Baby killer Keli Lane’s mission to clear her name
CONVICTED baby killer Keli Lane is on a desperate mission to prove her innocence and she has a growing army of supporters trying to help her clear her name.
Lane, who is serving 18 years in a Sydney jail for the murder of her two-day-old daughter Tegan, broke a 15-year silence to speak to journalist Caro Meldrum-Hanna for a bombshell TV documentary set to premiere in Australia tonight.
But even before she convinced the sceptical award-winning reporter to investigate her 2010 conviction, Lane had enlisted the help of a group of Melbourne law students and their lecturer.
Researchers from RMIT University's Bridge of Hope Innocence Initiative have been quietly and painstakingly sifting through hundreds of pages of evidence and trial notes since receiving an impassioned letter from Lane in 2015.
"We go right back to the beginning and we look for holes, crime and justice studies Associate Dean Dr Michele Ruyters, who heads the group, told news.com.au of the process.
"We look for what's missing in the evidence gathered and we look at evidence that was gathered but never provided at trial, we go over every single fact, every piece of testimony.
"We don't go in there with a belief that someone or innocent or guilty because if you do that you get tunnel vision. If I go in looking for information that's going to clear her, I'm going to miss something I would have seen if I'd stayed objective.
"Having said that, I absolutely think that (Lane) believes she is innocent."
Dr Ruyters said Lane shares a remarkable trait with other prisoners the Innocence Initiative has worked with.
"There is a pattern in people who firmly believe in their innocence and that is that they never give up," she said.
"They refuse to take part in pre-release programs because that means admitting guilt for something they didn't do. They never stop fighting. And Keli Lane has never stopped fighting. It's an observable trend."
Dr Ruyters said she had visited Lane numerous times at Silverwater Women's Correctional Centre and was struck by her charisma.
"She was instantly likeable - instantly," she said of the first time she met Lane.
"She's got a great manner and she's very grounded despite everything she's been through. She's very self-reflective. She just comes across as a stand up person."
Dr Ruyters' words echo those of Cambridge educated, Quantico-trained criminologist and forensic anthropologist Dr Xanthe Mallett.
"I have met Keli many times and have found her to be a warm, charismatic, intelligent woman," Dr Mallett wrote in an article for NewsCorp site Whimn last year.
"I have continuously been struck by her determination to keep fighting, even after all of the failures along the way.
"I am good at reading clues, and never once have I felt she has been hiding information about the case - quite the opposite, she is open, transparent, and endlessly helpful when asked for information or to recount events.
"I have never seen physical cues she's lying or intending to divert the questioning; and we've talked over some tough topics, as you can imagine."
At her trial, a jury returned verdict 11 to 1 that Lane left Sydney's Auburn Hospital with Tegan on September 14, 1996, killing and disposing of the child and later spinning a web of lies to cover her tracks.
Lane maintains she handed Tegan over to the child's father, a man called Andrew Norris or Morris, after he agreed to raise her.
She claimed the pair had a secret sexual affair while both were in serious relationships with other people, and that he lived in Balmain. But despite a massive, highly public search by police and government agencies, Andrew Norris or Morris never came forward and Tegan's body was never found.
Regardless of guilt or innocence, there are aspects of Lane's prosecution that do not sit well, according to Meldrum-Hanna.
One is the benchmark question those involved in the investigation and prosecution of Lane set themselves: Was it more likely that a man had agreed to take in a child or that a mother had murdered her child?
"In the end, it became more believable that Keli Lane killed her baby," Meldrum-Hanna said.
The assumption that murder is statistically more likely than a man taking responsibility for his own child seems outdated and offensive. After all, it was 1996, not 1956.
Dr Ruyters said she believed that Lane may have been treated more harshly because she didn't meet society's expectations of what a woman should be, that is, a nurturer and primary caregiver.
Between the ages of 17 and 24, Lane had two abortions followed by three live births; in 1995, 1996 and 1999 respectively. The first and second babies were adopted out.
"Keli's given me a version of events that I find reasonable," Dr Ruyters said.
"There is evidence that she was extremely emotional about the abortions so it doesn't make any sense that she would then go on to murder a child she gave birth to.
"I asked her: 'Why did Andrew take this child?' and she said she hounded him (until he agreed to). She called and they met at the hospital and he took the child because he was a decent person.
"The lies she told are not the lies of a guilty person. No matter who she was speaking to, she always gave her real name. They were the lies of a person who was feeling miserable and frustrated and isolated."
According to Dr Mallett, Lane's conviction is "problematic in many ways".
"As a forensic anthropologist and criminologist, I've looked at many cases of alleged filicide (murder of a child by a parent) and this case is unique: No body; no evidence; no witnesses; no motive," she wrote in the Whimn article.
"The fact that Lane is in jail today comes down to the fact that neither Tegan, nor Andrew Morris/Norris, have been located. Therefore the fact that two people can't be found that has led to the successful prosecution for murder: This is the only instance in my career where I've ever seen a lack of evidence equal guilt.
"I've spent a lot of time with Lane since writing about her case in 2014, and actually it doesn't matter if, after getting to know her, I think she is innocent or not. What matters is that someone can be found guilty of murder when no evidence exists to demonstrate murder took place.
"At no stage during Lane's trial for murder could any witnesses be found who had seen Lane murder Tegan; no one saw Lane covered in blood or claimed to see her with tools to dig a grave, or disposing of Tegan's clothing. Nothing.
"Being a liar doesn't mean she's a murderer."
Dr Mallett said her biggest fear was "if Lane can be found guilty of murder under these circumstances, with no body, no forensic evidence or witnesses, and no rational motive, then any one of us could be accused and found guilty of a crime".
Exposed: The case of Keli Lane airs tonight on the ABC at 8.30pm.