver, said 20 years "would have been good''.

"But it doesn't change anything, he's got 18 years, but it's just an enormous gap in the family's lives,'' she said.

Oliver said there was never any real closure for the family who were left with constant reminders of what had happened.

It would be nice to think Weatherston could be rehabilitated, but she wondered whether that was true.

Another friend, Anne, who did not want her last name used, said it seemed unfair that Weatherston's family could still visit him in prison while the Elliott's were left with just photos and memories.

"At the end of the day he's still got his life and that's hard,'' she said.

Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesman Garth McVicar said he would have liked to see the judge "step out of her comfort zone and put the victims first,'' but felt that did not happen.

"I think this is a classic case of where it should have been a true life sentence so the victims can really put this behind them.''

National Collective of Independent Women's Refuges chief executive Heather Henare said Justice Potter's comments during the sentencing sent a message that violence was unacceptable and inexcusable.

"In this trial, we saw the defendant on the stand and we all saw, as the jury did, that he felt justified in his actions and sought to blame his victim," Ms Henare said.

"No sentence could ever return Sophie Elliott to her family, but we do we feel the judge's statements go some way towards acknowledging their loss."

FIVE-WEEK TRIAL

Weatherston, who was Elliott's economics lecturer at Otago University, was convicted of her murder in July after a five-week trial.

He had stabbed her 216 times and mutilated parts of her body.

Justice Potter this afternoon told the High Court in Christchurch that the crime ranked among "the very worst murders".

"I am in no doubt that this murder was committed with a high degree of callousness and brutality," Potter said.

She said some degree of planning in the murder was clear and Weatherston's evidence of regularly carrying a knife in his laptop bag was "fanciful".

"I consider it entirely relevant and appropriate to take in to account the prisoners actions .. in continuing the attack after she was dead, including the deliberate and gross mutilation of her body," Potter said.

It was an "appalling attack" where Weatherston had used a knife and a pair of scissors.

"The continuing attack was very much part of the circumstances of her death," Potter said.

Potter quoted an earlier judgement responding to the defence, which said: "I must be frank and say they sounded somewhat unreal."

The Crown earlier asked for a minimum non-parole period of 19 years and the defence for 12 to 14 years.

Potter said she seriously doubted that Weatherston's mental condition had any part to play in the murder.

WEATHERSTON 'SORRY'

Earlier today his lawyer Judith Ablett Kerr has told the High Court in Christchurch that Weatherston had told her he understood people did not see he was remorseful.

"He said to me 'They don't see me at two in the morning when I think about the horrendous thing that occurred'.

"He tells me he is sorry, that he saw no point in saying it himself because it would appear contrived."

Weatherston stood by the evidence that he gave at trial and still believed that he was provoked, Ablett Kerr said.

VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENTS

This morning Sophie Elliott's father told Weatherston he was "the epitome of evil".

Gilbert Elliott ended a victim impact statement this morning eye-balling his daughter's killer.

Elliott said Weatherston had destroyed his daugher's life "in the cruelest way imaginable."

"Her death would have been so awful and so excruciating, it is beyond imaginable," Elliott said.

Gil Elliott told Weatherston it appeared he was envious of his daughter.

He said his daughter's death was "simply heartbreaking".

“Never in a million years had I thought something could have happened to our darling daughter," Elliott said.

After his daughter died, police had advised the family should not visit their daughter's body.

"Can you imagine what it feels like that she was so badly mutiltaed that people were advising us that we didn’t want to see her," Elliott said.

Lesley Elliott, who witnessed the murder, said she yearned for a hug and a pat on the shoulder from her daughter.

“Our house is quiet now," Lesley Elliott said.

"It’s hard to come to terms with the ugliness of her death. Everyone knows as I do, she won’t come back."

Elliott said she cried herself to sleep every night since her daughter was killed.

"Clayton Weatherston, … this is what you have done to us. I will never forgive you," she said.

"I hope that her screams of agony ring in your ears as they do in mine."

Weatherston's father, Roger, told the court he "never thought for one minute" that his son could ever be capable of what he had done.

"As a father, I know he is a very truthful person and I still believe this," Roger Weatherston said.

"I hope that Clayton will find it within himself to publicaly show remorse.

"We will always love and support our son but of course our thoughts are also with the Elliotts for the terrible loss of someone so special to them."

- with NZPA

- The Press

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