Wednesday, December 4, 2013
In February 2000, Katherine Mary Knight killed, then skinned, decapitated and cooked her lover in rural Australia. Knight pleaded guilty to murder and received a life sentence, against which she unsuccessfully appealed in Knight v R (2006) NSWCCA 292. I consider the way in which the majority judgments organised and expressed Knightʼs culpability in accordance with a model of monstrous wickedness, arguing that models of wickedness articulated and applied in criminal law should be evaluated critically. The judgment of the court constructed and responded to Knight as bad, a monster who is (and will always be) dangerous (especially to men) and ultimately irredeemable. Not only do monsters justify and require extreme measures, they also contaminate and undermine systems of orders – the judgments of Knight thus read more consistently with the genre of horror than that of law. The model of monstrous wickedness ostensibly works particularly well for women who kill, as it preserves the lawʼs tendency to organise women as lacking agency. However, this model also generates a clash of binaries when applied to women. The monster/victim binary ascribes agency to the monster, generating difficulties for the law to reconcile the notion of a female monster with legal assumptions of the absence of female agency. This results in the problem of the female monster. The judicial creation of a horror movie monster that lacks basic humanity facilitates an abdication of the legal (and moral) task of judging a human being as human.