Elliott family relieved Clayton Weatherston's appeal dismissed

PALOMA MIGONE AND KIRSTY JOHNSTON
Last updated 11:56 17/06/2011
Weatherston
GUILTY: Clayton Weatherston during the murder trial in Christchurch in 2009.

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The family of Clayton Weatherston's victim are relieved his appeal against conviction for killing his ex-girlfriend has been dismissed by the Court of Appeal.

Weatherston was found guilty of murdering 22-year-old Sophie Elliott in Dunedin, in January, 2008.

The former economics tutor at Otago University, now 35, was sentenced in the High Court at Christchurch to life imprisonment, with a minimum non-parole period of 18 years.

Mother Lesley Elliott, who recently released her story in the book Sophie's Legacy, said she was thankful the appeal had been dismissed.

The judges had reached the right conclusion, but the ruling did not bring her daughter back, she said.

"It doesn't make any difference in that regard, I'm just relieved the judicial part is over."

"While we appreciate all the support we have received from the media, we would ask that our privacy is respected today so we can reflect on what has been a harrowing ordeal over the past three-and-a-half-years."

Father Gil Elliott said he was "delighted" with the Court of Appeal decision.

"We were hopeful that it would be and it's happened, so we are very pleased about it, very pleased.

"We still think it was a frivolous appeal and should never have been heard."

He was concerned Weatherston would now turn to the Supreme Court.

"If he has that right, I'm sure he will. He doesn't have to pay for it.

"We would like for it to be over. It has gone on for far too long. Sophie was killed in the 9th of January 2008. It has gone on for far too long," he said.

Weatherston appealed against his conviction in April with lawyer, Robert Lithgow QC, submitting seven grounds of appeal.

The first was that Weatherston had been denied a fair trial as a consequence of various statements made in the media during the trial.

Other grounds of appeal related to Justice Potter's summing up and directions to the jury, and alleged misconduct by the prosecutor at trial.

The use of photographs of Ms Elliott's wounds as exhibits in the trial was also challenged.

The Court of Appeal dismissed all grounds of appeal.

In its decision, it said Weatherston's trial was one of a number of high profile homicides at the time in which the partial defence of provocation was controversially relied on by the accused.

"That circumstance heightened media interest in the trial, which, due to its factual background, was already subject to extensive coverage," it said.

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However, the case was one where any questions of prejudice were resolved by Justice Judith Potter who directed the jury to ignore any media commentary on aspects of the case.

"In reaching that conclusion the Court has found that there was no evidence of any kind that any juror saw the media stories and that even if they had no reasonable juror would have been improperly swayed by them," it said.

"Furthermore, the trial Judge repeatedly warned the jury to ignore media coverage related to the trial and her summing-up gave jurors no room to meditate upon or express a view on the defence of provocation."

The appeal judges agreed photographs of Miss Elliott's wounds should have been admissible.

Justice Chambers also said there was no misconduct by the prosecution.

Lithgow today said he had called Weatherston to give him the news.

- Stuff

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