Women thought Lindy Chamberlain guilty

By Kathy Marks

Lindy Chamberlain with baby Azaria. Photo / Supplied
Lindy Chamberlain with baby Azaria. Photo / Supplied

It was Australia's most celebrated murder case, dividing the nation and igniting fierce debate even years on.

Now it has emerged that the jury at Lindy Chamberlain's trial was similarly spilt - and, as in the wider community, the women were more convinced of her guilt than the men.

According to a 30-year-old police file, all three female jurors believed that Chamberlain killed her baby daughter, Azaria, who disappeared from the family's tent near Uluru (then called Ayers Rock) in 1980. At least four of the nine men, by contrast, had to be persuaded to return a guilty verdict.

In a hitherto secret record of the jury's deliberations, the foreman wrote of one woman: "Doesn't believe dingo" - a reference to Chamberlain's claim that a dingo snatched Azaria from their tent.

Sentenced to life at the end of the seven-week trial in Darwin in 1982, Chamberlain was released three years later following the discovery of her baby's matinee jacket at the base of Uluru. Her conviction was overturned in 1988.

The jury's notes, salvaged from 145 boxes of police documents and exhibits relating to the case, were reported in News Ltd newspapers yesterday. The files - covering a 15-year legal saga that included three inquests, three appeals and a royal commission - are to be stored in Australia's National Archives because of their historical importance.

Around the country, women in particular were sceptical about Chamberlain's story because she and her husband, Michael - given a suspended jail term for being an accessory to murder - showed little emotion in public and never joined the search for their daughter's body. There was also hostility towards them because of their devout Seventh Day Adventist beliefs.

Even among the three female jurors - listed as a teacher and two "housewives" - there were doubts, though. One was recorded as saying that while she intended to convict Chamberlain, she still found it "hard to accept that Mrs C did it". The foreman, though, dismissed the entire defence evidence as "purely smokescreen".

The sole juror to have identified herself, Yvonne Cain, said the notes - jotted on blue paper - must have been made towards the end of their 6 hours of argument.

News Ltd gained access to the files after the Northern Territory's new Police Commissioner, John McRoberts, agreed to make them available.

OUTBACK TRAGEDY

August 17, 1980: Azaria Chamberlain, just 9 weeks old, goes missing at a campsite near Uluru, then known as Ayers Rock. Her mother, Lindy Chamberlain, claims a dingo took her baby.

August 24: Tourist finds Azaria's torn jumpsuit, booties, singlet and nappy near the rock.

February 20, 1981: Coroner finds a wild dog or dingo took the baby.

February 2, 1982: After a second inquest is ordered, coroner commits Lindy Chamberlain to trial on the charge of murdering Azaria. Her husband is charged as an accessory after the fact.

October 29, 1982: A heavily pregnant Lindy Chamberlain is found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Her husband receives 18-month suspended sentence.

February 2, 1986: Azaria's missing matinee jacket found at Uluru.

February 7: Lindy Chamberlain is released from prison on remission.

September 15, 1988: Northern Territory Court of Criminal Appeal declares Chamberlains innocent.

December 13, 1995: Coroner cannot determine the cause of Azaria's death and third inquest records an open finding.

- NZ Herald

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