WARNING: This story contains graphic and sensitive content.
A video interview triple murder-accused Lauren Dickason gave to police where she outlined how she killed her three young daughters in their Timaru home will be played to the jury at her High Court trial today.
And more messages have been read in court painting a picture of the troubled woman’s mental and emotional state in the lead up to the alleged murders.
Dickason, 42, is on trial in the High Court at Christchurch charged with murdering her daughters Liané, 6, and 2-year-old twins Maya and Karla.
She admits to smothering the children to death but has pleaded not guilty to the murder charges by reason of insanity or infanticide.
While the Crown acknowledges Dickason suffered from sometimes-serious depression, it maintains she knew what she was doing when she killed the girls.
Last week Crown Prosecutor Andrew 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 refutes that and says the woman was “very unwell” and while those close to her were worried – no one recognised how unwell she was “until it was too late”.
“This tragic event happened because Lauren was in such a dark place so removed from reality, so suicidal, so disordered in her thinking that when she decided to kill herself that night, she thought she had to take the girls with her,” Dickason’s lawyer Kerryn Beaton KC told the jury.
During the first week of the trial, the jury heard extensive evidence about Dickason’s life before the alleged murders, including her gruelling fertility journey and devastating loss of a baby daughter at 18 weeks’ gestation and her family’s move to New Zealand from South Africa in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Jurors heard two days of evidence from Dickason’s husband, who came home from a work function to find his three children dead in their beds.
A video of his police interview was played and then Graham Dickason gave lengthy evidence and faced cross-examination by the defence.
The court also heard from those first to the scene after Graham Dickason found his children dead and from people who met the Dickason family after they arrived in Timaru, including the girls’ teachers.
Liané had been at school for two days and the twins just one when they died.
And hundreds of messages sent to and received by Dickason in the lead-up to the alleged murders were read by police in court.
In many, Dickason speaks about having “rough” days with her children, being depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, emotional, stressed and tired – and often crying for long periods or being on the verge of tears.
The messages span from 2016 to several hours before the children were killed – through the pandemic, lockdowns and growing political unrest and violent crime in South Africa, the family’s emigration process and a number of delays to them moving to New Zealand including having to reschedule flights twice due to the children testing positive for Covid.
She described having three young children as “a hard hard season”, saying there was “no time to just sit and talk” with her husband because “there is always a kid in the middle”.
There were also a number of positive messages sent by Dickason talking about how much she loved her children and how she was happy and “super excited” about their “new adventure” in New Zealand.
“We want to give our three little princesses for whom we have prayed so long and hard, the adventures of a lifetime,” Dickason told a friend.
This morning defence lawyer Anne Toohey questioned whether police had left out context in its selection of messages – including “cute” photos and videos of the little girls.
For example, she said, in one message where Dickson tells a family group chat her kids are “crazy” she also sent a video of the children in a paddling pool.
Police confirmed that not all content was presented.
“There are hundreds of photos and videos of three kids playing and doing fun things – and that is not noted anywhere in the evidence,” Toohey said.
The defence then presented its own messaging evidence attempting to paint what they say is a more accurate picture of a dedicated and loving mother.
Defence: police evidence does not portray mum-of-three accurately
Toohey said the defence messages were more relevant and spanned a lesser period from January 2021 to the week the girls died.
In the messages, Dickason speaks about doing activities with her children – getting ears pierced, taking them to the sea, church and a carnival; baking, colouring, reading, doing puzzles, going out for waffles and doing various arts and crafts.
“I know that every mother thinks her donkey is a show pony but we have to admit our kids are damn cute,” she told a friend.
In the defence-selected messages, Dickason spoke proudly of her children – how quickly the twins were potty trained.
“Karla hasn’t got a scared hair on her head,” she told a friend.
And to another, she said:
“Maya is the little mother. Always helpful and peaceful and obedient.
“Karla is the firecracker, she can throw an amazing tantrum but is also lovable and talks a dog out of a bush. She and LIane are best friends.
“This is such a nice age. I wish they can stay this big forever.”
Dickason spoke of her safety fears in South Africa, her terror of being killed in front of her children.
She also spoke about being stressed and emotional at times, increasingly as the move to New Zealand approached.
“Graham came home one day and I said to him ‘Love guess what – I haven’t cried today’. I felt like a champion because I think I cried every day for four months, more than once a day.”
She also discussed various aspects of her mental health with numerous friends.
Messages from July 2021 included:
- “Fertility is nothing but a mind f**k over and over and over,”
- “I feel like no one understands me and all the emotions I am experiencing.”
- “I am just trying to get through each day without losing my head right now.”
- “I am so over this, Graham and I fight about everything and are so highly strung.’
Insight was also given into Dickason’s increasing fears about the unrest in South Africa.
She said her nerves were “shattered” and she feared for herself and her family.
When the power went out one night at her home Dickason” burst into tears and told Graham they are going to storm us and take us out”.
“MY nerves are f**king finished. And now my husband thinks I’m crazy.
“We are now sleeping with the 9mm by next to the bed.
“If Graham looks at me I just cry.”
The court heard that Dickason was “so stressed out” her weight dropped to 55kg and her husband told her she looked “skeletal”.
“I’m so stressed I lost 3kg this week because I cannot eat,” she said.
Towards the end of July Dickason said she was “emotionally and physically exhausted” and felt people had “no comprehension” of the stress she was under.
“I love my kids but I feel like they don’t love me and I am just their slave… just gets me down because they always want Graham,” she said to one woman.
“I am on the verge of losing my mind with all this stuff,” she told another friend.
The trial is set for about four weeks before Justice Cameron Mander and a jury.
The Crown will call more than 30 witnesses, including five experts on insanity and or infanticide.
The defence will then open its case and is expected to call a number of witnesses, including its own experts, to give evidence about Dickason’s mental state.