The police officer who interviewed Lauren Dickason after she killed her three children told the court he wanted to show “sympathy” for the alleged killer.
Warning: This story contains disturbing content.
Dickason was interrogated at Timaru Police Station less than 24 hours after she killed her three young daughters.
On Tuesday, a video recording of Dickason’s police interrogation from 2021 was played to the jury in the murder trial at Christchurch High Court.
The 42-year-old has pleaded not guilty to the murders of two-year-old twins Karla and Maya and their six-year-old sister Liané, instead arguing insanity and infanticide.
Defense attorney Kerryn Beaton KC later turned on both detective Michael Kneebone and the lead detective of the interview during cross-examination.
“What steps did the police take as an organization to ensure that they were actually able to participate in an interview?”
Beaton later asked Kneebone what checks he had done to see if she could be interviewed.
“At the time of your questioning, you neither inquired nor checked yourself what medications she may have been taking or what effects they may or may not have had on her.”
Kneebone replied, “An assessment of how much medication she was taking or what kind of medication probably wouldn’t have helped much.”
Beaton interrupted the detective: “I’m asking if you’ve made inquiries to other people who may have had this information.”
On September 17, 2021, she continued to press the detective about Dickason’s condition.
During the interview, Kneebone asked Dickason what she remembered next after “she took the medication.”
Dickason replied, “Wake up here (Timaru Police Station).”
The detective replied, “Wake up in Timaru Hospital?”
“Has it made you think that she wasn’t quite sure where she was?” asked Beaton.
Kneebone told the court he believed she understood the situation she was facing. He added that he wasn’t concerned that Dickason referred to their dead children in the present tense during their conversation.
The defense emphasized that Kneebone used “positive affirmations” when speaking to Dickason. Phrases like “You’re doing really well,” “I know it’s hard,” “It’s the right thing to do, isn’t it,” and “You’re very brave” were used regularly throughout the hour-long interview.
Kneebone also told Dickason that there is “no guide to parenting.”
“Is that your normal approach to questioning a suspect?” asked Beaton.
Kneebone said it’s important to show Dickason empathy.
“I could see she was struggling, so I wanted to help her the best I could.”
Beaton asked why he didn’t stop the interview when he saw that she was struggling.
“To be honest, I don’t think she struggled enough to stop,” Kneebone said.
During police questioning, Dickason told Kneebone about her diagnosis of major depressive disorder and how she went off the medication.
The court also heard details of what Liané said to her mother before her death.
“Not the two younger ones but the eldest was very angry and wanted to know why I’m doing this to them because I’m the best mom and she loves me.”
Sobbing softly and wrapped in a blue blanket, Dickason spoke of the regret she felt at leaving South Africa.
“I just think we made a bad decision. And I don’t know what the implications are or what happened last night.”
Dickason sat behind her legal counsel and cried as the recording played in court.
The fall of the crown is now complete. The defense will begin their opening arguments Wednesday morning.
By Adam Burns for RNZ