Mother found guilty of abusive lover's murder for second time

Mother, 26, who stabbed her abusive lover to death with a steak knife to the heart is convicted of murder for a second time after retrial

  • Emma-Jayne Magson, 28, of Leicester, killed 26-year-old James Knight in 2016
  • She denied murder at first trial, claiming it was self defence, but was convicted
  • A retrial at Birmingham Crown Court has today also rendered a guilty verdict

A mother who stabbed her boyfriend in the heart with a steak knife has been found guilty of his murder for a second time.

Emma-Jayne Magson, 28, of Sylvan Street, Leicester, killed 26-year-old James Knight in March 2016 following a drunken row.  

She denied murdering Mr Knight at her first trial, claiming it was self defence, but was convicted later that year and sentenced to life with a minimum term of 17 years.

In January last year, the Court of Appeal ordered a retrial after hearing new psychiatric evidence that she was suffering from emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD) – and so could have diminished responsibility.

Her second trial took place at Birmingham Crown Court where today a jury again found her guilty of Mr Knight’s murder, by a majority verdict of 10-2.

During the trial the jury were told of violent episodes from the former bartender’s past, including ‘putting a glass over someone’s head’ in 2012. 

The court heard how on another occasion Magson threw a vacuum cleaner at her first serious partner – prompting his friend to give her the nickname ‘Mike Dyson.’ 


Emma-Jayne Magson, 28, of Sylvan Street, Leicester, killed 26-year-old James Knight in March 2016 following a drunken row

As today’s verdict was read out, Magson, wearing a pink top and dark trousers, stood with her hands clasped together, covering the lower part of her face.

She then swayed momentarily before sitting back down with her shoulders slumped forward.

Mr Justice Jeremy Baker told her she would be sentenced at the same court on March 29 and will be remanded in custody.   

The one-time care home worker also had two previous convictions for violence from 2012; one where she kicked and pulled the hair of another girl, and another from October 27 that year, in which she glassed another female, while drunk, cutting the victim’s face.

She was asked about violent episodes during the trial. Magson denied the hoover-throwing incident ever happened, and also rubbished another claim she had stabbed an ex-partner in the head with a fork. 

The court heard in January 20, 2016, during a row in her kitchen, she ‘dragged’ another girl out of her house by her head, with Magson telling how the pair ‘ended up having a bit of a fight on the floor’.

Jurors heard there were also incidents of violence towards Mr Knight. 

In mid-March 2016, days before the fatal incident, Magson said she had an ’emotional breakdown’, post-miscarriage, and during an argument with Mr Knight in his car, ‘ended up kicking out, kicking my legs to his head – I kicked the indicators off’.

On March 21, 2016, a week before the stabbing, the couple exchanged text messages in which Magson said ‘we ain’t good for each other…I am no good for you, take care’.

Mr Knight replied: ‘That’s cool, I’m not there for you to speak to like s*** and hit.’

Magson told jurors the reference to being ‘hit’ was in relation to an incident in her bedroom when she ‘swung my arm and whacked him on the head’.

Magson denied murdering Mr Knight at her first trial (pictured during first trial in 2016), claiming it was self defence, but was convicted later that year and sentenced to life with a minimum term of 17 years

Magson’s counsel argued she was a victim of domestic abuse, but prosecutors claimed she was a persuasive liar who had hidden the truth about her boyfriend’s death.

Addressing Birmingham Crown Court last week, prosecutor Mary Prior QC said the evidence showed Magson was not acting in self-defence – and had a troubling history of drink-related violence.

The deletion of texts, the changing of clothes and the concealment of the knife were all evidence that pointed towards Magson being a ‘perpetrator’ of a deliberate act, the Crown said.

In the prosecutor’s closing speech, Ms Prior asked jurors: ‘In taking a knife and stabbing James Knight towards his heart, what else, we say to you, could you intend?’

Submitting that the evidence suggested Magson was ‘more than capable’ of working in stressful situations, Ms Prior said defence claims of a borderline personality disorder were only helpful to the jury if they were based on fact.

Urging jurors to examine Magson’s history of ‘aggression’ while drinking, Ms Prior said the defendant had been capable of telling convincing lies to friends, family, neighbours, ambulance staff and police.

Although it was ‘easy and right’ to feel sorry for Magson’s difficult start in life, she had been violent in the past, allegedly ‘throwing a hoover’ at a partner and ‘putting a glass over someone’s head’ in 2012.

Magson, who lived off benefits and worked cash-in-hand on burger vans, was ‘not stupid’ and was hard-working, the Crown said.

Jurors also heard Magson had lied to cover up her involvement in ‘fighting in town’, and used claims of domestic violence as an excuse for not turning up for work.

In her closing speech to the jury, Magson’s QC Clare Wade described Mr Knight’s death as a ‘tragedy for everyone’ – adding her client was entitled in law to defend herself if she believed she was being assaulted.

‘If she only did what she honestly thought was necessary, then that would be strong evidence that her use of force was reasonable in the circumstances,’ Ms Wade told the court.

Magson’s lawyers also asserted that Mr Knight, who used cocaine and steroids, had been in a ‘toxic state.’

Ms Wade said: ‘She has always been consistent on one thing – that at the moment she stabbed James Knight he was throttling her in the kitchen.’

Magson won the right to a retrial after claiming her murder conviction was unsafe because evidence about her mental health was not put before the original jury. 

Magson’s lawyers told three senior judges she was suffering from EUPD having endured a childhood which was characterised by exposure to domestic violence and bullying at school.

Launching Magson’s appeal in December 2019, defence Ms Wade QC said her client had a ‘volatile’ relationship with Mr Knight – who was stabbed after kicking at her front door ‘in circumstances where the deceased had been violent to her earlier in the evening’.

She submitted that Magson’s condition ‘substantially impaired her ability to exercise self-control and that the EUPD provides an explanation for her conduct and was a significant contributory factor causing the applicant to stab the deceased’.

That evidence, Ms Wade argued, meant it is ‘more likely than not that at the time of the offence, the appellant was suffering from diminished responsibility’.

Ms Wade also argued Magson was unable to participate fully in her trial, saying her ‘impoverished verbal reasoning skills, EUPD and social communication difficulties’ had ‘compromised’ her ability to properly instruct her lawyers.

Her submissions were opposed by the Crown’s QC, who said the fresh evidence sought to be relied upon could have been obtained before the original trial.

Prosecutors also contended Magson had effectively participated in her first trial and was able to ‘make important decisions affecting the trial process’.

In their judgment granting a retrial, Lord Justice Fulford, Mr Justice William Davis and Mr Justice Johnson said: ‘We are confronted with the situation in which the prosecution and defence psychiatric experts have unequivocally concluded that there is, in their view, a strong basis for the appellant to contend that the correct verdict was manslaughter and not murder.

‘On the evidence now available, we are left in no doubt as to whether the applicant was rightly convicted of murder and it follows that the appeal, on this basis, must be allowed, given this option was not left for the jury’s consideration.’ 

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