Nice Girl was written by Rachael Jane Chin, who attended every day of the criminal trial against convicted “childkiller” Keli Lane.
Chin starts her book by saying,
While this book is written in a highly narrative style and some scenes have been fictionalised, all details including dates, names and events have been drawn directly from the transcript of the coronial inquest into the suspected death of Tegan between 2004 and 2006, news clippings, press releases, first-hand observation of Keli Lane’s 2009 arraignment, first-hand observations of ever day of the 2010 murder trial and each day’s transcript”
While that approach makes the book very readable, that “highly narrative style” and “fictionalised” scenes, effectively makes the book appear to me more like a novelisation of events than a straight objective account.
But then, I have to wonder how an objective account of this case could be told. What IS the truth ? And does anyone apart from Keli Lane have any idea what really happened to her new-born daughter Tegan?
First the basic KNOWN facts.
Between the ages of 17 and 24, Lane had two abortions and gave birth three times, all without the knowledge of her family and friends.
Only in the case of the first abortion did anyone close to her know, and that was her then boyfriend, the father of the unborn child.
A second pregnancy was also terminated.
Her third pregnancy went to term, and she gave birth to her first child, unknown to any friend or family member, after competing in a water polo final on that same day. Arrangements were quickly made for the baby’s adoption, and after a few days Lane returned home to her unknowing family. Her time in hospital coincided with her 20th birthday and her absence doesn’t seem to have caused any concern.
Her fifth pregnancy and the birth of her third child followed a similar path, with the baby being given up for adoption straight after the birth.
It was what happened with her fourth pregnancy and the birth of her second child that came back to haunt Lane, resulting in her murder conviction and an 18 year jail sentence. She left hospital with her baby girl (Tegan) who was never seen again. Keli claimed the baby had been given to Tegan’s natural father, but neither father or child have ever been found despite years of searching.
It was only during the adoption process for the third child that anyone realised there was a baby missing, and steps were started to investigate why.
A lot of the problems Lane faced arose out of the lies she told over the years, trying to keep her family and friends unaware of the many pregnancies. That history of lies made everything she claimed about the fate of Tegan harder to believe, and it seems to those lies are the only “evidence” that led to her being convicted. The prosecution cleverly managed to include three charges of perjury, related to these lies, alongside the murder charge – a tactic that likely helped sway the jury on the more serious matter.
I remember when this case was a major news story, and while I didn’t know the detail, I was always doubtful of a charge of murder when the “victim” has never been proven to have been murdered, and could possibly still be alive.
Lane’s complicated, confusing story makes it hard to know for sure what actually happened but since learning more about the case through the ABC TV series Exposed (see previous two posts) and other sources, I’ve found more reason to doubt any justification of a conviction “beyond reasonable doubt”.
Consider the following:
- The judge presiding over the murder case said he wasn’t convinced the Crown had proven its case against Lane and “before he despatched the jury, he went as far as to suggest that a guilty verdict would be wrong” (see pdf at link below).
- Lane adopted out babies 1 and 3, so why would she turn to murder when it came to the child inbetween?
- Lane was offered immunity from prosecution if she revealed “the truth” about Tegan’s fate, but she stuck with the story she’s already told, despite the possible (later realised) outcome.
- Investigating police didn’t think they had a strong enough case to take it to court. “The detective who led the police investigation …reveal[ed] she was ‘shocked’ when Lane was found guilty” *.
- The prosecutor, who has prosecuted some of Australia’s most notorious criminals had also succeeded in some prominent cases that were later overturned. ** This perhaps shows how court cases can be a more of a contest between the skills of competing lawyers than a genuine assessment of evidence.
- Transgressing legal restrictions in his opening address, that prosecutor, Mark Tedeschi, presented a hypothetical account of how Keli murdered Tegan and disposed of her body near the construction site for the Olympic Park (being prepared for the upcoming 2000 Olympics). There was no evidence at all for that scenario, it was a fiction created by a Department of Community Services employee who had helped create the case. Tedeschi was ordered to withdraw that inadmissible account from the record of his opening address – but despite the judge’s advice, the jury had already heard it and couldn’t un-hear it. Because the account was withdrawn under instruction, Tedeschi now refuses to discuss his decision to use that tactic, because the story is no longer part of the official record.
Apart from the underhanded tactic mentioned in point 6 above, Tedeschi’s opening also targeted Lane’s moral character, to make up for the lack of actual evidence for a murder.
Rachael Jane Chin makes the following observation in her account of the trial, that Tedeschi’s opening address, rather than focusing on actual evidence of a murder, set out to portray Keli Lane as “a drunken slut”.
Chin notes that:
Between the ages of eighteen to twenty-four, Keli is known to have slept with four different guys… If this number makes Keli a slut, then the average girl feels like she is being called a slut too. Also, despite the carefully picked jury, many are concerned that the fact she had pregnancies terminated is being used as evidence in a murder trial.
As Keli’s barrister Keith Chapple says in his opening address, maybe the only difference between Keli and the young men that she slept with, who people may not be so quick to judge, is that Keli can fall pregnant and have babies while they can’t”
This book, while mostly balanced in its reporting, finally seems to submit to the findings at the murder trial, concluding Keli Lane was a child-killer; probably putting far too much trust in a highly flawed legal system. The book is an excellent resource, but tells only part of the story.
I can’t recommend the Exposed series on ABC highly enough. A lot more of the story (as the title suggests) is exposed within those three episodes especially the shortcomings of the court system.
See here for a pdf of a Women’s Weekly article about Keli Lane’s case https://www.boh.org.au/client_images/1809610.pdf
Further to Mark Tedesci’s record as a prosecutor.
** Tim Anderson and the Hilton Hotel bombing; Gordon Wood being found guilty for the murder of Caroline Burn.
I didn’t know much about the Tim Anderson case apart from it being the subject of a Roaring Jack song in the early 90s. I have a book about the Hilton bombing still on my to-be-read list.
The Gordon Wood case is another one I recall from the news. Another case that sounded dodgy from the little I’d heard about it. Basically Wood had been accused of throwing his girlfriend from The Gap, the cliff at the southern entrance to Sydney harbour, a favoured site for suicides. The accusation was that he’d literally “picked up his girlfriend and thrown her, spear-like, over the edge”. In my view, the strength require to do that always seemed to be beyond believability.
The reason for this claim was that Burn’s body was a significant distance from the bottom of the cliff. To me it always seemed more likely that she had jumped away from the cliff – a much more rational reason than giving Wood the strength to lift and launch her a considerable distance outwards. (see here for documentary and transcript http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/trial-and-error/3612532)