Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

A Cry in the Night Part 2 of 3

A Suitable Defence

Phillips began his opening statements, on 13 October 1982, by reminding the jury that under the law it was not the responsibility of the defendant to prove their innocence. Law presumed the defendants' innocence. As the defence is not required to disclose their witnesses, Phillips was playing his cards close to his chest. Without revealing who his witnesses were, he told the jury that he would, through scientific experts, refute the evidence of all of the prosecution's witnesses and thereby destroying their case against the Chamberlains.

(Top Left to right) Greg Cavanagh, Stuart Tipple (Bottom Left to right) Andrew Kirkham, John Philips (Barry O'Brien)
(Top Left to right)
Greg Cavanagh, Stuart Tipple
(Bottom Left to right)
Andrew Kirkham, John Philips
(Barry O'Brien)

His first surprise was to call Lindy Chamberlain to the stand. Her testimony was brief and to the point. Her emotional demeanour was shattered when she was asked to identify her baby daughter's bloody clothes. The judge called a short recess when three of the jurors broke down in tears, sharing Lindy's grief.

After the break, Lindy returned to the stand. Phillips brought forward the life-sized photo of Azaria's bloodied jumpsuit showing, what Cameron had described, as the impression of a hand. Phillips asked Lindy to hold her hand up against the alleged hand in the photograph. Barker objected that her hand was held flat, unlike the hand in the photograph. Phillips continued. He asked Lindy to point to what Cameron had identified as the middle finger. Under his instructions, she counted the number of phalanges. There were four. Lindy, and the rest of the world, only had three.

It was Barker's turn to cross-examine, it lasted many hours. Although Lindy had made several statements and testified at two inquests, Barker had little to work with, as her story had steadfastly remained the same over the two years since Azaria had died. He attempted to show inconsistency by referring to Morris' statements in which he had said that Lindy had changed her mind about certain facts since the night. Phillips interjected to remind the court that Morris had admitted to the court that he might have been mistaken, as he had not taken notes. Barker's main concern was the presence of blood on Lindy's tracksuit pants and shoes. The confusion over Lindy's sighting of the dingo outside the tent was his next line of attack. He attempted to show contradiction in Lindy's story about the dingo's movements after it left the tent. Lindy stressed that she had not followed the dingo once she entered the tent, so could not say exactly where it had gone. All she could say was that there was a dingo near the car when she came out. At the time she had presumed it was the same dingo, but the Aboriginal trackers had said that there were two dingoes so she must have followed the wrong one. Barker wanted to emphasise that if the dingo she saw near the car was the original dingo, then the bloodstains on the tent could not have been Azaria's blood.

The prosecution's case depended heavily on blood so Barker spent a great deal of time reviewing the test results. Phillips objected to Barker's wording as he constantly referred to Kuhl's initial tests, which merely showed the possibility of blood, as being blood reactions. It was a deliberate tactic. The jurors understanding of the scientific procedures regarding blood testing being minimal, meant that the lack of clarity would plant in the jurors minds the actual presence of blood. Muirhead granted his objection and Barker was obliged to be more careful in his wording. Barker ended his cross-examination with a statement that the prosecution believed that Lindy had in fact murdered her child and the dingo story was a fabrication, created to cover up that fact.

"I definitely did not invent that story," Lindy answered. "It's the truth, Mr. Barker."

The remainder of the defence case could be broken into four areas: testimony of the good character of the Chamberlains and their obvious sorrow and grief at the death of their daughter would come first; testimony which showed the lack of motive would come from fellow tourists who had seen Lindy as a wonderful mother and Dr. Milne's professional opinion; third, would be testimony about the predatory behaviour of dingoes; and lastly would be the testimony of experts whose task it was to cast doubt onto the scientific evidence presented by the prosecution.

The testimonies of Natalie Goss, a friend of Lindy's, Pastors Colin Lees and Mervyn Kennaway, and David Haslem, a teacher at Avondale College, were given to establish in the minds of the jury that both Lindy and Michael Chamberlain were "decent kind people of the community", unlikely to even contemplate, let alone commit the horrendous crime described by the prosecution. Ayers Rock tourists, Gwen and Jack Eccles, and Flo Wilkin, would confirm that Lindy was in their opinion "a perfect little mother" who gave no indication of being capable of killing her own child.

To confirm in the jurors minds the likelihood of a dingo being able to take Azaria, kill her and deposit her clothes somewhere else, leaving no remains and little damage to her clothing, Les Harris was called.

Jaws of wild dingo (AP)
Jaws of wild dingo (AP)

Harris explained that it was standard behaviour for a dingo to take its prey by the head. Seizing the whole head, it would crush it simply by closing its jaws. A sharp shaking of its jaws, intended to break the neck would normally follow this. Harris then proceeded to explain that the behaviour of dingoes in the Ayers Rock area was unique. The dingoes had become accustomed to being fed by tourists and the competition for food was fierce. Once the animal had captured its prey, it would quickly run to another area to eat it. The dingo was a wild animal, which would eat every part of its prey, even fur and feathers. He described them as "skilled manipulators" who would use their forefeet as a clamp and could surprisingly peel things apart using their incisors.

Tourists at Ayers Rock who had been involved in dingo attacks quickly followed Harris' testimony. Catherine West, daughter of Judy West, testified that on the day of Azaria's death, a dingo had grabbed her elbow as she sat in her tent, next to the Chamberlains' tent. It had only reluctantly let go when her mother had forcefully chased it away. Mrs Fisher, from South Australia told of how a dingo had attacked her son while camping at Ayers Rock in August 1980. The dingo had bitten the child on the bottom, holding tightly until his parents had chased it away. Fisher claimed that when they inspected the boy's bottom, she found teeth marks, bleeding and very bad bruising. John Cormack, Erica Lesch, Ron Bellingham and Lorraine Hunter also told their stories of dingo attacks at Ayers Rock only weeks prior to the attack on Azaria.

Mr Webber Roberts, a clergyman, came to the stand and told the court how he had discovered a spray pattern on a panel in the footwell of his car, a 1977 Torana hatchback, the same model as the Chamberlain car. He gave permission for Michael Chamberlain to cut the panel out in the presence of a Justice of the Peace. The panel was again submitted to the court where the spray pattern, almost identical to that claimed by the prosecution to be the arterial blood spray from Azaria's cut throat in the Chamberlain's car. Roberts was not able to offer any explanation as to what the spray was, nor could anyone else.

The last area of the defence case to be covered, was the evidence of their scientific experts. Barry Boettcher was first. He was the head of biological sciences at Newcastle University. His doctorate had been in genetics, specialising in blood. He was published in three countries and taught proper practices of immunological testing and interpretation. Unfortunately, he was not as experienced in the giving of evidence in a courtroom and his explanations of why Mrs Kuhl's test results were wrong were far too complex for the jury to comprehend. Boettcher had found that there was a fault in the anti-sera that Kuhl had used to form her conclusions. He believed that it was highly likely that it had not been specific to foetal blood, which was apparent by the appearance of the two bands in her demonstration test plates. If it was not specific, there was no way to definitely say that the test results showed the presence of foetal blood.

Barker highlighted the fact that Boettcher could not definitely say that the anti-sera were non-specific. Boettcher explained that although he had used the same brand of anti-sera as Kuhl, he was not sure if he had the same batch number as hers. Barker wanted to know whether he had personally approached Mrs. Kuhl to obtain this information, which he had not. Phillips interrupted. He told the judge that Tipple had been responsible for obtaining this information. Muirhead refused to stop the cross-examination, preventing Phillips from telling the court that Joy Kuhl had refused to supply the batch number of the anti-sera she had used.

Barker did not dwell too heavily on the professor's theories; he was more interested in making a comparison between Boettcher's experience as a forensic biologist as compared to Kuhl, Barker and Culliford. Boettcher had to agree that they were all more greatly experienced than he was in the area of forensic evidence.

Professor Richard Nairn, Professor of Pathology and Immunology at Melbourne's Monash University medical school, told the jury that he agreed with Boettcher in disputing Kuhl's finding of the presence of foetal haemoglobin in the Chamberlains' car. Unlike Boettcher and Kuhl, Nairn gave a detailed, yet simple, explanation of the testing procedures required when trying to determine the identity of blood samples.

In the same manner, he explained why he believed that the anti-sera Kuhl had used were not specific enough to determine the presence of foetal haemoglobin. Kuhl's testing procedures and interpretation of the results had been faulty. On cross-examination Barker attempted to belittle his testimony due to lack of forensic experience but was thwarted by Nairn who informed Barker that he was responsible for the teaching of forensic pathology and that he had testified as a witness in four cases of suspected homicide. Like the forensic biologist, he had a great deal of experience working with old bloodstains and tissue as well as fresh; in fact he had done a study on the aging of animal tissue including blood.

In a final attempt to distance Nairn from the practical world of the forensic biologist, Barker wanted to know whether there was a forensic science laboratory in Victoria. Nairn agreed there was. Barker stated the type of work that scientists in this laboratory would do specifically for the presentation of evidence in court. Nairn agreed with this, in fact he had actually taught this departments head pathologist sixteen years ago.

On the matter of specificity and testing solution, Barker wanted to know whether Nairn believed that over two hundred tests, referring to Kuhl's tests, which showed a negative reaction to adult haemoglobin would be sufficient to conclude that the anti-sera was not specific to adult haemoglobin. Nairn answered that it would depend on the test, a bad test is a bad test no matter how many times it is repeated. Anti-sera could be altered on storage and unless it is tested thoroughly each time it is used the test results cannot be guaranteed.

The defence's plan now was to offer conflicting expert opinion in regard to Cameron's evidence. To do this they brought Dr. Irwin Plueckhahn to the stand. Plueckhahn was the director of pathology at the Geelong Hospital in Victoria. He was well known to the medical and scientific communities as a forensic pathologist, physician and biochemist. The long list of his qualifications and experience was as impressive as that given by Professor Cameron, taking a full twelve minutes to read through.

Plueckhahn stated that, from his experience and his own examination of Azaria's clothing, Cameron's opinion that the only way to explain the pattern of bleeding was that the child's throat had been cut across the neck, were completely unfounded. He claimed that during his experience as a pathologist to coroners and hospitals, he had seen many instances where head injuries had caused similar bleeding patterns. Plueckhahn agreed with Cameron that the jumpsuit was most likely done all the way up, with the collar up when the child bled. He did not agree that bleeding would cease when the child died. He held up a photograph of a man who had been dead for two days before he bled in the mortuary. Plueckhahn did not necessarily expect there to have been large amounts of blood in the tent, as it was quite possible that if it was an animal with a firm grip, for there to be little bleeding at that time. It would all depend on what blood vessels were punctured. If it was a vein, the animal's tooth could have easily formed a plug. Crushing of the head did not necessarily mean that there would be extensive bleeding, he had seen many cases with extensive crushing of both children and adults which had produced very little blood, some even gave the appearance of there being no external injury at all. In regard to the handprint that Cameron had found, Plueckhahn could not see any such thing, no matter how hard he tried. He believed that it was more likely to be direct blood flow, just less concentrated than in the other areas.

Barker chose not to cross-examine Plueckhahn at this time, complaining to the judge that Phillips had not given him any warning when he was calling scientific and technical witnesses or any indication of the general area of the evidence. He sought to defer his cross-examination of this witness until the following day. Phillips agreed to allow this. Plueckhahn stood down and the court took its morning recess.

When court resumed, Phillips called the final witness for the defence. Michael Chamberlain came to the stand. Phillips questioned Michael on all of the points of the prosecution's case; he asked him why he had spoken to the press on the day after Azaria's death. Here Michael broke down. Through his tears, he explained that it was such a terrible thing, he didn't want it to happen to anyone else.

Lindy and Azaria the day Azaria died (Michael Chamberlain)
Lindy and Azaria the day Azaria died
(Michael Chamberlain)

By the time Barker had completed his cross-examination, Michael had been in the stand for more than six hours. It had been an emotional testimony in which Michael had revealed the depth to which Azaria's death and the proceeding two years had effected him. Through it all he did not change his story, he believed that his wife had seen a dingo who had taken and killed their baby daughter. He had no explanation other than that.

With no more evidence to be presented at 4.20p.m. Justice Muirhead released the jury for the weekend. Phillips then handed to the judge a series of submissions. One asked for a no-case ruling, another that he should direct the jury that it would be dangerous to convict on the evidence submitted, the last asked that the judge strike manslaughter from the list of possible verdicts. Muirhead said that he would consider them later, but warned Phillips that he should expect that the matter to proceed to its ordinary conclusion. Phillips was not dissuaded, the case had gone well for the Chamberlains and he was confident. Barker, on the other hand was not so confident, a view he expressed to a reporter acquaintance, off the record.