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KNOX - Donella Marie - 23/08/2018

Parole Hearing

Under section 21(2) of the Parole Act 2002

Donella Marie KNOX

Hearing: 23 August 2018

at Christchurch Women’s Prison

via AVL from New Zealand Parole Board, Wellington

Members of the Board:

  • Ms K Snook (Panel Convenor)
  • Sir Ron Young – Chairperson
  • Dr J Skipworth
  • Mr A Hackney
  • Mr B McMurray

Observers:

  • [withheld]
  • [withheld]
  • [withheld]
  • [withheld]

Counsel: Mr S Shamy

Support Persons:

  • [withheld]
  • [withheld]

DECISION OF THE BOARD

  1. Donella Marie Knox, 51, appeared before the Board for the consideration of parole in relation to the sentence of four years’ imprisonment she is serving for the murder of her daughter.
  2. Ms Knox’s sentence commenced on 16 December 2016, she was eligible for parole from 30 March 2018, and has a sentence expiry date of 27 November 2020. Ms Knox is on a minimum prison security classification and this is her only conviction.
  3. The circumstances of Ms Knox’s offence are carefully explained in the sentencing notes of Justice Williams.  Ms Knox immediately turned herself into the Police after murdering her daughter on 16 May 2016.
  4. Ms Knox’s daughter was severely disabled her whole life, and Ms Knox was her sole caregiver for 20 years. Ruby had chronic behavioural difficulties including over the top aggression, a propensity to self-harm as well as harming others, and no ability to empathise.
  5. Ms Knox was described by all who knew her or who had contact with her in her role as Ruby’s caregiver as loving and caring of Ruby, and as being her tireless advocate.
  6. The Judge’s sentencing notes refer to the fact that although other options may have been available to Ms Knox this was not relevant given Ms Knox’s long-held, genuine and deeply felt view that the system had consistently failed her.  In Ms Knox’s mind she had no viable alternative given Ruby’s unresolved pain and the burden it placed on her in terms of managing her going forward.  The Judge determined that it was manifestly unjust to sentence Ms Knox to life imprisonment and so sentenced her to four years in prison.
  7. This hearing was effectively the first Board hearing for Ms Knox. Although she appeared on 2 March 2018 (close to her parole eligibility date) that Board adjourned the hearing to obtain a psychological assessment and report in relation to Ms Knox.
  8. Mr Shamy appeared today for Ms Knox.  He submitted that Ms Knox meets the statutory test for a release on parole, as she does not pose an undue risk to community safety.  He said the circumstances of the offending were tragic and were the result of a perfect storm of circumstances for Ms Knox which will never be repeated.  He said that the most significant sentence for Ms Knox is the fact that she will have to live the rest of her life knowing that she has killed the person that was closest to her.
  9. Ms Knox is in Self Care and is described as polite and respectful. She has completed four to six sessions of one-to-one psychological treatment which has helped to give her insight into the process that led to her offending.
  10. Ms Knox is said to have recognised that she had a distorted view that she needed to undertake all of Ruby’s care. Ms Knox told the Board today that she has looked at her ways of thinking and how at times those could be limiting. She has been able to apply those new skills in living in Self Care with three others. She said that this in itself has been difficult for her as she lived for 20 years with just her daughter who could not speak.  She said that she has learnt that she does not need to be superhuman and can ask for help.
  11. Ms Knox has developed a safety plan. She accepts that a high risk situation for her is the care of vulnerable people.
  12. Ms Knox is assessed as being at low risk of general and violent offending in the psychological assessment we have now seen, dated 15 June 2018.
  13. Ms Knox has the support of her family.  [withheld] was at the hearing today as well as [withheld]. She has begun rebuilding her relationships with her family. Her release proposal involves a release to live with [withheld].  [withheld] lives nearby.
  14. Ms Knox said that she accepts that she will need to look after herself on any release.  She is currently taking [withheld] and sees those as very helpful. She will continue to do that in the community under the care of her GP who she has been seeing for 30 years.
  15. Ms Knox also said she sees a routine as very important. She says she plans to keep a low profile and spend time reconnecting with her family.
  16. Taking all of this into account we have reached the view today that Ms Knox would not pose an undue risk to the safety of the community if released on parole to serve the rest of her sentence in the community. This is her only conviction, she has undertaken one‑to-one treatment and has a safety plan.  She also has support and supervision in the community. Importantly her offending was confined to a specific context.  As noted by her counsel today, it was unique offending and a tragedy for all concerned.
  17. Ms Knox will be released on [withheld] September 2018 on the standard conditions and on the special conditions detailed below all of which will apply for two years from the date of her release.
  18. We have amended the special conditions proposed. We have made it clear, in relation to the special condition covering employment, that it extends to any caregiving role given Ms Knox’s identified high risk situation of being a caregiver for a vulnerable person. Any such role would need to be approved by her probation officer.
  19. In addition, given the unique circumstances of Ms Knox’s case and the potential for there to be media interest in it, we are including a special condition which precludes Ms Knox from initiating media contact and requiring her to decline any request from media for interviews or information regarding herself, her offending and her imprisonment.  We see this special condition as designed to facilitate Ms Knox’s rehabilitation and reintegration back into the community without the risk of extraneous destabilising influences.
  20. The special conditions are:

    (1) If directed, undertake and complete appropriate treatment/counselling to the satisfaction of the Probation Officer and treatment provider. The details of the counselling or treatment to be determined by your Probation Officer.

    (2) To reside at [withheld] and not to move from that address, or any subsequently approved address, without the prior written approval of a Probation Officer.

    (3) To obtain the prior written approval of your Probation Officer prior to starting or changing your position or place of employment (including voluntary or unpaid work), including in particular before you consider starting any role as a caregiver whether in a paid, voluntary or unpaid capacity.

    (4) Not to initiate any media contact directly or indirectly by way of television, radio, print and social media including Twitter, Facebook, blogs, or contribute to any website by way of post or otherwise. To decline by “no comment” any request from any media for an interview or for any information about yourself, your offending, imprisonment or rehabilitation.

Ms K Snook
Panel Convenor