One of the more fascinating cases in the New South Wales criminal courts over the past few years has been that of Keli Lane (pictured). An international-class water polo player, while training for the Australian national squad Lane managed to give birth to three children without, it seems, the general public knowing.
The first and third children were given up for adoption. It is the fate of the middle child, a daughter named Tegan, which has landed Lane with a life sentence for murder. And unless she discloses the whereabouts of the child or her body, it would seem she will not be eligible for parole.
Lane claims that, two days after Tegan’s birth in September 1996, she handed her over to the child’s natural father: one Andrew Morris or Norris. The exchange took place between her leaving hospital at 11am and going to her parents at noon to attend a wedding reception. It seems that neither her parents nor her boyfriend of the time knew she was pregnant – nor did they know about the first and third pregnancies, for that matter.
It was only after a social worker saw hospital records when Lane had her third child adopted that inquiries began in 1999. Lane was put on trial for murder in July 2010 and found guilty by a jury in December. Her appeals have been rejected. Given she had her other children adopted, why, her defence runs, should she kill Tegan?
A nationwide search which included substantial financial rewards failed to bring Morris or Norris to the surface. The case was run on a ‘murder or nothing’, ruling out infanticide or accident. One theory is that Lane sold Tegan in a private surrogacy arrangement – for six months either side of Tegan’s birth, Lane did not use her bank account. But would she accept a life sentence to protect the purchasers?
Unsurprisingly, this is one of those cases that whips up a good deal of angst in the press and among the public. Lane might have done better had she been tried by a judge alone. Indeed, the trial judge has aired his doubts about whether the Crown proved its case.
Now the Innocence Initiative at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology has taken up Lane’s case. It may have a hard row to hoe.
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor