Sophie’s legacy

June 12th, 2011 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Jarrod Booker in the Herald reports:

Sophie Elliott would be turning 26 today if she had not been brutally murdered by her former boyfriend.

Her father, Gil Elliott, imagines that his daughter – due to take up a job with the Treasury the day after she was killed – would have become a “fully fledged economist” in Wellington, and would have flown home to Dunedin to celebrate her birthday with a special family meal and cards and presents.

During the Bidget lockup this year, I looked around the room at the many young bright Treasury staffers there. It’s a big day for them doing the Budget lockup and then the party that night in the Minister’s Office. And I reflected how Sophie would almost certainly have been one of those staffers in the lockup, if Weatherston had not killed her four years ago.

Today, to coincide with Miss Elliott’s birthday, her mother Lesley launches the book Sophie’s Legacy – A Mother’s Story of Her Family’s Loss and Their Quest for Change, along with the Sophie Elliott Foundation to help guide young women through life’s dangers.

Far too many women in NZ are killed by their partners or ex-partners. All too often the warning signs are there. The moment they hit you even once, is the moment you should get out.

In the book, Mrs Elliott reveals she discovered her daughter was stabbed 216 times only after the evidence was presented in court, 18 months later.

I was shocked when I heard this. The family should be told the basic details before court.

Sophie’s foundation is online here.

Weatherston appeals murder conviction

October 13th, 2009 at 4:56 pm by David Farrar

I’m almost speechless. With great restraint I said I hoped to never have to blog again on Clayton Weatherston until 2027, when he would become eligible for parole.

But the sick little fucker is appealing his sentence.

No competent lawyer could have advised him that he could possibly win such an appeal. He must just be doing it to further his narcissistic ego, so he stays in the headlines, or as another attempt to blacken Sophie’s name.

I’ll be appalled if he gets one cent of taxpayer money to fund his appeal.

UPDATE: I understand Judith Ablett-Kerr will not represent Weatherston at his appeal and he is seeking a North Island QC. I’m tempted to advocate that no QC touch him, but then he would seek to represent himself in court which would be even more of a spectacle. I just hope they can schedule the appeal quickly, so we can go back to forgetting about him

Weatherston gets 18 years non parole period

September 15th, 2009 at 12:40 pm by David Farrar

Clayton Weatherston has been given a life sentence, with a non-parole period of 18 years. The Crown asked for 19 and the defence 12, so that seems reasonable, even though I would of course want even longer.

The comments from the sentencing were heart-breaking:

Sophie Elliott’s father told the court today his life stopped on the day his daughter was brutally stabbed to death.

Gil Elliott said he was still struggling to come to terms with her murder.

“Everything I had existed for stopped that day,” he said of the day of her murder.

“Can you imagine what it feels like? She was so badly mutilated they were advising us not to see her,” he said of organising his daughter’s funeral.

He spoke directly to Weatherston several times, closing his statement by looking at Weatherston and saying: “Clayton you are the epitome of evil”.

He really is.

Lesley Elliott said her family’s life had fallen apart and would never be the same. She talked of the day of her daughter’s death and seeing her daughter being stabbed even after she was dead.

“My beautiful daughter had been butchered. I saw her bloodied body lying there that only minutes before had been warm and given me a hug.”

Mrs Elliott was then locked out by Weatherston, who continued stabbing her daughter’s lifeless body.

“I will never forget the terror. …

Mrs Elliott said she cried herself to sleep every night, took medication to keep her functioning on a daily basis, had taken all her leave and reduced her hours of work.

“Clayton Weatherston this is what you have done to us… I hope her screams of agony ring in your ears as they do in mine.

I suspect they don’t ring at all for him. I hope that one day they do.

This will hopefully be the last post I will make on Weathertson and Elliott for sometime – maybe for 19 years! With the sentencing it is all over for those of us who just followed the news in the media, and we can move on. Sadly those who were close to Sophie will have to carry this with them for the rest of their lives, as the sentencing makes clear.

I’ve felt unusually captivated by this case, since it was first reported, for several reasons.

The first is that Sophie had what appeared to be have a wonderful life ahead of her. I don’t mean to at all suggest that any murder victims are more or less valuable, but on a human level you identify with someone who was academically brilliant, and was set to have an outstanding career. I read somewhere her ambition was to be the first female Reserve Bank Governor, and thought that was a superb ambition for a 22 year old to have.  The remarks by her lecturers accompanying her paper for the Oxford Journal of Economics are a wonderful tribute to her ability.

The second reason was when it was revealed that her killer was Weatherston, an economic tutor. It is human nature that you are not very surprised when a gang member kills someone, or the killer is someone who has been in trouble all their life. An university staff member is not at all your typical killer, especially when they kill in such a way that they know they will be charged and punished for it. Weatherston also throw away what had been a pretty good life for him up until then.

Weatherston had also previously worked for Treasury, and so some of my friends knew him, and I heard about their reactions to the news (which included deleting him from their friends on Faacebook).


The Elliotts

September 13th, 2009 at 11:41 am by David Farrar

Sunday News reports:

THE parents of murder-victim Sophie Elliott have paid an immeasurable human cost over their daughter’s brutal slaying by ex-boyfriend Clayton Weatherston.

Now they are counting the financial cost including, as taxpayers, having to partially pay for Weatherston’s defence.

“Not only has he killed our daughter, but he has cost us a hell of a lot of money so far and obviously a lot more if the house is devalued as well,” father Gil Elliott told Sunday News.

“It is a lovely house (but) there is no way we could up digs and move on, even if we wanted to, at the moment,” Gil said.

That is an aspect that had not occurred to me. It would be bloody difficult to remain living in the house, where your daughter had been slaughtered, but selling the house would be problematic as many potential buyers would be put off by its history.

It is a stark reminder of how little support there is for victims and their families.

Gil hopes his daughter’s killer gets sentenced to preventive detention on Tuesday.

“We have a feeling, and others (do) as well, that perhaps he might not come out of jail,” he said.

“We would like that. I certainly am not going to forgive him, that is for real.”

I’m not a sentencing expert but I think there is no precedent for preventative detention for a solitary offence – no matter how horrendous.

The sentence will be life imprisonment, but the key is how long the non-parole period will be. I certainly hope it will be at least 20 years because it means the family get at least a 20 year break before they have to start fronting up to parole hearings.

One can’t guarantee what a parole board may decide in 20+ years, but on the basis of what we saw in court, my view is that Weatherston should never be released. His total lack of remorse, or even empathy, for the victim and her family indicates a deeply abnormal person who could well kill again if he feels he was “provoked”.

Maybe he will change over time, but maybe he will just pretend to change. Anyway this is academic until we have the sentencing.

Gil said he didn’t blame Weatherston’s lead lawyer, Judith Ablett-Kerr QC, over the provocation plea.

Sunday News revealed last month the top barrister had received threats and her car had been attacked with acid following the trial.

But Gil said inquiries had shown she wasn’t the one to blame for Weatherston’s stance.”I wasn’t happy during the trial the way she went on.

“But since that time we have learnt from the police that he (Weatherston) was really running the trial,” Gil said.

I am sure this was the case. A number of defence lawyers commented at the time that they were certain Ablett-Kerr would have never advised Weatherston to testify.

Sophie’s paper

July 23rd, 2009 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar


Helpful readers have found online a copy of Sophie Elliott’s paper, mentioned in the media this morning. The foreword is pretty special and moving, so I reproduce it here:

In February 2007, we shared the teaching in an upper level Microeconomics seminar at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. Sophie Elliott was one of the students. Sophie’s scholarly term paper, ‘Why measure inequality? A discussion of the concept of equality’, presented here in slightly abridged form, was easily the best essay on equity and equality either of us had ever read.

Sophie completed her degree in November 2007 and was on the brink of an exciting career. And then we learned of Sophie’s death. Sophie died on January 9th 2008, just one day before she was supposed to travel to Wellington to take up her first position at the New Zealand Treasury. She was brutally attacked and stabbed to death in her
own bedroom.

In her paper, Sophie examined the contrasting viewpoints and analyzes of a dozen of the main thinkers – both philosophers and economists – who are today concerned with equity as a fundamental value in society, and indicated at many points, gently but firmly, what she herself believes. We found Sophie’s essay stunningly to-the-point, thoughtful and mature.

Jean-Yves Duclos, editor of the Journal of Economic Inequality, wrote to one of us about Sophie’s paper in these terms: ‘It is a remarkable piece of research for such a young person. In just a few paragraphs, the paper is able to strike right to the core of welfare economics and to grasp with many of its complex philosophical and ethical issues. Elliott certainly had a beautiful mind’.

In Sophie’s paper, the reader will find many questions to ponder. Should a policy be about the people who deserve to be treated equally rather than those who are treated equally? How should we treat benevolence in society? Do we wish to make people in society equal in terms of the things that do generate welfare, or in terms of the things that should generate welfare? Does the prosperity of one person negatively affect the fortunes of some others? What do we mean by equal opportunities, and by equal reward for equal effort? Are market-generated outcomes necessarily unfair? If so, is the lack of compensation for this unfairness morally wrong?

We have both felt Sophie’s loss, in this awful calamity, very deeply indeed. We are proud to have been her teachers and we commend her inspirational essay to the readers of Oxonomics.

There was something magical about Sophie Elliott – everybody who knew her felt it, and everybody who knew her loved her, all but for one person. Rest in peace, Sophie.

What a wonderful tribute to her. And such a nice counter to the days of vileness from he who shall not be named.

A small extract from the paper itself. This will probably only appeal to economists!

Horizontal equity is conventionally defined as the principle that equals should be treated equally, and vertical equity, that unequals should be treated unequally. Galbiati and Vertova (2008) focus on horizontal equity, arguing that the above definition is flawed, as policies, by default, treat those they define as ‘equals’ equally.

The correct assessment of the horizontal inequity caused by a policy is in the policy’s choice of relevant characteristics1 that determine the ‘equals’.

If these characteristics are seen to be normatively inappropriate in reference to the intended effect of the policy, then the policy is said to be horizontally inequitable to some degree. That is, if those who should be treated as equals under the policy, in that they share relevant characteristics, are treated as unequals by the policy rule, the policy is considered unfair under this definition.

It is as Peter Westen states in his book on equality (see Westen, 1990): the presumption of equality is that people should be treated equally in the absence of good reasons for treating them unequally, such as a difference in relevant characteristics.

Lambert and Yitzhaki (1995) explain that horizontal and vertical equity serve different purposes. The former is an idea relating to justice, helping to ‘ensure that the law does not serve anybody’s self-interest’. The latter is a principle that prevents warped applications of the former, and, if satisfied, is sufficient to implement the former.

Consider a country with two types of people, those who love ducks and those who hate ducks. If the government gives everyone three ducks each, it has treated all the ducklovers equally, and all the duck-haters equally, thus satisfying the principle of horizontal equity when given its conventional definition.

However it does not satisfy the principle of vertical equity, as the two distinct groups are treated the same in relation to a characteristic that must be considered relevant in the distribution of ducks. Distributing the ducks in this apparently even-handed way actually results in an unfair outcome; hence we have an example of an equal distribution that does not achieve its fundamental aim of equity.

This illustrates the importance of considering both horizontal and vertical equity in theories of equality.

The full paper is only 10 pages, and as I said very interesting for those who are into economics.

Setting the record straight

July 23rd, 2009 at 12:17 pm by David Farrar

Follows of the Weatherston trial will recall the defence claimed Sophie attacked Weatherston first, and cited as evidence the mention in her diary how she had “attacked a previous boyfriend”. The ex-boyfriend was not called by the defence to testify, and put this into context. He has e-mailed me details, to remove what he sees as a stain on Sophie’s character. He believes Weatherston only invented the “Sophie attacked first with scissors” defence after his lawyers read about the previous “attack” in her diaries. He writes:

The facts are thus:

1. We had been having an argument, and as people sometimes do I was really winding her up.
2. She got frustrated and scratched me.
3. She then promptly burst into tears and apologised profusely for having hurt me.

There was no punching, kicking, or anything else of any kind.

Without knowing Sophie and I, it’s also quite hard to get a sense of just how ridiculous the situation was. I’m 6 feet tall, 220 pounds and combat trained. She was around 53kg, 5’5” or so, and couldn’t have fought her way out of a paper bag. I actually laughed when she ‘attacked’ me because it was so ridiculous.

I think it is great that he wants to set the record straight.

It illustrates once again how vile the defence strategy was. He comments:

So, anyways, now that the trial is over this may never come up, but if it does it would be good to set the record straight and remove any perception created by the defence that Sophie was somehow prone to attacking her boyfriends. I also feel somewhat guilty because without that incident the defence would never have thought to invent this complete fabrication about Soph attacking Clayton with scissors.

I’m a bit surprised the prosecution did not call the ex-boyfriend as a rebuttal witness. Perhaps they thought no-one in their right mind would believe Weatherston’s story.

More on Weatherston case

July 23rd, 2009 at 8:06 am by David Farrar

Very pleased to see some stories on Sophie Elliott, so that Weatherston’s warped version of reality is not the final say on her. The Herald reports:

While her family remember a loving daughter with everything to live for, prominent academics overseas have described her as having a “beautiful mind” and an exciting career ahead of her.

Peter Lambert, economics professor at the University of Oregon, Jean-Yves Duclos, editor of the Journal of Economic Inequality and economics professor at Laval University in Canada and Sir Tony Atkinson, professor of economics at Oxford University, said Sophie had remarkable ability for a young person, exhibited considerable prescience in her thinking and could have been a leader in the field of welfare economics.

Professor Lambert said a paper she wrote titled, Why measure inequality? A discussion of the concept of equality, which was published in this month’s edition of the Oxford University economics journal Oxonomics, was “easily the best essay on inequality” he had ever read.

Professor Duclos called the paper a “remarkable piece of research for such a young person”.

In a few paragraphs, Sophie had been able to strike right at the core of welfare economics and grasp many of its complex philosophical and ethical issues, he said.

“Elliott certainly had a beautiful mind.”

I recall reading, shortly after her murder, that her ambition was to be the first female Governor of the Reserve Bank, and thought what a wonderful ambition to have. And from the sounds of it, she may have got there if not for Weatherston.

Incidentially, does anyone have access to, or have a copy, of the paper which just got published? I’m interested to read it.

The Herald has a less flattering profile of Weatherston. While my thoughts are mainly with the Elliott family, I do feel great compassion for the Weatherston family also as they cope with the horror of what Clayton did and what he is.

They also talked to Lesley Elliott. I twittered yesterday that Lesley was my hero of the month for hugging after the verdict both Clayton’s mother, but also his lawyer – Judith Abblett-Kerr. True class. Lesley wants to:

In an interview with the Herald prior to the verdict, Mrs Elliott said she now wants to focus her energies on keeping young women away from abusive and dangerous relationships. Her daughter had complained of being assaulted by Weatherston prior to the killing.

“My legacy to Soph is to somehow get to girls in their late teens and twenties, when they start to date guys, and [explore] what is acceptable behaviour and what isn’t,” she told the Herald.

The sad reality is that if Sophie had dumped Weatherston the moment he became abusive, she might be alive today. And after he assaulted her she should have never seen him again. Her desire to try and end the relationship as friends, ironically acted against her.

The issue of whether provocation should be a partial defence to murder is canvassed in this article. I am with Women’s Refuge:

Women’s Refuge chief executive Heather Henare said: “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.

I actually think that was part of his plan all along.

“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 television.”

Never has a defence strategy so backfired, in my opinion.

Stuff reports that the provocation partial defence may go:

Killers will lose the right to claim provocation as a defence after murderer Clayton Weatherston’s attempt to smear his victim.

It is understood Justice Minister Simon Power wants the controversial defence scrapped as soon as possible and will announce his intentions today.

I think such a move would be exceptionally popular.

Stephen Franks argues for why the partial defence should be retained. He says Judges should set a higher threshold for its use, but it should be retained:

From this case the judges should take a lesson, and simplify the defence of provocation. It should only relate to what would provoke ordinary reasonable people, not drunks or P addicts or nut cases, or homophobes. The judges should now punish those who turn it into mockery.

From other cases they should accept that ordinary people want the law to distinguish between those who start fights or cause trouble, and those who respond even if their response is “disproportionate”.  The criminal should bear the risk of significant  disproportionality in the response to thuggery, rape or robbery , even if common sense says the defence can only go so far.

The Press reveals the Weatherston defence team tried to get photos of Sophie’s wounds supressed:

King told the court that the autopsy photographs were highly prejudicial because of their graphic and disturbing nature. “They illustrate the painful death of a beautiful young lady in her prime, and the injuries are simply horrific,” King submitted.

He said they provided little, if any, probative value and would “likely distract the jury from their proper task in assessing the partial defence of provocation”.

King entered a “back-up submission” that three photographs showing the injuries to Elliott’s face should be removed.

I thought that number and nature of the wounds was an essential part of the case. I’m glad the Court of Appeal dismissed the defence’s application.

The court ruled that the submissions were “hopeless” and the photographs were highly relevant to the issues at trial.

They had been carefully chosen to minimise their prejudicial effect as much as possible.

“Any remaining prejudicial effect is a natural consequence of the nature of the wounds inflicted by Mr Weatherston,” the court ruled.


Weatherston should never be released

July 22nd, 2009 at 11:22 am by David Farrar

The jury, thank God, has rejected Weatherston’s defence of provocation and found him guilty of murder.

This means he will be sentenced to life in prison. What is really important is what his non-parole period will be. It could be as small as ten years. I believe it must be much longer than that.

The actual murder by Weatherston is horrific enough. Rather than let Sophie go off to a new job and life in Wellington, he decided to firstly kill her, and then try to kill her reputation. He went around to her house with a knife, so he could murder her.

He did not just kill her but he slaughtered her. He did not strike her in anger. He slowly stabbed her to death torturing her. He cut off her nipples and nose and ears (and hair). He stabbed her in the genitals a massive amount of times. And he did it all while her mother was outside the door hearing her screams.

Then even worse he claimed she deserved it. He said he was “over it” – it being his killing of her. He got upset that people set up a trust for her. He got up in court and put her down at every occasion. He said he was not destroying her beauty because she wasn’t that attractive anyway. He joked that he was an arse man and her arse wasn’t that great.

I have never encountered such a wellspring of hatred towards one man. The e-mails, phone calls, conversations have been almost full of disbelief that such an evil unrepentant man could exist. His total lack of repentance was chilling.

And it is that total lack of repentance that means he must be locked away forever, if possible.  No-one could have any confidence that this man would not kill again, after his justifications for why he killed Sophie.

Weatherston’s own testimony condemned him. I can only assume it was against his lawyer’s advice. Every day as he testified, more and more people were outraged by him.

Personally I was disgusted by the defence put up. It was cruel and vindictive towards the Elliott family. It also backfired. Rather than succeed in painting Sophie as some sort of monster, she just came across as a pretty typical 22 year old girl – albeit a very bright one. And Weatherston came across as pretty much a sociopath.

The Elliotts have been through so much, I hope they can be spared having to turn up to parole board meetings in 10 or even 15 years time and arguing for why Weatherston should stay in jail.

National campaigned on a new sentence of “life without parole” for the worst murderers. Weatherston is the poster child for who should get such a sentence. It is a great pity the law has not yet been changed to allow such a sentence. But I do hope under current law he gets at least 20 – 25 years non-parole. Hell I hope he gets 150 years like Bernie Madoff, but the court has sentencing guidelines.

And while we are at it, we should get rid of the defence of provocation, so no other family of a murder victim has to put up with what the Elliots have had to endure. The Law Commission recommended in 2007 it should go. The Government should act on this and introduce a bill, or support the one by Charles Chauvel. That way there may be some small good, come out of this very tragic case.

The Elliott depositions

May 27th, 2008 at 8:45 am by David Farrar

A particularly demented individual (a supporter of the accused who thinks Elliottt “deserved it”) has been trying to post details of the murder of Sophie Elliott to my blog for some months, which means sadly I was not at all surprised by the revelations in court that the poor girl was stabbed 216 times.

In fact the details are even worse than revealed in court, but thanks to the comments being caught in moderation no-one else has had to see them. They were enough to physically induce nausea in me and are the most unpleasant material ever posted here. They were all given over to the Police along with the IP details leading to a Dunedin location.

“He talked about Sophie calling him a retard. He got very distressed by it in part because he took it as an insult to his intelligence.”

Good God I called Miss Ten a retard or similar in front of two dozen staff yesterday. I hope she doesn’t kill me for it.

It distresses me to see people make excuses for what can only be described an evil sociopathic act. Yeah I know the trial is yet to happen, but the facts do not appear to be in dispute – the only issue will be if Clayton Weatherston claims insanity or provocation.  Is Weatherston bad or mad or both?

When confronted with such vile crimes, it is tempting to always try and conclude that the offender is mad, as in only a mad person could so such a thing. It is worth remembering though that legally the question isn’t whether someone is a sociopath, but whether they are capable of knowing right from wrong.

I feel very sorry for the Elliott family having to go through both the depositions and then inevitably a trial.
Stephen Franks blogs on how the court process is failing:

Four court attendances already when there is absolutely no doubt about the circumstances of her murder, yet the process had not even reached depositions. As a lawyer and a former law-maker I think they expected me to come up with some sophistry to justify what was happening to them.

I’m not a lawyer, but it would seem to me that when the facts are not in dispute, just the state of mind of the killer, that one could have an expedited process.

Please, if you comment, be careful. Despite the fact I have talked specifically about the case, be cautious in doing so. I will delete any comments which seek to blame the victim.

A sad graduation ceremony

May 8th, 2008 at 9:34 am by David Farrar

NZPA reports that Chris Elliott will attend graduation in Dunedin this weekend on behalf of his sister Sophie Elliott, who was horrifically murdered earlier this year. Elliott had achieved first class honours, and it will be a very sombre aspect to the ceremony. For my 2c though I think it is very appropriate to recognise what happened, rather than try and pretend it didn’t and just have her name read out.

All murders are sad and tragic, but this one more so than most. I just do not understand how something like this can happen.