Cassandra Knott (30) was found not guilty of 2nd degree murder yesterday in a historic Manitoba court case that was broadcast live to the masses. It was the first time in the history of Manitoba criminal justice the courts have been exposed in such a raw unadulterated way.
Court of Queen’s Bench Associate Chief Justice Shane Perlmutter acquitted Knott indicating she used “reasonable force” when she plunged a knife into her estranged husbands chest on February 18, 2011. The victim, Ozias Joram Knott (34) died as a result of suffering a stab wound to his heart.
He was the sixth (6th) murder victim of 2011.
As I sat in my vehicle listening to the decision on CJOB I wondered how the public viewed the Judges decision. I might be accused of being a black and white thinker but I have to ask, “Is there anything “reasonable” about sticking a knife in your husband’s chest.”
To be clear, Justice Perlmutter found Knott acted in self-defense when she killed her husband. In fact, he went to great lengths to articulate and justify his decision describing the victim as an abuser who beat Knott with his hands, a flashlight, a 2 x 4, a stereo and a clock. He also burned her with cigarettes, controlled her, degraded her, told her she was nothing and called her names.
Perlmutter indicated Knott suffered from PTSD as a result of the domestic violence she suffered and confirmed she met the criteria in Canadian law to be considered a battered woman.
People watching the decision on television or listening to it on radio might have pondered why charges were ever laid in the first place. After all, Justice Perlmutter seemed to conclude it was a pretty clear case of self-defense. Why is it the Police and Prosecutions Branch didn’t see it that way?
I have a certain amount of insight into that decision.
On February 18, 2011 at 6:40 pm, I received a telephone call from Acting Duty Inspector Robert “Bob” Chrismas asking me to attend the Public Safety Building to lead the investigation. When I arrived a short time later I learned Cassandra Knott had been arrested at the scene and had removed any doubt regarding the identity of her husband’s killer.
“I was fed up with him beating on me so I stabbed him. I’m just being honest,” she exclaimed to Police Officers at the scene. “I just got fed up with all the fighting, he deserved it, I’m sick of him. He was coming at me and I did it. I fucking stabbed him, I stabbed him with the steak knife, I told him I was fed up, I told him I would do it,” she continued.
In terms of Homicide investigation the case was not complex.
In fact, the case appeared to be just what Cassandra Knott said it was, an instance of chronic domestic violence with a fatal, albeit predictable ending. A situation where one party was just “fed up with all the fighting,” and decided to take measures to end it.
After analyzing the evidence it seemed reasonable to conclude several options other than the use of deadly force were open to Knott. The Senior Crown Prosecutor who authorized the charges agreed.
The autopsy determined the cause of death was due to a stab wound to the chest that penetrated the heart and lungs. The victim suffered several other injuries;
- abrasion to rear right side of his head consistent with having been caused by a knife blade
- 2 cm slash wound under nose
- abrasion to right knee
- scratches to right hand side of stomach near waist
- broken finger nail right hand
When the case proceeded to trial the Crown argued that Knott’s angry admissions supported their assertions the force she used was unreasonable in the circumstances. The Defense argued Knott was a fearful battered wife who suffered decades of 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 rejecting the argument advanced by the Crown.
It’s clear that Perlmutter’s finding was a subjective one. Any number of Judges may have found Knott’s use of the steak knife was excessive force given that;
- she suffered little or no injury in the confrontation
- she had a weight advantage over the victim
- the victim was not armed
- she had the option of defending herself with a lower level of force
- she had the option of leaving (inspite of evidence to the contrary regarding “learned helplessness”)
The finding in the Knott case makes me question our societal “care factor” when abusive men are killed by their spouses.
It’s not the first time a scene from this tragic play has been acted out in the City of Winnipeg.
On January 10, 2001, Maurice Kurys was killed after he was stabbed in the heart by his common law wife Sharon Prince. The investigation revealed several similarities to the Knott case;
- the killer confessed to stabbing her partner
- the killer made angry comments explaining the motive for the killing
- the killer suffered no injury during the confrontation
- the couple had a history of domestic violence
- the victim was not armed
- the killer had the option of leaving
Prince was charged in connection with the killing and was ordered to stand trial after a preliminary hearing into the matter.
Police were subsequently shocked to learn the junior Crown Attorney assigned to the case decided to drop Murder / Manslaughter charges in favour of a plea bargain to a lesser offence. The decision sparked significant controversy in the Police Service and Prosecutions Branch and made me seriously question if gender bias entered into the decision-making process.
(There could be no doubt that Maurice Kurys would have been prosecuted to the full extent of the law had Sharon Prince been on the receiving end of that edged weapon.)
While Justice Perlmutter was careful to caution the public against declaring “open season” on spousal abusers, I sometimes wonder what message is ultimately received. The case makes me ponder a number of questions;
- When it comes to incidents of domestic violence does gender bias impact how cases are prosecuted, assessed and resolved?
- Does gender bias desensitize us when male abusers are killed by their female partners?
- What is our societal care factor?
- What degree of responsibility do we assign to people who resolve their domestic arguments with violence or the use of weapons?
- Is it open season on male spousal abusers?
While Justice Perlmutter’s decision was articulate, well thought out and congruent with the law, the fact remains, another Judge hearing the same evidence may have arrived at a different conclusion.
On December 30, 2012, a fifteen (15) year old boy stabbed and killed his drunk and abusive father who was attacking his mother. The victim had a history of alcohol abuse and acting out violently towards the boy’s mother. The youth was exposed to violent incidents on several occasions. The boy was originally charged with 2nd degree murder but recently plead guilty to manslaughter admitting the force he used went beyond what was reasonable in the circumstances. These facts were recognized and accepted by a Provincial Court Judge, a Crown Prosecutor and a Defense Attorney.
It seems the participants in this case recognize the solution to ending the cycle of domestic violence doesn’t include the option of killing the abuser.
If Cassandra Knott is not guilty of murder or manslaughter how is the fifteen (15) year old boy? While Manitoba “Justice” may be many things, consistent it is not.
Ask any Police Officer working a cruiser car in Winnipeg and they’ll likely tell you they’re surprised there aren’t more tragic cases of Domestic Violence Homicide in our City. Domestic calls for service dominate the dispatchers queue while alcoholism provides the spark that often ignites the violence. There are literally hundreds of violent, dysfunctional Cassandra and Ozias Knotts out there right now playing their parts in the never-ending cycle of domestic violence and abuse.
To the cops who answer the calls, arrest the offenders, go to court and watch the charges get flushed down the toilet, it all becomes a disquieting exercise in futility.
Historical case or not, to the average street cop it’s just more of the same.
In a perfect world, men don’t beat women and women don’t stick steak knives in their husbands chests.
In the world of criminal “justice” it seems that Manitoba continues to lower the bar.
In 2012 the WPS responded to 15,721 Domestic Violence Events for Service.
A total of 1,964 incidents were categorized as criminal events.
A total of 61 of these incidents resulted in both parties being charged.
*Source – 2012 WPS Annual Report