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Peter James KNIGHT





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Anti-abortion activist
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: July 16, 2001
Date of birth: January 1, 1954
Victim profile: Stephen Rogers, 44 (security guard in an abortion clinic)
Method of murder: Shooting (rifle)
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Status: Sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum of 23 years, on November 19, 2002

Peter James Knight (b. January 1, 1954) is an anti-abortion activist who shot dead a security guard in an Australian abortion clinic.

He led a hermit's life in the years leading up to the incident. He lived in a small camp in the suburbs, 'off the grid' without a telephone or electricity. He did, however, frequently attend pro-life rallies.

On 16 July 2001 he walked into the East Melbourne Fertility Clinic (a private abortion provider) in Melbourne, Australia carrying a rifle. He also had 16 litres of kerosene, 3 lighters, torches, 30 gags, and a handwritten note that read "We regret to advise that as a result of a fatal accident involving some members of staff, we have been forced to cancel all appointments today".

He later stated that he intended to massacre everyone in the clinic, and progressively rid Melbourne of all its abortion clinics. He shot 44 year old Stephen Rogers, a security guard, in the chest, killing him. Staff and clients overpowered him soon after.

For many weeks after his arrest he refused to answer questions altogether, and refused to cooperate with their investigations. Police did not know his identity until 3 months after his arrest, even though his photographs were published in major newspapers.

On 19 November 2002 he was sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum of 23 years. He will be in his 70s before being eligible for parole.

So far, this incident is the only killing by an anti-abortion activist in Australia's history.


R v Knight [2002] VSC 498 (19 November 2002)



No. 1539 of 2001




Criminal Law - Sentencing - Murder of intervening Security Guard - Massacre planned as part of a crusade against abortion - Life imprisonment - 23 years non-parole period


  1. Peter James Knight. You have been found guilty by a jury of the murder of Steven Rogers on 16 July 2001 at East Melbourne. The murder took place at the Fertility Control Clinic at 116 Wellington Parade. Steven Rogers was a security officer, who worked shifts at the clinic. On 16 July 2001 at about 10.20 a.m., he was about to finish his shift. At that time, a receptionist, Hue Luu, was working on the reception desk at the clinic. Lilian Kitanov, a prospective patient at the clinic, entered the reception area with her friend, Sandro De Maria. The two of them came in through the southern door, which is the main door to the clinic. The main door permitted entry to the reception area from Wellington Parade. When inside, Lilian Kitanov realised that she had left her Medicare card in the car. She asked Sandro De Maria to get it. He left by the main door. She and Hue Luu then started to fill out details for the clinic's records.


  2. As this was being done, you quietly entered the reception area by the main door. You entered at a time when there were only two women in the reception area. It was also at a time after the clinic's security guard would normally have finished duty. You were wearing gloves. You were holding two bags. One bag was cleverly made so that the fact that it contained a rifle was not obvious. The other bag contained, but so that they were not obvious, a miscellany of items. Most of the items were made by you by hand. They were items designed for a massacre. A massacre was what was you had planned when you went into that clinic. At that time, there were in the clinic 15 staff and 26 patients or friends of patients.


  3. The first hitch in your plans occurred shortly after you entered the clinic. Sandro De Maria returned. He needed to re-enter through the main door. For him to get in, you had to move. He came in and moved towards the receptionist. There was then a second hitch in your plans. Steven Rogers came into the reception area. He came in through the western door. He moved towards you. He spoke to you. You told him that you had a gun and that you were serious. You put the rifle to your shoulder. You pointed the rifle at Steven Rogers. You fired the rifle once. Steven Rogers was struck by the bullet. He was knocked back against some filing cabinets. There he slumped to the floor. You re-cocked the rifle. Hue Luu ran out the western door through which Steven Rogers had come into reception. You turned and pointed the gun at Lilian Kitanov's stomach. She was then four months pregnant. At that stage, Sandro De Maria grabbed the gun and pulled up the barrel. A struggle for the gun between you and Sandro De Maria ensued. The gun was swung in various directions. As it was pointed up, another shot was discharged. That shot went into the ceiling. Two men who had been in the room adjoining the reception area came in to where the struggle was taking place. Timothy Anderson got hold of the gun. Brett Cassar took it outside. You were overpowered and pinned down.


  4. The events of 16 July 2001 have to be seen in the context of events over the previous year. Even then the full picture must take account of your personal circumstances over your lifetime. I will return to those circumstances.


  5. For many years you have chosen to live the life of a hermit, much of the time in a makeshift but semi-permanent humpy in the Killanbutta State Forest out of Molong in New South Wales. From time to time, you left that makeshift home, and travelled to other parts of Australia, including Melbourne, by bicycle.


  6. In the year 2000, on a visit to Melbourne, you were looking through a Yellow Pages telephone directory for a printer. A page or two before listings for "Printers" are listings for "Pregnancy Termination Services". You examined the advertisements displayed amongst those listings. You realised the extent to which abortion was available. You decided to crusade against abortion.


  7. In December 2000, you went to where other persons were protesting against abortion outside the East Melbourne clinic. You proposed a campaign against the advertising of such clinics. You prepared a letter linked to such a campaign. No positive outcome eventuated.


  8. In early January 2001, you spoke with Margaret Tighe, the president of the Right to Life organisation. You spoke to her about the desirability of organising a boycott of telephone directory advertising. She queried the value of what you proposed. You were asked to put your proposal in writing. You returned with a letter and spoke with her again. You signed the letter not Peter Knight, but Peter Sweeney. No positive outcome eventuated.


  9. On 12 March 2001, you were in Sydney. You took part in an anti-abortion protest outside the premises of Radio 2UE. You held up a placard with the image of a foetus. Asked your name on that occasion, you said that you were Peter Knight.


  10. Your crusade looked to have achieved little to that stage. You returned to your humpy in the forest. If not previously obsessed with the crusade, you then became obsessed. In the forest, you embarked on your plan for a massacre to support your crusade. You scavenged twine and tools and metal brackets and other items. You fashioned a miscellany of implements in preparation for the massacre. In May 2001, you rode your bike to Parkes. There, you broke into a store. You removed from the store a Winchester rifle and some ammunition. You made up a kind of rifle bag, that was unlikely to be identified as such a bag. The bag was cut and fastened so as to permit the continuing use of the rifle while inside the bag. You modified the rifle. Two half washers were glued alongside the hammer. You did that to reduce the risk of the hammer being obstructed when the rifle concealed in the bag was fired.


  11. In June 2001, you came to Melbourne. You set up a campsite in an inconspicuous site tucked away in Candlebark Park, Templestowe. From there, you checked out the East Melbourne clinic. You mulled over the activities of the clinic. You circled individual letters of the alphabet in a June newspaper clipping. It was a cryptic message spelt out by the letters circled. It was a message about abortionists and death. You prepared lists of what you needed. On the list were items such as gloves and twine and notes. There were some abbreviations - like K and DOOR ST . I infer that they were abbreviations for kerosene and door stoppers.


  12. You prepared containers of kerosene. The kerosene was for use either in lighting a fire or in increasing the speed of the spread of fire or both. You prepared bundles of twigs and foam joined by twine capable of being used as a form of flaming torch. You prepared bundles of rag and foam with twine attached for use as gags. You fashioned metal tube pieces and nuts and wire into devices that could be used to prevent doors being used to get out of the clinic. You were careful to handle all items with gloves on.


  13. On 16 July 2001, you moved to give effect to your plan. You wrote out by hand notes to be stuck to entry doors. The notes were aimed at deterring further people from entering the clinic. One referred to a fatal accident that day. You placed your bicycle in the rubbish alcove of apartments in East Melbourne. There it was handily placed for you to escape from the scene. That was a block away from the clinic. You loaded seven live rounds into the rifle. You put the rifle in the special bag. You packed the other items in the other bag. You left your gloves on as you walked around to the clinic with your two bags.


  14. I have now put the events of 16 July 2001 in context. I turn to other matters relevant to sentencing. I wish here to express my gratitude again to Messrs Punshon and Marron of counsel for their attendances at court and submissions in the role of amicus curiae. I have benefited substantially from their work. I assume that their work, which was calculated to have been of benefit also to you, was indeed of benefit, even though neither benefit nor indeed the work has been acknowledged.


  15. I have read carefully and reflectively, the victim impact statements. I am obliged to disregard some inadmissible matters in them. There are seven statements. Two are from the mother and partner of Steven Rogers. Four are from persons who were in the reception area on 16 July 2001: Lilian Kitanov, Sandro De Maria, Timothy Anderson and Hue Luu. The seventh is from Dr Louis Rutman as to the trauma suffered by others at the clinic. They speak of depression, anxiety, fear, anger and more. They speak of sleepless nights, nightmares, hypervigilance, and other devastating consequences. The sentencing process requires that the seriousness and profoundness of the damage done should be recognised.


  16. The murder of Steven Rogers was a very serious crime. It is to be treated the more seriously because of the context in which you carried out the murder. You were a loner on a personal crusade when you went to the clinic. Your crusade was to effect social change. Steven Rogers was just doing his duty. He got in the way of your crusade. He was one of those who was characterised by you as being in "the abortion racket". In your submissions of 24 June last, you proffered advice to Hue Luu. It was that she get out of the abortion racket before someone with real authority made her pay for it. You went to the clinic with a plan for a massacre. You made Steven Rogers pay the supreme sacrifice because he got in the way.


  17. I turn to a different subject. You have exercised certain rights that you are entitled to exercise. You have declined to answer certain questions put to you by the police. You have exercised your right not to be legally represented. You have exercised your right to decline to give evidence. You have chosen to be selective in exercising other rights. I cannot and will not punish you for exercising your rights. But I cannot give you the benefit that might have been open if you had chosen to be more open and less cryptic. You have chosen not to speak as to certain matters. For example, you have not stated what your purpose was in going to the clinic at that time, with a rifle and other items, capable of being used for mass murder. As to that matter, and other matters, I must take what facts are the subject of evidence. Using those facts, I must consider what reasonable inferences can be drawn from them. Using that process, I have stated the facts as I have found them to be. At times, I have had a concern that you have not understood the fundamentals of inferential reasoning. At times, you have been dismissive of the evidence of kerosene, gags, door-stoppers and hand-written notices, and the like.


  18. I turn now to your personal circumstances. You were born on 1 January 1954 at Bathurst. You were one of six children. Your father, who is still alive but is troubled by dementia, worked as a farmer. Your mother, who is no longer alive, looked after the home. You were raised as a Catholic. The family lived at Bathurst and at Molong. You were educated to Year 10 at Catholic schools. You left school at the age of 16. You have a good grasp of language, and can write fluently. After leaving school, you worked in the Bathurst and Orange area for several years. You left home when in your early twenties and travelled for about 2 years. You chose to live in the Brisbane area for 14 to 15 years. You worked in factories there. You have generally been content to keep your own company. Eventually, you left Brisbane to return to the area where you were raised. You chose to live the life of a hermit, in almost complete isolation from the community. You chose to do that partly because of your desire to avoid declaring income for tax purposes. You chose not to accept the dole. You built your humpy in the Killanbutta State Forest. You scavenged. You lived largely on a diet of flour and vegetables. You chose not to sign documents. You chose to avoid having your photo taken.


  19. You have what are at least strong beliefs to the point of obsession, indeed fanaticism, about certain matters. You have strong views against cigarettes. You have strong views against abortion. You have strong views against the taking of oaths. You believe in your own brand of Christianity. You rely on the Bible. As you have said in your submissions, you are not of weak faith. You will hold high your faith. You know that nobody can do anything to you which has not been permitted by God, for your own eventual good.


  20. Your mental condition at the time that you murdered Steven Rogers has been the focus of evidence on the plea. I have had the benefit of reports from three psychiatrists, Drs Barry-Walsh and Senadipathy and Professor Mullen. The opinions of Dr Senadipathy were more at variance with the others. He thought that you suffered from chronic paranoid schizophrenia. He believed that your reasoning, lifestyle and behaviour were totally controlled by a systematised delusional process that corrupted your thinking. Clearly his opinions merited respect, given that he had had more contact with you than the other two. The opinions of Dr Senadipathy and Barry-Walsh were tested by questioning before me. I found that questioning particularly valuable. I also found it of some value in this context to reflect on the contents of the various submissions you have made to me and which are exhibits. I am not disposed to accept the diagnosis of schizophrenia. You are clearly a person who more than strongly, indeed rigidly and unshakingly, adheres to certain beliefs. You are a man who is intolerant to an extreme. As Professor Mullen has noted, you exhibit a fanaticism which at times may well merge into delusion. Because your mental state does border on a delusional disorder, I propose to treat that as a factor in mitigation.


  21. I must spend some time addressing matters raised in your five submissions, and particularly the submission of 24 June. You have resisted the 24 June submission being made public. I have not earlier agreed to it being made public. I now rule that it can be the subject of a report like every other exhibit. You submitted that conditions should be imposed. One suggested condition was that it be published either in its entirety or not at all. I am not prepared to impose such a condition. You submitted that publication of a summary would be potentially misleading. Only in exceptional circumstances would a possibility of error justify either suppression or a direction that there be only publication of the whole of the material. I had earlier not opted to treat the submissions as being in the public domain for more than one reason. One is that, in criminal proceedings, the factors to be taken into account in choosing between what is normal and what is exceptional are different from those in civil proceedings. That consideration applies even more so where the person before the court has no legal representation.


  22. I find untenable a number of propositions stated in your submissions. In certain respects, you appear to misapprehend the law. You have submitted that a jury has to be sure and certain of elements of a crime in order to return a guilty verdict. The law is that they must be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt. You have submitted that the role of the judge is to decide how guilty a defendant is on the charge put before him by the jury, and you have submitted that your responsibility is zero. The law is that the role of the judge is only to act on a view of the facts which conforms with the jury's verdict. At times, your submissions reflect a considerable capacity to be both analytical and articulate. That same comment applies to how you handled the empanelling of jurors and your final address to the jury. There is, in your submissions of 24 June, as you were later to point out, a degree of sarcasm and irony. There is also a level of apparent assuredness as to the rightness of the points made. Yet, to me, many of the points made are of the same kind as are routinely made by counsel in final addresses to a jury, albeit by them in terms more used by lawyers. You have made submissions in terms of there being matters of bad luck, where others might use terms such as that there are matters which are implausible. You have made submissions as to the confused, meaningless or mistaken testimony of eye witnesses. Similar submissions are commonly made, and commonly allowed for only to a degree, given the fallibilities of recall and like considerations. You have made submissions that the legal system should crack down on confused testimony. The law treats cross-examination as a good if not perfect means of potentially clarifying what might otherwise be confusing. You chose not to use that means. Many aspects of your submissions I can only characterise as cryptic. For example, you have given more than one reason for your having decided not to give your own account at the trial. You have said that it usually does little good to tell people something they do not want to believe. You have also said, and I paraphrase, that speaking could have led to lesser charges being laid. I could only speculate as to what you meant by such vague propositions.


  23. I turn to the final and key sentencing issues. The first is whether to impose a life sentence, and the second, whether to fix a non-parole period. You have murdered one man, in the context of having planned a massacre of many. I have to bear in mind the protection of society. In the light of the evidence before me, you represent, now, a considerable danger to the community. In July 2001, you were able to put together a collection of items that had the potential to result in the death of dozens of people, who were going about their normal lives in the East Melbourne clinic. You engaged in detailed planning and preparation. Your planning included having noted the usual timing of the departure from the clinic of Steven Rogers. Your entry to the clinic was at a time shortly after he would have been expected to have departed. Your planning included having at hand the means of escaping and not being held accountable. I am also concerned at the psychiatric assessments that your mental state could worsen. You have not shown any remorse, in the sense of showing any sincere repentance or regret that Steven Rogers was killed. The closest you have come to that has been to argue that his death was just bad luck. In all the circumstances, I am satisfied that life imprisonment is called for.


  24. With significant reservations, I am also satisfied that I should fix a non-parole period. It is a matter of considerable importance, given your age, that you have no prior convictions. Until July 2001, your strongly held beliefs had not led to your doing more than seeking to use the normal and acceptable means of persuading others of different minds to change their positions. Further, as I have noted earlier, the evidence as to your mental condition warrants an allowance in mitigation. There is another consideration. Those with any close experience of the operation of the parole system in this state know that the great majority of persons convicted of murder are not dangerous at the end of a long period of imprisonment. Routinely, assessments of dangerousness at the end of the long terms imposed for murder, reveal that persons earlier perceived to be very dangerous can blend back into the community uneventfully.


  25. You have served 492 days by way of pre-sentence detention. I direct that that be noted in the court records. I sentence you to imprisonment for life. I set a non-parole period of 23 years.



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