Mother who killed her daughters in NZ 'believed it was morally right'

Mother who smothered her daughters to death in New Zealand ‘believed it was morally right’ due to her mental health issues, her defence claims – as prosecutors insist ‘she knew she was killing the girls and proceeded regardless’

  • Lauren Anne Dickason, 42, is charged with murdering all three of her children
  • She has admitted killing the girls but pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity

A mother who smothered her three daughters to death should be found not guilty of murder on grounds of insanity, her lawyers said, as prosecutors declared she ‘knew what she was doing’ and murdered her children in anger.

Lauren Anne Dickason, 42, is charged with murdering her two-year-old twins Maya and Karla and their six-year-old sister Liane in September 2021 at their house in Timaru on New Zealand’s South Island. 

She has admitted killing the girls but pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and has been standing trial in Christchurch’s High Court since July 17. 

In closing statements last night, Ms Dickason’s defence lawyer made an impassioned plea to the jury, telling them that the defendant’s mental health problems meant she felt killing her children was the best course of action.

‘The deaths don’t have anything to with anger or resentment – and have everything to do with what was a severe mental illness,’ Kerryn Beaton KC said.

‘She desperately wanted these children… and we know that she was a great mum, a loving and protective mother who was highly organised and prepared for every eventuality… she protected them right up until the day they died.’

 ‘This awful event would never have happened if Lauren Dickason was not depressed – and if she had been treated for her depression things might have been very different.

‘In her mind, it was the morally right thing to do.’

Lauren Dickason (pictured centre) and her husband Graham hold two-year-old twins Maya and Karla as they pose with their other their six-year-old daughter Liane

Lauren Anne Dickason (pictured left) is on trial for murder after smothering the couple’s three young girls

But prosecutor Andrew McRae painted a very different picture, disputing that Ms Dickason was ill enough to plead insanity and declared ‘she ought to still be held fully responsible for what she’s done’.

Lauren Dickason: Final moments before three girls were smothered to death by their mother in New Zealand are revealed 

‘Her actions are explained by two primary drivers – her anger at her children’s behaviour and her need for control,’ he insisted.

‘Once she started doing what she was doing to the girls there was no turning back. She did not contemplate stopping.

‘Her accounts did not indicate that this was done out of love or that she did this because it was in their best interest. Her action was very much done in a moment of anger… there was no true altruistic motive.

‘She knew she was killing the girls and she proceeded regardless.

‘She must have known what she was doing was morally wrong if she was worried about the possibility of discovery… she made efforts to clean up the scene.’

The court will now adjourn until Monday, at which point Justice Cameron Mander will sum up the weeks-long trial before sending the jury to deliberate. 

Earlier on Thursday, clinical psychologist Dr Ghazi Metoui, who conducted extended interviews with Ms Dickason, told the court on Thursday that her depression had compounded over a number of years.

‘Everything (for Ms Dickason) was black and awful… game over,’ Dr Metoui testified under cross examination from the Crown prosecutor Andrew McRae, according to the New Zealand Herald. 

The Dickason family, which also included father Graham, had only just migrated from South Africa to New Zealand.

While that caused Ms Dickason a great deal of stress her struggle to have children through IVF was a deeper underlying issue, Dr Metoui told the court. 

‘My opinion is that her problems with depression in the 11-year period leading up to her alleged offending were very much embroiled in her fertility problems,’ he said.

‘Losing her first child at 18 weeks gestation, antenatal anxiety and then postnatal depression that remained chronic – clinically referred to as the intermittent symptom pattern.

‘She always had vulnerabilities in her earlier life since adolescence in her early 20s, and these in themselves are risk factors for developing postpartum depression.

‘The fact is that declines in her mental health all occurred after 2010 from the time of trying to conceive to eventually having children.’

Ms Dickason’s mental health never fully recovered from the devastation of her first failed IVF pregnancy and she also suffered post-natal depression after having her daughters, the court heard.

Dickason with husband Graham and their children Liane, 6, and two-year-old twins Maya and Karla

Lauren Anne Dickason (pictured with husband Graham) has admitted killing her three girls but pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and has been standing trial in Christchurch’s High Court since July 17

Lauren Dickason: Mum who killed her three daughters in New Zealand ‘couldn’t bear her husband remarrying or another woman raising her children if she took her own life’, court hears 

‘Her major depressive disorder – severe type – at the time of the alleged offending was an extension and part of her chronic postnatal depression since 2015 after having Liane and re-emerging in 2019 after having Karla and Maya and episodically thereafter,’ Dr Metoui said.

‘I consider that the balance of Mrs Dickason’s mind at the time was disturbed by this specific disorder consequent upon childbirth… she meets the medical and legal threshold for infanticide.’

Dr Metoui did not agree with the Crown’s assertion that Karla’s temper tantrum just moments before the girls were smothered to death had caused Ms Dickason to act out of anger. 

‘That is a step too far… she was not angry at Karla per se,’ Dr Metoui said.

‘I think she was perhaps angry but really upset at her crumbling family, posed as an explanation.

‘I think Karla behaving in that way was proof to her that her family was suffering, that her family was miserable.’ 

While the killings were ‘brutal, callous, determined and deliberate’, Dr Metoui told the court that, in his opinion, Ms Dickason cannot be held criminally responsible.

‘I do not consider that Ms Dickason’s mental state at the time of the alleged offending precluded her from understanding the nature and quality of the acts,’ he said.

During the trial five experts have appeared with two supporting the Crown’s case for murder and three saying Ms Dickason was driven to her actions by insanity

Dickason has admitted to killing her children but denies it was murder, with her defence claiming she is not guilty by reason of insanity

‘To the contrary, I consider that she was purposeful and deliberate throughout her offending and acted with full conscious awareness of her actions and with great determination to pursue her aims, the killing of her three young children.

‘However, such was the severity of her depressive illness and associated distorted thinking at that time … that ultimately, she thought she and her three children were better off dead.

‘It is my opinion that she did not know that the alleged acts were morally wrong to the commonly accepted standard of right and wrong … she has a defence of insanity.’

Mr McRae suggested Ms Dickason’s story had changed over time and adopted ‘altruistic motives’ suggested by clinicians treating her, but Dr Metoui rejected that.

‘Never did I find did she backpedal, start ducking and diving, become clustered, inconsistent – she was just very straight up about it,’ Dr Metoui said.

Mr McRae said Dr Metoui ‘needed to be careful with the information’ Ms Dickason gave him.

‘This is where you and I are not seeing eye-to-eye at the moment,’ the psychologist replied.

‘We know that memories are not complete… She was cooperating, she was doing her best – but even then, there were omissions in what she told me.’

Dr Metoui continued to rebut Mr McRae’s suggestions Ms Dickason killed her children out of malice.

‘She was a really unwell woman,’ he said.

‘When she’s psychiatrically unwell, it’s crushing to her mental health… I would say she wasn’t functioning, she was not caring for herself… she was clinically anorexic, she was socially withdrawing from just about everybody.’

The Crown has alleged Ms Dickason murdered the children in a ‘calculated’ way because she was frustrated, angry and resentful of them.

After the Dickason children were fatally smothered they were placed in their beds and ‘tucked in’

Previously Mr McRae alleged Ms Dickason 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’.

Ms Dickason smothered the girls while Graham was out at a work dinner.

He returned to find the dead girls tucked into their beds with faces covered while his wife was unconscious after she had tried to take her own life.

Graham gave evidence during the trial from his home in Pretoria, where he has returned with the remains of the girls. 

Out of the five experts who have testified, two supported the Crown’s case of murder while three have stated Ms Dickason was driven to her actions by being mentally unwell.

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