Television cameras were allowed to broadcast from inside a Manitoba courtroom for the first time ever Wednesday afternoon as part of a pilot program launched by the province.
That allowed CBC to livestream the not guilty verdict in the Cassandra Knott murder trial from the Court of Queen’s Bench.
Knott was charged with second-degree murder in connection with her husband's death in 2011.
While cameras rolled, Judge Shane Perlmutter found her not guilty.
Perlmutter explained his decision by outlining the years of abuse Knott had endured at the hands of her husband, Orzias Knott.
“Over the course of the relationship, the deceased beat the accused with his hands, a flashlight, a two-by-four, a stereo and a clock,” said Perlmutter. “He burnt her with cigarettes, he called her names such as 'slut, whore and ugly.' He degraded her and told her she was nothing."
Perlmutter said the night Orzias died, Knott tried to fend off another attack with a mop, then a steak knife.
“Given the unique facts as I have found them in this case, at law, I have concluded that the accused acted in self-defence,” said Perlmutter. “Accordingly, the accused is hereby acquitted. I also now direct that the camera be shut off.”
Knott family relieved at verdict
Knott cried and hugged family members in court as she fell to the ground after Perlmutter delivered his verdict.
Knott's uncle, John Flett, was in court for the verdict.
"When you hear that, I'm just relieved," said Flett. "How painful that was, the struggle she went through."
Flett said family texted each other throughout the proceedings.
"Because it's immediate, you can actually hear what's going on and people get the information right away," said Flett. "They get to know what's really happening."
Feelings mixed about cameras in courtroom
Flett said having cameras in the courtroom will make sure the public gets the whole story.
Gerri Wiebe, Knott's defence lawyer, said cameras are going to help give an unbiased view of court proceedings.
"I think that this gives people the opportunity to see the entirety of the case and make their own decision without having to rely on the media to sort of give a version to them."
Winnipeg defence lawyer Jay Prober said the cameras will help the public better understand what goes on in court.
But not everyone is on board with the program.
Earlier this week, the John Howard Society of Manitoba, an advocacy group for offenders, said cameras would add a layer of artificiality to the courtroom.
"Here I am right now, talking to you, trying not to pay attention to the camera. It puts a level of artificiality on it,” said Kate Kehler, acting executive director of the offender-advocate group. "The whole idea is to be getting to the truth of the matter."
Kehler is concerned cameras in the court may have a negative influence on those on trial — whether or not a person is exonerated.
“I would strongly disagree with the John Howard Society,” said Prober. “Just as you would be if you're a hockey player on the ice, you're focusing on the game — not the people who are watching the game.”
Prober said while he is in favour of the program, he acknowledged it could have some impact on clients.