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Murder, infanticide or insanity- jury retires in trial of killer mum Lauren Dickason

Anna Leask,
Publish Date
Mon, 14 Aug 2023, 2:12pm

Murder, infanticide or insanity- jury retires in trial of killer mum Lauren Dickason

Anna Leask,
Publish Date
Mon, 14 Aug 2023, 2:12pm

WARNING: This story contains graphic and sensitive content.

The jury in Lauren Dickason’s triple murder trial retired just before 2pm to begin deliberating their verdicts.

But they are on their way back to the courtroom to re-watch videos of the alleged murderer and her husband being interviewed by police the day after their children died.

The eight women and four men have spent much of the day listening to Justice Cameron Mander sum up the case against the accused - and her defence.

They must now decide on Dickason’s fate and have four final options:

  • Guilty of murder
  • Guilty of the lesser alternative charge of infanticide
  • Act of murder proven but not guilty by reason of insanity
  • Act of infanticide proven but not guilty by reason of insanity

Details of Justice Mander’s summary - including direction on how the jury should approach deliberations and what they should consider - are below.

The jury were sent to begin their formal decision-making process at 1.55pm.

They immediately indicated they wanted to re-watch the police interview footage, spanning about four hours in total.

Dickason’s interview was about an hour and was conducted when she was released from Timaru Hospital where she was being treated following a failed suicide attempt after killing her children.

Her husband’s interview runs for more than two hours and was filmed not long after he found his little girls dead in their beds when he returned home from a work function.

Dickason, 42, does not deny killing Liane, 6, and 2-year-old twins Maya and Karla in September 2021.

But she has pleaded not guilty to murder, claiming she was severely mentally disturbed at the time and did not know what she was doing was morally wrong - and that she should not be held criminally responsible.

This morning Justice Mander summed up the trial in its entirety and ran the jury through both the Crown and defence evidence.

Dickason allegedly killed 6-year-old Liané, and 2-year-old twins Maya and Karla at their Timaru home on September 16.

Dickason allegedly killed 6-year-old Liané, and 2-year-old twins Maya and Karla at their Timaru home on September 16.

He appreciated much of what he had to cover would be repetitive however he was “obliged to ensure” they understood the case against Dickason and her defence.

Mander reminded the it was up to them, and them alone, as to what evidence they accepted and rejected.

“At the end of the day your assessment of the evidence is for you,” he said.

“It is up to you as to how you assess it... it’s for you to judge.

‘You need to take into account the evidence as a whole... does it make sense, does it ring true?

“You must reach your decision without feelings of prejudice or sympathy… it is inevitable such feelings are engendered in a case involving three little children.

“You must set aside your emotions and go about your task dispassionately. You must judge the defendant without fear or favour - feelings of sympathy for the three children, Mrs Dickason, Mr Dickason and their families… must be put to one side.

“An entirely human response to three little girls being killed is outrage and horror - but you must put those reactions and feelings to one side in order to carry out your task in the analytical way that is required of you; to make sure your verdicts are based on the law and the evidence.”

Justice Mander said the jury must ignore any media reports or comments made to them by anyone outside their number about the case.

He said they must return verdicts based on their assessment of the evidence alone and urged them to “be on your guard” and not allow any irrelevant information or outside influence to colour their thinking.

“Mrs Dickason is innocent until proven guilty,” he said.

“It is for the Crown to prove the charge of murder and to negate the defence of infanticide… there is no onus on the defendant to prove or disprove insanity… or infanticide.

“You must be brought to the point that you can say ‘I am sure the defendant is guilty’... has the Crown proved beyond a responsible doubt that… the children’s deaths were not an act of infanticide.”

Justice Mander said there was no doubt Dickason killed the little girls and that she was very mentally unwell.

The jury must decide whether she was so disturbed that she cannot be held criminally culpable.

The jury’s verdict options were murder, the alternative charge or “partial defence” of infanticide or the full defence of insanity and Justice Mander spent much time talking them through each.

For murder the jury had to be sure the Crown had proved three elements:

  • That the killing is a homicide - which is not in doubt
  • That the killing is culpable
  • That there was murderous intent

“If the deaths of the three children were acts of culpable homicide, they were acts of murder… the Crown is not required to prove a motive to prove the offence of murder, only that the defendant had a murderous intent,” said Justice Mander.

He then explained infanticide and that it was “something of a hybrid between an offence and a defence.

“Mrs Dickason will be entitled to verdicts of infanticide and to be acquitted of murder - if there is sufficient evidential information for infanticide that leaves you in reasonable doubt.

“The prosecution must negative the defence - if you consider it to be reasonably possible Mrs Dickason’s actions in causing the death of her three children were acts of infanticide you cannot find her guilty of their murders.

“If you consider it reasonably possible that (her) actions were acts of infanticide… your verdicts would be ones of not guilty to murder but guilty of infanticide.”

To reach a verdict of infanticide the jury must agree that at the time of the killings, the balance of Dickason’s mind was “disturbed.

“The balance of Mrs Dickason’s mind is required to be disturbed to such an extent she should not be held fully responsible for the children’s deaths.

“If the Crown fails to negate at least one of the elements of infanticide beyond a reasonable doubt, then, subject to the issue of insanity your verdicts would have to be ones of infanticide and not murder.

“To summarise, if you conclude it is reasonably possible that at the time Mrs Dickason killed her children, the balance of her mind was disturbed by reason of her having not fully recovered from the effect of childbirth or any disorder arising from childbirth to such an extent she should not be held fully responsible.

“In that case, you would be required to proceed on the basis that (she) has committed acts of infanticide and not murder.”

Justice Mander said once the jury had decided between murder or infanticide they could then address insanity.

He said in that issue alone, the onus was on the defence to show “on the balance of probabilities” Dickason was insane at the time she killed the girls.

“The defendant is required to tip the scales, however slightly, in favour to discharge the onus upon her,” he explained.

“For the defence to apply you would need to be satisfied on the balance or probabilities that Mrs Dickason was suffering from a disease of the mind at the time, (that) Mrs Dickason was so affected by that disease of the mind that she did not understand the nature and quality of her actions or, she did not know her actions were morally wrong.”

Justice Mander said all sides agreed Dickason understood the nature and quality of her actions - but the “essential question” for the jury was whether she knew what she was doing was “morally wrong.

“Your focus must be on the state of Mrs Dickason’s mind at the time and whether she appreciated that what she was doing was wrong,” he explained.

“In making that decision you are entitled to draw on and weigh all the evidence you have heard including the experts’ assessments and opinions, the testimony of lay witnesses and all the information assembled about Mrs Dickason which may bear on that issue.

“If, because of the disordered condition of her mind, it is established by the defence on the balance of probabilities that Mrs Dickason did not know what she was doing was morally wrong, this element of the defence would be satisfied.”

Justice Mander explained to the jury that if Dickason was found not guilty by reason of insanity she would not simply be released.

It would be up to him - and no one else - to decide on her future.

That would like be a detention order under the Criminal Procedure (Mentally Impaired Persons) Act 2003.

This would see Dickason being detained at a secure mental health facility as a special patient until such time as the national director of mental health determines her to be well enough for release back into the community.

He said the jury was to put Dickason’s future to the side and focus solely on their verdicts.

The jury has been given a question trail document to assist them in reaching their verdicts.

Question trails are given to all juries, providing them with “a logical path to follow” in their deliberations.

“That path is a series of questions that cover the elements of the offence for which proof is required, specific to each charge being determined,” the Courts of New Zealand website explains.

“The question trails also remind juries about the onus and standard of proof for each element.”

On Friday the Crown and defence gave their last addresses to the jury.

Prosecutor Andrew McRae said after considering all of the evidence, the 12 could be sure Dickason was guilty of murder and had no defence of insanity or infanticide available to her.

Defence lawyer Kerryn Beaton KC said Dickason’s case was “the very kind the law of infanticide was designed for”.

The trial has today entered its fifth week.

Since July 17 the jury of eight women and four men have heard extensive evidence about the alleged triple murder.

They have heard about Dickason’s life before and after she and her family emigrated to New Zealand from South Africa a month before the girls were killed.

Dickason’s lengthy battle with a major depressive disorder, her gruelling fertility journey including at least 17 rounds of IVF and the loss of a baby early in a pregnancy, and her struggles with motherhood were canvassed.

The court was also shown video of Dickason and her husband Graham being interviewed by police after the little girls were killed.

Graham Dickason then gave evidence via audio-visual link from his home in Pretoria after he chose not to return to New Zealand to attend the trial.

Lauren Anne Dickason allegedly killed 6-year-old Liané, and 2-year-old twins Maya and Karla at their Timaru home on September 16.

Lauren Anne Dickason allegedly killed 6-year-old Liané, and 2-year-old twins Maya and Karla at their Timaru home on September 16.

The King v Lauren Anne Dickason - the Crown and defence cases

The Crown alleges Dickason murdered the children in a “calculated” way because she was frustrated, angry and resentful of them.

It acknowledges Dickason suffered from sometimes-serious depression, but maintains she knew what she was doing when she killed the girls.

Opening the Crown case on July 1, McRae alleged Dickason was an angry and frustrated woman who was “resentful of how the children stood in the way of her relationship with her husband” and killed them “methodically and purposefully, perhaps even clinically”.

The defence says Dickason was a severely mentally disturbed woman in the depths of postpartum depression and did not know the act of killing the children was morally wrong at the time of their deaths.

Further, it says she was “in such a dark place” she had decided to kill herself and felt “it was the right thing to do” to “take the girls with her”.


Where to get help:
• Lifeline: Call 0800 543 354 or text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: Call 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906
• Youthline: Call 0800 376 633 or text 234
• What's Up: Call 0800 942 8787 (11am to 11pm) or webchat (11am to 10.30pm)
• Depression helpline: Call 0800 111 757 or text 4202 (available 24/7)
• Helpline: Need to talk? Call or text 1737
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111

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