I have some questions for the New Zealand public about Clayton Weatherston – for those of you living without any media or human contact for the last month, the convicted murderer of his ex-partner, Sophie Elliot – and now, apparently, the most hated man in New Zealand.
Would we have been as condemning of Mr Weatherston if he hadn’t taken the stand to tell us “his side of the story?” Would we have even noticed the victim-blaming that littered his defence if he hadn’t taken the stand?
If he had killed her by stabbing her once, would we have cared as much? Or are some ways of ending someone else’s life worse?
Which part bothers us – the killing, or the fact he kept stabbing long after Sophie was dead?
If we accept Clayton Weatherston took the stand to make himself personable for the judge and jury, to make a conviction less likely, or the sentencing less onerous – should we be insisting all alleged murderers in family violence cases, and all alleged rapists in sexual violence cases, have to take the stand?
Because it seems to me with this case that his own mouthing of victim-blaming statement after statement after statement rang so hollow with the New Zealand public that our response to media coverage was the most unanimous disgust I’ve ever seen to a domestic violence murder of a woman.
And let’s be clear on this, the media, when it comes to court cases, are supposed to report to us the case as presented by lawyers. The headlines they choose of course, are their very own – and we have some spectacular examples to choose from, as always.
“Sophie was ‘psycho girlfriend'” says the Press, echoed by the Herald and TV3. Courtesy of the Herald, we also know just from the headline that Sophie wrote R18 notes in lectures (aside: who doesn’t?); and that she was, apparently, “very forward.” That’s before she was killed, of course.
While TV3 just throw around words like “promiscuous”, which is so much clearer for everyone.
Headline sniping aside, nailing the media over their coverage of this court case misses the point that Mr Weatherston’s defence – it wasn’t really my fault, she made me do it with her slutty behaviour, and anyway she hit me too – are all bog-standard defences of male violence we hear over and over again.
It’s just, this time, we heard him telling us about it in his own words. And this time, he stabbed her a few too many times for it to be excusable. As opposed say, to merely breaking someone’s back in a few places.
The condemnation we have for Mr Weatherston feels like a safety valve to me. A safety valve which condemns his violence as completely inexcusable – while we continue, too often, to excuse other male violence.
Rest in peace, Sophie Elliott.