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Scissors attacker guilty of attempted murder in Exeter graveyard

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: April 15, 2014

Exeter Crown Court

Exeter Crown Court

A crazed stalker has been found guilty of trying to kill a former neighbour in a scissors attack in a cemetery in broad daylight.

Joseph Willis had spent five years following victim Helen Pearson and making her life a misery with a hate campaign and his obsession drove him to carry out the brazen attack in the centre of Exeter.

He followed Miss Pearson down the road as she hurried to a gym class in the rain last October and ambushed her next to the entrance of the St Bartholomew’s graveyard in Exe Street.

A CCTV on a house opposite captured the seconds before the attack as he ran up behind her while reaching into his coat for the scissors which he used to stab her in the back moments later.

Horrified passers-by watched him dragging Miss Pearson into the cemetery by the hood of her coat and leaning over her as he tried to plunge the scissors into her throat.

She survived by fighting for her life and struggling to move her throat away from the scissors blade, which stabbed through her mouth instead.

She could see the blade was being aimed at her carotid artery and was certain he was trying to kill her.

Brave motorist Sandra Robertson saw Willis dragging a screaming woman into the cemetery and stopped her car before running in to save her by pushing him away.

He fled into the historic graveyard, known locally as The Catacombs, while Miss Pearson ran to Fitness First in nearby Tudor Street, covered in blood and hysterical with fear.

Former mechanic Willis, 49, of Cordery Road, Exeter denied attempted murder and was found guilty. He hung his head as the verdict was announced.

Judge Paul Darlow adjourned sentence and called for psychiatric reports which will determine Willis’ level of dangerousness and whether he will face an extended sentence.

He said: ”The purpose of a psychiatric report will be to address the issue of dangerousness. A lengthy sentence of imprisonment is absolutely inevitable. It is a question of whether there should be an extended sentence.

“The report will look at what danger he poses to other members of the public of serious harm.”

The Judge also awarded a £500 reward to Ms Robertson and said:”I would like to recognise the bravery shown by Sandra Robertson and propose to do so with a £500 reward for her intervention.”

During the seven day trial at Exeter Crown Court the jury heard how Willis carried out a five year campaign of stalking against 34-year-old former neighbour Miss Pearson.

He is a mental patient who met her when they were both living in supported accommodation in Exe Street and who turned against her because he thought she had stood him up on a proposed trip out to see a band.

In the next five years he smashed her windows, made silent and menacing phone calls, sent two hate letters and left a dead cat on her doorstep.

He even accused her of carrying out the attacks herself as an attention seeking device.

After the verdict Helen’s parents Bernard and Lyn Pearson, from Crediton, thanked the police for their work on the case and said they hoped she will now be able to recover from her ordeal.

They said:”We are relieved with the verdict and would like to thank the jurors for their time and service during this trail which has had a significant impact on our lives and that of our daughter Helen.

“We would especially like to thank the witnesses who have shown the courage to come forward and thank the woman who was directly intervened to save Helen’s life.

“We would also like to thank the Devon and Cornwall Police investigation team for securing this conviction.

“The events of last October have had a huge effect on us as a family, but there is also the family of Joseph Willis to consider and we understand the anguish they are no doubt suffering also.

“The last five years during which our daughter was stalked have been extremely difficult at times, culminating in the attack on our daughter and we now hope the end of the court process can bring us some relief and an opportunity to move on.”

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