Intense public debate about the controversial defence of
provocation meant convicted murderer Clayton Weatherston never
got a fair trial, his lawyer argues.
Weatherston, now 35, who became one of the most reviled men
in the country, is seeking to overturn his murder conviction
and 18-year non-parole life sentence for stabbing his former
girlfriend 216 times Sophie Elliott, 22, in Dunedin in
Robert Lithgow, QC, told the Court of Appeal today that
public comment made by the Law Commission's deputy president
Warren Young attacking the provocation defence undermined
Weatherston's case, as he was arguing the same defence.
Mr Lithgow argued that the jury could have been influenced by
Dr Young's comments, made on a programme broadcast on TVNZ 7
during the trial and available on the internet.
It was an unprecedented for a "top dog" government official
to do so, he said.
He also cited an "unbalanced" article by the Listener on the
defence of provocation, which was published in the days
before the jury went out.
"The media facilitated the attack on the law itself."
Mr Lithgow said the Crown also got off track on the question
of lies; whether Weatherston had the propensity to tell lies
and whether or not he lied about the events leading up to
Miss Elliott's stabbing. High Court Justice Judith Potter did
not give the jury appropriate direction on how to deal with
A witness gave a "sliver" of evidence that Weatherston did
not take responsibility for his actions and that became a
major plank for the prosecution case, he said.
The characterisation that Weatherston was a liar was the
"most poisonous" that could have been said about him.
"Nobody would want a trial under these conditions," Mr
But Crown lawyer Cameron Mander argued that the trial judge
got things right. She had given the jury appropriate and
detailed directions, on a number of occasions, on how to deal
with media coverage of the case.
There was no basis to show the jury did not follow the
Dr Young was an experienced legal commentator and would have
ensured his comments had no bearing on Weatherston's case,
and it was not unusual for a law to be debated in public as
people were being tried under it, such as cannabis offending,
The three Court of Appeal judges reserved their decision.
Miss Elliot's parents Gil and Leslie Elliot attended the
hearing. Speaking outside the court, Mr Elliott told NZPA he
did not believe Weatherston's arguments were valid.
Weatherston was demonstrated to be a narcissist, and they
were known to be liars.
Weatherston's parents Roger and Yuleen were also at the trial
but did not want to comment to media until after the judge's
decision was delivered.
Sensible Sentencing Trust head Garth McVicar, also speaking
outside court, told NZPA the appeal case was an "absolute
The case was a game for lawyers but it cost the taxpayer and
the families of the victims an enormous amount, both
financially and emotionally, he said.