Judges urged to free woman jailed for murder conviction

Case of teenager who stabbed brutal partner fuels legal controversy over domestic violence
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A battered teenager was convicted of murdering her partner because the jury was not properly instructed about the cumulative effects of his constant violence upon her, the Court of Appeal was told yesterday.

In a case which further highlights the controversy over legal defences available to women who kill their brutal husbands or partners, Emma Humphreys, now 27, is seeking to overturn her conviction on the grounds of provocation.

Outside the court dozens of women flying banners and balloons voiced loud demands for her freedom and a change in the law.

Humphreys was only 17 when she found guilty of stabbing to death Trevor Armitage, a man twice her age, after suffering months of beatings, rapes, and verbal abuse. She has already served 10 years in prison - longer than the five to six years suggested by the trial judge and the Lord Chief Justice.

Yesterday the appeal judges were told her "sad" life had involved family breakdown, and being taken into care and institutions. Her QC, Helen Grindrod, told the court that she turned to prostitution at the age of 13, and had slit her wrists several times. Mr Armitage, despite his violence and his demands that she continue to work as a prostitute, had been perhaps the only person to tell her he loved her, adding to her confusion.

On the night she killed Mr Armitage, they had visited a pub where he had been drinking with his son and some male friends. On the way home he had promised them a "gang bang".

Humphreys went upstairs and in her distress cut her wrists. But his only reaction was to mock her "pathetic efforts" and take off his clothes in what she anticipated was to be another rape. She picked up the knife and stabbed him.

Ms Grindrod said the jury was "wrongly restricted" from considering the full picture of abuse. But, instead of stressing the cumulative provocation over the six months of Humphreys' relationship with Mr Armitage, the trial judge Mr Justice Jones confined the jury at Nottingham Crown Court to events immediately before the killing. Furthermore, jurors were wrongly instructed about the effects of a psychiatric disorder which would have aggravated the effects of the provocation.

"She is a damaged girl ... an abnormal girl whose method of seeking attention was to slash her wrists. Armitage's provocative words went straight to that disturbed personality," Ms Grindrod said.

Humphreys was given special leave to bring a late appeal after reading about the freeing in 1992 of Kiranjit Ahluwalia from a life sentence for setting fire to her brutal husband.

But it was the case of Sara Thornton which first put the issue of domestic violence and law reform firmly on the legal and political agenda. It highlighted the shortage of refuges, the lack of care for victims, and questioned whether the legal defences, particularly regarding provocation, were better suited to a man's instant rage than a woman's slow build-up to breaking point. It strengthened calls from senior members of the judiciary for compulsory life sentences for murder to be abandoned to allow judges discretion in sentencing.

The Home Secretary has recently referred Thornton's case back to the Court of Appeal.

Humphrey's case continues today.