WARNING: This story contains graphic and sensitive content.
Lauren Dickason killed her little girls “one by one” then tucked them into bed with their soft toy sheep and blankets and told them she loved them for the last time.
She admits this - and that the act was “horrific and shocking” but her lawyer has told the jury at her High Court trial there is no way her actions that day were murder.
Rather, they were the actions of a deeply unwell woman who could not bear to live another day and decided to die - and to “protect” her children, decided to take them with her.
“Her beautiful girls, who she loved so much … the deaths don’t have anything to with anger or resentment - and have everything to do with what was a severe mental illness,” her lawyer Kerryn Beaton KC said this afternoon in her closing address.
“This is the very kind of case that the law of infanticide was designed for.”
She acknowledged that the jury had heard “harrowing” details and the trial had been extremely intense and long.
However, this was “a very hard case”.
Dickason, 42, admits smothering Liané, 6, and 2-year-old twins Maya and Karla - to death at their Timaru home in September 2021.
But she denies it was murder and has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity or infanticide.
Since the trial began on July 17, a jury of eight women and four men have heard extensive evidence about Dickason’s life before and after she and her family emigrated to New Zealand from South Africa a month before the children died.
Dickason’s actions on the day of the alleged murders were canvassed at length along with her lifelong battle with a major depressive disorder, her gruelling fertility journey including at least 17 rounds of IVF and the loss of a baby early in a pregnancy, and her struggles with motherhood.
The court was also shown videos of Dickason and her husband Graham being interviewed by police after the little girls were killed.
Graham Dickason then gave evidence via audio-visual link from his home in Pretoria.
This morning the Crown delivered a closing address and this afternoon the defence followed.
“The Crown told you that … Lauren was stressed, that the anger bubbled over from many aspects of her life and that she was resentful of the kids and how they stood in the way of her relationship with her husband - and that’s why she killed them,” said Beaton.
“And you were told by the Crown that this is about anger and about control - and not about a medical defence, not about mental illness.
“But mothers don’t kill their children the way that Lauren did just because they’re angry or resentful or stressed.
“We have all been angry, resentful, stressed and anxious ourselves. They are normal human emotions and responses but we haven’t gone and done anything remotely like what Lauren did - let alone in such a violent and harrowing way.”
Beaton said there was one reason Dickason killed the girls - because she “was experiencing a major episode of depression with such severity that not only did she think she had to kill herself, but she had to take her girls with her”.
The defence described Dickason as “a loving wife, much-loved sister and daughter”.
“A doctor, an intelligent woman, educated - a caring person, empathetic,” said Beaton.
“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.
“Lauren tried to make her children’s lives as memory-filled and fun-filled as she could.”
She said any suggestion she killed her children in anger and or resentment “is just nonsense”.
Beaton said the Crown made much of messages sent and received by Dickason about her parenting struggle and her frustration with her children over the years.
“And as you well know, symptoms of postpartum depression include a lack of connection with your children, inability to bond, difficulty in coping with children, frustration and anger and women feeling like they are not a good mother,” said Beaton.
“But despite having those symptoms and despite feeling like that after all of her children were born, Lauren was a loving mum.
“Lauren Dickason was a woman who wanted to give her children the very best in life that she could.”
Beaton said her client “knew she was struggling” leading up to the family’s emigration to New Zealand.
“And she knew when she got here that she was unwell … she was clearly worried about her own depression affecting her children,” she said.
During the trial, Beaton said, Dickason had been painted as “a wealthy materialistic person who had lots of help from nannies and home help” and “turned her nose up at Timaru” when she arrived in her new hometown.
“That she resented the kids, resented spending time with them or … was resentful of how the children stood in the way of her relationship with her husband.
“This has popped up a few times and it’s completely wrong … Lauren Dickason wanted to be there for her children, she wanted to bring them up herself.
“She actually wanted to spend time with her children … She could have continued on with her career - she’s a doctor, she’s a GP, she could have gone back to work full time and had a nanny full time.
“Lots of families do that and she chose not to do that. She wanted to be there for her kids, bring them up herself and she wanted to excel at being a mum for the benefit of her children.”
Beaton said it was clear that her client had postpartum depression after the girls were born and in the lead-up to the alleged murders, she had postpartum-specific issues.
“Thoughts of harming your child are very much a symptom of postpartum depression … and suicide and infanticide are risks of postpartum depression.
“And mothers who are suicidal are at higher risk of infanticide.
“She was severely unwell by the 16th of September 2021 and the people close to Lauren knew … but they didn’t recognise it for what it was.
“They thought pushing through … was the answer, that coming to New Zealand would reduce the stress on Lauren and things would get better, but they didn’t.
“Coming to New Zealand did not fix anything for Lauren.”
Beaton said in South Africa Dickason was already deeply worried about the world being an unsafe place for her girls, and arriving in Timaru exacerbated her feelings.
“She’s so unwell. Things are so dark for her. She perceives that in fact, they haven’t given them better life at all,” she posed.
“There’s been this terrible stress of immigration. They’ve left their families, their friends and they’ve had a terrible time in MIQ - from her perspective anyway.
“And here they are in Timaru, it’s no better, it’s no safer than what they left behind.”
Beaton reminded the jury that Dickason told her husband just before leaving South Africa that she was having thoughts of harming the children.
She’d had similar thoughts twice before and disclosed these situations to Graham Dickason.
The last time she said he was “angry and distressed with her”.
“He told her basically … to get it together and they had to push through,” said Beaton.
“So the one person, from her perspective, the one person that she loves the most and trusts the most in the world didn’t listen to her in that distress, didn’t recognise it for what it was.
“And so here she is - she’s actually worse than she was when she told her husband about those kids in South Africa - but from her perspective, who can she tell?”
Beaton addressed messages produced in evidence sent and received by Dickason in which she talked about her family and referred to murdering or killing the children.
She reminded the jury this was a trial by evidence - not by messages.
“These messages were an outlet and I suggest not much more than that,” Beaton said.
“This is all part of her nihilistic thinking because of her depression … That’s what mental illness does, it makes these things much bigger and much worse than they actually are.”
Beaton said there was no way her client was recovered from any of her depression - postpartum or otherwise - when she killed the little girls.
She refuted the Crown suggestion her client was not reliable or honest when interviewed by police, doctors and experts.
She said memory was not a reliable thing and her client did her best every time she was questioned - she never refused to speak to a doctor, police officer or expert and she was as open as she could be.
As she processed what she had done, she started trying to make sense of it and things became more clear, meaning she was able to give more detail.
“She exposed herself, willingly,” Beaton said, reminding the jury Dickason had endured 53 hours of interviews with psychiatric experts.
“She has revealed very private things ... that most of us would never have to talk about ... and now to a room-full of strangers.
“She’s a doctor ... she could have made something up [like] ‘I heard voices’ - that’s a factor I also ask you to take into account.
“She’s not holding anything back - she’s been open and honest in every interview.”
Beaton spent several hours reminding the jury of evidence the defence experts put forward to explain Dickason’s state in the lead-up to and on the day she killed the girls.
“She clearly wanted these children, she tried so hard to have them and after she got the children she loved them - she protected them right up until the day they died, right up until when this all went so wrong.
“It wasn’t accidental. It’s not a situation though where there’d been any previous abuse, any previous neglect of those girls.
“Lauren had been severely depressed … she attempted to kill herself in the same incident as killing her children - that was out of love for her children and her depressed and psychotic state.
“She viewed the world including New Zealand as dangerous for her children … she saw this filicide/suicide as a way out for her and for the children.
“She didn’t want to leave the children behind … and she believed in her depressed state also that her children were a burden on her husband, that they’d all be better off [dead].
“Of course, this isn’t true and it’s completely awful, but Lauren Dickason was so convinced of this that she continued to believe it [after the alleged murders].
“Despite at that point being racked with guilt and remorse, she actually still felt that her daughters might have been better off dead.”
Beaton said she did not tell anyone that she was “angry” when she killed the girls.
“That can only be implied from the police interview,” she said.
“Filicide is a symptom of postpartum depression ... it can happen to a small number of women as a result of postpartum depression.
“She was not someone who snapped in anger ...
“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.
“Defence says she was so unwell ... it took her some time to understand that what she had done was not, in fact, the right thing.
“This is the very kind of case that the law of infanticide was designed for - a woman who kills her children in the depths of a very deep depression.”
Beaton said the jury had to “grapple” with whether Dickason “genuinely” thought at the time what she was doing was morally wrong.
“So you have to consider - was the extent of her illness such that she shouldn’t be held fully responsible?
“The first part you have to decide is whether you think it’s more likely than not, more probable or not, that she was suffering from a disease in the mind ... it’s easy here.
“I suggest all five experts agree. You should too.
“The second question is whether the disease of the mind meant she didn’t understand the nature and quality of what she was doing.
“It doesn’t matter what you and I think about what she did about the moral wrong or rightfulness of what she did - you have to think about what she believed at the time.”
Beaton finished her closing address after 5pm today.
“Whether or not she was legally insane … is your decision but I ask that you look back at the full picture,” she implored.
“She decided to kill herself and also the girls and I suggest that’s because she was so delusional and so disordered in her thinking.
“But in her mind, it was the morally right thing to do.
“Finally, Lauren Dickason never abused her children, never neglected them … she was a loving mother, she was severely depressed - so depressed she was suicidal and thought it was right to kill her children.
“She tucked them into bed and she told them that she loved them, one last time.”
From 10am on Monday, Justice Cameron Mander will sum up the entire trial and then the jury will be sent to deliberate.
Mander will also direct jurors on how to reach a verdict - what to consider, what to disregard and how to work through the process.