Jury notes shed light on Azaria mystery

Azaria Chamberlain. Photo / APN
Azaria Chamberlain. Photo / APN

SYDNEY - As the 30th anniversary of Azaria Chamberlain's mysterious death at Uluru approaches, jury notes concealed in police files reveal the thought process behind the decision to convict her mother, Lindy, of murder.

One of the most controversial criminal cases in Australian legal history was revisited today with media outlet News Ltd's publication of notes contained in Northern Territory police files dealing with the disappearance of 9-1/2 week-old Azaria on August 17, 1980.

Lindy Chamberlain found guilty of murder two years later after a seven-week trial in Darwin.

She was sentenced to life imprisonment while her husband, Michael, a Christchurch-born Seventh Day Adventist pastor, was convicted of being an accessory but escaped with a suspended sentence.

Lindy Chamberlain claimed a dingo had taken Azaria from the family tent at a camping ground near the base of the iconic tourist location then known as Ayers Rock - a scenario that divided opinion among the 12-member jury.

The handwritten notes, thought to have been written by the jury foreman, illustrate the difficulty the three women and nine men encountered before settling on a guilty verdict on October 29, 1982, after deliberating for almost seven hours.

The views of 10 of the 12 are included in 145 boxes of police documents and exhibits now destined for the National Archives.

They reveal all the women - a teacher and two housewives - wanted to convict Lindy Chamberlain, although one had reservations.

"Look at totality must say guilty," said the teacher, who was satisfied by a prosecution witness's assertion that cut marks on Azaria's jumpsuit were made by scissors and not bite marks.

One of the housewives is recorded as saying: "Doesn't believe dingo."

The other said that while she was voting to convict, she still found it "hard to accept Mrs C did it".

At least four of the nine men had to be convinced she was guilty.

One of the men, a public servant, was all for an acquittal at the start of the deliberations saying he "could not believe Mrs C did it".

Another agreed, remarking "Probability dingo could do it".

However, the Chamberlains' detached response to their daughter's disappearance counted against the parents with the notes observing: "Hard to accept such loving parents did not search."

A reconstruction of the tent site in the courthouse basement appears to have swayed those initially pushing for an acquittal.

Lindy Chamberlain insisted she could see Azaria was missing from her bassinet as she approached the tent that night.

But when the scene was reproduced in dim lighting the jurors could not make out if a baby doll was in the bassinet from the same distance.

The jury foreman, before announcing the verdict, dismissed the defence evidence as "purely smokescreen".

Lindy Chamberlain served six years before the couple were exonerated after Azaria's battered matinee jacket - an item of clothing the prosecution claimed did not exist - was found at the base of the rock near where an English tourist fell to his death on Australia Day, 1986.

Azaria's remains have never been found.

The only juror to have identified herself, Yvonne Cain, said she believed the notes must have been made towards the end of their 6-1/2 hours of argument.

The Adelaide mother-of-two contacted Lindy Chamberlain after her release because she felt she had sent an innocent woman to jail.

They have met several times and during one meeting a decade ago, Yvonne Cain's husband photographed Lindy Chamberlain pretending to strangle the juror.

"I said 'Here you can get your own back on me'. We laughed about it at the time," recalled Mrs Cain yesterday.

- NZPA

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