Because of his violent drunkenness, the home of William Knighton, a 22-year-old miner, was not a happy one. He lived with his parents and 16-year-old sister Doris, his invalid father sleeping on the ground floor, Knighton on the first floor and his mother and sister sharing a double bed in the attic.
In 1924 Knighton had been discharged with ignominy from the army after he was sentenced to two years imprisonment for indecently assaulting a German woman. So the police were not surprised when his sister Doris later told them that on the night of February 5th, 1927, he came home drunk, got into her bed and attempted to rape her. She screamed, waking her mother beside her, and Knighton left the room.
Doris Knightons account of what happened two nights later began on February 7th when she went to bed at 10 p.m. At 1 .a.m.on FEBRUARY 8th, she awoke to hear her mother moaning. She asked what was the matter, and on receiving no reply assumed that her mother had had a coughing fit and had got over it. Later Doris woke again, and saw her brother at the foot of their mothers side of the bed. He asked what was the matter with their mother, and Doris told him she didnt know. He left the room without another word.
At 6 a.m. Doris was woken by shouts from her father downstairs. Seeing blood on her mothers face and on the floor, she went down and sent her brother up to their mother.
There seems to be something the matter with her, he said when he came back, and his father told him to take up some brandy. He did so, returning to say, It seems hopeless. His father sent him to fetch a married sister, and after doing so Knighton went to the police saying he had done the old woman in.
Officers found that Mrs. Knightons throat had been cut, and she had been held partly out of bed to bleed into a bucket.
At his trial at Derbyshire Assizes, Knighton claimed he had no recollection of what happened that night. Woken by his father at about 5.45 a.m., he had felt in his pocket for matches and found a bloodstained razor. Concluding that he must have killed his mother, he had gone to the police.
The defence claimed that he had been in a state of epileptic automatism at the time of the killing, but this suggestion was rejected, and Knighton was convicted of his mothers murder and sentenced to death.
Leave to appeal was refused, but the defence lawyers then submitted further statements made by Doris and her married sister. They said that it was their father, not their brother, who had sexually assaulted Doris on the night of February 5th. Their father had sexually abused Doris on several occasions during the past four years, and she had been mistaken in thinking that it was her brother who had tried to rape her.
Doris and her sister also claimed that their fathers shirt and underpants had been found wet and wrung-out in the kitchen on the morning of the murder, and the defence suggested that Mr. Knighton had murdered his wife and had then placed the razor in his sons pocket.
The case was consequently referred back to the Court of Criminal Appeal, but the judges found no grounds for interfering with the jurys verdict and William Knighton was duly executed.