15 Sep 2009

Weatherston jailed 18 years for Elliott murder

10:41 pm on 15 September 2009

Clayton Weatherston has been sentenced to a minimum 18 years in prison for the vicious murder of former girlfriend Sophie Elliott.

Weatherston, 33, stabbed and mutilated Miss Elliott 216 times at her family's home in Dunedin on 9 January last year.

The former University of Otago tutor admitted the 22-year-old's manslaughter claiming that he was provoked, but a jury found him guilty of murder following a four-week trial in July.

At the High Court in Christchurch on Tuesday, the Crown recommended a minimum non-parole period of 19 years, while the defence submitted that a 12-year non-parole term would be appropriate.

The Elliott family told Weatherston they will never forgive him and he is the "epitome of evil".

Weatherston appeared relaxed and showed little reaction during the two-hour sentencing, apart from raising an eyebrow when the Crown said he tried to blame Miss Elliott for what happened.

But when his father Roger Weatherston read out a statement asking him to show public remorse, he bowed his head and wiped away tears.

In summing up, Justice Potter said she was in no doubt that the murder of the former student was committed with a high degree of callousness and brutality.

The judge said she could not accept the defence of partial provocation - which the jury also rejected in reaching its guilty verdict.

"I consider they are likely readily to have reached the conclusion that his killing of Sophie Elliott was not the result of his losing the power of self-control, but rather was the deliberate and controlled attack on a young woman who he had made known to others he hated."

Justice Potter also noted Weatherston's guilty plea to manslaughter had not spared the family the harrowing experience of a five-week trial.

The guilty verdict attracted a mandatory life sentence, but the length of time Weatherston would serve before being eligible for parole was at the judge's discretion.

Weatherston 'epitome of evil'

During sentencing, Miss Elliott's parents told Weatherston that he was evil and they could never forgive him.

In his victim impact statement, Miss Elliott's father Gilbert Eliott spoke of the torment of knowing his daughter died in excruciating pain.

"Sophie has been denied her life - most probably marriage and children. We her family are deprived undoubtedly of the joy of grandchildren, nieces and nephews and of a life that might have carried on for another 60 years or so.

"Clayton - you are the epitome of evil."

Lesley Elliott, who was unable to reach her daughter because Weatherston had locked the bedroom door, said she would always live with not being able to help her.

Mrs Elliott told Weatherston she hoped that he continued to hear her daughter's agonised screams the way she still does.

"You were the one who were privileged to have time with Sophie ... I will never forgive you and I hope that her screams of agony ring in your ears as they do mine."

Mrs Elliott said she had undergone counselling to deal with the horrific flashbacks of seeing her mutilated daughter just moments after she was killed.

Miss Elliott's brother Christopher said Weatherston's "irrational" claims that he was provoked into such violence and savagery and his lack of remorse have made the ordeal even worse.

Father hopes for apology

Roger Weatherston told the court he never thought his son could be capable of such a crime and hoped that he would be able to apologise.

"I'm hoping that Clayton will find it within himself to publicly show remorse. I also hope that he'll have access to professional help while in prison.

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

Mr Weatherston told the court his son had an honest upbringing, had many schoolfriends and that he was proud of his academic record.

Weatherston's lawyer Judith Ablett-Kerr, QC, told the court Weatherston stands by the evidence he gave - of a build-up of tension and emotional pain, and his actions were triggered by Sophie Elliott lunging at him with a pair of scissors.

Mrs Ablett-Kerr said Weatherston told her that he is sorry - even if the public did not believe it.

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