Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Judge's decision makes history

Trial verdict broadcast live for first time

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After connecting their computer to their television John and Mary Duffy watch Associate Chief Justice Perlmutter pronounce his decision on the second degree murder charge against Cassandra Knott in a courtroom of the Court of Queens Bench in Winnipeg. Manitoba allowed a camera into its courts for the first time today.

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After connecting their computer to their television John and Mary Duffy watch Associate Chief Justice Perlmutter pronounce his decision on the second degree murder charge against Cassandra Knott in a courtroom of the Court of Queens Bench in Winnipeg. Manitoba allowed a camera into its courts for the first time today.

A Winnipeg woman was found not guilty Wednesday of second-degree murder for fatally stabbing her abusive husband in a historic Manitoba court proceeding that saw the judge's verdict was the first to be recorded and broadcast live to the general public.

Cassandra Knott, 30, acted with reasonable force when she stabbed her husband, Orzias Joram (Jerome) Knott once in the chest as he angrily advanced on her in a downtown apartment on Feb. 18, 2011, Court of Queen's Bench Associate Chief Justice Shane Perlmutter ruled Wednesday.

An emotional Knott wailed and hugged defence lawyer Gerri Wiebe after learning she was being acquitted by Perlmutter on the grounds she acted in self-defence.

Her tragic case thrust the long-term abuse she suffered at the victim's hands into the spotlight and became a focal point in her defence at a trial late last year.

"Over the course of their relationship, the deceased beat the accused with his hands, a flashlight, a two-by-four, a stereo and a clock. He burned her with cigarettes. He called her names," Perlmutter said in his verdict. "He degraded her and told her that she was nothing. He controlled her," Perlmutter said. He found Knott was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and met the criteria in Canadian law to be considered a battered woman.

Those factors didn't entitle her to an acquittal, Perlmutter said.

What did were the unique and exceptional circumstances of how Knott came to fear for her life, grab a steak knife and stab an angry Orzias once in the chest -- circumstances that absolved her of criminal culpability for his death, Perlmutter found. "I find that the accused had a reasonable basis to believe that she needed to defend herself. There was no obvious avenue of escape," he said.

Just before the stabbing, Orzias had attacked Knott and his anger and violence continued to escalate. He was clearly the aggressor, Perlmutter said.

Perlmutter's lengthy and detailed decision was broadcast to the public via a media-pool camera placed in the courtroom.

The Free Press covered the event live on its website.

Its presence was not disruptive in any discernible way.

The camera was allowed to focus exclusively on Perlmutter and not on the lawyers, the court gallery or Knott.

The decision to broadcast the hearing came as the first step in a pilot project that will see three Manitoba court hearings recorded and broadcast.

Its goal is to increase access to justice and the transparency of the court system for the public.

Knott was arrested in the lobby of her apartment block, just minutes after the stabbing.

"I was fed up with him beating on me, so I stabbed him. I'm just being honest," she told an officer at the scene.

"When told that she was under arrest for murder, the accused stated, 'Yes, but I didn't mean to. I'm sorry. I'm sorry Joram. I told him I was fed up with him,' " Perlmutter wrote in his decision.

The Crown argued at the trial Knott's admission to being angry, that she'd lashed out at Orzias in anger, made her culpable.

Prosecutors also argued the force she used was unreasonable in the circumstances. They did acknowledge she'd had "horrible" experiences in her life with Orzias.

Knott's self-defence defence shone a spotlight on the fear she felt of him after surviving more than a decade of his physical and emotional abuse.

"The accused repeatedly testified that she was scared of the deceased. In my view, being mad and being scared are not mutually exclusive," Perlmutter said.

The acquittal prompted the Elizabeth Fry Society to issue a statement in support of Knott.

"Cassandra was fortunate to survive many brutal attacks, but tragically was also forced to defend herself. We have supported her throughout this terrible ordeal and we continue to do so," Tracy Booth, the executive director of the female-inmate advocacy agency said.

Knott and Orzias met in Garden Hill in 1998 and married in 2002, with domestic abuse taking place throughout their entire relationship.

The couple had separated for a few weeks just before the stabbing.

But Orzias and his cousin suddenly reappeared a few days before the incident and wound up staying with Knott at her new apartment and drinking alcohol.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 17, 2014 A4

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