Thursday, December 16, 2010

True Horror: Keli Lane found guilty of murder

Have you ever had one of those conversations that go something like this:

"Did you hear about that guy who they think killed his daughter in Dubbo?"
"Oh, you mean the little girl they found in the oil drum?"
"Oil drum? No, she was drowned in the bath tub. Wasn't the oil drum murder in Adelaide?"
"Hmm, I'm not sure, I thought it was Dubbo, but I could be wrong. I heard about a bathtub drowning in Sydney."
"That was the little boy who drowned at his Aunt's place wasn't it?"
"Was it an Aunt? I thought it was the father's girlfriend."
"Oh, yeah. No, this one was a little girl in Dubbo."

These conversations are the result of the fact that real life criminal stories have such a disjointed narrative. It can be literally years between the first media reports of a crime taking place and any kind of resolution. And whilst one case "goes quiet" for an extended time there are many other cases that get reported in between. Cases with similar details seem to blend together, particularly if you are only taking a casual interest.

I rarely take more than a casual interest in real life criminal cases, and am always confusing facts from one case with another, but the recent trial of Keli Lane for the murder of her newborn infant, Tegan, in 1996 really piqued my interest. It's just such a bizarre case. If it had been a fictitious film I would almost certainly be scoffing at how implausible it all was.

It seems truth really is stranger than fiction.

If you're not familiar with the case I'll do my best to sum it up in 50 words or less...

Between 1995 and 1999 a young elite water polo player, Keli Lane, had 3 unwanted full-term pregnancies. She gave the first and third babies up for adoption, but the second baby, born in 1996, is still unaccounted for to this day.

Lane kept all three pregnancies and births secret from her parents (with whom she was living), her boyfriend (who she was shagging), the biological fathers (confirmed not to be the boyfriend for babies no. 1 and 3), her friends and her water polo team mates. How? Don't ask. No one, including Lane, has provided a convincing explanation of how she did it.

Because Lane had kept all pregnancies secret no one seemed to know that Tegan even existed, let alone that she was missing. It wasn’t until Keli was organising the adoption of her third baby that social workers realised Tegan was unaccounted for. At first, Lane tried to deny ever having given birth to Tegan. When presented with evidence that she'd given birth to Tegan in Auburn Hospital in 1996 she changed her story and said she'd given Tegan away to a couple in Perth. When social workers referred the matter to police as a "missing person" case, Lane again changed her story saying that she gave Tegan to the biological father, a man she first identified as Andrew Morris, but then later identified as Andrew Norris.

In the 10 years since, there's been a coronial inquiry (which recommended Tegan's disappearance be investigated as a homicide) and an extensive police search for Andrew Morris/Norris and Tegan. The police ultimately concluded that Andrew Morris/Norris did not exist and Tegan must have been killed by Keli sometime between leaving Auburn Hospital at approx 11am, on 14th Sept. 1996, and arriving at her parent’s house, without Tegan, at approximately 3pm on the same day.

Keli Lane was tried for Tegan's murder this year and after a 4 month trial, the jury spent a week deliberating before telling the judge that they couldn't reach a unanimous verdict. The judge then gave the jury the option of returning a majority verdict (IE 11 votes to 1). Before you could say "Keli Lane is fast running out of friends" the jury returned with a majority "guilty" verdict.

...OK, that's a lot more than 50 words, but I did my best.

Keli Lane outside court - before the verdict, obviously.

I think most observers were shocked by the verdict. Whilst it's pretty obvious Lane is a pathological liar and her story is bollocks, the prosecution case was highly circumstantial. With no physical evidence and a less than compelling motive (Tegan was a "problem" that Keli wanted to get rid of) in light of the fact that she'd adopted out the other babies, "reasonable doubt" seemed to be built in. Apparently eleven out of the twelve Jurors didn't see it that way.

After the trial concluded, the Judge released police interview footage from 2003. In it police confront Keli about the fact that none of her stories are checking out, and if she doesn’t come clean about what happened to Tegan it will be referred to the coroner. The really weird thing about Lane, in that video, is the way she reacts to various things the police say to her. When she’s confronted with the suggestion that Tegan is untraceable and possibly dead, Lane doesn’t seem too perturbed. But when the police indicate that they’ll have to start interviewing family and friends to try to get to the truth of the matter, Lane gets really upset at the prospect of them finding out she ever had Tegan. Dead kid = no problem. Embarrassing pregnancy = "No! Please don’t tell anyone!" And if Lane really is innocent, then it’s truly bizarre that she doesn’t protest her innocence in the police interview more. She denies killing Tegan, but doesn’t seem that interested in explaining what became of Tegan, in order to clear her name.

That police interview is the only real incite we get into Keli and her strange behaviour. She didn’t give evidence at the coronial inquest, she didn’t give evidence at the trial, and she’s never been interviewed by the media. According to freelance journalist Rachel Jane Chin, who twittered updates throughout the trial and is publishing a book about the case in the new year, Keli always appeared calm and confident in court. Chin observed that Lane’s parents had “aged 10 years” during the trial, but Keli always looked “fresh”. Whilst a person’s physical appearance is really not an accurate barometer of their psychology, it’s still unsettling that such a normal, dare I say attractive, looking woman led such a bizarre life.

Of course the story will probably go quiet again, in the media, until Keli’s sentencing hearing in February next year. I guess it’s possible her lawyers will mount some sort of an appeal after that time too. It’ll be very interesting to see if Keli’s story changes again in a bid to get out of jail.

Even though Keli Lane is now behind bars, officially guilty of killing her daughter Tegan, I suspect this story still has some way to run.

And I’ll be very surprised if someone doesn’t make a movie about it.

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